I first discovered Le Relais de l’Entrecote in Paris, France my junior year in college abroad. I was fascinated by its simple, yet flawless formula. L’Entrecote, an institution in the neighborhood Saint Germain du Pres, specializes in only one item – steak frites. There is no menu, just the question of how you’d like your steak cooked and what kind of wine you’d like to drink.
The menu is a prefix consisting of a house salad and the main course – thin, tender slices of steak accompanied by frites, everything drizzled with a creamy peppercorn sauce. The flavor of the sauce is rich and intense, and the extra on the table doesn’t last for long. And, if one serving isn’t enough, you are served a second portion of steak frites after you finish the first. Sure, you’re stuffed afterwards, but it’s all for the worthy cause of excellent food.
I remember this restaurant so clearly, and have never found anything like it in the US. When I came across Medium Rare, a fairly recent addition to the Cleveland Park neighborhood along Connecticut Ave., I was anxious to try it. The restaurant, owned by Tom Gregg and Mark Bucher (who both founded BGR the Burger Joint) is based on the famous Parisian steak frites establishment.
I was very impressed with Medium Rare. I loved the dimly lit interior with a bit of romantic French flair. I also loved the simplicity of the restaurant’s menu. I find that such a unique, simple concept is refreshing to diners.
Medium Rare follows the same formula as l’Entrecote. First, choose your wine and temperature of your meat. Second, a salad with buttery lettuce and halved cherry tomatoes, topped with a tasty mustard vinaigrette and accompanied by crusty French bread.
And finally – the steak, thinly sliced dry-aged top sirloin, and frites may be served on a surprisingly small plate, but not to worry, there is much more to come. Although both helpings were delicious, my second helping of steak frites was actually better than my first – the steak juicier, the fries crunchier.
The sauce, referred to as “sauce secrete” was quite different from l’Entrecote. I found Medium Rare’s version smoother and less overpowering than the Parisian restaurant’s, but just as enjoyable.
So, the ultimate question remains, can a concept like Medium Rare’s work in D.C.? I think it most definitely can, as long as diners truly understand the restaurant’s concept. For me, it was easy since I have dined at l’Entrecote, but for others, Medium Rare’s system could be confusing. I encourage Medium Rare to use its website to explain its dining concept to potential visitors. This restaurant is truly unique, and a great addition to the Cleveland Park area.