Few restaurants have the pedigree of Locolat, yet the place barely rates more than a passing reference from most professional palates, as if we can’t be bothered with a mere chocolate shop that caters to a lunchtime crowd with a line of humble sandwiches. But let’s review the facts: Owner Niel Piferoen has studied with, or worked for, some of the best culinary minds anywhere, including Michel Richard at Citronelle and Cathal Armstrong at Restaurant Eve. He’s also toiled at the Michelin three-star restaurant De Karmeliet in Belgium. His own place channels not only his experiences but also those of his father, a former executive chef for the Belgian embassy, who can be seen in the kitchen here. Locolat’s chocolates and pastries speak for themselves, though I would like to make a special mention of Piferoen’s intricate rectangles of puff pastry called carré confiture, so elegant with their stretched stained-glass patterns offering a window onto a sweet-tart apricot (or orange) filling. But the real find here is the surprisingly expansive menu of sandwiches and panini, which are built on minibaguettes that Piferoen buys parbaked from Le Nôtre, one of the great bakeries in Paris. I’ve fallen hard for Piferoen’s rail-thin runway model of a panini layered with salami, aged Belgian goat cheese, and arugula. Its half-baked baguette is brought to life not in an oven but on a press, which warms, crisps, and chars the exterior while leaving the interior nice and chewy, the perfect complement to the velvety ingredients stuffed inside. There are many more excellent sammies where this one came from, too.
1781 Florida Ave. NW (202) 518-2570
Photo by Darrow Montgomery