While Washington, D.C., undoubtedly offers a dynamic culinary landscape with incredible chefs and dynamic restaurants, the surrounding countryside also offers more classic, culinary experiences. Just outside our bustling little district, Virginia restaurants like the Inn at Little Washington, Middleburg’s Salamander Spa and the Goodstone Inn, and L’Auberge Provencale, provide classic, refined dining experiences in the Old World fashion, with French menus, wine pairings, white table clothes, steep price points, and pretense to boot. And, not to mention the well-deserved Michelin star for Inn at Little Washington.
A place I did not expect to find such a restaurant? Easton, Maryland, a tiny town on the Eastern Shore with a few private clubs, some antique shops, a lot of abandoned houses, and one restaurant you should absolutely visit.
Bas Rouge, located on the very small Main Street of Easton, is worth the hour-and-a-half drive from Washington. It remains the only reason I could conceive of visiting Easton, aside from my parents, which is why I found myself there just before Christmas.
It was impossibly chilly and dark at six in the evening when we arrived to the desolate main street, but Bas Rouge was bright, beautiful, and decorated; a warm, welcoming beacon of light as we shuffled from the car in our winter coats and boots.
Bas Rouge is a classic, white tablecloth establishment, with a maitre’d and five servers waiting at your service upon entry. The aesthetic is classically beautiful, with burgundy velvet booths, quintessentially British paintings of foxes, hounds, flora and fauna, framed in gold adorning the walls, and a navy and rich red trellis tile runs throughout. The flatware and candlesticks are uncomfortably fancy, a feeling bolstered by the five people dressed in white watching you at all times. Though, once they brought out the decadent bread service and wine list, we stopped paying attention.
The wine list is well curated, with mostly Old World wines, so I settled on my go-to Burgundy pinot noirs. The bread service offers three different house-made breads, including a delightfully fluffy, salty ciabatta.
Bas Rouge offers a three-course prix fixe menu just three days a week, priced at $85. The restaurant is open just a few days a week, dedicating all its efforts to this pristine, multi-course culinary experience. The credo “do one thing and do it well” has never been more true.
The Hamachi crudo was absolutely pristine: thin layers of white fish, topped with diced Kalamata olives and dressed simply with olive oil.
The truffle mushroom tortellini was exceptional, and this dish alone makes Bas Rouge worthy of a trip to Easton. Beautifully plated on a large porcelain bowl with gold detailing, the house-made tortellini were filled with rich, decadent diced mushrooms, ricotta cheese and white truffle, served in a creamy sauce, and topped with shaved black truffle and tarragon. This is the dish that comes to mind when I think of high-end, French dining in winter, and it exceeded my expectations.
The plating at Bas Rouge is exceptional, with the tuna tartare starter nearly too beautiful to eat. Fresh, diced pink tuna was molded into a circle, plated atop thinly sliced cucumbers, and topped with fresh, salty salmon roe, crème fraîche, and a single rice crisp.
The plate was dressed with a circle of house-made tartar sauce, with fish roe for more color and flavor. Like the Hamachi, the quality of the fish was superb—impossibly fresh, buttery and rich, and executed brilliantly.
For our entrees, we continued with pasta and fresh fish, as Bas Rouge does both so well. The line-caught rockfish was a heaping helping of fish, served over a creamy beurre blanc sauce, garnished with cubes of potato and green cauliflower heads.
Meanwhile, the Dover sole was a superbly sautéed fish, served with creamy parsnip puree sautéed kale, and gorgeous, massive roasted maitake mushrooms.
Lastly, my mother chose the roasted acorn squash risotto, a brilliantly executed winter dish, with large chunks of acorn squash, pumpkin seeds, roasted grapes, large slices of Parmesan, and dressed with sage oil for an elevated flavor.
The dessert menu offers classic takes on quintessential French pastries: a chocolate pot du crème, an apple tarte, and a Mille-feuille. The presentation was flawless on each—with the apple tart nearly too pretty to ruin.
The apple tart was an exceptional pastry, with thin slices of roasted apples baked into an impossibly moist, thin pastry crust. Atop, a perfect bulb of vanilla ice cream and the caramel drizzled just so. It was simply stunning, and the perfect portion so as not to overindulge.
The Mille-feuille, which means thousand layers, is a French pastry comprised of alternating layers of pastry cream and puff pastry and favored by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is a pastry chef’s magnum opus, and is rarely found on the menu at French restaurants in the States. I was thrilled to discover the pristine pastry on the menu for my family to enjoy. For an inventive touch, it was given tropical flavoring with the addition of mango curd, roasted pineapple, and coconut. For added decadence, the pastry was decorated with gold flakes.