Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Chef De Pue’s Redo

Menu/MBK     Spoons_TWO_76x25

I left feeling embarrassed for the restaurant. There was plenty of tasty food last Saturday night at Menu/MBK with Mr. Green Bean and our good friends, The Oreos. But, oh, I cringe recollecting our dining experience. Let’s start from the beginning…

Menu/MBK is Chef Frederik De Pue’s second attempt at reviving the old Café Atlántico space in Penn Quarter. He shuttered his seafood-themed Azure six months ago and reimagined the four story space into a layer cake of culinary delights. The ground floor of Menu/MBK features a Market open 9am to 9pm for gourmet grocery items, prepared foods, fancy sandwiches and coffee to go or to enjoy with free wi-fi on the third floor living room lounge. At 5pm the lounge and forth floor dining room become BistroBar, serving Belgian inspired beverages and thoughtful European fare. The frosting in the middle is the second floor open Kitchen with a six-seater chef’s counter serving a special prix-fixe menu that changes daily.
Menu MBK

On that particular Saturday night, we were led up to the top floor via the service stairs, avoiding the large private party at the bar. The view from up top reveals eclectic decor with a homey, loft feel. Bare bulbs and bird cage assemblages dangle down the central cavity as if inspired by Maurizio Cattelan’s 2012 retrospective installation at the Guggenheim, NY. We were seated and perused the drink list for what felt like eons until a server finally approached and opened with an apology. They were out of the three signature cocktails Miss Oreo had her eye on, and beverage service was likely to take longer than usual due to one bartender and a thirsty bar crowd.

The Bistro menu is small (literally…the card could fit in my back pocket), and divided into price categories ranging from $8 to $34. I asked the server if he would mind going through the gluten-free options with me and he preferred I ask him specifically about the dishes that interested me. I was interested in everything. He seemed fairly knowledgeable, but proceeded with caution, looking at me wearily after every “you can’t eat that”, as if I my head might implode after too many disappointments. To his relief, we managed to find some gluten-free options that appealed. We started off easy with a cheese and charcuterie plate that arrived with three sad looking toast corners on the side, one for each wheat-bellied guest. Sensing the table’s dissatisfaction the server quickly supplemented with more toast. We slowly nibbled, waiting an uncomfortable amount of time before we saw our server again to place our food order. He asked my three dining partners if they would like homemade parker rolls with bits of bacon baked into the center, as if any gluten and pork-eating American would say “no” to that!

Cheese and Charcuterie

Cheese and Charcuterie

As our main course was served the Chef De Pue I know and love from Table finally performed. Mr. Oreo and Mr. Green Bean both ordered the Chapel Hill Farm Veal Meatballs with panisse (chickpea fritters, though not gluten-free here) and cucumber mostarda. The masculine dish was plated daintily and apparently tasted “really, really good”. Miss Oreo’s Crispy Cod with lemon parsley remoulade and fennel looked and tasted just as our server had described/warned: like a fish and chips egg roll. According to Miss Oreo, the rolls’ potato and fish filling could have used some classic tartar sauce to combat the dryness. Neither dish was fair game for my fork. Luckily I was perfectly happy with my Artic Char, served skin-side-up over artichoke hearts and diced vegetables in a light broth with dabs of what the menu calls “lemon puree”, but I call butter. The fish was delicate with a crispy skin and mild flavor that allowed the artichokes to shine.

Artic Char with artichokes and lemon puree

Artic Char with artichokes and lemon puree

We were enjoying the last bites of our entrées when our server reappeared to apologize for the tardiness of our Peas and Carrots side. Once they arrived, it was clear they were worth the wait. These buttery, plump, green peas with carrot and potato slices redefine the TV dinner’s most common filler.

Peas and Carrots

Peas and Carrots

Pre-dessert we spent a few minutes analyzing how Miss Oreo and Mr. Green Bean’s second round of tea-infused, beer and gin based cocktails varied significantly from their first glasses and didn’t quiet resemble each other either. One bartender, really? I ordered a coffee for my second round and finished the mug before the milk appeared (they were out of cream). I was quickly distracted by the dessert menu’s Sundae with caramel popcorn and nougat ice creams, Coca Cola sorbet and peanut brittle. Our server was happy to finally bring some good news: the sundae could be served gluten-free without the unnecessary cookie crumble garnish. Of course, it was delivered with the glutenous crumbles anyway and soon disappeared to melt sadly in the kitchen while an actually gluten-free version was prepared. The ice creams and brittle were unanimous winners while the sorbet looked and tasted more like a 7-Eleven Slurpee.

Sundae with caramel popcorn and nuagat ice cream, Coca Cola sorbet and peanut brittle

Sundae with caramel popcorn and nougat ice cream, Coca Cola sorbet and peanut brittle

We ended the evening filled with good food but a bad taste in our mouths. Even after all the hiccups, not one reparation was made. A simple courtesy dessert or on-the-house peas and carrots would have spoken volumes. Instead I am left to hope that Menu/MBK was just having a bad night but fear that De Pue’s recipe for this multipurpose space has a couple of bad eggs.

