Wednesday, January 2, 2008

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (PART I): BECKONED BY BECK

I had such a great time while I was in DC for the holidays. For once, my trip home did not revolve around rehearsal dinners, picking up tuxedos, and/or rushing to and from churches or receptions, and then having to squeeze-in quality time with the family all in one day. This time, I was able to really lay out some awesome plans for my trip home, or to simply “go-with-the-flow.” I managed to play both cards, and ended up having such a great time.

Aside from seeing the faces of family members, and old friends, my time at home was pretty much filled with all sorts of great eats and overflowing libations. But then again, I wouldn’t have had it any other way! In case you already didn’t know, I planned my trip home as a surprise to my family – whom I had lead to believe I wasn’t going to make it home for the holidays. I was able to keep the secret at bay for the most part, except for the fact that my mom got my “out of office” email response to something she sent me that Friday I arrived. Instead of surprising her by already being settled in at the house, I had to settle with a surprise over the phone as I made my way home from Tysons Corner. After I landed at Reagan on the morning of the 21st, I picked-up a rental car and drove to Tysons Corner to meet with my good friend, Arlene. We had lunch at Coastal Flats, which was yum as always. We got to catch up over great food and drinks. It was after lunch that I decided to call mom to see if she had left the office. I’ll spare you the details, but being the mom that she is, I couldn’t seem to get a word in our conversation so I ended up just spilling the beans. I literally had to scream, “Mom… MOM! I am HOME. I’m HOME! Surprise! I am here!” It was still much to her delight, which was a good thing. With her help, though, I managed to surprise my dad and brother in a better way, and everything pretty much fell into place.

The real focus of this post, however, is not-so-much the way that I came home to surprise mi familia. I had strategically planned a dinner that night with some foodie friends; I planned it months in advance. You see, when I lived in DC I thrived on the city’s growing restaurant scene. A few years ago, the DC foodie scene was up and coming. In the few years that I have been in California, the DC foodie scene has gone through many changes: some restaurants shifting in style and cuisine, certain doors closing, new doors opening… The scene has transcended from a burgeoning one to a more well-defined part of the city’s cultural landscape. DC cuisine has arrived.

The seafood restaurant scene in DC has surely gone through many changes in the last couple of years. You have some local favorites still doing their thing – such as J. Paul’s and Sea Catch in Georgetown, or even Kinkead’s in Foggy Bottom. My personal favorite had been DC Coast – the brainchild of Chef Jeff Tunks and his business-savvy cohorts. I had gone to dinner there some years back with my good friend, Florence, and I remember having one of the most wonderful culinary experiences there. It was the Mushroom Crusted Pacific Halibut that did it for me – making DC Coast the place to be. I’d been to many other seafood places in the city, including The Oceanaire Seafood Room, but nothing came as close to DC Coast. But I’m pretty sure that I’ve found a new spot in the city’s roster of great restaurants.

After I moved to Los Angeles, one of the things I regretted was not having been to Chef Robert Wiedmaier’s restaurant, Marcel’s. It had been on my “to do” list for a while, but I never got to make it there. I had followed Wiedmaier’s career in DC, and when he opened Brasserie Beck in April 2007, I decided then that I had to try it. And so the wheels began to churn, and I pre-planned a dinner at Brasserie Beck for the night I arrived in DC for the holidays. While BB is not exclusively a seafood restaurant, a great portion of its menu is devoted to fruits de mer. BB is Belgian in all aspects --- from the cuisine to the beers that are paired with each entrée.



Carrie, Leah and I met up in the city that night (Primo had to cancel due to work and travel) ---despite the fact that I was beginning to feel the jet lag set in. We entered the restaurant, and the hue of the dark wood paneling along the walls easily lead me to believe that the place was classy yet comfortable. The bar scene, as most of DC’s stylish restaurant bar/lounge areas are, was bustling. After-work conversations intermingled with quasi-romantic ones as people sipped drinks and/or waited for their tables. Thankfully, my Opentable.com reservation got us through quickly, and we were seated well before our slated reservation time. We were quickly handed menus, and were given an introduction to their beer selections. I can’t quite remember what it was that we each had, but they ranged from dark to medium to light; stout to fruity. All in all, the beer selections that were made that night were amazing accompaniments to our dinners.


We skipped the starter course, and dove right into dinner. Leah ordered the Crispy Skate Wing a la Jacqueline, which was served with garlic spinach. In a simple word: amazing. Carrie enjoyed the Grilled Trout in a Lemon Caper Sauce, which was also perfectly prepared. And, as pre-planned, I went with the Steamed Mussels with Belgian Frites ---prepared in a curry and apple sauce. Absolutely divine. The taste of the curry was not at all overwhelming as one might encounter at an authentic Indian curry house. Instead, it was warm and mild, and nicely sweetened with the flavor of the apples. It was the perfect taste suited to warm the senses after being bitten by the evening chill. The mussels were not at all overdone, and pretty much melted in my mouth. Being a self-proclaimed “fry guy,” the frites were a bonus. As Filipinos do, we shared bites of our dishes with one another, and surely enjoyed doing so. Neither of the dishes fell short of any of our expectations. Even the side of Brussels sprouts, which neither of us ever had, was surprisingly delicious.

As dinner progressed, along with our ever-shifting conversations, we each took notice of the restaurant’s décor – an interesting blend of what seemed to be nautical lines meshed with dark wood colorings, and random splashes of colors by way of paintings and/or other wall pieces. It gave off an aura of being in a classic New York City steak house fused with a modern European twist. The sound of patrons engaged in loud chatter was comforting, and it did not take away from the enjoyment of the cuisine. The attentive staff knew their stuff, too, and were quick to cater to our every need.

We ended the night with the Gateau of Chocolate. The perfect end to a very wonderful ‘foodie’ experience. The dessert, itself, sealed the deal. Brasserie Beck now tops my personal list of DC restaurants.

Incidentally, Chef Wiedmaier named his first restaurant, Marcel’s, after his first-born son. Beck, as you may now realize, is the name of his second son. While I have yet to try Marcel’s, there was something about BB that beckoned. And being the obedient foodie that I am, I went. It was a perfect way to kick-off my 2007 holiday season. It makes me wish that more of the L.A. area restaurants are as re-assuring as Brasserie Beck. But in a city where ambience seems to take precedence over palates, you can’t really win. This is why I still prefer DC’s restaurants over L.A.’s.

(Photos from: pcswineledger.blogspot.com, dc.about.com, and http://www.jacobgrier.com/)

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Coming soon… Home for the Holidays (Part II): a taste of Thailand in Washington Harbor.

2 comments:

*live said...

... and now i want some more of that gateau de chocolat. so yum.

marlon said...

i'm glad you enjoyed brasserie beck! it's been likened to balthazar in nyc. we've got a few more restaurants on our boards, but i'm not sure if they'll hit it off as well as beck's.
happy new year wendel!