Patrons at Georgetown’s Cafe Bonaparte, at 1522 Wisconsin Ave. NW, have savored its cozy continental vibe and assortment of crepes for 16 years.
But after a recent renovation, the eatery is doubling down on its Frenchness by eighty-sixing the crepes, according to new chef Martin Senoville, a Paris native who ran restaurants in his native city before moving to Washington last summer.
Senoville tells us that the new Cafe Bonaparte, now called Lutèce by Bonaparte, will mirror the more authentic French eateries one sees on the streets of Paris. And that, apparently, means adieu to the crepe — unless it’s a Crepe Suzette.
Lutèce, by the way, is the ancient name for the City of Light, and the moniker of a former French restaurant in Manhattan, frequented by the smart set.
This new iteration means a more Parisian price tag, as the ingredients and wines that Senoville uses are imported from France, driving up menu costs. This seems to play into the restaurant’s new goal to be more aspirational.
In addition to overhauling the cafe’s menu and name, the place also has a new look, complete with an open kitchen. It’s quite charming to see Senoville hunched over, sprinkling fromage on his dishes with such Gallic intensity.
This is the kind of place Julia Child would love — but what about those regular customers who would prefer a ground beef crepe over escargots with black garlic cream?
“It was time for a rebirth,” explains Omar Popal, who manages the cafe, along with the Berliner on K Street and Lapis on Columbia Road.
Popal says he recruited Senoville because he wanted Cafe Bonaparte to truly reflect the fine Parisian dining he experiences when traveling to Europe. There was only one way to do that, and that was to hire a French chef with a French cuisine pedigree.
Popal let Senoville make the necessary changes.
“When we started Cafe Bonaparte, we told people it was Paris without the airfare. Now we think we really have that,” he says.
What about those crepes? Did they really have to go? His response: “We’re thinking about opening a crepe eatery next door, but for now we’re happy with the new menu.”
The fries, Popal assures us, are even better under Senoville. And — in a nod to mass appeal — the menu has been updated with a burger.
Breakfast and lunch will still be served, but dinner will likely remain the target mealtime. The main courses include salmon with leeks and sorrel sauce, duck breast with sweet potato purée and lobster French toast. On the appetizer list are foie gras and hand-cut beef tartare.
French onion soup and avocado toast are also offered as starters. The latter is available for breakfast, along with warm croissants and brioche.
The Cafe Bonaparte sweet crepes have been replaced by a decadent melange of elegant desserts like coconut and passion fruit mousse.
Popal says the cafe will change its menu seasonally. He hopes longtime fans will give the new Bonaparte a chance, even for sentimental reasons.
“If you like how the old place felt, you’ll like this place,” he says.
Otherwise, we might have to go to Paris for real to get that crepe.