The appetizer—raw beef filet cut into half-inch cubes, dressed with Dijon mayonnaise, capers and shallots and piled into a bowl—becomes a lush steak tartare as I fold in raw egg yolk and scoop a forkful onto a crisp baguette cracker. My expectations are low (so many have tartare on their menus, so many make it poorly), but my frown disappears at the first bite. “Wow!” I tell myself, savoring the meat’s earthiness, which is enhanced by its seasoning. “This place has promise.”
Some promises are kept, others not at Duck Duck Goose, which opened in Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle in April. With some tweaking, the French bistro could be the kind of reliable neighborhood spot with amazing food we all fantasize about. The fine-tuning that’s needed all comes down to 30-year-old chef and owner Ashish Alfred, who grew up in Rockville and graduated from Magruder High School.
The diminutive restaurant, so charming you feel like you’ve stepped into a scene from Amélie, wraps the corner of Norfolk and Cordell avenues, the former site of Brasserie Monté Carlo. It seats 35 indoors and 20 on the patio. Inside, the stage is set with black bentwood chairs, wrought-iron-based tables, mismatched vintage silverware and striped cotton bistro napkins. Rounded floor-to-ceiling windows flood the space with light. (And direct sunlight, which can make the place stifling. Go after sundown in hot weather.)
Duck Duck Goose’s bistro atmosphere was inspired by restaurants in New York City’s West Village.
Alfred also owns nearby 4935 Bar and Kitchen, an American, French and Indian fusion restaurant, catering venue and nightclub. He graduated from Manhattan’s French Culinary Institute in 2010, interned for a year at Daniel, one of the world’s finest restaurants, and worked for two years at famed chef Mario Batali’s Lupa restaurant, also in New York.
Duck Duck Goose was inspired by the delightful little restaurants of New York’s West Village. “Those places really made an impression on me,” Alfred says. “Their design, how intimate they were, how much thought was put into every little detail.”
Things start well at Duck Duck Goose with refreshing cocktails, such as the Flower of the Sun, made with botanical gin, lemon verbena, Jack Rudy tonic and edible nasturtiums.
Chef and owner Ashish Alfred
Alfred’s smallish menu, divided into “Smalls,” “Shares,” “Mains” and “Features” (otherwise known as specials), suggests intriguing, updated French bistro food. Many dishes, including the steak tartare, hit the mark.
Fresh English pea purée—cleverly made with brie cheese to add richness and a hint of must from its moldy rind—fills handmade, football-shaped agnolotti cooked to al dente sublimity then served over white balsamic beurre blanc and topped with fresh pea shoots. This pasta is a dish worth returning for.
Agnolotti is filled with English pea purée.
A special of steamed clams with white wine, butter, garlic and chopped andouille sausage (though billed as chorizo) is pure heaven, especially when you sop the golden liquid with the accompanying slices of grilled baguette.
Rich in flavors and textures, a large steak of cauliflower resembles a cerebellum cross-section. It’s seared to golden brown and butter basted in a sauté pan until tender, then placed atop smoked date purée and garnished with pickled cauliflower florets, grated cauliflower “couscous” and cauliflower purée. The latter, though, is ice cold, rendering its texture congealed rather than velvety.
And that’s the issue at Duck Duck Goose. Details abound, but attention to them doesn’t.
Cauliflower over smoked date purée
A single-scallop “Small,” touched with white wine and fish stock, is sealed with a puff pastry rim within a scallop shell so that, when baked, it poaches beautifully inside. Served in the bottom shell, the scallop and pastry make a fine presentation anchored on a pile of salt—if you can avoid dragging the pastry through the salt when you pry it off the shell to eat it.