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Posted at 2:50 PM ET, 09/25/2006

'Souris with a Smile

By Erin

The newest meat market in Washington isn't a singles bar, but a Dupont-area French bistro with a menu that'll make any red meat-lover content. Montsouris, from the owners of Montmartre, opened in the former Johnny's Half Shell space on P Street last Wednesday. For those who don't know, Johnny's picked up and moved to Capitol Hill's old La Colline space. The turnaround happened quickly, so the atmosphere isn't radically different, but the cuisine has changed and it's already some of the area's best bistro fare.

Arriving at 7 p.m. over the weekend, I clearly was not the only one who had high hopes for this spot. Even at the early hour, we were given the choice of a table by the entrance or seats at the bar.

As with the easy and understated decor, the menu doesn't try to pull off any spectacular feats. It reads like an ideal offering from the reliable neighborhood spot. The wine list is extensive and well-chosen with strong representation from France and Italy and a good number of smaller wineries. The charming wait staff can offer suggestions for pairings if you don't see anything familiar.

Appetizers include oysters, pate, a velvety bone marrow with toasted bread, fresh mussels in garlicky poulette sauce, soup du jour and beet tartar.

As with any self-respecting bistro, Montsouris is generous with its available cuts of meat come entree time. Choose from three ribeye preparations (think buerre rouge or bearnaise), a butcher steak with bacon and chives, veal, steak tartar and my choice, the succulent Kobe bavette. The bavette was a substantial and mostly tender cut of short loin with a dish of caramelized onions and a generous portion of soft, warm fries. The ribeyes come with a large dish of potatoes au gratin, and there are plenty of additional sides to order. The steaks aren't at the level of a first-rate steakhouse, but they're flavorful, cooked-to-order and in line with what one would hope for in a bistro. Salmon with lentils, tuna and duck are among the less meaty entrees, which run in or around the low $20s.

If you store up any room for dessert, apple tarte tatin, cheese and a traditional mont blanc chestnut meringue beckon.

Two nights into service, the restaurant was already attracting a substantial and eclectic crowd. Parents with young kids in tow, an older solo diner, a group of party-bound women and a couple on a date all looked equally at home in the casual space. Though the restaurant doesn't participate in opentable.com, reservations are accepted, so it's best to call ahead and guarantee a spot. Food this good demands a proper table.

--Erin

By Erin  | September 25, 2006; 2:50 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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Comments

Bonjour Erin:

Be careful with your abbreviations: in French "Souris" means mouse--not the most appetizing of connotations for what sounds like a great bistro!

Posted by: Former French Major | September 28, 2006 12:13 PM | Report abuse

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