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Review

Nate Watters

L’Oursin

Written by
Nate Watters

Unlike what most romantic comedies and Hallmark cards try to tell us, being alone is actually awesome. Sometimes, spending a night alone at an exciting restaurant with just your thoughts and a good book is exactly what you need after being surrounded by people and bullsh*t all day long.

This is especially true at L’Oursin, a French restaurant that serves exclusively natural wine in the Central District. Sit at the bar by yourself, have the bartender pour you a glass of whatever sounds good, and order some small plates or the delicious burger they only serve on Mondays. Stick with that plan, and you’re going to have a night of memories that you can make all by yourself.

As soon as you walk in, you’ll notice that the walls are lined with empty bottles and the dining room has a color palette of a Wes Anderson film. Instead of getting a table, you’ll really want to head straight to the bar, where you can sit back and watch the bartender uncork bottles of pet-nat (slightly-sparkling natural wine) and serve liver mousse with crackers. Sitting at one of the barstools, you’ll feel relaxed - there’s no pressure from the staff to order or finish your wine quickly. The bartender will even offer you as many tastes of wine as you want to make sure you find something you like before you have to commit to a glass or bottle.

If you didn’t bring a book with you, don’t worry - there’s plenty of reading material on the wine list. The descriptions of these wines are so imaginative that it feels like there’s a sommelier with a sharp sense of humor narrating over your shoulder. Like this description of a grenache/syrah blend from France with the summary, “Old, thick-skinned grapes collide with neutral winemaking to render this fresh-faced, snaggletoothed runaway. Jack Kerouac, basically.” Or a sauvignon gris that’s described as “the coolest old lady you’ve never met. Think Iris Apfel with middle fingers out, going to town on a shellfish tower.” Having these taglines at your fingertips, as well as a crew of knowledgeable servers, make a solo night at the bar fun - and that’s without even considering any of the food.

Nate Watters

The best thing here is the Monday burger that’s only available at the bar. It tastes like a drive-in smash burger bought a beret, studied abroad in Provence, and won’t shut up about it. Other than that, you’ll find a lot of raw seafood and vegetable small plates - things like oysters, arctic char tartare, scallops in vinegar, salads, and cold cauliflower soup. Most of these are pretty pricey and won’t blow you away - you’re better off spending $16 on an extra glass of that hopped semillon/riesling blend. The options are also limited if you’re looking for a hearty meal and don’t want to just get a big plate of bread and butter. There are a couple of things you should order, like the smoky salmon rillettes that pair with sparkling rose as well as a leather jacket pairs with the first chilly day of fall. Or the semi-frozen peanut butter mousse bar, which tastes great in between sips of a nutty chardonnay from 2007.

The natural wine is the real star at L’Oursin. Take advantage of this comfortable space smack dab in the middle of the Central District where you can post up at the bar and order a glass of “mind-bending, mold-breaking” Muscadet. Or order a bottle. The best part is, just like the wine, you can do it all with minimal human intervention.

Food Rundown

The Burger

Picture a Shake Shack burger that got an A- in AP French. The smashed patty has a caramelized crust and tastes great with an onion/cornichon mixture, brie cheese, and a special sauce with dill all on a housemade potato roll. Pay the extra $3 to add an order of frites that are salty, crispy, and soft all at the same time.

Salmon Rillettes

This jar of smoky, creamy, and smooth rillettes, with tender pieces of salmon throughout, has exactly the right amount of salt. It comes with crostini that the server will likely replenish while you’re on the last one. You’re gonna want to pair this with Muscadet.

Liver Mousse

The spread is well-seasoned and comes with tasty homemade crackers that remind us of baked pie crust shards. It’s not a bad snack with a glass of wine, but the crackers are so brittle and thin that you’ll likely need to order extras.

Tomatoes

An excellent pile of tomatoes dressed with a vinaigrette that has an ideal amount of acid - if you need something light, get this.

Alaskan Scallops

These scallops come with morel mushrooms and sherry vinegar. It’s such a simple dish that it left us feeling underwhelmed.

Lamb Gratin

There are a lot of raw vegetables on this menu, so it’s nice to see some of them roasted in a ramekin with molten cheese. The combination of zucchini, rosemary bechamel, and lamb is tasty - we just wish the lamb was a bit more tender.

Semi-Frozen Chocolate Mousse Peanut Butter Bar

A peanut butter chocolate rice crispy treat topped with semi-frozen mousse, peanut butter ganache, and flaky salt, served with caramelized banana ice cream. You need to get this.

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