Featuring Black Truffle Brie and Squid Ink Cocktails, BRABO in Old Town Alexandria offers upscale American cuisine with a Belgian twist.Located beside the boutique Lorien Hotel & Spa, Brabo is a fine dining establishment featuring the culinary visions of French chef Sebastien Rondier. In February 2017, Rondier replaced Harper McClure as executive chef of Brabo, and his menu now boasts the eclectic feast of flavors often characteristic of contemporary American cuisine; yet, it also features dishes like the classic-style Blue Bay Mussels & Frites and the Serrano Ham Experience that pay homage to traditional Belgian cuisine. We made a reservation for 8pm and arrived just in time, finding metered street parking right in front of the restaurant. We accidentally wandered into the Brabo Tasting Room which is separate from the Brabo Brasserie and dining room. The tasting
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The entrance to the Brasserie & Dining Room on King Street[/caption] room was bustling and warm on this hot night in late April; the wood-fired brick oven roared and waiters carried delicious looking pizzas and charcuterie boards past us. They told us to walk two doors down to the dining room where our table was waiting.
The Atmosphere at Brabo:The restaurant was surprisingly quiet for 8pm on a Saturday night, with only three other tables in the Brasserie. Brabo features a formal dining room as well as a more casual, contemporary Brasserie. We were seated at a table next to a large window that faced out onto King Street; in the window sill sat a display of fresh-cut cherry blossom stems that were so long they hung over our heads while we ate.
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The cherry blossoms looking out onto King Street[/caption] While we dined, we watched the foot traffic on the quaint red brick sidewalks of Old Alexandria – the couples waiting for Ubers, and the busy chauffer for the Lorien Hotel, the service industry workers heading home via the King St metro station. Roughly 40% of women I saw were wearing black and white stripes, confirming for me that they are indeed “in” this season.
What we drank:
I always like engaging the waitstaff in conversation and asking them questions about the menu. Immediately, our server Scott (with two Ts, as he later informed us) responded enthusiastically to our complement of his tattoos. Scott was sweating as he took our drink order and implied, with some exasperation, that the bar was running slow that night; I assured him it was totally okay. He appeared much more relaxed when he realized that we were not there to make his job more difficult. Brabo’s cocktail menu was organized into unique sections like “short cocktails (drinks in short rocks glasses); “Cluck Cluck” (cocktails that contain egg products); “19th century cocktails;” and finally, “contemporary cocktails.” Each cocktail had a brief description as well as a date and location of origin. If a restaurant has a Sazerac, I usually order it. This one was recommended by Scott and served neat with no lemon peel or twist,
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"Take it Black;" rye whisky, rum, coffee liqueur, vanilla infused squid ink.[/caption] something commonly added at other bars. It was very sweet and delicious, but lacked the refreshing lemon aroma that I enjoy in a Sazerac. My date ordered a cocktail from the “Contemporary Cocktails” section; it was called “Penicillin” (blended & peated scotches, lemon, honey, ginger. served on a rock. origin: 2005, sam ross, milk & honey, new york.). Later, he ordered one called “Take it Black;” it contained rye whisky, rum, coffee liqueur, and vanilla-infused squid ink. Yes. Squid Ink. It was quite sweet and delicious, but did leave a black residue on your lips.
What we ate:
We started off with an order of Brabo’s signature Belgian Frites and the Black Truffle Brie. The Frites were crunchy and salty, served with a classic mayonnaise, a yuzu aioli, and a dijon mustard. The brie was excellent; it was creamy, earthy, and rich and served with a small salad and grilled bread. There was a heavenly pepper jelly of some kind on the plate that we asked Scott to identify. Unfortunately, he never did find out what it was, but we ate all of it. For an entree I had the Monkfish Bouillabaisse. Monkfish is often called the “poor man’s lobster” for its rich flavor and texture, and this dish was made even richer by its savory saffron broth. My dining companion enjoyed a veal burger that was served with emmental cheese and lemon aioli. We ordered sides at the encouragement of Scott and were not disappointed by the blistered shishito peppers and roasted brussels sprouts. Unfortunately, we were disappointed when we got full and had to stop ourselves so that we could enjoy dessert. Their dessert menu was small but offered many delightful options. We settled on a small yet refreshing dish called “Frozen Lemon.” It was a neat sphere of frozen lemon sorbet, topped with a decadent vanilla whipped cream and garnished with a fresh lime meringue.
Will we be back?
Overall, the meal was memorable, although expensive. Between the atmospheric seating, the friendly staff, and the unique menu options, we had a great time, but there is still so much for us to explore in the area. It is very likely that next time we will stop in the Barbo Tasting Room to try one of their wood-fired pizzas and to enjoy a more casual and affordable meal.