I never fully appreciated Brussels sprouts until I had them at Brasserie Beck (1101 K Street, DC). I don’t remember ever being served them as a kid (Mrs. Senior Me in particular may be surprised to learn that, at least sometimes, I now love them), and I’ve tried only a couple of times to cook them myself, with poor results. If you had told Teenage Me that one day he would appreciate Brussels sprouts, TM would have laughed, if he had been able to hear you over the tumult of The Cars and Talking Heads on his Sony Walkman personal cassette player.
Beck roasts its Brussels sprouts with pears, garlic, and (importantly) bacon. It took us a while to figure out the pears, which look like diced potato but clearly are not once you pop a piece in your mouth — I thought maybe apple, because who would think of pears and Brussels sprouts? But it works, even Mrs. Me ate more than one. Of course the bacon doesn’t hurt. The sprouts are roasted about as far as possible without turning too bitter and burnt; the singed tips are the best part. The sprouts may be my favorite dish at Beck, even more than the stews or the mussels or the frites. The beer is varied and excellent, of course, and goes splendidly with all the food — and if you go at happy hour, when certain beers are half-price, it doesn’t even feel too expensive (still not cheap though).
I keep wanting to abbreviate Brussels sprouts as BS, but that just seems wrong. From a lesser kitchen it might work, but the Brasserie Beck version deserves better, so I have resisted the impulse.
Just as I was saying I hear great things about Robert Wiedmaier’s new Mussel Bar in Bethesda, and just as Steve commented that Tom Sietsema’s writing (along with much of the Post) has been sub-par lately, both propositions are tested in this weekend’s Post Magazine as Sietsema savages MB like Moby Dick wrecking Ahab’s boat and biting his leg for good measure. Not as enjoyable as a Roger Ebert takedown of a bad movie, but still a good if unappetizing read. I still want to try Mussel Bar but maybe I will wait a while to see if Tom’s review energizes the bivalves.
Also during the blogging hiatus, Mrs. Me and friends (and I) infiltrated DC’s Brasserie Beck (1101 K Street) before a Lewis Black show at the Warner. Beck gets generally great reviews and I had been looking forward to trying it, and it lived up to the hype, for us anyway. Lots of great Belgian beer, of course; I enjoyed the Antigoon, a not-too-hoppy double blond on draft and available only at Beck, I think. Several people ordered the mussels — all good, I’m told — and I got tastes of a couple of salads, one spinach (with bacon!) and one tomato (no bacon, one of the few dishes available that did not involve bacon as far as I could tell). Mrs. Me liked her croque monsieur, I liked my lamb sandwich. The food was very good, but was nevertheless surpassed by the service, which was as good as any I’ve ever had at any restaurant and better than most, and I think by far the best at this price point. Beck staff are incredibly well-trained, knowledgable, friendly, efficient.
Also you may have heard something about Belgians liking their french fries. Beck’s are, of course, excellent — and as a mayo-on-fries fan I appreciated the dip trifecta — but I’m starting to think that great fries really aren’t that hard to come by. Cork and Relic (beware Flash) both make fries just as good as Beck’s, IMO, and in the same style (thin and fairly crisp on the outside), and that’s not to mention other good Belgian spots like Saint-Ex, and also not to mention places like Blue Duck Tavern where I haven’t been but where the fries are reportedly to die for. Then there is Five Guys, whose fries are a different style but also fantastic. McDonalds continues to make a good fry (if little else worth eating). Those are just off the top of my head. This is not to say great fries should no longer be appreciated, just that great fries are not as hard to find as they were even just a few years ago. Happily so!
Dinner with friends last night at Sur La Place (5105 MacArthur), the newish Belgian place in the Palisades owned by the Olney Mannequin Pis folks (I still need to eat there, too — why does Olney seem so far away? It’s not that far from Wheaton!). Sur La Place — literally, “Southern Mollusk” — has gotten mostly positive reviews so far, including from Sietsema at the Post. I am not linking to their website because they do not appear to have one. When little hole-in-the-wall dives have no website it is often a good sign, but that truism is less true when it comes to bigger players. SLP isn’t big but it isn’t even remotely a dive. It has a nice ambience, actually.
A good start: fresh-baked baguette slices were still warm in their basket. Six of us collectively ordered only a half serving of mussels. I had a couple, and liked them, fresh and meaty, but mussels aren’t my favorite shellfish. The half portion would easily have fed a single human (maybe plus a shared appetizer); the giants pots of full portion mussels we saw delivered to other tables could each feed the entire Belgian army.
Four of us had the stew, a rich winey pile of tender beef that everyone liked. I tried an appetizer special of asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and mired in gruyere or a gruyere-like facsimile; it had clearly been sitting in the warming area for a while because the cheese was seriously congealed. The cheese was tangy and the prosciutto was good but the asparagus was barely evident and also a bit stringy. As a ham-and-cheese appetizer, it was okay. I also had a housemade venison-blueberry sausage in a bed of lentils, and aside from nearly destroying a tooth on my first bite thanks to an uncooked lentil (or a small rock?) it was pretty good, though not as good as the Merguez lamb sausage someone else ordered. We shared several orders of frites, thin-cut Belgian style (but without mayo!), salty and good but eerily similar to McDonalds in texture and taste (not really a bad thing, as McD fries are pretty good).
Overall we thought the food was good, not great. We like the brick-and-mural design of the dining room, and although it was fairly loud, it wasn’t conversation-destroying loud. Our server was wonderful, but the kitchen was slow and we waited a long time between courses. We had a good time, but I doubt I will go back, given the expense and distance and lack of greatness.