Belgian food is starting to quickly become an overdone fad in DC. However, having spent most of my life in the Midwest, deprived of moules and frites, I just can’t seem to get enough of them. Plus, trying new restaurants gives me an excuse to eat french fries, even though I know they’re bad for me.
Two weekends ago, Lee and I made reservations for any early dinner at Brassiere Beck. BB opened about a year ago amid serious hype. Reviews seem to be mixed, but BB also keeps popping up in various best new restaurant lists. While that’s enough to make one a little hesitant, Brasserie Beck definitely exceeded my expectations on several counts.
Lee and I each ordered a salad ($13) to start - bibb lettuce with roasted beets and frisee with lardons and poached egg. I’m sorry there are no salad shots — I was so hungry that I forgot to take a picture. The beet salad arrived with thin slices of beet arranged in a circle and a little pile of lettuce leaves and minced red onion in the center. As an avid beet fan, I have eaten many a beet salad. This rendition was perfectly acceptable but not very memorable. The mustard dressing was very mild, and I thought the raw onion overwhelmed their delicate flavor. I think a gentle dressing works will with tender bibb lettuce, but a little more acid would have brought out the sweetness in the beets.
The frisee salad, on the other hand, was divine. Like, eyes rolling back in my head, weak knees, drooling a little divine. The presentation was also delightful - the mound of frissee was topped with a parmesan toast crisp and a perfectly poached egg. I love this flavor combination, but in the past I have noticed that this salad can become overpowered by the sherry vinegarette and becomes soupy once the egg yolk is mixed into the greens. What is notable about Brasserie Beck’s salad is that the salad is dressed just lightly enough to impart a vinegary pucker that is smoothed out by the richness of the yolk. But the best part is the addition of little deep fried shallots, which opens the salad up to an entirely new level of flavor suggestion and gives it greater textural interest. I would go back for this salad alone.
For my entree, I obviously ordered mussels and frites ($20). I’ve heard that the food at Brasserie Beck is very rich, and I did not feel hungry enough to order a regular entree ($23-$26). You can also order the mussels or raw oysters as an appetizer, but the mussels are big enough for a meal. I ordered mine with curry and apple; other combinations include the classic white wine, herbs, and garlic, as well as fennel and chorizo. The mussels come with frites and a trio of dipping sauces (mayo, curry mayo, and Marie Rose sauce - aka ketchup and mayo).
My mussels arrived in a huge yellow skillet which matched the screaming yellow broth. The food tasted as colorful as it looked; the apples were so spiced and salty, it was difficult to eat more than a few bites. While I thought the broth was too intense to eat alone, this intensity allowed it to impart greater flavor to the mussels. In the past, I have found that sometimes the broth tastes delicious, but mussels themselves are a bit bland. Personally, I would rather have my mussels taste better, but this might be off-putting for someone who loves to sop up the juices with their bread.
On the other hand, the frites tasted fabulous when dipped in the curry broth, putting the accompanying mayonnaise dips to shame. Brasserie Beck’s frites are very light and crispy. There is not a hint of greasiness; they have a wonderfully airy crunch that contrasts nicely with the creamy mayo. I like the Marie Rose sauce, as I find straight mayo a bit too gooey, but ketchup a bit too watery. That said, I do think the Marie Rose could have had a little more tomato flavor. The curry was the most flavorful of the three, and probably would have been my favorite if I were not already eating curry mussels.
Lee ordered the special, pictured above. I must be honest and say that I couldn’t completely understand our waiter (he had an accent and spoke quickly). I know it involved red snapper, balsamic reduction, basil, fried shallots, and that Lee ate it so fast that I only got to try a bite of it. I think that means it was good.
For dessert, I ordered the waffle du jour, and Lee had the bread pudding. The waffle was, in my opinion, the ideal balance of crisp exterior and light, tender interior. It was incredibly delicate and served with stewed blueberries and lemon ice cream. The bread pudding was much heartier–it was a dense cube of bread and chocolate. I thought the chocolate was a nice complement to the vanilla and egg, but the texture is quite thick. I personally prefer bread pudding that is custardy, but even then I still don’t care that much for it.
It would be criminal not to mention that Brasserie Beck has an incredible selection of Belgian beers. The beer list is more like a tome, and includes a detailed description of the flavor, color, and alcohol volume. You can also ask to speak to the beer sommelier (yes, a beer sommelier), who will make a recommendation based on your preferences. He spoke to the table next to us and was very knowledgable. Indeed, all the staff we dealt with were incredibly attentive, quick, and professional.
The thing I like best about Brasserie Beck is that it’s incredibly versatile. I know that versatile is kind of a strange word to use, so let me explain. Your dining experience is really what you make of it. You can go for a lighter meal of seafood, salad, or small plates, a special occasion meal, or a multi-course tasting menu. The mind-boggling selection of beer makes it worthy of a trip just for drinks and maybe an appetizer or two. You could spent a lot of money, or a little bit of money. The restaurant itself is broken up into a series of rooms and odd-shaped nooks, making it suitable for a large party or an intimate dinner. The atmosphere and menu are flexible enough to accommdate any of these possibilities. I will most certainly be back soon.