This evening I went to Mussel Bar, the just-opened Bethesda venture by Chef Robert Weidmaier of Brasserie Beck. Mussel Bar opened last Thursday in the heart of Bethesda, virtually guaranteeing an instant moneyed clientele. Walking in, you are immediately greeted by the bar right in front of you, splitting the space in two; roughly 25 tables to the right, and several cocktail tables and booths along the left. All the tables and chairs, along with the bar, are dark-stained wood, putting the "pub" feel in this gastropub. The ceiling is pressed tin, and the bar has a backdrop of rows of refrigerated beer bottles.
Perhaps foolishly, I'd neglected to make a reservation; this is not only the first week Mussel Bar is open, but also Bethesda Restaurant Week (which MB is not participating in). Upon speaking to the hostess, I was told that the three of us would be facing a 45-50 minute wait. We chose to stand at one of the cocktail tables, and decided we'd order drinks and appetizers.
Looking at the beer menu, I was both pleased and disappointed. As I'd hoped, Mussel Bar had Chimay Blue in 11.2 oz bottles; however, each bottle was priced at $16; 33% more than at Granville Moore. Admittedly, MB is in Montgomery County, and therefore is subject to a 25% tax, however, I was still put off enough that I decided to order something else (Allagash Dubbel for $9 a bottle). Scanning the beer menu, there wasn't much either on draft or in a bottle that was less than $10, and MB had unfortunately run out of the Brabo Pils ($7/draft).
I knew that once we were seated at a real table we were going to order entrees, so I decided that we should just go for a light appetizer. We ordered the vanilla sweet potato fries with a trio of mayonnaise. The fries came out reasonably quickly; our drinks came quicker. The sweet potato fries were sweet and tasty, though they only came with one small pot of mayo (the frites basket had room for three pots). After only about 15 minutes, instead of the 45-50 we were quoted, we were ushered to our table -- a booth along the left-hand side of the bar.
It did take some time for our waiter to come over to us, though as the restaurant is less than a week old, that kind of thing is understandable and forgivable. Once he did attend to us, he was very helpful and welcoming, telling us that MB is Chef Weidmaier's version of a Belgian gastropub (a gastropub is basically a pub where the food has taken center stage). We knew we were going to order the mussels, and quickly decided to share the Classic (with Roasted Garlic, Shallots and Sauvignon Blanc) and the Spicy Thai with Green Curry. Each mussel dish comes with a side of frites, again with mayo as a condiment.
Brasserie Beck completed my conversion to a mussel-lover, and the mussels here didn't disappoint. The Classic mussels were tasty, but lacked flavor compared to the Spicy Thai mussels. The Spicy Thai mussels weren't actually that spicy, but were just more flavorful than the Classics, and they were the ones I kept going back to for that extra oomph.
Two of us were craving a little extra after the mussels, so we ordered one of the wood-fired tarts (Belgian pizzas, as the menu explains). This felt like it took a while to come out, but fortunately I had good company to make the time go by. The Mediterranean tart came out, topped with grilled eggplant, radicchio, peppers, artichoke and basil pesto. I'd heard good things about this tart, and it was decent but not amazing. We decided to not take home the leftovers, though that was partly because our power was still out from the storm two days earlier.
It did take a while to get the check; our server had seated a table of 7 or 8 right next to us, and was occupied with them for a while. Fortunately, at some point he looked over at me and I mouthed "check please". Again, this place is new, so I imagine that the kinks like this will be worked out shortly, and the service will become as smooth as at Beck.
Overall, I thought this was a solid dining experience. Even if a little slow, the service was very friendly and helpful, and the food itself was quite tasty. Mussel Bar is definitely a welcome addition to the formerly mussel-less Bethesda, and I look forward to seeing it develop.
1101 K Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005