The third time is a charm for the corner space in the Mosaic District, first home to R.J. Cooper’s Southern-ish Gypsy Soul, followed by Mike Isabella’s Mediterranean-ish Requin. Now it’s Parc de Ville, a true-to-form, no-ish-about-it Parisian brasserie from the Hilton brothers. The siblings made a name for themselves in DC with a slew of bars and eateries, including El Rey Taqueria, French bistro Chez Billy Sud and cocktail bar The Gibson. Now the duo is looking to replicate that success on this side of the Potomac with several projects, which also include French-focused Café Colline and another El Rey, both coming soon to Ballston.
Thankfully, the brothers gave the 5,100-square-foot Merrifield property a face-lift, while retaining some of its foundational elements. Now there’s a sultry swagger that was missing in previous incarnations. Setting the mood are glammy, gold accents, softer white lights and lounge-y music featuring the occasional French accent rising above the slinky beats. Dark woods, tiled floors and a glass-fronted wine fridge holding exclusively French varietals complete the scene.
Almost every one of the 100-plus seats are primo. (A 3,150-square-foot rooftop with seating for another 100 guests is set to open later this year.) See-and-be-seen banquette-backed tables run along the widescreen windows that stand in for half the walls, cozy two-person booths split the center of the room and there is seating at the bar that fronts the partially open kitchen. Inside the gleaming culinary core is where chef Brendan L’Etoile presides over a classic brasserie menu that hews to tradition. It’s more mainstream than the French fare he puts out at sister spot Chez Billy Sud in Georgetown, but just as delicious and well presented by the smart and attentive service team.
The menu is divided simply—hors d’oeuvres and entrees—both populated with well-loved favorites. For starters, the chicken liver parfait topped with a layer of madeira gelée is a standout. Schmear it on the warm raisin and walnut bread for a bite that’s earthy umami enhanced with sultry sweetness. Another well-executed choice is poached duck egg, blushing with red wine sauce (ouef en meurette). Sizeable bacon lardons, mushrooms, vinegary pearl onions and a hidden round of crunchy toast add texture and complexity. Salads are straightforward. The best is the frisée with more of those lardons and big crunchy croutons.
An unfortunate misfire is the French onion soup, which looks the part with a bubbly cheesy top. But plunge a spoon below the gooey morass and find a broth that skews sweet; too sweet for my taste. Worse yet, mine was tongue-scorchingly hot. A day later, my taste buds are still recovering.
Mains offer something for everyone. The croque-madame is spot-on. A sunny-side up egg sits atop the sizeable sandwich cloaked in melted Gruyere. Inside, there’s gentle folds of ham lavished with mornay sauce and just enough nutmeg. On the side is a pile of fab fries, their skins still on, frizzled to golden perfection. They make another welcome appearance with the double-decker burger. Packed into a sesame seed bun, the stacked patties come topped with American cheese and thick-cut pickles. Definitely a winner. So is the no frills trout amandine, its silvered skin covered with a scattering of slivered almonds and green beans. The brown butter sauce finds balance with the incorporation of lemon juice. It’s a nice complement to the tender, slightly sweet fish.
If you’re in beast mode, go for the jambonneau, a hefty ham shank slow braised until the meat peels away from the bone with just a light touch of your fork. Crunchy cabbage underneath and chewy spaetzle on top offer textural contrast, though not as much contrasting flavor as would be welcome.
Another accenting issue occurs with the omelet packed with a barrage of tarragon, overtaking all the other herbs in the mix. There’s a technical problem with the Parisian gnocchi: The dusky pasta plugs are a mushy mess inside. Too bad, because with elements of sage and squash, it would be fantastic if executed properly.
When it comes time for dessert, the oversized built-for-Instagram Paris-Brest is a must. The puffy pastry ring is split in half and packed full of rich praline cream. Thankfully, it’s served with a steak knife to facilitate slicing. For a lighter option, there’s pear sorbet served with a buttery, warm madeleine. Skip the gloopy rice pudding hiding under a lid of brûléed sugar in a tall sundae glass. Sadly, it conceals its best feature at the bottom: a pool of lovely salted caramel.
Minor quibbles aside, it’s a safe bet Parc de Ville will be a hit with the Mosaic crowd. A bougie brasserie fits in nicely alongside populist concepts like Ted’s Bulletin and Alta Strada. Gypsy Soul and Requin were both overwrought, overthought affairs driven by what their respective chefs wanted to do. The Hilton brothers are smart to give their guests what they want instead. Let the Belle Époque begin.
★ ★ ☆ ☆
The Hilton Brothers’ most ambitious project is a stunner—and its kitchen puts out pretty, pleasing plates too.
Chicken liver parfait, croque-madame, double cheeseburger, Paris-Brest. // 8296 Glass Alley, Fairfax