My favorite place to sit (and eat) at ICI Urban Bistro at the Sofitel in Washington is a table for two, up against a wall, and right next to a wall panel. So, a sort-of corner table. There is an illusion of privacy while being open to the whole room. If I can grab that seat, I do.
I’ve been going to the restaurant at the Sofitel – called Café 15 in its first iteration – for years. When the restaurant changed from Café 15 to ICI Urban Bistro, the décor and style of the space changed from traditional/contemporary to sleek and modern. It’s a soothing space in which to enjoy fantastic French food.
In the past few years when I’ve been there for lunch, I’ve ordered the “30-minute lunch” – reasonably priced, with four small-portioned courses.
I recently met my friend Andrew there for lunch after a morning of marathon meetings. Andrew and I have been dining together for nearly a decade and have known each other longer. We eat, we talk, we discuss food and wine, and on occasion Andrew will vent about chargeable hours (not typical lunch conversation) or his obsessive marathon and/or triathlon training (also not typical lunch conversation).
Andrew was not at the restaurant when I arrived. Five minutes, then 10 minutes went by after our scheduled lunch date. Up until almost four months ago, I had worked in the same office as Andrew and knew things could come up – client matters, deadlines moved up, etc. And knowing that he likely was in the middle of something important, I sent him the following 12 emails, in quick succession.
Email 1: I’m here.
Email 2: Where the @&$! are you????
Email 3: I can't freaking wait all day.
Email 4: I have other things to do
Email 5: Other people want to have lunch with me
Email 6: What's wrong with you?!?!
Email 7: Jesus. Christ.
Email 8: This. Is. Outrageous.
Email 9: If you're not here in FIVE mins, I'm leaving!!
Email 10: This is Ridiculous.
Email 11: And don't freaking blame [name of boss].
Email 12: You have got to be kidding me!!!
Open communication in friendship is key.
Andrew finally arrived.
We both went with the 30-minute lunch menu, priced at $26. This is what I ordered:
- Appetizer -- Chantrelle Crepes (with chicken and tarragon veloute)
- Main Course – Branzino a la Plancha (bass with Virginia farm winter squash puree and rainbow Swiss chard; espelette and pear emulsion)
- Salad – Chioggia beets salad
- Dessert – Mini desserts (chef’s choice)
Beets are one of my favorite vegetables and as far as I’m concerned, there is no bad way to prepare them. I do, however, have a grand love for the way the French prepare beets. Bistro Francais in Georgetown has on top of their very simple salad small, cubed strips of beets – I would be perfectly happy eating a large bowl of cubed strips of beets.
I digress – the beet salad at ICI was delicious. If you’re on the fence about beets – well, first of all, that’s crazy – Chioggia beets are probably the best beets to eat. They are from Chioggia, Italy and are known for their mild flavor. Their color also is not the intense red, but rather pinkish.
The Branzino a la Plancha – which I’ve never eaten before – is a fish I’m not crazy about. I decided to go with this main course because I was even less crazy about the other two options: Moules Chorizo (no mussels, please) and Roasted Amish Chicken. The bass turned, however, out to be satisfying.
I must disclose that while I enjoy fish on occasion, it’s not something I crave or turn to with great enthusiasm. The fish curries my mother made throughout my childhood burst at the seams with flavor and spice and had not one, single hint of fishiness. Any hint of fishiness and I’m turned off.
Even though the courses in the 30-minute lunch are small, by the time we got to dessert, I was full. I very well could have gone without diving into the desserts head first, but the desserts at ICI are expertly made and worth writing home about. I ordered a coffee and bit away at the chocolate desserts.
What I love about the 30-minute-lunch is that all your courses arrive on one plate. It’s simple, elegant, and so satisfying.
And I have to rave about the customer service: incredibly friendly and knowledgeable.
If you get to ICI before your meal begins, head over to Le Bar right across from the restaurant. An elegant space with loungy-seating: perfect for a glass of champagne before a meal. Le Bar also has a menu and is great for quick bite, especially at lunch.
Finally, if you can’t make it to ICI during the winter, you must head over there in the spring or summer time. Eating outside (facing 15th and H Streets) is an absolute pleasure. ICI’s summer soup selections also are fantastic.