Monday, January 21, 2008

Hearty welcome on a cold night

Brasserie Beck

1101 K Street NW
Washington, DC

It was a bitterly cold night, just the right time to visit Brasserie Beck. The menu is full of hearty Belgian and French specialties -- cassoulet, choucroute, beef carbonnade, duck confit -- things I can't even imagine eating during warm weather.

Perusing the beer menu

We started out by sharing an order of mussels cooked in garlic and white wine. You can also have mussels cooked with curry and apples or with fennel and chorizo sausage. The side order of crisp, well-seasoned frites came with three mayonnaise-based dipping sauces: plain, something tomatoey, and a mild curry dip. (I had no idea that Belgians were so interested in curry.)

Paging through the inch-thick beer menu is both a literary and a sensory experience. Even if you're unfamiliar with Belgian beers, the names are delightful: Delirium Tremens, Gouden Carolus Ambrio, Floris Witt, Cantillon de Gambrinus. Detailed tasting notes make it hard to choose just one.

Hoegaarden wheat beer was spicy and dry, and it went well with the mussels. But the most intriguing beer of the night was the Duchesse de Bourgogne, a traditional Flemish red ale. The flavor was almost like wine, very intense, rich and fruity.

Our entree was cassoulet for two. The dish came to the table in a heavy porcelain-covered pot and was served into smaller matching serving ware, which probably helped keep it warm. The white beans were meltingly soft, perfectly cooked.

Also inside the pot were some braised pork belly, duck confit, and house-made lamb sausage. Even for two, it was a hefty portion, so satisfying that we couldn't even think about dessert.

The only less-than-intriguing item on the menu was an appetizer described as "liver parfait with ruby red port glaze." I almost ordered it just to see what would appear. Call it fois gras and it would be more approachable, don't you think?

I didn't really need an escort to find the restroom, but the friendly, well-dressed hostess took it upon herself to walk with me as she pointed me in the right direction, and she seemed genuinely interested in whether I was enjoying my dinner.

Another time, I'd like to order the cheese course and ask the beer sommelier for some recommendations. And the massive chef's table facing the exhibition kitchen would be a great setting for a winter celebration.

Brasserie Beck in Washington

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