Appetite: Bistro Sancerre Offers Come-As-You-Are French Flair

A long-vacant storefront facing Duke Street in the King Street Station complex has new life with the arrival of Bistro Sancerre, a French bistro and steakhouse that opened its doors a little more than a week ago.

Bistro Sancerre, the Alexandria outpost from the owners of the Arlington-based Grand Cru, came to be when longtime – and voluminous – clientele moved to Carlyle and began lobbying for the restaurant to pick up stakes and move. The National Science Foundation, now stationed nearby, was a neighbor of Grand Cru in Ballston.

“They used to do all of their big meetings over at Grand Cru and told Lena (Thorpe, director of operations) we needed to open a place over here, so that’s what made us start looking over here,” owner Troy Thorpe said. “We (decided on) this location because it kind of resembles our other location.”

But don’t expect Bistro Sancerre to simply be a carbon copy of its elder sibling. With Ravi Narayanan at the helm in the kitchen as executive chef, the menu is full of French-style classics – and a bit of fun, too. Narayanan was in fact the proponent of what he calls the “jocularity” in the menu – plays on words, a festive air – and how he wants to extend that to the dining room as well as the kitchen.

“That’s the feel of the restaurant that I wanted it to be. Come as you are, welcome to the neighborhood, and sit back and enjoy yourself,” he said.

And Narayanan makes it easy to kick back and await the coming meal. All the French favorites are there – filet mignon, Parisian steak frites, duck confit – but so too are those less-expected offerings. Narayanan doesn’t forget the small stuff – and small plates, too.

“In terms of the starters that we have, my duck wing lollipops are very, very fun,” he said. A take on the classic duck a l’orange, the lollipops are a succulent way to start a meal.

And those dishes that are now essential table stakes don’t get short shrift, either. Consider for a moment the lowly house salad, a mainstay on nearly every menu but one that is largely forgettable.

“The house salad I think is something that we here at Bistro Sancerre are very, very proud about. We’ve elevated our house signature salad and made it something to be proud of,” Narayanan said. “Not that other restaurants in Washington, D.C., and Virginia don’t, but it always takes that lonely stand-in-the-corner kind of role.”

The wine selection process is rather unexpected, as well. Many varietals are available by the glass, but to select a bottle, don’t expect a lengthy wine list to arrive at the table. Rather, guests are invited to peruse the shelves lining the dining room to select a bottle that speaks to them.

After a week of dinner-only service, the restaurant is now open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Troy Thorpe says brunch will be in the offing for spring – perhaps making use of Bistro Sancerre’s extensive outdoor patio space when the weather warms up – but for now, the restaurant is taking time to settle into its new digs and new neighborhood.

If You Go

Bistro Sancerre, 1725 Duke St.

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Tuesday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.

Try This: The wine flights. “Those I will be changing every so often…every four to six weeks,” says director of operations Lena Thorpe. “Any time I bring something new on the shelf I would like to share with the guests and gather their opinions.”

Hope Nelson owns and operates the Kitchen Recessionista blog, located at www.kitchenrecessionista.com. Email her any time at hope@kitchenrecessionista.com.

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