Saturday, May 19, 2007

bravo to BRASSERIE BECK on my birthday

BRASSERIE BECK opened quietly only one month ago, but is already busy and booming (1101 K St, NW). Literally, the younger brother of Marcel's, one of Washington's fine dining establishments, Chef ROBERT WIEDMAIER has gone casual (as so many folks are doing this day) but with lots of class and fine food. BECK, named for their younger son, who is also Samuel's age (maybe one day we will open Chez Samuel!), is, for me, a clear winner of the recently opened CENTRALE in that it has a much larger menu, huge and reasonable wine list, monstrous beer menu (it is a BELGIAN Bistro), and while noisy, is not at the "I can't hear you " noise levels, even on a Saturday night.

Upon entering you may head to the large marble bar and hig tables to the right where you can watch either the flat screen TV or the closed circuit TV of the kitchen plating area! There is also an amazing coffee station nearby with two huge chrome espresso machines that impressed me to no end! The raw bar selections are displayed near the entrance as well with each oyster labeled so you can decide which you would like (I took one of each). There are huge Andy Thornton railroad station like clocks and high ceilings giving a feel quite reminiscent of the Quai d'Orsay Museum in Paris (which, of course, was a rail
station prior to its present incarnation). The floors are stone, which does not lower the noise levels, and sadly amplified the several accidents that occurred during our stay. Two heavy trays were dropped and we all jumped; when a glass fell off a nearby table it shattered ALL OVER making a truly godawful mess and requiring several staff to get on the their knees for some time to be sure all the slivers were cleaned up.

Get past this and you will have a wonderful time, since the service (our server Jamie--who called himself by his last name Russo, as there are three Jamies there!) was excellent and super-attentive, and the food are divine.

At the bar I started with the selection of 6 oysters from the West Coast: Penn Cove, Otter Cove, Sunset Beach, Wildcat Cove, Stellar Bar & Hollow Creek--all excellent and HUGE and plump. A glass of ELEMENTAL CELLARS (Oregon) 2002 "Deux Vert Vineyards" MELON was a perfect foil for the shellfish with its crisp fruit and dryness.

At the table we enjoyed some wines I had brought from home. It's odd that someone out there (you know who you are) mentioned to me last week that the wine list at BECK was not too big. Boy, were they wrong! Not only is it HUGE, but it is exciting and inventive and many selections are way under $40-50! Anyway, we opened a superb MARCEL DEISS Alsace Grand Cru 1999 Altenberg de Bergheim which has huge limestone mineral hints and big fruit(esp.apricot) to boot; a
wonderful aperitif.

It took us a long time to decide what to order, so we started by choosing one of the STEAMED MUSSLES (White Wine, Parsley, & Garlic) for the table to share. The mussles can also be ordered with FENNEL & CHORIZO or APPLE & CURRY. They were HUGE & PLUMP like I had never seen before (almost like they had had hormone injections!) and the accompanying Belgian FRITES were superb, although they are still not as good as the chunkier version at Marcel's! Only the trio of
mayonnaise dips was unexciting consisting of a mild garlic, a pinkish "Rosanna" with a bit of ketchup, and the best, a curry infused. Our second wine at the table was the sister to the one I had at the bar, a French MELON 2005 "Sur Lie" from Domaine de la Quilla, a Muscadet Sevre et Marne that was nice, but couldn't touch the Oregon version!

We decided to share some more starters and chose the easy to share and excellent CHARCUTERIE PLATE (if a bit pricey) which comes with house pate, paperthin cut Prosciutto, Speck (yum) and a wonderful French saucisson; a small ramekin of LAMB RILLETTES is covered with sauteed red & yellow peppers. On the side are gherkins, sweet pickled onions and an odd relish or marmalade that had a soft nut consistency like sweetmeat. The BRANDADE of COD was a real treat, a creamy thick spread that comes hot in a large bowl, and while it is eaten with a spoon or smothered on bread, it is pretty easy to pass and share.

A harder to share choice, but one of the best dishes was the rich PEA SOUP with VEAL CHEEK MEATBALLS; four mini-balls were perched on top of a mound of mashed potatoes in the center of a gorgeous green soup that was some of the best pea soup ever (and the balls had an excellent slight spice to them as well!).

Finally, the dud starter was the SHRIMP CROQUETTES that everyone insisted smelled of ammonia, so we sent them back after each of us had a taste (they were eventually refunded on the check, although the first check did not have the credit--our server was very sorry!). By this time we had ordered a wonderful GAMAY BEAUJOLAIS "Brouilly" 2005 from CHATEAU de THIVIN where I had actually visited winemaker Claude Geoffrey several years ago and fell in love with his simple and tasty wines.

Entrees were superb across the board, with two folks opting for repeats on the MUSSELS, and the like of a wonderful CHOUCROUTE en Croute which is a variation on the traditional Alsatian sausage and sauerkraut dish cooked in puff pastry. LAMB SHANK with White Beans was the Belgian take on Osso Buco I guess and another huge portion and the RABBIT LOIN with KRIEK BEER was cooked in a manner that reminded me of barbeque and was as tasty as could be. I opted for the DUCK CONGOLESE ALMONDINE which was also a large portion (they ALL were) of rare breast with raisins, almonds and couscous. We opened a beautiful
SATGLINAO 1995 SANGIOVESE from Staglin Vineyards of Napa that was just at its peak and the last one of its kind from my cellar.

Before dessert we opened the third bottle we brought which was a KRACHER 1995 TROCKENBEERENAUSLESE No. 12 Grand Cuvee that has aged so amazingly it now has that typical super-viscous apricot rich flavor, but a hint of pepper on the tongue. It is amazing what 10 years does to these complex but tasty dessert wines I adore!

We choose three desserts to share and the least exciting was the BELGIAN BREAD PUDDING which was made with Chocolate and Cherries macerated in beer. The Caramel Cheese Cake was nice, but the hit and star was easily the PEAR TARTE TATIN with Honey Cinnamon Ice Cream. I did miss a birthday candle (they did know it was a big day for me--my thirtieth PLUS 21!).

but no biggie, I had a great meal with some great friends!