Young and Hungry

Petworth Goes Parisienne: Chez Billy Now Open On Georgia Ave.

"Chez Billy is about cooking what I love—classic French cuisine," says Brendan L'Etoile. The former sous chef at Marvin has been put in charge of his own kitchen as part of operators Eric and Ian Hilton's fast-growing empire of bars and restaurants in the District.

L'Etoile's chosen French theme is a first for the Hiltons, whose other diverse holdings range in culinary style from pseudo-Belgian (Marvin) to country barbecue (American Ice Co.) to Jamaican flavors (Patty Boom Boom).

Y&H got a sneak peek of the latest Hilton spot during a soft opening party on Friday night. The new bistro, located along Georgia Avenue NW in rapidly gentrifying Petworth, opened to the public on Sunday.

Complimentary hors d’oeuvres passed around during the party seemed to validate L'Etoile's French-themed aspirations. Offerings included shots of vichyssoise, salmon tartare on potato chips and cheese-filled gougeres. However, the Sazeracs and house collection of Armanacs proved more memorable than the food, at least on soft-opening night. (Prince of Petworth has the full menu, and it looks rich and promising.)

A bigger question than how the fare hits palate: how will the Hilton's proven formula for success play outside the uber-hip corridors of Dupont Circle and U Street?

On the one hand, Chez Billy is likely to be a magnet for business in a neighborhood that has been waiting patiently for someone, anyone, to move it away from hipster backwater and towards nightlife destination.

The Hiltons seem to have anticipated the flood, because Chez Billy is big by Petworth standards. The first floor has a large bar area and two separate rooms with tables for dinner and cocktails. Upstairs, people can get drinks at a second bar and take them to two balconies with high tables that look down on the main floor. Two huge, French-inspired chandeliers hang in between the balconies. Rich wood and quirky accoutrement, including a stuffed goose, covers the walls.

On the other hand, Chez Billy takes the place of the former Billy Simpson’s, a seafood joint that served as a hub for African-American culture and politics in the city for nearly 50 years. The Hiltons have a challenge on their hands to make the new establishment live up to that legacy, particularly in a fast-gentrifying neighborhood like Petworth.

The initial signs, at least, seemed positive. A quick scan of the crowd during the opening party suggested a more diverse clientele than one might typically see on an average night at other Hilton-owned joints. A number of local Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners were also in attendance.

Chez Billy, 3815 Georgia Ave NW; (202) 506-2080

Photo by Sam Vasfi

  • Chris in Eckington

    Haven't been to Chez Billy yet, but in my experience, Marvin atracts one of the most diverse crowds in the U Street area.

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  • John

    Had drinks and dinner at Chez Billy on Monday. It was FANTASTIC! Best Vodka Gimlet I have had in years. Two other friends and I each had a three course meal. Sharing a bottle of wine, I went with the Vichyssoise, mussels, frites, pineapple tart, and coffee. It was all excellent and very filling! Including the bread and butter. The atmosphere is very welcoming and the staff were fantastic. Can't say enough good things about this place. Best of all, we live in the neighborhood and had a nice walk home to the Sherman Circle area after the great meal.

  • saf

    So, is it as noisy as their other places?

  • Chris Shott

    Just wanted to chime in here in regard to the commenter on Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema's online chat today, who wrote:

    "Tom, I noticed that the City Paper's (new?) food critic wrote a 'First Bite'-style review of the new Chez Billy in Petworth seemingly based in part on tasting hors d'oeuvres passed at a media-only event. Please tell me this is not a standard media practice."

    In response, I would like to point out that the post to which this commenter is referring to (the one here above) is by no means a formal review and was not intended to be. It's simply a blog post about a new restaurant opening that included a few observations about the decor, the vibe and the food that was passed out during a friends and family-style soft opening preview sort of dealie, which the full-time critic here did not attend. The actual writer of this piece also duly disclosed that these bites he tasted were complimentary, which is our policy.

    This discussion highlights some common misconceptions about the various posts you might read here on Y&H. Not every piece of writing is a formal review. And, in fact, much of the material here is not.

    I have tried to find ways to make this distinction more clear to readers. If anyone has suggestions, I'm happy to hear them.

    Thanks,

    CS

  • yellowliner

    I think it's completely clear. I had absolutely no misunderstandings.

  • Leelah James

    "On the one hand, Chez Billy is likely to be a magnet for business in a neighborhood that has been waiting patiently for someone, anyone, to move it away from hipster backwater and towards nightlife destination."

    Hipster backwater and towards nightlife destination? I've been living in this neighborhood for over six years, and what I've learned about it is that most people love it here, and they respect each other. We are not a bunch of single hipsters. Many of us maintain 2-3 jobs to live here and take care of our families.

    Unlike Columbia Heights or U St, the Georgia Ave./Petworth station is immediately surrounded by residences. It's built for people to live here.

    And correct me if I'm wrong, but is the presumption that the only way to get dollars flowing into Petworth is to bring nightlife? We have a farmers market and organic grocer. Now, there's a CVS pharmacy and hardware store. There's a health clinic a few blocks away. If you get sick from partying, come to Petworth and get care.

    I welcome new business, but strongly urge someone, anyone, to proceed with caution and respect the neighborhood culture.

  • ap

    I do hate everything being labelled hipster - that is a lazy cop out of a description. A hipster backwater? Is anything new where there was something old, hipster? What was an average review was turned ridiculous by a simple lazy turn of phrase.

  • Frank

    Yeah, I'm puzzled. I call them gentrifiers. Taking over minority communities block by block. Hipsters are a subset; there are also DoD contractors, NGO workers, etc. But all are gentrifiers.

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