- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What do you name your third restaurant when your first two are named for your two sons and you’ve run out of children? How about the hero of your ancestral town? Thus Brabo by Robert Wiedmaier was born.

Mr. Wiedmaier (chef-owner of Marcel’s and Brasserie Beck in Washington) traces his roots to Antwerp, the Belgian diamond capital named for the mythic deed of a Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo. Brabo cut off the head and hands of an ogre who had been forcing passing boatsmen to pay a tribute and then threw the ogre’s offending body parts into the River Scheldt.

There’s nothing particularly Belgian about Brabo or its little sister, Brabo Tasting Room, next door on King Street in Alexandria. Both are a tribute, with occasional Belgian flourishes, to Mr. Wiedmaier’s skill at preparing contemporary dishes. Almost everything we tasted approached perfection.

A diner can choose from an ample selection of starters. Two huge butter-poached shrimp - plump, sweet and tender - grace a tasty puddle of creamy, delicate polenta. Just a touch of pink bechamel-fish-truffle sauce is added. Pan-seared scallops with a spoonful of chanterelle mushrooms and a bit of creme fraiche are satisfying without being overpowering. Mild smoked Scottish salmon is simple and excellent.

A deconstructed Caesar salad that Caesar Cardini wouldn’t recognize consists of two small roulades of dressed lettuce and bit of blue cheese encased in prosciutto, with a sprinkling of tasty little croutons on the side. It’s a delightfully witty dish not to be missed.

The duo of house-smoked trout - a little mound of creamy, delicate trout mousse and a small piece of smoked trout, accompanied by a good potato blini and apple slaw, has potential as a superb appetizer. At a recent dinner, however, the smoked trout was a bit tough and couldn’t compete with the fine trout mousse.

Only the dry curry-cayenne duck sausage was a disappointment, lacking the spiciness of curry and the sharp edge of cayenne.

Main courses are prepared with care and expertise, be it a terrific braised pork shank served with bok choy, a few cubes of sweet potato and a slightly spicy chili sauce; an elegant dish of sliced roasted chicken breast with a cheese-potato cake and a roulade of dark chicken meat; or one of several fish dishes or beef steaks.

Perfectly grilled slices of lamb tenderloin would be a highlight of the meat dishes were it not for oversalting, as in the ratatouille accompanying the lamb.

Be sure to try the Belgian frites, which come with three mayonnaise-based sauces. They are served with the bistro filet and can be ordered as a side. The creamy polenta is a must.

Desserts perfectly complement the serious part of dinner: A lemon tart is actually a lemony mousse enhanced with tiny squares of cilantro gelee. Triple-chocolate mousse terrine is a decadent combination of white, milk and dark chocolate encircled by a ring of caramel sauce and chopped pistachio nuts.

Service, watched over with care and Gallic courtesy by general manager Gonzague Muchery, is first-rate - attentive and informed. The wine list is a good combination of American and European wines with several excellent choices by the glass.

Next door, the Brabo Tasting Room is a casual spot for a glass of wine and satisfying lighter fare. Try one of the irresistible wood-fired tarts. They’re flatbreads topped with a variety of combinations. Or have a bowl of Mr. Wiedmaier’s wonderful signature mussels, either classically prepared with white wine, garlic and parsley; with chorizo sausage and fennel; or with tomato and Parmesan cheese.

Platters of mixed appetizers can be ordered for one or two, or for three and four persons. Sandwiches, soups and salads are on the menu, as well as platters of charcuterie and cheeses.

Breads for both restaurants are baked on the premises and served with fresh butter. The Butcher’s Block, which opens soon next to the Tasting Room, is a market for hams, sausages, pates, wines, cheeses, Belgian beers, breads and other specialties, many used by Mr. Wiedmaier and his chef de cuisine, Chris Watson, in Brabo and the Tasting Room. Brabo deserves a bravo.

RESTAURANT: Brabo by Robert Wiedmaier and Brabo Tasting Room, 1600 King St., Alexandria, 703/894-3440 (Brabo), 703/894-5252 (Tasting Room)

HOURS: Brabo: lunch daily 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner daily 4:30 to 11 p.m.; Brabo Tasting Room 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.

PRICES: Brabo lunch soups and salads $8 to $9, sandwiches $14, entrees $16 to $22; dinner starters $9 to $14, entrees $19 to $32, desserts $8; Tasting Room $8 to $32

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Street parking; complimentary validated valet parking at Lorien Hotel & Spa next door

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: King Street

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