8 New Restaurants That Opened During the Pandemic

They're worth a visit, and our dining critic has a few suggestions about what to order.
Leeks Vinaigrette 1 Framed

Leeks vinaigrette at Cafe Colline. Photo by Mykl Wu/H2 Collective

Café Colline

Opening a little French bistro in the Lee Heights Shops was a no-brainer for Ian Hilton. His neighbors in Donaldson Run, where he lives with his wife and kids, had been nagging him to do something close to home when the former Cassatt’s Café space became available. It was just the spot for an expansion of the concept he and co-owners Eric Hilton (his brother) and chef Brendan L’Etoile had perfected with Chez Billy Sud in D.C. and Parc de Ville in the Mosaic District.

Brendan Letoile

Chef Brendan L’Etoile

Little did the partners know they’d be riding out a pandemic roller coaster. Café Colline opened in August 2020 for takeout only, then briefly introduced on-site dining before reverting to takeaway in November. Hilton says the intimate dining room just felt too risky and too snug for guests once the weather got cold.

Stopping by to retrieve my carryout order one evening, I couldn’t help but admire the pretty space with its ornate wall mirrors, tufted leather banquettes and herringbone-patterned wood floor, picturing myself dining there once the buzz times returned. At full capacity, the 2,200-square-foot café is equipped to host 18 outside and 44 inside, including 12 bar seats.

Cafe Colline Interior 1 Mykl Wu

The dining room at Café Colline. Photo by Mykl Wu/H2 Collective

Chef L’Etoile spent the winter packaging takeout orders in a way that prevents sogginess and allows for artful presentation at home (minimal DIY assembly required). To compose his standout version of leeks vinaigrette, I line a dinner plate with the delectable hazelnut and chopped egg dressing, subtly accented with truffle oil, before adding neat stacks of tender, poached leeks. This dish is plenty for two to share.

Loup De Mer 1

Seared loup de mer. Photo by Mykl Wu/H2 Collective

A beautifully seared loup de mer (sea bass), plated skin-side up on a bed of haricots verts, is drizzled with a sauce of fennel, brown butter and capers, then garnished with toasted almonds. “It was a hit from day one,” says L’Etoile. “I love nutty preparations and I chose a fish that retains moisture when traveling.” It’s sublime.

Colline Chocolate

Chocolate pot de crème. Photo by Mykl Wu/H2 Collective

His roasted Amish chicken with tarragon jus and sauteed spinach is superlative on its own, but the accompanying pommes Dauphinoise—scalloped potatoes cooked with cream, nutmeg and Parmesan—add a luxurious touch. For dessert, a chocolate hazelnut pot de crème, made with Nutella and crushed chocolate cookies, ends a meal that could only be more perfect were it eaten in Colline’s enchanting dining room. Which, by the way, has now reopened. I can’t wait to go back. //Café Colline, 4536 Lee Highway (Lee Heights Shops), Arlington

Categories: Food & Drink