About a year ago, the neighborhood first began to hear rumors of a French wine bar coming to the space once occupied by the (much-missed) El Salvadoran chicken joint, Sylvestre Café. It felt like a longer than normal wait for rumor to become reality, but Primrose, the latest addition to the 12th Street restaurant scene, is finally open. The brainchild of Sebastian Zutant and his wife, Lauren Winter (the couple behind The Red Hen), Primrose is a marvel: a dining experience that’s classy (but not too classy), elegant (but not too elegant) and definitely, as you can see from the photos below, unabashedly French chic. (You need Flash to see these photos. If you can’t see them, click here.)
The experience starts with the restaurant itself, whose name is announced on cool mosaic tile by the front door. Your eyes are drawn, immediately, to the feathered chandeliers suspended over a row of generous high-top tables, then over to the gleaming bar space. Smaller tables for two and four line the perimeter of the space. The massive floor-to-ceiling glass doors were closed the evening our party went; one can only imagine what the springtime dining and drinking experience will be like when they’re open to the patio space just waiting for bistro tables and chairs.
Primrose offers 75 wines by the bottle and 15 wines by the glass, all vintages from small wine producers in France and the United States. The drink menu also features several innovative cocktails, as well as a classic French 75 that’s light and spritzy and, at always $9, something of Primrose’s go-to tipple. One standout we enjoyed wasn’t wine but a delicious cider from Normandy: not too tart, not too sweet, and served in its own corked 375ml bottle.
The modest food menu, which one imagines (and hopes) will shift with the seasons, covers all the French classics. Our party started the meal with a sample of Primrose’s three charcuterie offerings. Of these, a rillettes of whipped rabbit and a duck-liver mousse capped with sour cherries could just as well have been eaten with a spoon as with the complementary baguette slices (alas, more chewy than crispy).
A must-try: the delectable coq au vin, braised in a red wine sauce, and bouef bourguignon, enriched with pebbles of bacon and mushroom. Both dishes are stomach-filling treasures, and the only disappointment was that they came out of the kitchen somewhat lukewarm (one of Primrose’s few, but forgivable, kinks). Both plates can be sized to serve two people, and for an extra price can come accompanied with whipped potatoes, a simple green salad, and frites that are thicker than you’d expect and deliciously crispy.
Of course, you can’t call yourself a French-style bistro without an offering of steak frites. Primrose’s rendition of the dish was exceptional: a generous piece of sirloin (we recommend medium rare to medium) accompanied with a classic béarnaise sauce and a welcome helping of the aforementioned frites
One suspects news of Primrose will quickly get around to other quadrants of the city, but don’t let the anticipated visitors detract you from stopping by for an early evening glass of wine and a helping of whipped rabbit mousse or a bundle of frites. You’ll leave Primrose the same way our party did: satiated and satisfied.
Primrose is located at 3000 12th Street NE. Current hours: 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday; 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Website: primrosedc.com