Bethesda’s Duck Duck Goose has only been open for a month, but it already has regulars. Sitting at the bar waiting for my table on a recent evening, three people pitched their favorite dishes on the menu to me.
The early following is in part thanks to locals recognizing chef-owner Ashish Alfred from his first venture—4935 Kitchen and Bar—located a mere football field away. There, he books bar mitzvahs by day and serves up a clubby dining scene by night in a sprawling space with a Vegas glow.
Duck Duck Goose couldn’t be more different. “It’s the one I’ve always wanted to open,” he says of his small, sunny corner brasserie serving contemporary French fare.
Squid in spaghetti with clams, pickled Fresno chile and chervil. Credit: Laura Hayes
Duck Duck Goose woos guests with a charitable happy hour. Weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m., all cocktails and small plates (regularly $7-$18) are half price. Welcome this news because the small plates shine the brightest. The best include beef tartare dressed in house-ground Dijon, grilled Scottish langoustine with saffron aioli, and seared tuna atop a smear of avocado purée.
Surrender to your carb cravings and order both pastas, also considered small plates: brie and English pea-filled agnolotti and squid ink spaghetti bejeweled with Virginia Cherrystone clams, plus an uppercut of heat from pickled Fresno chilies. “I spent some time making pasta in New York and eating a lot of fresh pasta,” Alfred says of his edible research. Both pastas delight texturally, only the promised pop of white balsamic vinegar described on the menu is absent from the agnolotti, leaving an otherwise fresh and delicate dish in need of an acid.
Left: Beef tartare with shaved turnip, house-ground Dijon and egg yolk. Right: English pea agnolotti with Brie and white balsamic. Credit: Laura Hayes
Entrées fittingly emphasize fowl to include quail, chicken, duck and tournedos of foie gras. The chicken Forgione can comfort two with spicy broccolini, potato, charred lemon and a dark and savory chicken jus. It’s superior to the pan-seared, line-caught Atlantic salmon, whose too-firm artichoke adornment needn’t be on the plate. Craving more than fowl or fish? The panacea is a 36-ounce cote de boeuf with sides for two.
Chicken Forgione with spicy broccolini, potato, charred lemon and chicken jus. Credit: Laura Hayes
The seven-seat bar has the camaraderie of a true watering hole. Perhaps the friendliness is a symptom of stiff, well-crafted cocktails. I quickly drain the “Duck L’Orange” with Woodford Reserve, Grand Marnier, maple simple syrup and a duck bacon lolli. Most guests grasp glasses with this elixir, but there are also six other cocktails ($11-$14), a small selection of predominantly French wine and craft beer. After dinner, try a house whiskey infusion called “Jameson Banana” on the rocks. “I’m two years sober, but when I do start drinking again, I'm going out on that stuff,” Alfred says.
The dining room inside Duck Duck Goose. Credit: Laura Hayes
Light floods the 28-seat, simply appointed dining room that boasts the look of an open kitchen, but not the sound thanks to an attractive glass screen partitioning the two areas. With design, Alfred was again inspired by the Big Apple: “I cooked and ate all over the West Village—you spend time in those restaurants and say, ‘One day I’m going to open one.’ ”
An early Thursday evening reveals a date night hotspot. But while cozy, the young-leaning soundtrack with hits from Erykah Badu, Pharcyde and Anthony Hamilton, plus energetic servers, keeps Duck Duck Goose from being too precious.
Go, Wait or Skip
Go. Alfred’s second act injects warmth and inspired flavors into the Bethesda dining scene and there’s little evidence of early jitters, save for servers cribbing from notes. “Consider us your new regulars,” an older couple declares after settling the bill at the no-reservations restaurant. Hint: Grab a seat while you still can.
Duck Duck Goose is open 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Friday; 3 p.m. to midnight Saturday; and 2 to 10 p.m. Sunday. 7929 Norfolk Ave.; 301-312-8837; www.ddgbethesda.com