La Cote d'Or: Haute cuisine on I-66

In 1992, after Raymond and Lynne Campet sold their interest in LaBrasserie, the popular Capitol Hill restaurant they had been running since 1979, they put their house on the market and prepared to move to Florida, where Raymond had been offered a job as manager of a restaurant in a Ritz Carlton resort.

But the economic slowdown that helped usher in the Clinton era had depressed housing prices, and when the best offer the Campets got for their Falls Church, Va., house was $150,000 less than they were asking, they decided to stay put and perhaps find another restaurant to run.


Food: 8 Ambiance: 7
Service: 8 Price/Value: 7
Ratings: Based on a 1-to-10 scale for food, service, ambiance and price/value; up to 5 domes awarded on the basis of reviewer’s judgment.

A short time later, they were on their way to a reception on Capitol Hill when they ran into congestion on Interstate 66 and pulled off onto Lee Highway, where they noticed a “for lease” sign in the window of a restaurant across the street from the Falls Church Fire Department that had recently closed. They returned the next day to inspect the space, and two weeks later, signed a lease.

Even though there was little usable equipment and the place needed a lot of work, Campet told his banker he’d be open for business in one month. Utilizing the contacts he’d made as maitre’d at the French Embassy, manager of two defunct French restaurants in Georgetown as well as at LaBrasserie, Campet persuaded suppliers to deliver a new stove and kitchen equipment as well as tables and chairs in two weeks instead of six.

6876 Lee Highway
Arlington, Va.
(703) 538-3033

HOURS: Mon.–Fri.: Lunch, 11:30 a.m.– 3 p.m.; dinner, 5–10 p.m.; Sat.:
lunch, 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; dinner. 5:30 –10 p.m.; Sun.: brunch, 11 a.m.–3 p.m., dinner, 5:30–9 p.m. Three course $20 prix fixe early bird dinner is served from 5–6:30 p.m., Mon.-Fri.

Prices: Moderate to expensive:
Lunch: appetizers $4.95–
$11.95; entrees $7.95–$13.95;
dinner: appetizers, $4.95–
$17.50; entrees, $21.75–$31.50.

Success in the suburbs: La Cote d’ Or owners Raymond and Lynn Campet.

Naming their restaurant after the Burgundy region where Raymond’s 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, we’ve 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 d’Or reflects Campet’s 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 Campet’s father’s 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 d’Or 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 restaurant’s French-dominated wine list. Campet admits it’s 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 wife’s 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.

I’ve eaten here more times that I can remember over the years, but my favorite dish wasn’t on the menu. It’s saut