There is no greater proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy than the existence of traditional French cuisine. Steak covered with fries? They invented that. Thick, buttery sauces enveloping perfectly-cooked meats? Thanks so much, France. Savory, paper-thin pancakes filled with mushrooms, for dinner? Oh France, you shouldn’t have.
So I was more than a little excited to get down to the new Mass Ave spot to see what they were working with, having heard a lot of chatter about charcuterie and galettes. They managed to score both prime real estate on the Mass Ave strip and were supposedly turning their little piece of the street into a Paris-style bistro.
And oh boy, did they ever.
There is a hint — or perhaps a scoop — of Epcot Center in the decor of the room, from the glittering, string light-lit Eiffel Tower sitting atop a black baby grand right when you enter the door. There’s some mirrored paneling at eye height, all the way around the restaurant. There are gilded C’s and B’s on the high shelves and on other walls, the word “Paris” is spelled out in small wooden letters. Even the host’s station is plastered with a closeup photo of the Tour Eiffel herself.
All the in-your-face Frenchness made me really nervous, and I began to anticipate a wait staff coming out dressed in horizontal-striped boatneck tops, skinny mustaches and berets, all of them chain-smoking. Normally, when someone is shouting themes at you, like a friend poorly executing shadow puppets (“It’s a dog, see? See the dog? Look, there’s its ears and mouth…”), it’s to convince you that they’re nailing it when they’re absolutely not. This did not come to any fruition, luckily.
Instead, we got some truly excellent, traditional French food. I don’t mean French-ish food or “bistro food” or French-influenced food. I mean old school, real goodness complete with buckwheat galettes and seasonally-rotating ingredients and proteins. Can I get an “Amen!” from the Francophiles in the house?
As a girl who loves herself some cured meats, the charcuterie plate was an obvious first choice. It comes to the table festooned with mustard, pickles, and slices of crunchy French bread. It was refreshing to see such well-done charcuterie made by hands other than those employed by Smoking Goose. And it is heavenly. The rabbit rillette is one of the standouts by far, with the mean lineup of cured pork, duck, and rabbit to back it up.
It was the duck with peppercorn sauce that really did it for me. I’m not usually one to douse a good protein in a heavy sauce, but the beauty of the French style is that magical b-word: balance. Even though there are rich textures and flavors (read: butter and flour in everything), there is lovely, classic interplay between heaviness and lightness.
I ordered their fish dish, simple dish of cod with a cream sauce served over wild rice, and found that the protein was absolutely perfect, flaking apart easily while retaining its moisture. The rest of the components of the dish made for a pretty light dinner, despite the cream and butter.
For dessert, we ordered what was described as a “creme brulee with caramel instead of torched sugar.” It was silky-smooth on the tongue, and the caramel retained that essential burnt sugar bitterness that balances against sweetness. It was obvious, too, that someone had passed that uncooked custard through a fine sieve, and the caramel was cooked in-house. These little touches, along with the housemade charcuterie, is what hooked me at this spot. As cheesy as it sounds, there is an obvious difference in restaurants where the owners have a personal interest in serving something meaningful to them, and Cropichon et Bidibule is serving French dishes that are rooted in care and tradition. They even named the place after the French slang nicknames the owners gave their children. What says care more than naming your business baby after your actual babies?
So don’t be distracted by the decor or the fact that every tile and fiber and vertical and horizontal surface are screaming “This is a French restaurant!” Don’t look at the glitter-coated Eiffel Tower. Don’t look at the wooden letters that spell out “Paris” on every wall. Instead, focus on the food, order a nice bottle of wine, and enjoy the old-fashioned romance of French dining.
735 Massachusetts Avenue