It would be a happy world in which the English ran the pubs and the French the restaurants.
The Old Angler's Inn, a circa-1860 stone building which sits beside a twisty road on the outskirts of Washington, has a quintessentially American location; not only is it close to the nation's capital, but it's hard by the historic C&O Canal. Inside, though, it has the soul of an English public house. Not a prole pub filled with dart players and other Andy Capp types, but one of those quaint country hostelries beloved of fox-hunting aristocrats and their hounds. While there are no dogs underfoot here, there is a crackling fire in the stone hearth, and an assortment of comfy love seats invites visitors to chase the chill with an Irish coffee. Upstairs (actually, up a fairly treacherous spiral staircase), the dining rooms have comfortable proportions and evocative beamed ceilings.
It's hard to imagine a more welcoming-looking place during the Christmas holidays, but romantic outdoor terraces and ponds promise happy summer memories, too.
There's no hint of Anglophilia in the kitchen, though, which is luxuriously, sublimely French. Chef Etienne Jaulin (formerly of that critical darling, Jean Louis at the Watergate) takes American and international ingredients, supplies the Gallic magic, and produces results that are mighty close to heaven.
There's a lot of imagination at work here, as well as sheer chefly skill. How many chefs, for instance, would have thought of layering crisp won-ton pastry, smoked salmon, creamy mascarpone cheese and julienned woodear mushrooms? The disparate flavors and textures in this "sandwich" played off each other beautifully, and the mushrooms added a delicately exotic taste that seemed to hail from the briny deep, not the piney woods.
In a very different but equally elegant appetizer, slender, petal-thin slices of smoked Sonoma duck breast were served with a wild tangle of pleasantly tart greens tossed with chunks of Roquefort. All of these strong flavors miraculously did not clash -- they sang.
Our entrees exemplified sublime simplicity. Neither was fussy or showoffy, but both showed the heights to which cuisine can rise when top-flight ingredients are handled with care and married to intriguing side dishes that set off their good points. Pan-roasted sea scallops were tender pillows of subtle ocean flavor, and their sweet pepper confit was seductive vegetable candy. A small helping of fried sweet Maui onions added crunch and zest. Grilled fillets of beef, served with a perfectly calibrated, not-too-sweet huckleberry sauce and accompanied by whipped potatoes topped with wild mushrooms, were unbelievably good. Meat and potatoes don't get any better than this.
Old Angler's Inn
Where: 10801 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac.
Hours: Open for lunch noon to 2:30 p.m., dinner 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays. (From Jan. 6 to spring, the restaurant will be closed for lunch except on weekends.)
Credit Cards: AE, CB, DC, MC, V.
Features: French cuisine.
Non-smoking section? Yes.
Call: (301) 365-2425.