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Hot Plate: Romance on the Hill

In Cozy Setting, Bistro Cacao Serves Up Classics

When I arrived at Bistro Cacao and was led to the back dining room, my first thought was, “This is so romantic for Mass Ave!” While the Senate side of Capitol Hill is peppered with no-frills eateries like La Loma and Armand’s, Bistro Cacao (320 Massachusetts Ave. NE) aims to be a romantic French restaurant that is ideal for date night. The dining room is bedecked with chandeliers and red curtains, while the lights are dim and French music can be heard playing quietly in the background.

[IMGCAP(1)]The newly opened restaurant is the third from brothers Harun and Yavuz Bolukbasi, who are responsible for the Turkish restaurant Meze in Adams Morgan and a small plates spot in Dupont called Ezme. Chef Kemal Deger is at the helm and has created a decidedly traditional French menu complete with all the trappings. You’ll see pate, fois gras and escargots, in addition to mussels, steak and rack of lamb. Take note — Bistro Cacao is not a place to take your vegetarian friends, as it only offers one vegetable-based entrée.

The mussels appetizer was fairly boring as they were served in a simple white wine broth, and I was disappointed to see that several of the shellfish hadn’t opened and couldn’t be eaten.

One of the standout dishes at Bistro Cacao was its traditional Niçoise salad. This rich salad features grilled tuna, tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers and olives on a plate of mixed greens. The ingredients were fresh and vibrant, making the dish both look and taste wonderful. The tuna was grilled perfectly without any charring, and the dish was finished off with boiled potatoes.

In terms of entrees, the stuffed chicken breast offered goat cheese and sundried tomatoes inside juicy meat. The cheese was a bit strong and overpowered the dish, though the chicken was perfectly cooked. The pistachio-crusted venison loin was delightful — and not at all gamey — with a chestnut puree and a cherry sauce.

Desserts are a treat at Cacao. The flourless chocolate cake was divine with a gooey center. This dessert achieved no small feat — being rich without being too filling. The apple tart was also tasty. The flaky crust was light and delicious, while the apples were wonderfully sweet.

While food is important, so is ambiance and service. The bistro is broken into three dining rooms. The first is the highly trafficked entranceway, while the second is a sunny room featuring wooden tables, a wall of wine and beautiful chandeliers. The third room is dark and cluttered in an apparent attempt to create a romantic hideaway.

Tables for two line the walls and each is slightly shielded from the room by curtains. Patrons are seated in old and worn armchairs that are better for lounging near a fire than eating a meal. I had to stack no less than three pillows on the seat of my chair just to reach the table, and I’m 5 feet 8. I can only imagine how tricky this would be for someone more petite.

The service at the restaurant ran the gamut from inattentive to overly attentive. On one visit it took several minutes for the server to even realize we had been seated in her section and bring us menus. On another visit a busboy hovered and refilled my water glass after each sip. During this same visit, multiple servers came to the table and kept asking questions that the previous server had just asked. It all got very confusing and constantly cut into conversation.

In the end, Bistro Cacao is good but not great, and perhaps a bit forgettable. When I sat down to write this review, I had a hard time conjuring up the flavors I tasted there and instead remember sinking into the chairs and having spotty service. That being said, the restaurant is darling and has potential to be the ideal date spot if it can work out the kinks. Keep an eye on this place; with the right tweaks, it could be well worth the trip.

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