Brabo: Chef of the Year Robert Wiedmaier’s first restaurant in the Commonwealth. A First Look.

Tuesday night, my husband and I were invited to dine at Chef Robert Wiedmaier’s Brabo for the first time. The restaurant is nestled inside the new Lorien Hotel and Spa located right on King Street in Old Town, Alexandria.  Opened just five months ago, Brabo is the first of Chef Wiedmaier’s establishments in the Commonwealth. Marcel’s, which opened in 1999 and first introduced Washingtonians to his French-Belgian style cuisine, and Brasserie Beck are both located in the District. Wiedmaier, like one my favorite chefs, Morou, named his first two restaurants after his two children, Beck and Marcel. The Butcher’s Block I stumbled upon just a few days after it’s opening, which is next door to the Tasting Room.
The General Manager Gonzague Muchery, who is a French native, told me the ancient Roman tale of Brabo after which the restaurant is named. According to the legend, the Roman soldier, Silvius ‘Brabo’ became a hero, when he cut off the hand of the giant who was terrorizing those who wished to pass on the Scheldt River by demaning a toll, and threw it into the sea. A statue of Brabo still stands today in front of the city hall in Antwerp, Belgium – Chef Robert Wiedmaier’s home town. The restaurant menus are adorned with a small imprint of the statue in bronze.

Our server was knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and quite confident. He recommended the mussels and the wild mushroom and foie gras ravioli; they are his favorites. He said that the majority of those who have followed his suggestions were satisfied, so he continues to tell newcomers about those specific dishes. Our server accepted compliments about each dish as if they were about the product of his own sweat and tears. It illustrates his passion for what he does. The service was overall very good; however, I would have preferred the plates to be cleared more quickly after each course.
In addition to the appetizers offered on the regular dinner menu, there were a few daily specials, such as corn chowder and soft shell crab dusted with flour and pan fried. We accepted the suggestion of our waiter and ordered the gratin of mussels with gruyere cheese and glacage. We also orderd the Scottish salmon carpaccio with shallots and wasabi Crème fraîche. The mussels, 16 of them, were served in a wide bowl and were delicously warm and tender, with crispy onions on top that were so fragrant, you know when a neighboring table has recieved their dish (see photo on right). I must mention that I have never liked mussels and never order them for myself. I usually find them too gritty or slimy; however Brabo’s dish was exquisite – the very best that I have ever tasted. It’s an excellent dish to share.

 The salmon carpaccio was beautifully vivid in color with green herbs, bright purple onions, shallots, and dallop of wasabi Crème fraîche that together make this dish appear as a work of art (see photo on left). The thin round slice of salmon was fresh and delicious – even those who usually may not like salmon due to its strong taste, will enjoy this dish, as it is rather mild. The wasabi Crème fraîche added a poignant flavoring to each bite it accompanies without leaving an aftertaste.

For my main entrée I ordered the Seared Rockfish with potato gnocchi, baby artichokes, sliced asparagus, and wild mushrooms (see photo below on right). The Rockfish was deliciously light and moist – so delicate one barely needs a fork. The fish was served warm in a light buttery sauce atop of the fresh seasonal vegetables and tiny bite-sized potato gnocchi. I loved every single bite. The Liberty Tavern offers something strinkingly similar yet not nearly as good. This is an excellent summer dish. The potato gnocchi and vegetables are so delicious they could be offered as a vegetarian main dish on the menu.

My husband ordered the Grilled Lamb Tenderloin with white bean puree and ratatouille in a madeira sauce. The lamb was absolutely divinely tender and moist and bright pink in color. The white bean puree was silky smooth yet starchy tasting, like a parsnip puree or thin mashed potatoes; even I didn’t notice the difference. The madeira sauce was deliciously rich and was perfect with the lamb. The ratatouille that was served on the side was the very best that I have had. The ratatouille was a combination of tenderly cooked diced eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and onions. I mentioned to Gonzague that I have been looking for a recipe for ratatouille. He said that in French ratatouille gets its name from the root verb touiller, which means ‘to stir’, because it requires a lot of attention and is long-simmering and intense to prepare.  

For dessert I ordered the lemon tart with lemon chibouste, which is like a lemon flavored light crème meringue, raspberry curd and cilantro gelee. It is beautifully presented with a small round dome of lemon chibouste with swirls of think sweet raspberry curd that appear like rays of sunshine. Surpringly, the cilantro accompanies the sweet raspberry and tart lemon flavors quite well. The cilantro gelee even by itself is delicious.  The thin cookie nestled underneath the lemon is crisp and buttery tasting. I also tried the Triple Chocolate Mousse Terrine which looks like our childhood favorite Neapolitan ice cream, with a solid block of segregated White, Milk and Dark Chocolate Mousses with Burnt Orange Cardamom Sauce, and Pistachio Tuile. It’s delicious and surpringly light; you won’t feel any guilt enjoying this dessert.

Overall, our meal at Brabo was excellent. The food was superb – not a single complaint. Of course, when the restaurant knows that they are being ‘reviewed’ they have the chance to put their best foot forward; however, I am confident that when I return to both the Brabo dining room and the Brabo Tasting Room, I will again have a very positive experience. I can see why some may not appreciate the decor of Brabo’s dining room; however, except for the pale blue wooden chairs, I loved it, especially the bronze textured walls and metallic copper accents. For those that prefer bright vivid colors, they would probably feel smothered by bronze. GM Gonzague and I joked that the decor is like the Opera – you either love it, or you hate it.

For more info: Check out their website: Brabo located at 1600 King Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Brabo on Urbanspoon

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One Response

  1. A chum urged me to look at this page, brill post, interesting read… keep up the nice work!

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