Some people don’t enjoy being the center of attention. Like when the teacher calls on you to present your book report, and you’re about as prepared as Billy Madison was to answer that question at the academic decathlon. You’re going to end up rambling about a lost dog and wishing everyone would stop staring at you.
Others clearly embrace the spotlight. The bridesmaid during her tear-jerking toast. Your niece on her birthday or Thanksgiving or Wednesday. And Dirty French.
This large bistro from Major Food Group (the people behind Carbone, Sadelle’s, and The Grill) has been around for a few years now, and in that time, it’s grown on us. We initially experienced some inconsistent food and service, and generally concluded that it focused more on being a scene than serving quality food. But we’ve been back several times recently, and have found that those issues have been smoothed out, while the production value that makes dinner here a great experience has stayed intact.
The theatrics here would be a lot to deal with on a regular basis, but every now and then, in the right situation, they make for a fun night out. From the neon pink sign out front to the magnums of old Bordeaux being paraded around the room, Dirty French is not big on showing restraint. This isn’t the kind of place you come for a deliberation on Proust. You come here and end up debating what kind of Jordans the waiter is wearing.
Some restaurants that put so much focus on showmanship approach the actual meal as an afterthought, but most of the food at Dirty French is good enough to stand on its own. While the menu lists traditional-sounding French items, dishes are more complex than the descriptions let on. The duck a l’orange, for example, is coated in North African spices, while the black bass comes with a madras curry. Also, definitely say yes when they ask if you want bread, because that’s just a good way to live your life, but also because you’ll get slabs of warm flatbread drenched in herbs and olive oil and served with soft cheese. It’s some of the best free bread we’ve eaten in this city, and that’s not a designation we hand out lightly.
Not every single dish is this good - and those that go lighter on spices don’t quite stand up to the energy of the setting. The bridesmaid wouldn’t be able to make everyone cry if she gave a scripted speech in monotone. Similarly, the hangar steak and brook trout don’t pack the same amount of flavor as many other dishes here, and thus get drowned out by the very dark lighting and loud music.
With said dark lighting, loud music, and not-cheap prices, Dirty French isn’t an everyday restaurant. And at some point, the people treating the walk to their tables as fashion week auditions may start to weigh on you, and you may start to wonder why that huge mirror over there is covered in black wax. But if you’re ready to embrace the production of it all, then you can expect a very good dinner and a very entertaining night out.
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One of the best bread baskets in the city. A couple slabs of warm pita, drenched in olive oil and herbs, served with a mound of fromage blanc. Before we realized we could just ask for more bread, we were literally scooping up the cheese with our forks. Some of the portions here are on the small side, so just keep this bread on your table throughout dinner.
The lamb is soaked in ras el hanout (a Moroccan spice blend) oil, and then topped with sheep’s milk yogurt and roasted eggplant. The meat and spices are very good, though the big wheels of eggplant overwhelm the other flavors.
A few dishes here have an upsetting ratio of price to portion size - the tuna tartare most of all. We like the soft crepe that comes with the ahi tuna, but we’d rather keep the $21 and ask for another order of flatbread.
This mushroom is our favorite appetizer at Dirty French. Millefeuille translates to a thousand layers. While this probably has more like 50 sheets of trumpet mushrooms, it’s still worthy of a scowl-inducing, flash-on iPhone photo in the middle of this very dark restaurant. It’s served over a yellow squash curry that you’ll want to sop up with bread, spoons, or fingers.
The one large piece of black bass is relatively mild, but it’s served over a plate of madras curry. Instead of overwhelming the bass, the curry complements it really well. If you’re going to get a fish here, this should be your move.
This brook trout is one of the dishes that goes light on spice. The apricot gives it some sweetness and it’s a relatively large portion, but it’s pretty bland.
Duck A L’Orange
Duck a l’orange has been corrupted by people across the country whose efforts at Christmas dinner usually result in slightly dry duck with pre-packaged orange sauce. The version at Dirty French is not like that. Here, you’ll get two fatty pieces of duck with skin that cracks under a fork. The sweetness from the preserved orange along with the North African spices give this dish a bunch of really interesting layers.
If you’re a fan of pig in all of its forms, then this pork chop should be on your table. The meat is circled by a ring of fat that made us think of bacon, and the peppery bark on top gives it a slow cooked BBQ feel.
Layers of chocolate and peanut butter topped with banana cardamom ice cream that somehow is more savory than sweet. You should get it, even if you think you ate too much.