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Brasserie is Back

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Robert Wiedmaier's New Restaurant Expertly Captures Bistro Experience

With a nod to his younger son Beck, Robert Wiedmaier’s has opened his second restaurant in Washington, D.C.: Brasserie Beck. After his success at Marcel’s, well established as one of D.C.’s finest restaurants, Wiedmaier sought an opportunity to expand his dining audience by creating a more casual, mid-price, bistro-type establishment.

Working with a design team put together by CORE Architecture/Design, Wiedmaier created a space strikingly reminiscent of a grand train station during the heyday of rail travel. Eclectic elements blend together in a soaring glass- and steel-dominated space done up in black, white, cobalt tile, deep walnut and rich blue accents. The illusion is reinforced by the nonstop bustle of staff that rarely seems to slow up, in tune perhaps to “Beck” time on the large (unsynchronized) clocks that grace the support columns throughout the dining space. In fact, the space alone is worth a visit.

One of the appealing things about the whole bistro dining concept that is beginning to take hold in D.C. is its flexibility, and Wiedmaier has captured this perfectly. Whether you are looking for a quick snack, a substantial lunch or an elegant evening meal, all are available at Brasserie Beck, which features continuous hours, a range of seating options and a varied menu.

Wiedmaier and chef de cuisine David Ashwell have put together a menu that draws largely on traditional French and Belgian cuisine, including such classics as coq au vin and beef carbonnade. The menu is particularly well balanced and offers a variety of fresh seafood and meat choices. Although less complex and dependent on seasonal and unusual ingredients than Marcel’s, the menu at Beck is nonetheless interesting and provides ample opportunities to demonstrate the kitchen’s abilities.

From among the numerous starters, the brandade of codfish is one of the best. Hailing from Provence, it is a rich pureed mixture of salt, cod olive oil, garlic, milk and cream. Spread over the house baguette (perfectly crusty and served warm from the oven), the generous serving makes a nice meal in itself. Also excellent are the lamb sausages served with lentils and frisee, which have a nice garlicky punch and are hardly greasy at all.

Almost the perfect bar food, the increasingly common steamed mussels appear in three broths: white wine-garlic-parsley, curry-apple, and fennel-chorizo. They arrive in large plates along with a basket of Belgian frites which are also available as a side. An additional nice touch is the trio of homemade mayonnaises, traditional curry and tomato. When the mussels are good, they are very good, although they have been somewhat inconsistent since the restaurant’s opening.

From among the various soups, the pea soup is a nice surprise. A highly refined and savory version, it is complemented with three tiny veal cheek meatballs. The toasted garlic baguette served with poached egg is notable for the rich and savory fricassee of mushrooms with which it is served.

The fish dishes shine. The pan-seared salmon, served over thick slices of braised fennel with a curry fennel sauce, is an unusual and excellent choice. Expertly seared, the salmon is moist and well matched with the curry sauce. Skate wing, one of Wiedmaier’s favorite dishes to cook, appears on the menu in a dish named after a good friend whose favorite dish at Marcel’s was the skate. Lightly battered and fried crispy without drying on the inside (not so easy with such a thin cut), it is complemented with beurre blan and garlic spinach—a very satisfying combination.

The grilled beefsteak with peppercorns and cognac is well executed, and the chicken waterzooi—a classic Belgian dish based on a cream and egg yolk sauce that originated in Ghent—is an appealing variation on the chicken stew.

But among the meat dishes, what we were surprised to enjoy most was the choucroute. For the adventurous and those with a robust appetite, Beck offers an “en croute” version of the classic Alsatian sauerkraut dish. It arrives at the table as a flaky pastry package packed full of sauerkraut, lamb sausage, pork and other good things. Delicious, it offers a complex array of flavors and is far subtler than one might expect, especially with sauerkraut being regarded as primarily a garnish for hot dogs.

Although there is not a focus on vegetarian entrées, there are a number of tasty vegetable side dishes from which to choose, such as caramelized Brussels sprouts and a rich root vegetable puree. Salads are also an option, although many of them have egg, meat or fish garnishes.

A number of nice desserts are available, and some are truly outstanding. Beck’s Belgian bread pudding redefines this humble dish. Thick slices of baguette are stuffed with beer-soaked cherries, chocolate and chopped apricots baked in a custard sauce and served with crème anglaise. An elegant pear tarte tatin offers lightly caramelized pears atop a rich flaky crust paired with a cinnamon-honey ice cream. The Flemish rice pudding, with its sharp saffron accents, is a good choice for those wanting a less sweet dessert.

One of the attractions for bar patrons and diners alike is the beer menu. Although the wine list is respectable, with more than 50 varieties at under a bottle, the beer menu—lovingly created by beer specialist Bill Catron—is tremendous, offering 11 draught and more than 30 bottled-crafted beers. This is after all a Belgian restaurant, so it’s not surprising that so much care has gone into putting together the beer list.

Brasserie Beck appears to be on its way to establishing itself as a destination in its rapidly developing corner of the city. Already the bar, elegant in walnut and marble, has attracted a D.C. after-work crowd, and even on early weekday evenings it is packed with standing patrons.

Brasserie Beck 1101 K St., NW Washington, DC (202) 408-1717

Lunch: Mon. to Fri. 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. Dinner: Mon. to Sat. 5 - 12 p.m. Prices: Appetizers/salads: to ; main courses: to ; desserts: Chef’s Table: Variable at , eight-person minimum Dress: Whatever you please

About the Author

Rachel Hunt and Stephen Qualiana are the restaurant reviewers for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on November 29, 1999