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The Dish: boeuf à la Provençale
The Location: Napoleon Bistro and Lounge, 1847 Columbia Road NW, (202) 299-9630.
The Price: $18.95
The Skinny: The waiter’s not scoring any points with me. He’s returned to my table with bad news. He stands there in his black pants and shirt, a little patch of facial hair clinging to his chin, and explains that the mussels with creamy leek sauce that I ordered are not available at lunch. Then, with all the dead-eyed enthusiasm of an underwear model, he hands the menu back to me. I’m only mildly miffed that he doesn’t know the menu yet—-the owners of Cafe Bonaparte in Georgetown, after all, just recently opened this bistro in the former Mantis space in Adams Morgan—-but my annoyance level leaps into the red zone when he brings me the Sancerre I ordered for the mussels. I tell him that I’d like the beef stew instead but that the wine doesn’t exactly pair with it. He puzzles over the comment for a moment or two, then says, “Would you like a different wine?” By the time that the entree arrives, all is forgiven. The dish has the look of a classic daube de boeuf à la Provençale, just without the olives and tomatoes. The first smell to hit your nostrils, somewhat surprisingly, is not braised beef but cured pork. The dish is studded with bits of bacon, not to mention sprinkles of peas, celery, and brunoised carrots. All this meatiness might be too much by half if not for the stewing liquid, which is perfumed with herbs, adding a layer of sweet earthiness to all that beef and pork. This hearty, cold-weather stew, I’m happy to say, does not stomp on the neck of the wine I reordered, a big, spicy Lalande-de-Pomerol from Château Haut-Surget.