By Mary Wadland
A friend of mine once stated with all the matter-of factness in the world, “There are only five numbers stored in my iPhone – my parents, sister, niece, manicurist and Le Refuge.” I know why. It’s a beloved place for me too, and I have been a regular diner since I was taken there for lunch in the late eighties.
Young French Couple Comes to America
Jean Francois Chaufour was born in the Loire Valley of Beaugency, France. He and his wife, Francoise, came to the United States in 1976 and started working as servers in a Washington DC restaurant. In September of 1983, they decided to go for it on their own, and taking all kinds of risks, they opened Le Refuge in Alexandria, VA at 127 N. Washington Street across from Christ Church. Their recipe for success is taste, dependability, quality and sticking with what works.
The enchanting entrance is still the same, topped with a burgundy awning, and flanked by a handwritten chalkboard listing the day’s specials. It is the quintessential country French bistro, a place you would stumble into from your Paris flat. Iconic French culinary images stack the walls – wine posters, wooden cheese wheels, vintage plates – creating an atmosphere of casual elegance and unpretentious, relaxed simplicity.
The Next Generation Protects the Flavors
In 2011, Francoise Chaurfour lost her battle with cancer. She was the bright and welcoming light embracing diners for decades and customers still miss her very much. Husband Jean Francois is still on the scene overseeing their masterpiece, but daughter, Anne Claire, alongside her husband Hugh Fregnan, are the new generation, orchestrating the front of the house with absolute aplomb. Dishes are delivered to the table as if in metered time. There is no waiting. You are immediately eating, drinking and sopping up the succulent sauces with crusty French baguettes.
Offering a full bar and extensive wine list, Le Refuge also offers their house cocktail of champagne, peach schnapps and a single plump raspberry. My friend with the five numbers insisted no one else could make a champagne cocktail like here.
All the appetizers deserve a taste. Take a group, order a bunch of hors d’oeuvres and circulate the plates. Try homemade country pate, escargot, crayfish tails in garlic butter, stuffed mushrooms or tender-crisp asparagus.
Main courses are just as engaging. Heralded for their bouillabaisse, frog legs, beef Wellington, salmon in crust and seasonal soft shell crabs, the veal Normande (veal scaloppini in a brandy cream sauce with mushrooms) is also a standout. Finish with a crème brûlée, profiteroles or peach melba.
Again and Again
Le Refuge surpasses all expectations because when you return, again and again (and you will), everything will be just as good as the first time. Casual attire is welcome and street parking is available.
Le Refuge is consistent – a constant in my life as I am sure it will become in yours. Add it to your speed dial. Make reservations for lunch, dinner, or a special occasion like Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve now. Bon appétit!
Le Refuge Restaurant
1217 N Washington Street
Alexandria, VA 22314