Plaudits: RAMMY 2010 - Nominated Neighborhood Gathering Place
Neighborhood: Eastern Market
For our twice annual Restaurant Week date, Official Friends of DCWD G, Baboon, and HR Intern joined me and Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas at Belga Cafe.
The space is a modern take on a brasserie set in a fairly thin dining room; despite the size of the space, the tables are very close to one another and to the walls. A long bar runs alongside the right side of the restaurant until the open kitchen. The space is defined by chocolate brown furniture and ecru paint with exposed brick, with small pieces of kitsch to decorate, like a saxophone over the bar. The whole space is slightly tinged red from small lamps, and the overhead ceiling traps a lot of the noise, creating a fairly loud space.
I'm probably one of the biggest fans of Restaurant Week, for reasons I've touched upon many times on this blog. It's in a restaurant's best interest to still provide a modicum of quality for anybody who might venture into their place, even if they might be the unwashed hordes that may never come back again. Good press is good press, right?
The meal started off pretty well with three fairly delicious appetizers. I ordered the white bean soup spiked with truffles and smoked foie gras. Rich and decadent, it was a delightful flavor that hit you with luxurious and silky notes, and somehow managed to combine two very strong and powerful things into an altogether pleasant dish.
Texas had a poached farm egg in a bed of buttermilk mashed potatoes, old bruges cheese, and brown butter topped with asparagus. The whole dish was very good, with the egg and potatoes mixing well into a nice creamy, buttery finish. With the strong cheese taste providing some punch, it was like a thicker cream soup.
The rest of our dinner party had the casserole of wild mushrooms, frog legs, and escargot in a green herb sauce with garlic chips. With the featuring of frog legs and escargot, the overwhelming taste was of butter, complimented with some amount of depth and earthiness. It was a little thin for my tastes, but still fairly good.
If the descriptions of the appetizers seem a little short, it's because what followed went from decent to regrettable to outright bad. On the better side was Baboon's duck breast, served with quince, ham, blood sausage, and croquettes, with sauce made from Rochefort 10. Decently cooked (though a little done for my tastes), at the very least, the flavor combinations were on. But all in all, it was a dish that was... just fine.
Similarly, the braised rabbit for G and HR Intern was okay. Though it did came late, as our server wrote down the wrong orders, the restaurant did us the solid of sending a salad while we waited (though, honestly, a perfunctory one). When the rabbit came, it was at best unmemorable, and at worst a mismatched set of ingredients. Taken in pieces, the individual components were fine, but were sort of mish-moshed otherwise, with two tiny misplaced crawfish and a silly tarragon jus (at least the salsify and Jerusalem artichoke were fine).
My monkfish, with savoy cabbage, celery root, and lobster beignets in a Duvel beurre blanc was decent but also a curious mix. For one, the monkfish came in small fried chunks as opposed to a long filet, and was dominated by both the sauce, and the strength of the lobster flavor. All the same, my memory of the dish is one of blandness.
But perhaps the worst entree was Texas's pot of "mama greta" mussels. Unlike virtually every other mussels dish on the menu, this one was weak and thin, owing to its broth, which seemed to consist, self-admittedly, of lots of vegetables. No cream, not even a strong white wine flavoring. Just the taste of peppers and celery. This, to me, represented the dirty downside of Restaurant Week: restaurants mailing it in with subpar dishes below their normal quality.
If that were the ignominy of the dinner, it might have been tolerable, but the dinner pressed on to the dessert round. This battle quickly became who had the worse dish. On one end were G and Texas's Belgian chocolate "flan," the quotes indicating that it was more like a weird puddle of pudding than any sort of custard. On the other hand, the marshmallow cake bar was so rubbery that the two of them struggled to even cut it in two (imagine Flubber). And all of this is ignoring the passion fruit sorbet, which was so sour that everyone's reaction was one of, "Ohhhhhh."
On the other hand was my dessert, a cake of cubed poached pears held together by globs of beer gelee topped with a rosemary crumble, and sided by a sweet pear sorbet. The pears were mushy and acerbic, the gelee was bitter and unpleasant, and the crumble had the faint taste of steak rub and licorice. All told, it was not a good dish in any way, shape, or form, save for the sorbet which at least tasted like pears.
And to think, HR Intern's Belgian cheese plate was the best dessert.
We've heard they have a great waffle brunch, and that it's a gem in the neighborhood. And I know this was Restaurant Week. But, outside of the appetizers, it just wasn't good.
Food Rating: * 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Hipster Hangout
Cost: $$$ (out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing: Stock up on supplies, or take a cooking class at Hill's Kitchen.