French restaurant Le Sel opens with classic bistro menu at the Banneker DC Hotel



There’s a new French bistro in town, and it’s big on salt. At Le Sel, which means “salt” in French, smoked salt is used in onion soup, black salt season the crudo de Saint-Jacques, pink salt is found in various cocktails, and fleur de sel is the final touch. The restaurant, which recently opened in Kimpton’s new Banneker Hotel (1315 16th Street NW) just north of Scott Circle.

Chef Laurent Hollaender, originally from Strasbourg, France, has developed a menu (full version below) that draws on local and seasonal products in dishes such as a toast made with “eggplant caviar”, which he compares to a baba ghanoush, garnished with mint fava. Beans. Hollaender accentuates a simple radish salad with fresh peas, pea sprouts and lemon. For the summer, a carpaccio of heirloom tomatoes with crushed pistachios and Castelvetrano olives. A grilled peach salad mixes goat cheese, butter pecans, cornbread croutons, raspberries and field-green figs with a sherry vinaigrette.

Staple foods like French onion soup are served with caramelized onions, au gratin Emmental cheese, and a Mid-Atlantic touch; rather than using wine, Hollaender’s recipe uses local cider. Peaches and apples are from Virginia, eggs are from Pennsylvania, and heirloom tomatoes are from Maryland. “If you have great ingredients, you really don’t need much else,” says Hollaender. “We just need to highlight the taste, flavor and brightness of the food. ”

There is no shortage of classics associated with gluttony: snails, steak tartare with smoked oyster mayonnaise, crème brûlée for example. But Hollaender says moderation is important for her cooking style. “If you’re using good butter, you only need an ounce,” he says.

A rendering of the salt dining room
Salt [official]

Le Sel is open for dinner to begin with. An upcoming breakfast menu includes Café La Colombe as well as options like bagels and lox with herbed crème fraîche, a basket of bread and pastries with cultured butter and jam, and a burnt oatmeal with a compote of seasonal fruits. A rooftop bar dubbed Lady Bird is slated to open later this summer. This venue will have foyers, living room seating, and views of the White House and the Washington Monument. Downstairs, a long center bench crosses a dining room with black and white patterned floor tiles and wall-to-wall windows that open to the sidewalk on NW 16th Street.

“When I sit in the restaurant with an open window and see this menu, I feel like I’m in Paris,” Hollaender says.


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