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Chez Billy is about cooking what I love—-classic French cuisine,” says Brendan L’Etoile. The former sous chef at Marvin has been put in charge of his own kitchen as part of operators Eric and Ian Hilton‘s fast-growing empire of bars and restaurants in the District.

L’Etoile’s chosen French theme is a first for the Hiltons, whose other diverse holdings range in culinary style from pseudo-Belgian (Marvin) to country barbecue (American Ice Co.) to Jamaican flavors (Patty Boom Boom).

Y&H got a sneak peek of the latest Hilton spot during a soft opening party on Friday night. The new bistro, located along Georgia Avenue NW in rapidly gentrifying Petworth, opened to the public on Sunday.

Complimentary hors d’oeuvres passed around during the party seemed to validate L’Etoile’s French-themed aspirations. Offerings included shots of vichyssoise, salmon tartare on potato chips and cheese-filled gougeres. However, the Sazeracs and house collection of Armanacs proved more memorable than the food, at least on soft-opening night. (Prince of Petworth has the full menu, and it looks rich and promising.)

A bigger question than how the fare hits palate: how will the Hilton’s proven formula for success play outside the uber-hip corridors of Dupont Circle and U Street?

On the one hand, Chez Billy is likely to be a magnet for business in a neighborhood that has been waiting patiently for someone, anyone, to move it away from hipster backwater and towards nightlife destination.

The Hiltons seem to have anticipated the flood, because Chez Billy is big by Petworth standards. The first floor has a large bar area and two separate rooms with tables for dinner and cocktails. Upstairs, people can get drinks at a second bar and take them to two balconies with high tables that look down on the main floor. Two huge, French-inspired chandeliers hang in between the balconies. Rich wood and quirky accoutrement, including a stuffed goose, covers the walls.

On the other hand, Chez Billy takes the place of the former Billy Simpson’s, a seafood joint that served as a hub for African-American culture and politics in the city for nearly 50 years. The Hiltons have a challenge on their hands to make the new establishment live up to that legacy, particularly in a fast-gentrifying neighborhood like Petworth.

The initial signs, at least, seemed positive. A quick scan of the crowd during the opening party suggested a more diverse clientele than one might typically see on an average night at other Hilton-owned joints. A number of local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners were also in attendance.

Chez Billy, 3815 Georgia Ave NW; (202) 506-2080

Photo by Sam Vasfi