At Whit’s End: Westend Bistro

Chocolate is the Hugh Jackman of the food world. It has it all: it’s sweet, smooth and can make you forget about that fight you had with your boyfriend.

At least, that’s what I’m thinking as I bite into the warm chocolate cake at Westend Bistro, Eric Ripert’s ultramodern D.C. restaurant that combines the best of French and American cuisines.

But let’s rewind. Dessert may be the most important part of the meal, but there’s always something that comes before it.

Westend Bistro is inviting and striking, starting with its sign. Contemporary, frank lettering juts up from the ground floor of the downtown Ritz-Carlton proclaiming the name of the eatery. Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert is a restaurant with a disclaimer, a byline. Walls of windows encircle the so-called “bistro,” though its teardrop-shaped mood lighting and modern décor suggests a more up-to-date eatery than a quaint French bistro.

With its bright colors and bold, striking interior, it’s not hard to imagine you’re in New York – or better yet, Paris – rather than across the street from a Walgreens and an Exxon station.

In between courses, patrons sigh and stretch, musing about whether or not the four-star chef is in the kitchen tonight and remarking on the complexities of the menu (just how exactly do you truffle popcorn?). The menu itself is a virtual mishmash of fine ingredients, a hodgepodge of cheeses and meats and an assortment of the very best breads. Beef tartare with quail egg? Escargot and wild mushroom casserole? Truffled ham and Gruyere cheese? Yes, please.

My obsession with the silver-haired chef started when my mother and I spotted him at the National Air and Space Museum. He was immediately recognizable with those pouty lips that often graced the judges’ table on Bravo’s “Top Chef.” My mom and I scoured the museum, passed the space rocks and the Wright brothers’ plane and everything in between, in the hope of catching another glimpse. No such luck. So I did the next best thing: I ate his food.

The appetizer was a mixed greens salad with roasted peaches and warm, French goat cheese; the entrée a barely-broiled crab cake, with leeks and Old Bay. Delicious.

But of course the best part was the chocolate. Chocolate cake.

Some people judge their experience at restaurants based on one thing. Typically it’s the service, the wait time or the size of the portions. I judge mine on desserts. Sure, there are people who look forward to a really good cut of meat, a really amazing piece of fish. But no one, no one, is immune to a great dessert. Thick, rich dark chocolate with homemade caramel ice cream? Ah-mazing. To me, a four-star dessert means a four-star restaurant. And that might even be better than Hugh Jackman.

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