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Ici Urban Bistro (formerly Cafe 15), Chef Franck Loquet and Pastry Chef Vincent Bitault in the Hotel Sofitel on 15th and H Street Downtown


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Just had lunch at Cafe 15. The Wild Mushroom and Onion Tart Appetizer is out of this world. A very thin pastry crust, a thin layer of what may be creme fraiche, bits of possibly pancetta sauteed onions and mushrooms. A perfect appetizer.

If you're looking for a quietly elegant lunch, this is the place to go.

-Ed Szrom

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I had the L'Enfant (Grey Goose vodka, Chambord, Grand Marnier and lemonade) at Le Bar last night. It was tasty, but a steep $13. I liked the ambiance with all the pillows and cushy chairs; found the place to have a nice non-Washington feel (odd being just a couple block from The White House). So, anyone eat at Le Bar or Cafe 15 recently? I'll go there for a $15 burger if you tell me to.
Cafe 15 is great place for a long business lunch. I have been there several times for that, and it has always suited the purpose perfectly. But, I don't think I would ever choose to go there on my own dime or outside of a work event. Although, they do have a well-priced three course lunch option (I think $25).

I only order the food at Le Bar if a work happy hour has extended well into the night and the alcohol needs some absorbtion. It does that well. But, I haven't had anything that has stood out as particularly great. If I had, I would be on that patio much more frequently. Stick with a couple drinks and move on to elsewhere for dinner.

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Looks like Cafe 15 is on the way out. I've been meaning to get here for a while during one of the restaurant weeks, so I guess one of my spots for next month is taken. Be interesting to see what takes its place.

From an email yesterday evening:

"After five wonderful years of serving the community Cafe 15 will be closing its doors on January 20th 2008 just after restaurant week.

We have truly appreciated your support and loyal partonage over the years and we wanted you to be the first to know.

But fret not, there is still time to come in for one last meal (or more)

Check out the exciting menus we have planned for

Christmas Eve Christmas Day New Year's Eve

In addition we will be pulling out all the stops during restaurant week (Jan 14th - 20th) and showcasing some of our most requested items.

Come join us one last time and enjoy everything you have loved about Cafe 15.

We look forward to seeing you sometime this coming month."

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Looks like Cafe 15 is on the way out.

That's too bad. This is a LOVELY spot to have breakfast. One of my mentors has been taking me here for our semi-regular breakfast meetings the past few years. They make a great frittata, press your coffee to serve, pour fresh squeezed OJ and offer cute little smoothies to start the meal. The service is always excellent. It's a great escape from the hussle and bussle of downtown, and an elegant and relaxing spot to start the day.

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Only closing for a week!

Had dinner at Cafe 15 on Christmas Eve. The level of service made us feel very special indeed; it's a level not met by most of DC's top-rated restaurants. When even the server who pours your water is smiling, you know things are special. The duck foie gras was perfect with the date puree even though it was served a bit colder than I would have liked. The duck breast was perfectly done medium rare as ordered.

The staff mentioned that the restaurant would only be closed for one week at the end of January and would reopen redecorated with a new menu but the same chef. This gem is not to be missed.

-Ed

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Only closing for a week!

No, it's closing permanently, at least in its current form - this just came out:

WHAT: After five years in operation, Café 15 will be closing its doors on January 24, 2008.

WHY: Café 15 opened in 2002 inside the Sofitel Lafayette Square. For five years, diners have enjoyed the restaurant’s outstanding outdoor terrace and upscale dining selections with distinctive French twists. “The decision to close Café 15 was a difficult one,” says Denis Dupart, General Manager of the Sofitel Lafayette Square. “Since opening the restaurant, we have seen the emergence of a new group of diners who seek and appreciate comfort and simplicity. We will be closing the restaurant in anticipation of meeting the needs of this new wave of diners while providing an approachable dining experience.”

WHEN: Café 15 will close on January 24th, just after the Washington, DC restaurant week. To bid a fond farewell to diners, Café 15 will be offering an extended restaurant week from January 8 – 24, 2008.

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Not sure whether to write my thoughts about Ici, the new bistro style restaurant where Cafe 15 used to be, in this thread or start a new one. So, if it should be here, great, I actually did something right today! If not, sorry, feel free to move it.