Menu/MBK, 405 8th Street NW, Washington DC 

 

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Too B or not Too B

B Too      Spoons_THREE_76x25

There is a distinct difference between the smokey scents of a July Fourth BBQ and an indoor kitchen’s charcoal oven. The later aroma conjures the vibe of an old, cozy tavern on a cold winter’s night. Yet, B Too was bustling on a recent sticky summer evening, and the state of the art Josper oven, the only of its kind used in DC, was firing away. Mr. Green Bean and I met our favorite Sicilian-Italian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sfingi, at this new edition to 14th Street for a much needed grown-up evening (albeit complete with smart phone documentation of their adorable 14 month old daughter).

B Too is the second location for Belga Café creator and chef Bart Vandaele. The award winning chef prides himself for bringing traditional, high quality, Belgian cuisine and brews to Washington DC. B Too certainly looks the part. Surfaces covered in dark wood, chestnut leather, exposed brick and animal hide create a rustic, huntsman vibe. The decor stimulates a craving for beer, and luckily there are three gluten-free options amidst the pages of IPA’s, pilsners and ales. Cocktails and an extensive wine list also fill the pages of the beverage binder, which we nearly finished perusing after a few visits from our server.

The food menu requires time to contemplate as well. Each of the cold starters, hot starters, soups, sides, mussels, entrees, and casseroles is described with a list of ingredients that intrigue and confuse, leaving the diner to wonder how the dish is actually prepared. I commend our server’s patience as my usual line of questioning was made more extensive due to general befuddlement and curiosity. What was very clear was that we would be starting with the evening’s special appetizer, prosciutto with goat cheese stuffed grilled figs, frisée salad, and balsamic reduction. The sweet, creamy figs melted in the mouth, the winning feature of this dish that could have used more prosciutto and less greenery (it’s not often I say that).

Prosciutto and grilled fig special

Prosciutto and grilled fig special

We also started with a pot of the mussels marinière, one of the few mussel preparations that does not use beer. The white wine based broth was bursting with flavor and contained large slices of shallots, garlic and parsley to slurp down with the mussel meat. The aromas wafting from the pot were tempting enough to get Mr. Green Bean to try his very first mussel. “Not bad,” he shrugged, a far better response than I feared. Baby steps, baby steps.

Mussels mariniere

Mussels Marinière

Already full, I braced for my main course, concocted, as is often my habit, from a starter and a side. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the server confused which of the two shrimp dishes I ordered and I ended up with both. I had meant to order the Tomaat Met Noordzee Garnalen, baby shrimp prepared two ways, after the server gave the thumbs up on the accompanying krupuk (prawn crackers). The dish arrived without the krupuk, apparently not really gluten-free, leaving three hefty heaps of tiny grey shrimps separated by grape tomatoes and frisee salad. One stack of shrimp was mixed with a creamy aioli, resembling shrimp salad you might find at that July Fourth BBQ. The other two heaps seemed like the same recipe, minus the dressing, leaving me to wonder if something was missing. The abundance of shrimp became monotonous after the first few bites, and the accompanying salad offered little versatility.

Tomaat Met Noordzee Garnalen,tiny grey shrimp with tomato confit and basil

Tomaat Met Noordzee Garnalen, tiny grey shrimp with tomato confit and basil

What I should have ordered from the beginning was the Gamba “M’as Tu Vue” dish that they let me feast on while my correct order was being made. Huge pieces of shrimp (two shrimps totaling 0.25 lbs) were perfectly cooked and served chilled with chopped and separated egg white and yolk, and a small lettuce and tomato salad drizzled with a creamy dressing. Dollops of what I can best describe as American French Dressing decorated the plate. The menu lists a Belgian whiskey sauce that I couldn’t decipher in the dish iteself (perhaps an imperceptible ingredient or omitted in the kitchen due to my allergy). But caution if you avoid grain-based alcohols.

Big Shrimp

Gamba “M’as Tu Vue”, Giant shrimp “Belle-Vue”, Belgian whiskey sauce, lettuce, tomato and farm egg

To accompany my plethora of shrimp, I ordered a side of the Josper cooked root vegetables with black garlic dressing. Brussels sprouts, carrots, and other more unusual root vegetables were heavily oiled and packed with delicious salty, smokey, garlicky flavor.

Josper cooked root vegetables

Josper cooked root vegetables

Mrs. Sfingi ordered the Josper roasted lobster, which unfortunately is baked with breadcrumbs. Mr. Sfingi and Mr. Green Bean of course ordered the Belgian steak, served with a side salad and cone of frites. After some mixed responses, I finally confirmed that the frites are fried in shared glutenous oil. I did, however, taste the thick, generous portion of gluten-free steak, cooked perfectly, slightly smokey and well seasoned. I could tell it won Mr. Green Bean’s favor.

Le Vrai Steak Belge Met Frietjes, Belgian steak and salad

Le Vrai Steak Belge Met Frietjes, Belgian steak and salad

We skipped on dessert, ice cream being the only option for gluten-free diners, and opted for a short walk to nearby gelato. Overall, B Too is still finding its gluten-free legs, but the staff is helpful in navigating past the many tempting and off-limit options. Well portioned dishes are heavy and rich, with a price tag to match. While the freshly baked bread served out of a paper bag was easy enough to ignore, B Too brunch featuring sweet, buttery Belgian waffles would be a real test of willpower for us Glutie Foodies. I will be back for dinner I’m sure. But it may not be until winter approaches and a heavy meal is needed to warm the bones.

B Too, 1324 14th Street NW, Washington DC