1201 North Royal St # A
Alexandria, VA 22314
Sometimes it’s nice to visit those big-box chains for a reassuring bite of familiarity that can be found anywhere you go. You know, something like a McDonald’s or The Cheesecake Factory. They provide decent value-for-money and turn out a reliable product with a menu that hardly ever changes. Great for those times when you feel like keeping it low key.
However, there are those moments when you’re feeling a bit adventurous. Breaking out of the chains and into the local, family-run establishments is one of the ways to satisfy that hunger. In my view, it’s one of the best ways to dine out, and there are two main reasons for that. First, by being patron to your local establishments, you’re helping to keep money within your local community, people that you’ll see around town. Secondly, the local establishments have much more invested into their business and thus tend to turn out higher quality products. Now I realize these are just generalizations, but the experience my friends and I had at Bastille for our Saturday night dinner for Restaurant Week was a great example of quality products at a charming establishment.
Bastille is a Provencal-style French restaurant that prides itself on using locally-sourced ingredients. Their decor creates a great atmosphere for their food, complete with wooden floors and tables and brick walls. They even have an outdoor patio area for summer seating. The interior was cozy, with about 10 tables filling the dining room. The servers’ counter and hotplate are both open and visible to guests, making for great energy in the dining room and a more personal experience. It’s always great to observe a kitchen’s head chef and how they work their team.
The host greeted us and sat us down at our table. Two of us arrived first, but our waiter was kind enough to bring us drinks first. Once our last two friends arrived, service got underway. My initial impression was that our server was very knowledgeable about the dishes being served and had suggestions for us that highlighted the strengths of the restaurant.
For the starter, two of my friends and I went with the signature dish of duck charcuterie, consisting of prosciutto, rillettes, and a confit with fruit mustarda. The prosciutto was sliced thin but had a good bite to it. The flavor was sufficiently duck-y and had a good saltiness to it. The rillettes had a silky texture and lightness to it, which I was not expecting. Served with a slice of toasted baguette, it was a great element to include on the plate. The confit was the standout on the plate and had the most substance to it. In fact, it surprised us that they gave us a whole leg on the plate. The crispiness of the skin and full-on bold flavor of the duck personified perfectly executed confit. The charcuterie definitely lived up to all the hype.
Our one remaining friend ordered the rock shrimp beignets. They looked well fried and though I didn’t taste them, seemed to be a hit.
For the main course, I ordered a cassoulet of white bean ragout with lamb stew, duck confit, pork belly, and pork sausage. The portion for this dish was quite large, and it actually surprised me that they served so much food (with such a variety of meats to boot). The lamb and white bean ragout had a smooth, hearty texture and served as a base for the other meats on the dish. The duck confit was the same as the appetizer but a different cut of duck. The pork loin square was generously fatty and tender throughout, and the pork sausage had a great earthiness to it that can only be achieved with fresh ingredients. While the dish was excellent in its flavors and textures, I believe that it could be downsized just a bit and substituting one of the meats (such as the duck, which was an odd addition to the mix) with some vegetable could balance it out.
The other main dish my friends ordered was the lamb loin with an olive harissa and Merguez tajine. I did not taste the dish, but the loin looked well-seasoned and pink in the center, and the side of harissa and tajine was a creative way to cut through the gaminess of the lamb.
Normally, the desserts at French restaurants are sumptious and rich. After all, the world covets such delights as creme brulee, macarons, and souffle. Again, two of us ordered the same dessert, and the other two ordered matching desserts as well. I went with an apple tatin, and the others went with a chocolate Napoleon. The tatin was well presented, with the apple cut into a ring and soaked in an orange armangac sabayon. On the bottom was a relatively flat pastry ring. While I appreciated the thought that went into the tatin, it was not what I was expecting. I would expect the apple to be crisp on top and the pastry to be more substantial on the bottom, though those just might be my preferences for a more traditional tatin. It was still delicious, and my fullness from the first two course was probably taking its toll.
The chocolate Napoleons looked a bit fancier and had a nice firm texture to them. My friends enjoyed them very much and finished their plates.
Bastille is quite simply a hidden gem. It’s tucked away in a remote corner of Alexandria, away from the tourism of Old Town and offers (wait for it) … free parking! The homeliness of the exterior and interior is welcoming, and the staff are attentive. The food is excellent and has some flashes of genius apparent in the attention to flavors. The nature of Provencal culture is to be laid back and hearty, and Bastille is a shining example of that southern French attitude to cooking. Their food isn’t meant to be dawdled at or held as pieces of artwork. It’s meant to be tasted and savored, and Bastille executes it brilliantly. I can’t wait to visit again in the warmer months.