In the United States, the words “casual” and “French” don’t often make easy bedfellows. When we think of Gallic cuisine, it’s usually something that arrives at the table under a cloche. But a new addition in Herndon’s Sunset Park complex (the same shopping center where you’ll find Wooboi Hot Chicken and Enatye), Le Vingt-Trois Cafe & Bakery, combines counter service and low prices with French fare.
Owner Mary Caroline Achi’s background is in interior design, and from the gray-blue walls to the blue-and-white china filled with carefully paper-wrapped sandwiches, the restaurant is a visual delight. Achi bakes everything in house, including the crusty, soft-centered baguettes on which she serves sandwiches.
My party’s order took a long time to arrive (in fact, the counter staffer thought it already had when it hadn’t yet been prepared), so Achi threw in a still-warm pain au chocolat with each plate. My jambon-beurre wasn’t quite as classic as I initially expected. It would more accurately be described as a prosciutto-Brie, with thick slices of the cheese stuffed between the bread. It’s a little bit too much Brie, even for a cheese lover. But when I removed it from the second half of the sandwich, I was able to really appreciate the butter. The salty spread is dotted with fresh herbs, a lovely counterpoint to the prosciutto and arugula.
But dessert was the highlight of the meal. Achi’s pistachio-ricotta layer cake all but vaporizes into a wave of nutty flavor when it comes into contact with the human mouth. It’s one of the most whisper-light cakes I can remember eating. It’s all too easy to finish a piece and consider another. And at just $2.99 a slice, it’s even more tempting. // 311 Sunset Park Dr., Herndon
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