What La Fourchette is not: another corporate, “celebrity chef”-driven, pricey experiment in DC food trends.
The mural-painted walls of La Fourchette have stood for over 30 years; little has changed. Like the quaint and charming interior, the knowledge of this is comforting in a city where passing gastronomic ventures come and go as quickly as summer interns on the Hill.
The story of this District mainstay is as interesting as its enduring, consistent presence.
In 1970, Chef Pierre Chauvet and his wife Jacqueline left their hometown of Cannes, France and came to the States. Pierre got a job as a chef with the Embassy of Belgium where he perfected his craft. Like many who came to DC before him, he worked his way into power, becoming the personal chef of renowned Washington Post publisher/owner Katharine Graham.
I imagine it was comforting for Katharine, one of the most powerful women battling the fallout of the Watergate scandal in a male-dominated world, to sit down at the end of the day and indulge in some down-home French provincial fair.
One day, Pierre himself sat down at a little restaurant in Adams Morgan called La Fourchette. He was so impressed, he bought the place on the spot. Pierre’s dream had always been to own his own restaurant, and while he and Katharine shared a deep mutual respect for one another, he knew it was time to build his own empire.
Besides, his wife Jaqueline had two sons.And as they grew, so did the restaurant – for over 30 years.
Today it stands amidst relative newcomers like Black Squirrel and Bourbon. And while others may fall, La Fourchette keeps on going, offering some of the best salmon eggs Benedict this writer has ever tried (the magic is in the crispy, buttery, just-off-the-grill French bread and rich hollandaise whipped up with free-range, local eggs).
“I had it earlier today,” admitted Pierre’s now-grown son, aptly named Pierre-Gaspard Chauvet. “We should have lines out the door for the eggs Benedict.”
Pierre-Gaspard grew up working at the restaurant alongside his parents and brother. “Do we own it too? No, I wouldn’t say we own it, but we’re in their [our parents’] ear,” Pierre-Gaspard said of his brother and himself.
And while the brothers encourage their parents to evolve and adopt new practices, some of which they’ve embraced (like a prix fixe lunch/early dinner menu), Pierre-Gaspard admits La Fourchette’s strength is in its traditional, straightforward quality and strong emphasis on family.
“A lot of the French restaurants in DC are chef-driven but not chef-owned. They’re corporate owned with a named chef, like someone who was just on Top Chef,” Pierre-Gaspard explained.
“Here it’s not like that – it’s very low key. My cousin, for instance, is working in the back. He just came from France to cook and learn better English. And we have a new addition to the family – my mom’s granddaughter. My mom takes her out and introduces her to the customers. We have a very loyal following…people who have been coming here for years.”
I asked Pierre-Gaspard if La Fourchette was doing anything for the upcoming Bastille Day. The answer, not surprisingly, was a simple no. But, he added, if you want authentic and affordable French food before heading down to a wilder, champagne-driven party at the nearby L’Enfant Cafe and Bar, La Fourchette is the way to go.
Oh, and back to that prix-fixe menu. It’s one of the best I’ve seen (and I’ve seen some good ones). Seventeen dollars buys you a three course meal consisting of an appetizer like mussels provencal; an entree such as petite filet mignon or seafood crepes consisting of shrimp, scallops and fish; and a dessert like chocolate mousse.
Simple, consistent, delicious French food. That’s what La Fourchette is, and will likely remain, for a long time to come.
La Fourchette: 2429 18th St. NW, DC; 202-332-3077; www.lafourchettedc.com