As our spring thermometer bounces up and down, we’ve been treated to evenings when balmy temperatures bid us to dine al fresco. Many Bethesda restaurants have moved tables and chairs outside to accommodate patrons seeking a meal under the dancing planets.
At our picks for outdoor dining spots, though you’re only steps from busy traffic, you’ll feel transported by quality cooking and courteous service.
Most Romantic Streetside Dining: Mon Ami Gabi
My favorite outdoor dining is Mon Ami Gabi for a few reasons. First, the patio seating on the side near the Landmark Theatre is a quiet place to watch people stroll in and out of the theater (while avoiding car fumes, and the voyeur in me enjoys hearing people comment on their movie experience.)
The service here, whether inside or out, is almost always exceptional. Sometimes choosing to dine outside can impede the level of attentiveness—not so at Mon Ami Gabi. Some staff are assigned exclusively to patio tables.
I covet the wine here, especially the quaffable French champagnes. You can’t beat the crusty warm baguette served upon arrival that includes their signature shredded-carrot appetizer and creamy butter on the side.
The menu is smallish, because Chef Andrew Fleischauer’s kitchen focuses on making every dish perfect. Whether you’re hungry for a provincial French dish like Trout Amandine, or prefer to share a warm, hazelnut-encrusted brie cheese for your hors d'oeuvre, this romantic bistro offers savory, consistent fare that even Julia Child would approve.
I recently tried Steak Frites accompanied by a rich Bordelaise sauce—swooning over the tender, buttery-thin beef and crispy hand-cut fries. Each bite of the complexly layered sauce (shallots, peppercorn, red wine, marrow and fresh thyme) raised my appreciation for traditional French cuisine.
On the lighter side, Le Poisson, or in our case, Arctic Char (fish resembling salmon in taste and appearance) was lightly seasoned and nestled atop a choice of veggies. Choosing is difficult when faced with options like luscious pommes puree (mashed potatoes), sinful and succulent sautéed spinach, and spring-fresh brussel sprouts—just to name a few of the highlights.
If you arrive early, between 4 – 6:30 p.m., check out the Happy Hour specials including $5 appetizers like country pate and onion soup au gratin, and half-price house wines by the glass or bottle. For true ambiance, stay after dusk, when above your table, twinkling white lights turn your fellow diner’s faces aglow, and white tablecloths and red awnings render a classic European bistro vibe. Mon Ami Gabi is a little bit of French culture in our hectic suburban world--an ideal place to romance and impress that special someone.
Stay tuned this week for our picks for most fashionable and most family-friendly outdoor dining. In the meantime, let us know your favorite outdoor dining spots in the comments.