Arlington / French / $$$
French food in America is often as much about the show as it is about the food. It’s the service, with puckered lips pointed toward the guests’ posteriors. It’s the gilded rooms. But just one look at the semi-open kitchen here will show you: Café Colline exists for the cuisine.
It’s in the hands of chef Brendan L’Etoile, also on this list for his work at Parc de Ville. Many of the two restaurants’ menu items are the same. But Café Colline hews slightly more modern. Think of it as the kind of updated eatery that’s been opening in Paris over the past decade or so, with dishes that may sound familiar but taste somehow new.
Diners can experience this in the form of the loup de mer, or sea bass. The fish’s crisp skin is bedecked in capers and toasted almonds, part of a tangy brown butter sauce known as a beurre noisette. It’s served over ideally al dente haricots verts. The meal isn’t complete without a silky-rich chocolate-hazelnut pot de crème, covered in the crunchy nuts. You’ve probably had some iteration of those dishes before, but never quite like this.
See this: Cookbooks are stacked along one wall, while a poster for Miro at the Centre Pompidou faces it, all reminders that this is a temple of profound Frenchness.
Eat this: La Cachat, loup de mer, pots de crème
Service: Worth every bit of the 20 percent added to your bill, plus a little something extra.
When to dine here: You’re going Gallic but want to hold the pretense.