The cherry blossoms were just at their most beautiful as I sat down with Alexandra Byrne of the Sofitel to hear all about iCi Urban Bistro, the luxury hotel’s beautiful restaurant and bar. We headed to the patio to chat about their signature 30-minute lunch, the upcoming Easter brunch, and an art installation, all signatures of the Sofitel.
Situated at 15th and H, iCi Urban Bistro is located in the heart of power lunch territory. While the menu certainly comes with its fair share of high-end offerings–Peking duck, halibut and crab cakes, for example–the menu is unexpectedly creative, and not at all pretentious.
The 30-minute lunch is a go-to for K Streeters who want a square (literally), full meal at a reasonable price. The meal comes with four tastes: a soup, a salad, an entree, and a dessert, and I was impressed with the portion of Alexandra’s butternut squash soup, mesclun salad, salmon, and plum tart as it was set down for her.
I went a more traditional route, enjoying both a starter and an entree. As exaggerated as it may sound, the chicken crepes were the most exquisite thing I’ve had in a long time. It’s the only menu item that’s been around since the restaurant opened, and for good reason: buttery, perfectly executed crepes are wrapped around tender, flavorful chicken, and doused in a delicious tarragon and white wine cream sauce. Add in wild mushrooms, and the complex taste of the unassuming crepe takes the French favorite to an entirely new level.
To balance the heaviness of the crepe, I opted for the sea bass, one of the two items Executive Chef Franck Loquet lists as a light option (under 300 calories). It was also fantastic, with salsify and brussel sprouts adding an earthiness to the perfectly-cooked fish. Alexandra’s salmon looked very good as well, with a crisp skin that gave way to firm but tender flesh.
The dessert cart rolled around, and every item looked dainty, delicious, and sinful, just like in Paris. We tried a trio of desserts, including two of my favorites, millefeuille and opera cake. Millefeuille (French for “thousand leaves”) is flaky pastry dough with a crème pâtissière (pastry cream) center. It was buttery, rich, and wonderful. L’opera, which is layers of Joconde, or almond sponge cake, soaked in coffee and layered in with buttercream and ganache, was outstanding.
The third dessert on the tray was not a pasty, but instead a mango and coconut mousse. Light and delicate, its airy consistency and tropical fruit flavor were an excellent contrast to the millefeuille and opera.
As an extra treat, the waiter delivered a religieuse, which are named because they resemble a nun (perhaps after some champagne). They are adorable. The pastry chef Vincent Bitauld, who is in-house and makes every creation by hand, makes one round chocolate-filled eclair and tops it with a smaller, cream-filled one to give it a human-like shape. The cream in between the two and chocolate glaze are reminiscent of the nun’s habit. A treat to both look at and eat!
So what’s on the horizon for iCi Urban Bistro, DC’s best kept secret for a serene, sumptuous lunch in the middle of a chaotic day in a chaotic part of town? They’ll be hosting their annual Easter brunch, which includes an Easter Egg hunt for the lucky kids of whatever posh parents bring them there for the holiday. They are accepting reservations for this festive event now.
As I departed the Sofitel, two separate groups of visitors speaking a combined four different languages strolled into the lobby. The effortlessly chic atmosphere, worldly clientele, and outstanding cuisine are what make iCi Urban Bistro such a must-visit destination for Washingtonians and visitors alike.