Thursday, April 2, 2009

Brabo and the Lorien Hotel & Spa Splash Out on a Spring Evening

In late March I was invited to the official opening of the Lorien Hotel & Spa at 1600 King Street in Old Town, Alexandria. Part of the Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, the Lorien Hotel & Spa is connected to Chef Robert Wiedmaier’s newest formal restaurant, Brabo, and accompanying business-casual Brabo’s Tasting Room. Both opened for business on February 12. The chef’s accompanying gourmet fromagerie, charcuterie and wine market, The Butcher’s Block: A Market by RW, unlocked its doors just over a week ago. Chef Wiedmaier and staff provided savory hors d’oeuvres for those circulating throughout the hotel and a sampler of desserts for guests who stopped by Brabo afterwards.

The Lorien Hotel & Spa combines an Old Town-appropriate exterior with a cozy and luxurious modern feel inside. A spacious open-air courtyard featured traditional red brick walls and a copper roof, along with a square fountain featuring floating candles and a tall clock. A wide blue slate path led to the entrance as invitees wandered, sipping flutes of champagne here and in the hotel-enclosed patio, as a square fireplace flamed in the chilly air.

The courtyard and patio area’s atmosphere offered a solid contrast to the cool-hued reception area, which featured modern and traditional furniture in shades of robin’s egg blue, dark teal, chocolate, and white. A circular copper leatherette chair picks up color from outside and is an appealing place to wait for a hotel guest. Candles floated in varied glass cylinders of water, which matched the uneven heights of the white-paper–covered books lying on shelves in a pleasant anteroom leading to the open brick patio. Designer Vicente Wolf told me that his “library” was meant to be primarily abstract and sculptural. I found that the shelves of books seem to add space to the low-ceilinged chamber instead of compounding its intimacy.

While tasting the savory bites created for the opening, I sipped a Belgian Bavik Pilsner that served as a malleable accompaniment to Chef Wiedmaier’s diverse and Belgian-inspired dishes. Wasabi was supposed to accompany the tuna tataki on cucumber, but it proved surprisingly bland. Also, the endive leaves with chèvre, while fresh, seemed ho-hum and monotextural without extra crunch. The delicious mini-cassoulet was appropriately earthy for a cool spring twilight, however. The white beans cooked in duck fat were rich and the lamb merguez and duck sausages added spice and bite. Smoked trout mousse on garlic-rubbed crostini was also tasty. Two other standouts were the light and crispy tempura shrimp in a citrus sauce and perfectly cooked pork tenderloin in a sweet chili reduction with mango chutney, ginger, and raisins. These savory hors d’oeuvres were served throughout the courtyard and patio areas for the gala.

At the hotel bar my friend tried a Brabo Punch, which I sampled also. Excessively sweet in combining Captain Morgan, amaretto, cranberry and pineapple juice, it seemed more appropriate for a beachside bar in the Bahamas. A flamboyant White Cosmo combining vodka, triple sec, lime and white cranberry juices showcased its ingredients better, and billowing smoke from a pellet of dry ice at the bottom of the glass made this cocktail visually festive and fun. It was only available for the party, unfortunately, but I will keep it in mind when dreaming up my own concoctions.

An array of mini-desserts and appropriate drinks, such as a silk-smooth Chocolate Martini with an amaretto cookie-crumb rim, introduced the restaurant to those visiting for the first time. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Brabo has a warm, unpretentious elegance about it. Its white tables, orange light sconces, chocolate walls flecked with cream, and seats alternating between traditional white wood and contemporary brown leather create an inviting and classy ambience. Near the door leading to King Street, an intimate, copper-topped bar offers a lovely place to meet a friend, with conical lamps throwing a diffuse spotlight on the plush copper bar stools.

Chef Wiedmaier and sous-chef Kate Baltren deserve kudos for the dessert sampler. They included standards like strawberries dipped in white and dark chocolate, along with a simple oval Belgian chocolate with a banana-caramel interior. The rose gerbet macaroons were yummy, and a tiny carrot cake layered with cream cheese and topped with a dab of cream-cheese buttercream was moist and addictive. Also, the bread pudding, which is made of leftover croissant, muffins, and other pastries, should not be missed. You will find a dessert-sized portion at the Tasting Room next door. After the heartiness of the savory items, however, I most relished the refreshing lemon tart topped with a drizzle of white chocolate, candied lemon wedge, and sprig of cilantro. A full dinner at Brabo costs from $75 to $100 or more per person, with appetizers, entrees, desserts, and a bottle of wine included.

Brabo’s Tasting Room has an agreeable clean and industrial feel, with brushed-steel counters, high ceilings, metal stools at a central long table and white-tabled booths with chocolate leatherette seats. The business-casual restaurant served mozzarella-prosciutto and duck-confit flatbreads at the gala. I could not taste them, since I arrived there after hungry visitors had inhaled all available slices. A meal there can cost between $50 to $75 per person if you include appetizers, main courses, desserts, and wine. I plan to return for a full review soon.

In stopping by the Butcher’s Block: A Market by RW, I found a lovely addition to the DC area’s gourmet shopping options for discerning foodies and chefs. Black-and-white tile floors and stainless steel wire shelving create a clean and spartan atmosphere that showcases the specialty merchandise, which is primarily meant to accompany meats and cheeses for sale. The Butcher’s Block offers exotica such as black lava and pink Himalayan salts, along with varieties of vinegar, oils, capers, and Gaillard Black Truffle juice. In the small refrigerated dairy and drink section, you can buy anything from Belgian beer to Devon double cream and truffle butter.

Oenophiles should note the store’s wide selection of good and reasonably priced wines. The friendly manager, Selena Zellers, mentioned that the Butcher’s Block’s w
ines and champagnes mostly range between $15 to $100, with about 60 percent under $25. The management plans to hold tastings and other events frequently. Zellers added that Chef Wiedmaier opened the shop because he had tired of the dearth of good meats available in the DC metropolitan area. You can find duck sausage, veal chops, quail, squab, and lamb tenderloins here, along with cheeses and other options. Also, the deli counter offers casual to-go sandwiches for busy tourists and office workers grabbing lunch or dinner. So far the turkey club sandwich with red onion marmalade and avocado has been the biggest seller.

This high-end but down-to-earth restaurant complex and four-star hotel provide a charming balance between the modern and traditional in both décor and cuisine. The four-star Lorien Hotel & Spa makes a very pleasing addition to the upper end of King Street in Old Town, Alexandria. In addition, the food I tasted at the attractively appointed Brabo foreshadows a memorable experience when I return to dine there and at the Tasting Room.

(Special thanks to Moshe Zusman, who provided copyrighted photos of the lemon tarts and the carving station for this piece. Please see his web site for more information about his photography.)

Brabo at the Lorien Hotel & Spa
1600 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314

BRABO by Robert Weidmaier on Urbanspoon


Karman Lee said...

Great review! Thanks for posting about this new spot!

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