Photo: Interior of entrance at Primrose
Last Updated: February 2023
Primrose remains one of our favorite spots. Its core elements remain of great food in the French (with some New American) tradition from a sequence of talented chefs who have helmed the kitchen, an insanely fun and interesting wine list, a setting that is both whimsical and inviting, and service that is charming. The outdoor dining, covered and heated in winter, expands the dining options. The bar remains a friendly and beckoning spot where hipsters and priests might be found. There are few restaurants, and Primrose is one of them, were our take is merely: Go!
It added a robust take-out option during Covid-days that it continues.
Other Guidance: The setting is casual, though there might be a few diners dressing up a little for a special night out. GF and vegetarians can find good options, with items marked on the menu. The restaurant is on one floor and located at street level. A 20% service fee is included on all checks.
Address: 3000 12th St NE, Washington, DC 20017
Washington Post: 2.0 stars. The rating did not match the effusively positive language of the review and seemed to be a placemarker anticipating an upward revision. The First Bite was very positive: “a sweet spot for bistro food and wines you don’t see everywhere else.” He also listed it on his February 2019 favorite places to eat right now.
Washingtonian: Listed the Croque Monsieur as a special treat in 2022. #63 in 2018 Top 100 List.
Michelin: Was Bib Gourmand pre-Covid, and still listed as one of D.C.’s best French restaurants (though the page link is dead since it took away the Bib. Seriously, Michelin, it would take just a small fee to keep you from looking silly). We’ll wait for Michelin to come back around now that Primrose is back up and going full bore.
Before Times Review:
Last Visited: January 2020
Primrose is the latest iteration of two storied careers that are – hopefully – far from over. Sebastian Zutant is the one-time golden boy of D.C. dining. No longer enfant savant, he is a (slightly) graying eminence of D.C. sommeliers. Lauren Winter, his business partner and wife, is the talented designer who created the notable and unique charm of this spot. They recruited talent for the front and back of the house. They poured all they learned into crafting an ideal restaurant. For most diners it is a distance to go to get there, but Primrose is a joy to visit.
Zutant helmed the wine programs at places like Komi and Proof, and was a partner in opening Red Hen (which Winter designed too). His touch is idiosyncratic, fun, and rewarding. At Primrose he is focusing on wines that are natural from France and the U.S. (including Virginia). There are many by the glass selections and nearly all the bottles check in at under $100 (they actually tried to steer me away from a more expensive bottle one night). A Gigondas of great complexity for $60 on one visit is an example of what can be found (though I think that bottle has rolled off the list). Ask questions about the obscure and delight in the choices.
The décor is bright bistro, more evocative of Cote d’Azur than Paris, with the staff dressing with the hint of French fishermen. The ostrich feather chandeliers speak to the whimsy and thought that defines the setting. It occupies a big room with tables around the edges, large high-tops in the middle, and a welcoming bar along the back. Outside seating is also available when seasonal. This is funky charm at its best.
The food is also very good. Chef de Cuisine Jonathan De Paz seems to be putting his stamp on the menu. It references French classics, but willing to depart: Coq au Vin that is more brothy than stewy, steak frites that is two thick pieces rather than a long, grainy slab. There are playful touches like a kabocha squash under a canopy of pink radicchio leaves. The whole chicken (untried by me) gets rave reviews. The menu changes, but visiting in different seasons did not alter the high quality. Mains are in the low $20s, making it almost affordable enough to compensate for the cab fare. And this is worth the cab fare.
Other Guidance: The menu accommodates Vegetarian or Gluten-free eaters, with a handful of dishes to build a meal (the onion soup is made with vegetable, not beef, broth!). It is a nice, neighborhood place so dress is generally casual, but something a little nicer is not out of place. The entrance is at street level.
Wine List Gem: Ankida Ridge, Pinot Noir, Amherst, VA 2014. There are many reasons why one might shy away from this bottle: It is one of the few wines that is not completely natural in production on the list. The price point, $80, is a little higher than Primrose’s average. It is Pinot, but not from France, California, Oregon, or New Zealand. All that said, it was a delightful; more bright than deep, but also balanced between fruit and acidity. Dave McIntyre of the Post wrote about its merits and recognition: “Ankida has developed a lighter style, with high-toned acidity and bright fruit reminiscent of the more delicate appellations of Burgundy, such as Savigny-les-Beaune.”
Rating: Worth Paying for Cab
Address: 3000 12th St NE, Washington, DC 20017
Washington Post: 2.0 stars. The rating did not match the effusively positive language of the review and seems to be a place-marker anticipating an upward revision. The First Bite was very positive: “a sweet spot for bistro food and wines you don’t see everywhere else.” He also listed it on his February 2019 favorite places to eat right now. This is one of the examples where a star ranking doesn’t work.
Washingtonian: Unlisted in 2019 and 2020, but #63 in 2018.