Anyway, me and my friend checked out the new place last night. After a pretty bad experience at Le Bar right across the hallway ($14 for some pretty awful cocktails in a very dark place with loud music), it was nice to get away to a much more comfortable and inviting setting. I did visit Cafe 15 in the past, but it was so long ago that I'm not quite sure how much or little they changed the dining room, but it still was a pretty nice space. Not crowded at all, maybe a 1/3 full at 7:00 PM and a bit more when we left around 9:45 PM. Overall, nice, comfortable space.

The service was solid, but it was a bit confusing, I am pretty sure that every server in the whole place was at our table at some point during the night. Personally, I don't really care, as long as they are attentive when you need them and absent when you don't, but sometimes it is nice to know who the point person is for your table. Anyway, no big deal at all, they did a good job.

The menu read well, pretty good selection of items, soups, salads, starters, frites, meat, fish, a pretty typical bistro style menu. I wish I could be of more help in describing this, but their website is not up and running at this point, so I am having a tough time remembering it all. I do remember, however, that the wine menu was very uninspired. It had a good mix, and actually some pretty educational maps in the back, not bad to check out while you are perusing the list, but I knew every damn wine on that menu and I am no oenphile by any stretch of the imagination. We got a Spanish rioja, because it was of the only fairly good deals on the list, and were satisfied with that, but I wouldn't say that we were happy with the list.

The food, however, was a bit better. We stuck to small plates, which ended up not being all that small at all, so we definitely overordered. The best of the lot was a chicken and mushroom crepe, very creamy and very filling. The quiche with greens was good as well, the eggs weren't overcooked, which I tend to see a lot in dishes like this, but they still had body to them, good balance. The mini croque monsieur was average, but definitely not mini, the charcuterie plate was standard, nothing like what you get at PS7's, Proof and other standouts around town, and the frites that we chose, more like wedge fries, were just OK. Overall, the food was pretty good, not necessarily good enough to make Ici a destination restaurant, but not a bad choice if you happen to be in the area.

By the way, they serve their frites five different ways, not a bad idea, I would definitely try them again, but not the ones that we got.

All in all, not bad, but not good either, unfortunately, that is what we are all looking for, right?

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While I do very much enjoy an occasional cocktail at Le Bar at the Sofitel, Iast week I made the fatal mistake of having lunch at Ici Urban Bistro, the hotel's restaurant.

They have an appealing menu for lunch, regular a la carte or three 4 mini-course lunches which are prix fixe and supposed to get you in and out in about 30 minutes - seemed like a plan.

The three menu choices are the standard 4 course (my choice), the daily special four course (apparently vegetarian on Wednesday's, so not my choice) or the "diet" option (my wife's choice).

My wife's is easier to describe as it was less infectious. The chicken tajine was far from a chicken tajine, but the best thing on the table throughout lunch - the other three dishes were completely forgettable, including the standard salad from somewhere like Ollie's Trolley and a strawberry dessert that DQ could probably equal.

The worst was saved seemingly for me. The daily menu started with a flavorless French Onion soup, with a nice layer of soggy bread and grease on top - couldn't finish that and the good wife immediately became strangely possessive of her bad salad upon tasting the option. The second course was the only one I managed to consume, which was an undercooked mushroom crepe - using a heavy sweet crepe batter (a pet peeve, learn how to make a savory crepe - lazy!). The piece de resistance was definitely the duck confit, something that when purchased in bulk (as I suspect this was) should be hard to screw up - and yet voila, now serving a standard small leg with no skin attached, but in it's place a slab (yes, slab) of white, thick, greasy, almost uncooked duck skin - which was as likely to have seen a pan, salamander or broiler as I am to being James Bond's replacement; utterly grim. Finally a nice stale millefeuille to top off the courses not worth eating.

In fairness to Sofitel, our waiter - Bryan - was accommodating and extremely apologetic. Something about the kitchen staff having left at about 1.45 and left the B team in place - who apparently can't cook, reheat or clean.

End result one of the two meals comped by the manager, who was clearly tired of hearing the same thing (there was zero surprise that someone was unhappy). Sofitel's are great hotels to stay in, and the London St. James one even used to have a Roux Brothers restaurant - so Ici is not just a disgrace to my poor stomach, but also to the Accor chain. Yes, I was pretty steamed up about it, because you can forgive one or two errors - but for four course to all be wrong, is just wrong.

I'll be back, but will be sticking to the safer territory of the bar and would strongly advise others to do the same.

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