“It seems necessary for French restaurants to have wildly oversized menus,” my brunch date remarked as we settled in to our booth at Mon Ami Gabi on Bethesda Row.
Indeed, Mon Ami Gabi tries to hit the mark on all things Francophile. As you enter, you pass by Parisian-esque outdoor seating, and beneath red awnings the menu boasts items written in French. Inside, again, the “Plats du Jour” are inscribed on the walls, and white parchment paper covers the tables.
The interior of the restaurant is decorated with mahogany wood paneling, leather booths and plenty of wine racks. It’s very cozy and typical restaurant décor with some kitschy French additions.
As you sit down, you are handed those oversized menus, and soon enough, an enormous French loaf of bread arrives. It’s a good thing they line the tables with parchment paper—the crispy bread was all over the table moments after I tore into it.
It comes served with butter and raspberry preserves—that I’m pretty sure was Smuckers. (I’d know Smuckers raspberry preserves anywhere, as my mother has had it in her fridge for three decades.)
“Mon Ami Gabi,” for the record, translates to “My Friend Gabi,” named for the chef, Gabino Sotelino, who is not French, but in fact Spanish, and resides in Chicago, where the first restaurant was opened. There are now locations in Chicago, Oakbrook, Reston, Bethesda, and in the Paris hotel in Vegas.
The Bethesda location was bustling on Saturday morning—filled with families and couples of all ages enjoying time together. Despite the abundance of rugrats, the ambiance was still pleasant. (Perhaps Bethesda residents instill excellent manners in their children at a young age?)
The wait staff was cheerful. Our water glasses were filled within moments and my coffee cup was never empty. The brunch menu is extensive (did I already mention that?). You have all the lunch options, plus quiches, sweet and savory crepes, waffles, French toast, eggs, and more. The two most notable dishes were the Beef Bourguignon Benedict and the Waffles Banana Foster—talk about attention getters.
As our plates arrived, I gasped at the sheer enormity of the dishes. Our waiter, Eddie, who was most certainly not French (nor was anyone else), but was adorable, informed me that the restaurant serves “French cuisine in American-style portions.”
I had chosen the mushroom, leek and spinach quiche, which was served with a fresh and light side salad. “It’s more like the size of a personal pan pizza,” said waiter Eddie, and he was right. The vegetables were slightly overcooked—and the quiche, though satisfying, lacked the flavor I was expecting—particularly since leeks boast a strong, unique taste.
Meanwhile, my guest opted for the seafood crepe, also enormous and served with a side salad. The crepe was topped with enormous shrimp and scallops that could have been fresher. Inside, the crepe was filled with cream sauce and peas. No more seafood, just loads and loads of peas and cream, which I found slightly bizarre.
It was rich, to say the least. But, there was so much cream it became impossible to stomach cream any more. You get the picture.
Unable to muster the strength to tackle the waffle bananas foster, we chose to conclude with the vanilla caramel bread pudding. The pudding, while flavorful and yummy, was undercooked and a bit too mushy. It came topped with vanilla ice cream, which certainly was not house-made.
Though I abstained this particular morning, alcoholic brunch beverages are plentiful at Mon Ami Gabi. The folks at Mon Ami love carts—at dinner, they boast a wine cart. At brunch, there’s a champagne cart offering mimosas, bellinis, and kir royals.
The brunch guest headed to the Bloody Mary Bar, saying it was “a nice touch, but unimpressive.” There could have been more garnishes—clamato juice, more veggies, and tomato juice selection.
For the average diner, Mon Ami Gabi offers a wide selection of mouth-watering dishes in enormous portions at affordable prices. However, for the discerning palate, the quality of ingredients and flavor is lacking. If I lived in Bethesda, I’m sure I’d head there when lacking inspiration or in need of a reliable, filing meal.
The Bitches say: B. Satisfying cuisine, extensive menu options, cozy restaurant space. Wish this chain focused more on quality and less on quantity.
(Blogger Integrity Disclaimer: We were the guests of Mon Ami Gabi on this one).
Mon Ami Gabi Bethesda
7239 Woodmont Ave.