D.C. Restaurants Flex Their Mussels

Anybody with a pot and a pantry can cook mussels. But the white wine-garlic-parsley treatment is so quinze minutes ago. That’s why it was great to get ideas for new flavor combinations from the pros at Saturday’s inaugural mussels three-way throwdown among Brasserie Beck, Et Voila! and Belga Café, where it was held out back in the steamy heat.

The three restaurants consider themselves the authentic vanguard of Washington’s Belgian takeover, which seems not at all hostile and very beer-friendly. They came up with the From Belgium With Love 2010 Tour (July 15-21), which began with dinner at the Belgian ambassador’s residence last Thursday and ends with the special menus and dishes at the three restaurants on Wednesday, Belgium National Day.

For Saturday's competition, Beck sous-chefs experimented for a few weeks and came up with a combo of preserved lemon (made in-house and cut into small dice), braised and diced fennel, white wine, goat cheese and fines herbes. Executive sous-chef Brian Klein steamed Blue Bay mussels from Rhode Island in a sauté pan on an induction burner.

Et Voila! chef-owner Claudio Pirollo and chef Bertrand Morpain used Blue Bays (and an induction burner) as well, but treated them to a lobster-bisque broth, minced shallots, concasse of fresh tomatoes, white wine, olive oil, garlic and a heap of frizzled vegetables used in waterzooi – a classic Belgian stew that Pirollo’s restaurant does so well.

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Photo by Bonnie S. Benwick, The Washington Post.