Monday, July 26, 2010

Show Us Those Mussels

Since I was a little girl, I have been a huge fan of mussels. I remember being about three years old and sitting on my grandfather's lap, trying my first bite of this delectable shellfish. Twenty some-odd years later, I still crave mussels on a regular basis.
Last week, Chef Robert Weidmaier opened his newest restaurant on Bethesda Row, which he appropriately dubbed Mussel Bar. Chef Weidmaier is already well known inside the Beltway because of his more upscale restaurants (including Brasserie Beck, Marcel's, and BRABO) that are located downtown and in Old Town Alexandria. Yet I believe the hope is this Belgian gastropub will be enticing to a more casual crowd that is just looking for a great place to eat in the neighborhood.

I try not to make a habit of going to a restaurant the first full day that they are open, but I work in Bethesda, and the thought of mussels was just too appetizing to resist. When I walked in at 1:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon I was greeted with a big smile and a half-full dining room. Since I was by myself, I chose to sit at the wooden bar. The bartender was extremely helpful and walked me through the menu. She clearly had tried most everything the restaurant offers and steered me toward her favorite mussel preparation: the classic.

The mussels came out of the kitchen within mere minutes, but the speed did not detract from the quality. Every mussel in the dish had an open shell, making it seem as if they were begging you to eat them. The shellfish were served with warm french bread, frites and garlic aioli. The bread was perfect for sopping up the broth that devouring the mussels leaves behind. Although I enjoyed the frites, I was not blown away. The aioli could have used a bit more zing and I couldn't tell if the fries were hand cut back in the kitchen or if they were just taken out of the freezer. The broth the mussels were served in was so aromatic that the garlic, shallots and white wine tickled the insides of my nose and sinuses. I am going to take a leap and say that these are easily the best mussels that I have tried since I moved to DC almost 6 years ago.

The bar also has one of the more impressive beer menus that I have seen in my time. They stock upwards of 130 beers, most of which are imported from Europe. Believe me when I say if I wasn't heading back to work, I could have enjoyed a few of them.

I can't wait to see where Mussel Bar goes in the coming months and years. I do hope that they debut a lunch menu and happy hour specials (because this is not the cheapest meal that you can have in Bethesda), but I'm sure those changes will come once the restaurant gets into a routine. One thing is for certain, there is no doubt in my mind that Mussel Bar will become a place where one can take a break, have a beer and enjoy some good food. As they say in Belgium - eer smakelijk - or bon appetite.

images: bloggers own

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