Alexandria, Va. February 10, 2012 — Brabo by Robert Wiedmaier brings Belgian cuisine to Old Town Alexandria.
The ambiance is elegant, yet comfortable. Though the restaurant is fine dining in nature with attentive service to match, don’t feel like you have to dig out your prom dress or tux to go. The restaurant is decorated in bronze tones with mid-tone wood floors. Hushed modern jazz plays in the background. It has a lively bar scene.
Chef/Proprietor Wiedmaier grew up in Germany with a Belgian father and Californian mother. His cuisine combines the elegance and tradition of Belgium with the fresh, local ingredient driven cuisine of California.
With a chef having Belgian roots, one simply has to try the classic mussels. A starter, the mussels are one of Brabo’s signature dishes. They’re fresh, tender and juicier than many mussels you may have had. The portion is quite generous and definitely works as a starter for two. The mussels, which come from Ireland, are served in a delicate sauce of butter, white wine, red pepper flakes, parsley, garlic and shallots. They are also served with a sizeable crock of frites — thin fries — and a trio of mayonnaise dipping sauces, including a stone-ground mustard mayo.
One of the appetizer specials the night I attended was seared fois gras with duck confit and poached pear. The searing gave the fois gras a nice contrasting texture and flavor, so there were more elements than the typical mere butteriness of the meat. The pear was a good flavor addition, because it’s lightly sweet but not overly dessert-like. It was a well-balanced dish.
The entree specials on the menu included loin of Sika deer, served with Sika sausage, apples, turnips, carrots, venison reduction and braised kale. I learned that Sika deer, also known as Japanese deer, is closer to elk than traditional venison. It was surprisingly non-gamy, quite comparable to the slight mineral-beef flavor of a filet mignon. It was served medium rare. The sausages were savory and well-seasoned. The winter veggies were quite complementary to the meat. Irwin mushrooms from Pennsylvania were served as a side dish.
The Pan-Seared Artic Char, with seafood cassoulet and braised kale. Arctic Char is a pink fleshed fish, sort of trout meets salmon. It was prepared with a deliciously crispy skin. The freshly snipped herbs and kale worked well with it. Entrees at Brabo run from $27-$38.
Brabo’s drinks menu includes many local and Belgian beers, as well as hand-crafted cocktails. The “Not Yo Mamma’s Appletini” is most certainly not like those trite and bright green vodka concoctions. It’s naturally fruit flavored, instead of artificially sweet. Made with apple brandy, Barentzen Apfelkorn, spiced syrup, fresh lemon juice, egg white foam, and Bar Code Apple Spice Bitters, it has a light, refreshing aperitif qualities.
Before the dessert course, I tried their cheese plate, which offered a good contrast of cheese from cow to goat, all from artisan American cheese-makers. The garnishes included caramelized onions, shallot jam, quince paste, honey with herbs and candied walnuts.
For dessert, in honor of the Belgian theme, I ordered a Belgian waffle with pineapple compote and house-made brown butter ice cream. The waffle was lighter than one might expect, making it a great dessert even after a rich meal. Also recommended is the creme brulee’ du jour: orange spice. The seasonings and tang of orange offered a nice counterpoint to the rich cream and perfectly candied sugar crust.
Robert Wiedmaier’s presence is a hot one in restaurants right now. There are actually three of his restaurant babies on the same block, for different takes on his cuisine and different moods. Brabo has a Tasting Room that was still packed with people late at night. I stopped into The Butcher’s Block before dinner: it’s a fun little gourmet food and wine shop with the best of the best goodies, including offerings from D’Artagnon and Fells Point meats.
Let’s say you’d like to make a night of it, after an evening of delicious food and drinks. The Brabo empire is actually the dining part of the Lorien Hotel & Spa. Definitely a good way to merge either some leftovers or some purchases from The Butcher’s Block would be to stay in one of the Lorien suites, which have balconies that overlook the city, with plush chairs to enjoy the view. Rooms start at around $169 and the rooms with terraces are in the 400’s. There’s also a communal deck with fire pit where people like to relax and take a cocktail.
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