No matter your dining budget or style, Brabo in Old Town Alexandria is an experience you won’t soon forget. Part of the Kimpton Group of hotels and restaurants, Brabo seamlessly weaves Belgian inspiration into farm-fresh classics and seasonal fare. Chef Sébastien Rondier, who has an impressive culinary background in DC and around the world, took over as executive chef earlier this year and oversees the programs at Brabo Tasting Room, the bar or “brasserie” area, and the main dining room – each venue offers a unique culinary experience.
The Tasting Room
Grab a quick bite and drink before your next adventure
The Tasting Room is located next door to the main restaurant and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The vibe is often energetic, and you’ll find a mix of tourists and regulars alike, seated in a window booth looking upon King Street or enjoying a drink at the zinc-topped bar with a view of an impressive wood-fired pizza oven. The focus in this bright venue is on comforting and accessible café fare inspired by Belgian cuisine, coupled with a beverage program encouraging new discoveries. All that, plus interesting wine options available in both three and five-ounce pours, and a hefty international beer list. Not to miss: Chef’s signature mussels, charcuterie board and savory wood-fired tarts
Meet up with old friends and lose track of time
The bar area in the main restaurant recently experienced a refresh, and the ambiance, innovative drinks and dining options make it easy for a quick happy hour to turn into a several-hour affair. You’ve been warned! The bistro menu offers an upscale twist on classic pub fare with a cool cocktail program to match. The brick bar makes a cozy atmosphere and serves as an excellent focal point, while the noise level always remains pleasant. Not to miss: Belgian frites, short rib crostini and cherry blossom foie gras torchon
The Dining Room
Treat yourself to a fine dining experience without any of the stuffiness
Though Brabo has been open since 2009, the restaurant has continued to innovate and stay relevant among changing dining trends. White tablecloth fine dining has a reputation for occasionally being stuffy or pompous, Brabo is neither. The goal is to provide a unique and memorable experience for each diner, which is immediately apparent with the welcoming atmosphere that easily weaves classic and contemporary with rustic and modern. The space is cozy, but also feels private – the noise level is never more than a pleasant hum, and there’s room to move about without bumping into other diners or conversations. The lighting is soft, but you won’t be squinting to read the menus.
You can certainly order à la carte from Chef Sébastien’s seasonal spring menu, but to really experience the breadth of the cuisine, the tasting menu is your best bet. And don’t skip the wine pairings either. Brabo’s wine program is 375 labels strong, with a diverse selection carefully selected to harmonize with the seasonal dishes. The current tasting menu is a perfect representation of the spring bounty of the Mid-Atlantic, melded together with notable Belgian and French influences that served as foundations for Chef Sébastien’s culinary training. Each course is a perfect size – large enough to share and enjoy but never too big to feel overstuffed. You’ll want to take the time to savor each course with your eyes before diving in: the dishes are beautiful, with tasteful garnishes and numerous rich, bright colors dazzling the plates.
Let me paint the scene: start with a glass of rosé bubbles and the spring pea soup with ricotta, baby spring vegetables and Maine lobster. No matter if it’s a gloomy or chilly day, this dish and wine will easily transport you to a sunny, spring afternoon. The richness of the lobster is the perfect complement to the fresh, lively soup. Move on to the marinated yellowfin tuna, and splurge with the osetra caviar addition. The tuna is impossibly fresh, and the horseradish cream is a perfect accent; Austrian grüner veltliner is the perfect wine to match the flavors in this dish. Ready for something a bit richer? The foie gras torchon with pickled cherries, Korean chili and a charred grapefruit is up next. The foie gras is decadent and delicious with the sweeter garnishes; it tastes even better alongside a fruity and slightly effervescent lambrusco. Ricotta and basil ravioli is your next course, served with tender lamb ragout. The hint of citrus zest makes what would otherwise be a very rich dish feel light on its feet – you’ll have to stop yourself from licking the plate.
The amazingly tender poached and grilled octopus is served next atop a creamy hummus and chermoulah sauce and flavorful garnishes of fried garlic and basil. A dry Provencal rosé, while good year-round, tastes perfectly at home with this springtime dish. Miraculously, you aren’t too full yet! Next you can enjoy slow-roasted veal tenderloin with sweetbreads, tender potato gnocchi, and sweet and fresh spring peas. If veal isn’t for you, the spiced duck with ramps and bok choy won’t disappoint. Loire Valley Cabernet Franc’s lively acidity and soft herbal and red fruit notes shine alongside the richness of both the meats while still playing nicely with the green vegetables. Okay, now you’re full, but you still manage to make room for a few bites of a frozen lemon soufflé or creamy chocolate bar with tangy raspberry sauce. You can sip an espresso to close the evening, while already dreaming of your next visit.
Brabo: 1600 King St. Alexandria, VA; 703-894-3440; www.braborestaurant.com