This Belgian beauty is sure to lure culinary adventurers back for more.
I am in complete agreement with globetrotting author Paul Theroux that traveling is the opposite of vacationing. One is about adventure, and the other about relaxation. A six-year stint in Germany taught me that I’m better at the former than the latter. So when I invited a friend out for what was supposed to be a laid-back birthday happy hour at Tripel Brasserie in Lafayette Square, I should have known that the temptation to actively explore the Belgian-inspired menu would be irresistible.
Blame falls squarely on the escargots, which Executive Chef Max Crask roasts with beef marrow and serves in a pipe bone, contrasting the rich flavors with tangy microgreens, garlic chips and a generous sprinkle of salt crystals. The attentiongrabbing dish isn’t exactly daily fare in Belgium, but it pairs well with the acidic St. Louis Framboise lambic on draft, which happens to be one of the flavors I ordered in my sampler. Happy hour suddenly didn’t seem long enough.
Blondes, browns and Trappists
Newcomers to Belgian-style brewing, take note: Tripel’s beer list is much more user-friendly than the food menu. And by listing the alcohol content, Tripel clears up any doubt over which styles are the strongest. It’s worth spending a few minutes to match up the descriptions—and to quiz the server about the local beers on tap—before placing an order.
The wine selections, mostly from French and German vintners, are perfectly fine, and it’s a nice touch to offer a house white and house rosé by the glass to complement the rustic dishes. However, the cocktails score higher on the intrigue factor, thanks to the combination of European spirits and idiosyncratic ingredients like rhubarb bitters, sorghum foam and red bell peppers. The latter gives the Poivron Rouge an interestingly complex sweetness when combined with gin, ginger liqueur, simple syrup and lemon juice.
Moelle, moules and Stoofvlees
Unlike the escargot with marrow (moelle), a more classic pairing for a lambic brew is mussels (moules). We chose the A la Marinière, in which the tender, tasty morsels are bathed in white wine-shallot broth, deliciously soaked up by house-baked bread.
Our European tour was well underway. Next stop: a mountainous salad of fresh greens, mushrooms and radishes with a surprising kick of anise brought in by the fennel in the dressing. On to the heirloom tomatoes stuffed with shrimp, and then the Blinde Vinken (“blind finches”), meatballs of veal stuffed with finely ground beef and served with tomato sauce, just-lumpy-enough mashed potatoes and green beans.
One of Chef Crask’s innovations at Tripel is cooking farm-style fare using techniques from molecular gastronomy, which he studied in France. Sous vide is among the more mainstream of these, and clearly the fork-tender monkfish benefits considerably.
A couple of hours past happy hour, we finally arrived at the desserts. The chocolate-on-chocolate richness of a brownie-like cake submerged in a molten pool of sauce is thoroughly decadent, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the cheesecake’s candied bacon, chocolate-coated granola and blueberries.
My only regret from the evening is that by the end of it, we couldn’t eat another bite. No sausages and smoked pork (both of which Crask learned to make at The Dubliner, where he headed up the kitchen before opening Tripel), no Flemish-style beef stew over fries (stoofvlees), not even the fries by themselves. In hindsight, passing up the lardblanched frittes was a mistake that we’ll have to remedy with a return trip.