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Of all the new bistros that have tried to make us feel better about our crappy economy through French country cooking, only Bistro Cacao stands out, perhaps because the Turkish owners had the good sense to appoint their Red Room with upholstered wing chairs, small table lamps, large scarlet drapes, and just about anything else that might up the opulence level. The room, of course, that provides the real uplift here is the kitchen, where you’ll find chef/co-owner Kemal Deger, a Turk whose affiliation with French cooking dates back to the early ’90s, when he worked with Yannick Cam at Provence. Bistro Cacao has a more concise menu than some of its new competitors, which I find comforting—as if the chef knows his strengths and plays to them. As at any good bistro, meat is the way to go, in both solid and liquid forms. Deger’s onion soup arrives with a solid cheese covering, which you have to hack through with a knife to reach the dark mystery underneath, a rich beef stock swimming with sweet, caramelized onions. The hanger steak delivers your beef cooked and sliced in a way to emphasize the cut’s superior flavor, not its chewy texture. Whatever you do, make sure to order frites with your protein, even if your entree already comes with another form of potatoes, such as the excellent square of gratin that accompanies Deger’s seared duck breast with raspberry wine reduction. I’d hate for you to miss some of the best frites, at once crispy and soft, that this city has to offer.
320 Massachusetts Ave. NE (202) 546-4737