Photos By Clarissa Villondo, Words By Tam Sackman
My expectations for Chez Billy’s press dinner were through the roof. I heard nothing but great things about Petworth’s counterpart to Georgetown’s Chez Billy Sud, headed by recently appointed head chef (and uncle of Sud chef Brenden L’Etoile) Lawrence DiJoseph. We were there to try DiJoseph’s overhauled menu, featuring new twists on French classics like escargot and duck confit.
As soon as I walked in, I felt like I was hit in the face with ambiance and I mean that in a very good way. Chez Billy is deceptively huge, with several tucked away dining rooms over two floors as well as a patio and two balconies (there may have been even more than that, but that was all I could count as a kind employee took me on a tour of the restaurant). The entire place was made of dark brown wood and lit almost entirely by a small candle on each table, causing the interior air to tint a warm orange. It was a really, really lovely space, accented by nods to Paris, like numbered gas lamps and exposed brick fireplaces.
We started with cocktails. I had the Lavande Aviation, an aromatic gin mix served with a raspberry at the bottom. It was strong but refreshing.
One of the appetizer standouts was the escargot, served with a shell-holding contraption that resembled a medieval torture device. The snails themselves were a bit difficult to get out, buried deep inside giant shells. The little bit of effort was totally worth it– the morsels were perfectly cooked, and after I finished them, I tipped back the shells to get a bit more of that garlic and herb butter. I would take shots of the garlic and herb butter.
Even better was the Foie de Volaille, a chicken liver pate served with pecan raisin toast and rhubarb confiture. The combination of the sweet toast and the rich, savory spread was nothing short of genius, though the greens that it was served with, though contributing to a lovely plating, didn’t add much else. It’s definitely the better of the two pate options– the other, a pork pate, was overwhelmingly peppery.
Out of the four entrees we sampled, each had their merits. Our favorite was the mussels, though I was scared away from ordering them for myself by the addition of harissa and chickpeas. After trying them, my fears were unwarranted, as the harissa and house-made smoked sausage made for a really flavorful sauce, though the chickpeas didn’t really influence the flavor. Though not traditionally French, they were certainly very good and served in an incredibly generous portion.
The salmon, one of the most popular new dishes, was your basic, nicely cooked salmon. Even better than the headliner were the lentils and kale that it sat on– they soaked up all of the red butter sauce that didn’t stick so well to the fish.
We also tried the short rib– which didn’t exactly fall apart at the fork as promised, but also wasn’t too dry– and the tuna–which was raw in the middle (purposefully) and sat on a bed of what tasted like the chicken soup my grandma makes at Thanksgiving. My grandma makes good chicken soup, but it doesn’t belong under a tuna steak.
As for desserts, we tried three– a mousse, a panna cotta with sorbet and a pastry filled with some kind of nut cream. Dessert was absolutely fantastic– I would return to Chez Billy for the mousse alone. The pastry was messy, but nice and putting the panna cotta and sorbet together was a great choice.
After talking to DiJoseph, it became clear that not every item on this menu will be around for long, as he’d like to switch it up every few weeks depending on what’s in season. As he experiments with different menus, he’ll be closer to getting what he refers to as these “modern classics” perfect.