Naming their restaurant after the Burgundy region where Raymonds late mother was born, the Campets designed a logo depicting a red rooster and blue fish, ordered fresh flowers from a local florist, and opened their doors on Nov. 6, 1992. They were worried that no one would show up until their next door neighbor arrived for dinner with 40 people.
Since then, weve never stopped, the 51-year-old native of Vichy, France, explained last week as he looked back on 10 years of operating a seven-day-a-week restaurant that has won accolades from Washingtonian magazine, the Zagat dining guide and the Mobil travel guide.
The menu at La Cote dOr reflects Campets French origins he graduated from a restaurant school in Clermont-Ferrand and his Basque ancestory.
Most of the choices listed on the thick leather-bound menu are classic French fare. Recent dinner offerings include such standards as onion soup ($4.95), shrimp a la Provencal ($8.95) and escargot ($7.25) appetizers, entrees of Dover sole meuniere ($29.50) and rack of lamb Bordelaise ($31.50), and for dessert, a mouth-watering raspberry tart ($6.95).
But Campet reaches back to his Basque heritage for a truly impressive dish I had at dinner last week called besugo Hendaya. Besugo is the Basque term for daurade or sea bream, and Hendaya is Campets fathers hometown, near Biarretz in the French Pyrenees, the Basque region that separates France from Spain.
Campet gets the delicatedly flavored fish from A&H Seafood in Bethesda, cooks it in vinegar, olive oil and lots of garlic, and serves it with head and tail intact ($26.75). It was accompanied by a plate of fresh spring vegetables and wild mushrooms, which my wife pronounced exquisite.
La Cote dOr is strong on seafood. I was tempted by the rockfish in champagne sauce, Arctic char with lobster sauce (both $24.95) and soft shell crab with Provencale sauce ($29.95), but glad I ordered the besugo.
We ordered a bottle of the excellent Raymond Amberhill chardonnay ($38.50), one of four wines from the Napa Valley winery on the restaurants French-dominated wine list. Campet admits its a bit of a gimmick because the wines bear his name, but the Raymond wines are among the best made in California.
Our waiter brought a basket of crusty French bread and cup of delicious vegetable bullion to start with, before our appetizers arrived. My wifes lobster bisque ($6.95) was bursting with flavor but so scalding hot she had to stir in ice cubes to cool it. I ordered the terrine of fish with tomato basil coulis ($8.95), a tri-colored slice of salmon, rockfish and sea bass mousse that was superb.
While I decapitated and deboned my besugo, my wife enjoyed her veal tenderloin with morel sauce ($27.95). The three thick slices of tender veal were cooked to perfection, with a sprinkling of the rich morel mushrooms in a hearty red wine sauce.
Ive eaten here more times that I can remember over the years, but my favorite dish wasnt on the menu. Its saut