Sunday, May 23, 2010

An Evening at Brabo

When describing Old Town, the guide book I bought shortly before moving to DC 5 years ago states, "It's a relief, after the expansive boulevards and monuments of DC, to walk around a town built on a more human scale." I spent the better part of two years commuting to Alexandria daily, and found myself falling for its less over-eagerly preserved charms. Old Town idiosyncrasies make it particularly taxing to make the trip: street parking is hard to find, traffic police is relentless, the Farmer's Market closes much too early, and the heavy tourist traffic complicates the separation of the wheat from the chaff, restaurant-wise. The boom in great new options in DC not withstanding, Old Town is still worth the trip, especially in the summer months.

We'd been to Brabo before. Aside from a very kind invitation to try out the new Spring menu, I have bought picnic baskets from Butcher's Block, their sister store, which I greatly enjoyed, and Brasserie Beck, another Robert Wiedmaier restaurant, is one of my favorites. The dining room at Brabo breaks up the space into various areas, all with directed lightning, which makes the space more intimate. Many of the tables are flanked by banquettes (which are a bit too low, or perhaps I am too short). The chairs are calculatedly mismatched. The bar, out by the front, is located by a large window, which makes the bar's copper treatment glisten. We started out the meal with a round of cocktails. I ordered a Cherry Pisco Sour, partly because I am always comparing iterations of the Peruvian cocktail to my own. Brabo's version, unfortunately, did not compare favorably. The maraschino overpowers the drink, making it too sweet and the color slightly off-putting. Other cocktails, such as the Side Car and the Aperitivo, looked more promising. I'll keep it in mind for my next visit.

We started the meal with a hamachi crudo (which is on the Bar menu), perfectly cut pieces of young yellowtail drizzled with sweet soy, yuzu, and ginger milk. The entire table was wondering what the sweet sauce was - the taste was of plums and figs, which paired marvelously with the fish. As this is a Robert Wiedmaier restaurant, mussels are prominently featured. I ordered the night's special, soft shell crab. The crab was lightly fried and rested on a bed of corn and bacon, giving the dish a distinctly local flair. The greens were lightly dressed, and the flavors complemented each other.

One of the highlights of the meal was our initial wine pairing, a Domaine des Malandes "Cuvee Tour du Roy" Vielles Vignes 2007 Chablis. I seldom see it in restaurants, and this is one of the only ways I will enjoy a wine made from Chardonnay grapes. Chablis is a dry white wine, with a pure, bright aroma and taste that makes it great for pairing with food. As a plus, the store and restaurant share a liquor license, and most of the wines are available for purchase.

The menu at Brabo is very eclectic, and has more American and Asian inspired dishes. It was a cold and rainy night, so after much consideration between the Lamb Nicoise Salad and the Roasted Breast of Pekin Duck. I chose the duck, which stood out from all the other entrees. The presentation is extremely original: the duck's leg is presented as a Spring Roll, which is a creative use of the fat, and the kitchen added the Asian flair by infusing the duck jus with a hint of chili. The duck was cooked just right, and was extremely juicy. We had several side dishes, including roasted artichokes (that could have done with less gruyere) and asparagus in a bacon vinaigrette, a fun way to add some smoke and crunch.Our entrees were paired with a David Noyes Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir that did the remarkable feat of pairing with fish, scallops, pork, and duck.

As no tasting exercise could be complete without trying dessert, we went with our server's suggestions -he knew the menu inside out, and was very enthusiastic about the kitchen's offerings. The night's special was strawberry shortcake, with the season's earliest local strawberries making their grand entrance. Hard as it was to resist the waffle, I ordered the Peanut Butter bar, a very light peanut butter mousse resting on top of flourless chocolate cake. The dessert is not overly sweet, and incorporates the peanut's saltiness to its best advantage.

End (or start) your King Street stroll there. You won't be disappointed.

Brabo by Robert Wiedmaier on Urbanspoon
1600 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


How untrendy is Bua, you ask? If the 80s style neon doesn't tip you off, the older-than-a-decade framed reviews festooning the entrance will. But we must give Bua its due - it was one of DC's first contemporary Thai restaurants, and the food is consistently good if not fantastic. My favorite thing about this restaurant is its outdoor seating: while the street view to a parking lot isn't necessarily inspired, the second floor deck lacks in mood lightning, but usually has a pleasant breeze co-mingled with purple basis and grilled meats from the Middle Eastern place next door.

The dishes are Bua feel homey (or "classic" to use their copy). The flatware is as generic as it can be, and dishes come adorned with carrot rosettes which, old school as they are, look as they were put there with incredible care, and this always manages to charm me. Maria and I decided to beat the heat and unwind from a long day at our respective offices. We shared two appetizers: crispy Spring rolls and the Bua Crunch Baskets. The Spring rolls were standard fare, but they were served piping hot and came with a very good fish oil sauce with just the right balance of acid and heat. The crunchy baskets, pictured, were an interesting take on what probably were wonton noodles shaped and fried (I can't wait to copy them) filled with mixed stir-fried ground ship and chicken (with the consistency of larb gai, minus the lime). It's a smart appetizer, substantive without being overly filling.

For our main dishes, Maria went with drunken noodle - her staple entree when trying a new place out. When she asked for no green peppers and extra onions, the kitchen sent a question back, inquiring if she was sure about the onions as they do not put them in their drunken noodles (and according to Maria, it is one of the few places in DC that doesn't) and it really changes the flavor. The fact that they even bothered to ask speaks very well of the back of the house at Bua. Maria asked for her dish to be hot ("Normal hot, I am asking for heat as they would make it, not issuing a challenge!") As for me, I was craving both curry and noodles, and was fretting over the choice until, lo and behold, saw a dish named Kao Soi. I had never tried this dish before, but it is made up of egg noodles with chicken in red curry sauce. The sauce itself reminded me of Laksa, and it came topped with red onion and scallion, which gave it a fresher taste and balanced out the smoke. Though the description mentioned pickled cabbage, I did not see it, or taste it. Maybe it was replaced by the crispy wonton strips. Overall, it is a great dish, and one that I have not seen, or at least noticed, at other Thai places in DC.

While Bua does offer desserts, it is around the corner from Mr. Yogato. We finished the meal with chocolate hazelnut yogurt (as a swirl with tangy classic for me, and topped with oreos and strawberries for Maria) and deemed the evening a Tuesday success.

Bua on Urbanspoon
Bua Thai Restaurant
1635 P Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20036-1403
(202) 265-0828