Staying Up Late at Bistrot du Coin

Late-night dining has never been so… bright

Photo wall at Bistrot du Coin.

This weekend, my roommate and I headed out to Bistrot du Coin (1738 Connecticut Ave NW) to dine with an eclectic group: her older brother, his girlfriend, his college friend, and the friend’s girlfriend. The only reservation we could get was at 9pm, but we were assured that the food would be well worth the wait. So it was that I found myself approaching the restaurant at 9:03, stomach grumbling.

Bistrot du Coin opened way back in 2000, and quickly became a staple of any cultured Washingtonian’s restaurant list, as proven by their prominently-displayed framed photo of Bill Clinton on site. It’s located on what I like to think of as the neglected side of DuPont, right by all the exotic dancer spots. From the outside, it’s nothing special — just a simple, dingy awning facing out onto Connecticut Avenue — but you can tell from peering into the windows that something special is going on in here.

The first thing that shocked me about this restaurant is the ceilings, which must be at least 20 feet high. The second thing was the light: it was as bright as day in there, despite the pitch-black of the night outside.

Homardine (left) and beef bourguignon (right) at Bistrot du Coin. Photos by Hannah Berman.

Once my eyes had adjusted, I walked up to the rest of our group and gave out some hesitant hugs by way of introduction. We sat down and went around the circle with the customary “And what do you do?”s. Then the brother ordered some wine and we set to examining the menu.

Bistrot du Coin manages to be the most classic of French restaurants without being stuffy, which is a tricky line to toe. They do this by serving beautifully cooked, elegantly seasoned food in massive portions with a side of peasant bread, which somehow makes everything feel quaint despite its obvious high quality.

After agonizing over the decision for minutes, I ordered the homardine, a pasta dish based around mini ravioli and seafood. The food came quickly. Underneath a surface of melted cheese, I discovered mussels, baby shrimp, and scallops swimming in a lobster sauce. This dish is tied together by a strong mushroom flavor, and rich (in multiple senses).

I also tasted the beef bourguignon, which Bistrot du Coin lists as a specialty — and WOW. I haven’t had red meat in almost a year, so the fact that I was tempted to break that fast should be an indication of how good this dish smelled. The sauce combines melt-in-your-mouth bits of meat and whole pearl onions to create a deep, satisfying taste, offset by the pasta served underneath. It’s glorious.

Breads and food at Bistrot du Coin. Photo by Hannah Berman.

Something about Bistrot du Coin invites frivolity. It might have been the time-zone-bending lighting, or perhaps the wine — but no matter what prompted it, only half an hour in, our randomly assembled group clicked pleasantly into gear. We realized that most of the people at the table were dating someone from Hinge, which they all made meaningful eye contact about, chanting in unison, “The app that’s meant to be deleted.” They told us their love stories; we gasped and awwwed at the appropriate places. The couples shared looks and the siblings bickered. All of a sudden, we were no longer strangers.

“I remember when we were your age, this restaurant would be our big date night out,” the friend’s girlfriend confided in me and my roommate, despite being only three years older than us. “This is where we would go when we really wanted to drop some cash.”

Illuminated interiors at Bistrot du Coin. Photos by Hannah Berman.

She’s right, of course: $30 mains are by no means the norm for us. These prices aren’t shocking, given that the Clintons themselves have endorsed this place, but they definitely set Bistrot du Coin outside of my usual price range. Still, the down-to-earth, conversational vibes of the room prevent it from feeling too fancy, and the food is, as promised, well worth the wait (and the cost).

Bistrot du Coin’s motto is “French, fun, and friendly,” and my experience here proved to be just that. Our meal finally ended at 10:45pm, and it was filled with brightness, from the illuminated room to the good food and merry company. Bistrot du Coin has officially earned a spot on my special occasion restaurant rotation, and will remain there until it closes or time itself ends — whichever comes first.

Read more musings at Do Not Disturb, Hannah is Eating, or subscribe to get the newsletter delivered to your inbox here.

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