With Baked and Wired, Sprinkles and Georgetown Cupcake located just beyond the front gates, Georgetown students have become routine cupcake aficionados. However, just a two-minute walk from Dupont Circle is the amusingly named Un Je Ne Sais Quoi, a new French bakery specializing in the merveilleux, a delicate cake consisting of two meringues held together by whipped cream. Despite its deliciousness, the patisserie’s specialty is not enough to make up for its overall lack of variety.
Opened by husband-and-wife duo Aude and François Buisine, the bakery has taken the location of the popular, now-defunct Hello Cupcake. The bakery is certainly authentic, as the owners are French expatriates and all the food is freshly made. The merveilleux themselves are interesting mixes of meringue, ganache and cream layers that are difficult to find in D.C. The pastry comes in several different styles, with a variety of coffee undertones, white-chocolate bases and vanilla flavors. The mixture of cream and crunchy meringue creates a silky texture, making the dessert light and sweet enough to be enjoyable, yet not overly filling. The merveilleux were presented as small stacks covered in chocolate shavings, served on delicate white plates. At only $5 each, the French treats are surprisingly affordable considering their rarity. However, although the merveilleux were tasty, they were far from memorable.
Un Je Ne Sais Quoi also serves other French delicacies that would be of interest to not only Francophiles, but also those unfamiliar with French desserts. My friends and I tried the bakery’s house eclair. The pastry was soft and light, and the ganache was rich in the Parisian style. Although the bakery is frequently sold out of its other options, it also offers chocolate custard pie, apple tarts, chouquettes, coffee cream puffs and lemon meringue pie. There is a selection of beverages to accompany the pastries, from a strong cappuccino to one of the bakery’s house juices. The juices ($4) are all flavorful and sweet. All other items are sold at quite affordable prices; it is hard to spend over $10 for one visit.
It is refreshing to see a patisserie that does not seem to try too hard to be a crowd-pleaser. Un Je Ne Sais Quoi does not take the cliched route of serving pain au chocolats, pain au raisins and French-style sandwiches. Rather, it is self-styled as a dessert vendor alone. The decor is minimalist and largely white, with a couple elegant velvet chairs and sofas. There are spindly drawings of animals and people on the walls, as well as wiry figurines that give the bakery a whimsical and sophisticated, faintly Parisian feel. Additionally, the service is authentic and unpretentious. While at the bakery, I was able to meet the two owners, the Buisines, working behind the counter and serving food to customers, both exuding relaxed and genuine demeanors.
Overall, Un Je Ne Sais Quoi is a unique find, and does not try to appeal to a mass market. Instead, it presents a component of French cuisine previously unavailable in the District. However, the inadequate range of pastries available does not warrant a second visit, and students who like variety may be better off sticking with more accessible options on M Street.
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