Bastille: Not the place for a quick bite

The quaint 50-seat eatery serves up a French menu with a few twists. Set just a block from the waterfront and about 10 blocks from the main strip of Old Town Alexandria, it is squeezed between a small furniture store and railroad tracks. Soft light and restored hardwood floors color the inside, with tones of red and black.

Christophe Poteaux, chef and co-owner with his wife, Michelle, said the location fits his idea of a restaurant — it is not a place you stumble into, it is a place you travel to.

“I always believed a restaurant doesn’t have to be in the traffic pattern of everybody else,” he said. “To me, a restaurant is a destination.”

Poteaux’s dining philosophy comes from the 30 years he spent in Paris — a place, he said, that knows how to enjoy its meals.

“Lunch is important,” Poteaux said.

“[The French] might not spend three hours like they used to do, but they at least sit down for an hour-and-a-half or so.”

That outlook informs Bastille’s lunch menu, which is a mouthful. Patrons can pick an appetizer, main course and dessert for $25 — though the restaurant serves up smaller-than-average portions, the three courses are more than enough.

“It is more satisfying to have a succession of portion-controlled dishes ... because you have the whole range of food,” Poteaux said.

The one-page menu gives diners a number of options for a three-course meal. Patrons can order anything ranging from an appetizer of assorted cheeses to escabeche of grilled squid to start off the meal.

Poteaux is a stickler for local ingredients, and his menu changes as ingredients come in and out of season. A resident of the area for eight years, the chef said he has picked up on the intricacies of the seasonal patterns, especially when it comes to seafood. 

The highlight of the main-course section is the duck confit. Poteaux said duck is one of his favorite ingredients. The duck leg sits atop a dark, rich mushroom risotto. The creaminess of the risotto complements the salty, crisp outer layer of the confit.

Every course can be paired with one of about 80 wines Bastille holds in stock, ranging from $30 a bottle to about $160. Most fall within the $30-to-$60 range.

Poteaux said wine is a necessary component of the dining experience, and there needn’t be any taboo about having a midday glass.

“The wine is a big part of that whole meal experience,” the chef said. “I don’t have any issue with people drinking wine at lunch. Parisian people have no problem with that. Having a glass or half a glass won’t hurt you and won’t prevent you from being productive after.”

For dessert, diners can choose the seasonally appropriate pumpkin crème brûlèe — the taste and texture is slightly creamier than pumpkin pie, with a thin, crunchy glazed film on top, served with a house-made raisin biscotti.

The dinner menu is similar to lunch and runs $39. For those with a real desire to dive into Poteaux’s dining philosophy, there is the four-course “gourmand” menu that tops at $55, or $85 with a wine pairing.