Friday, March 4, 2016

Praline Bistro Food Review

Chicken Pot Pie

Sometimes it pays to leave the cozy confines of the nation's capital... even if it's only a hop, skip and a jump away from the DC/Maryland border. Praline Bakery & Bistro is tucked inside The Shops at Sumner Place in (suburban) Bethesda. In other words, you have to make some effort to get there. After yesterday's lunch (my first visit) I can safely say... it's worth traveling an extra mile or two (and then some.)

My day got off to a rough start, and I had to call & postpone my reservation from noon to 1:00 PM. I hate having to make last minute changes, but credit Praline Bistro for taking it in stride and accommodating me. Merci beaucoup! Upon my arrival, I received a warm welcome from the bakery (more on them later) before heading upstairs to the surprisingly spacious Bistro. I met Praline's kindly hostess, who I'd spoken to on the telephone just over an hour earlier. She acknowledged the call, and escorted me to a quiet table overlooking the bakery (it's as if she knew me) where I could feast in peace. God bless her. When I return (and you know I will) I'll be sure to ask for this same table: It's perfect.

Bread & butter

The Bistro itself oozes charm. French (culinary) posters line the walls, and there's plenty of natural light no matter where you sit. Initially, there wasn't any music playing... but when it did, it was jazzy and soothing. Conversation is easy, as the space does a great job of keeping decibels to a minimum. The lunch crowd skews older; but truth be told, my table could just as easily have been my very own island. I love peaceful nooks inside a busy bistro/cafe/restaurant. As an added bonus, I was able to inhale the delicious, almost distracting scents from the bakery below. Don't feel guilty if you start planning what to take home early: Heaven knows, I did.

Soup of the Day - Cauliflower

Service was professional, although I'd prefer a slightly friendlier, more casual interaction (Hello, my name is... etc.) I asked for the Soup of the Day (Cauliflower, $8) and a Croque Madame without Swiss cheese. Not so fast. I was told it wasn't possible. As you know, I usually pass on cheese... especially since my sandwich had a sunny side up egg on top (no dryness.) My server didn't offer an explantation either, which left me a bit perplexed. No worries however, as I always come prepared: I quickly substituted Praline's Chicken Pot Pie ($16.) No sandwich also meant no French Fries, which I've heard good great things about. Needless to say, I'll make sure to order some next time.

La Citron (Sweet Crepe)

Food was delivered lightning fast. My soup arrived mere moments after ordering, followed by a basket of bread & butter a few minutes later. Cauliflower appears to be the "vegetable of the moment," but I haven't tried it in a soup until yesterday. Its temperature was perfect, and as for taste... scrumptious! I literally tilted my cup, to get every last drop. Given the temperature outside (low 40's) you couldn't ask for a better start to a late winter lunch.

Lunch continued at a brisk clip, with the arrival of my deconstructed Chicken Pot Pie. It's more of a soup really, with the most beautiful puff pastry perched on top; but it tastes miles better than the ones I remember devouring as a child. I hated to tear the pastry apart (it really did look amazing... almost like a pillow) but it's so tender, it beats the you-know-what out of a crumbly pie crust. Underneath, a medley of tender vegetables (gorgeous carrots and peas) and thick, juicy chunks of flaky, flavorful chicken... swimming in a rich broth. Normally, I'd pause before spending $16 on a pot pie, but this was absolutely delicious. And get this... it wasn't one-bit salty. Bravo!

I was tempted to order dessert, but opted for a sweet crepe instead (La Citron - lemon, sugar, $6.) It was lovely to look at, and cooked perfectly... but it needed more lemon (and sweetness.) Next time, I'll try two or three different ones (they offer nine savory varieties, and nine more sweet.) I hated to leave, but my exit was eased by the friendly staff behind the counter at the downstairs Bakery. No goodbyes mind you (not yet, anyhow) but rather enthusiastic chit chat over which treats I should take home (for later.)

Apricot Macaron, Lemon Drop & Chocolate Eclair

I opted for three... an Apricot Parisian Macaron ($1.85) a killer Lemon Drop and a mini Chocolate Eclair for $4.25. Toss in a French Baguette ($2.95) and I was all set for the rest of the day. Sadly for me, I didn't get far. You see, I had to open the box to take a photograph... just in case things moved around in transport. Less than five minutes later, I was down to my baguette (only.) The Macaron was first to go, a delicious bite that puts the a in apricot. The Lemon Drop was not only generously sized (a literal steal at only $2.05) but chewy and bursting with tart lemon flavor. I think I worked on that for a full two minutes. My eclair was impossibly tender (to taste) yet firm enough to handle, and stuffed with decadent chocolate creme. I wish it were bigger (sue me, I'm greedy) but quality this good doesn't always come cheap.

French Baguette

As you might expect, my baguette was delightful as well... transcending an otherwise drab slice of turkey with cherry peppers & tomato preserves into a late-night sandwich fit for a king. If only Praline were closer to home... the (culinary) adventures we could share. Speaking of, Praline is opening a second location (in Virginia’s Mosaic District) later this summer: Click here to learn more about that. As for me? I can't wait to go back and try some more crepes, French fries and a dessert or two... or three, or four. Decisions, decisions.