Beck: Wanted to love it, but ...
I really wanted to love Brasserie Beck -- love the concept, love the location, love Marcel's -- but I'm sorry to say I was disappointed.
Had a lovely Saturday-evening dinner with lovely company. It's a great space, and we had a good time, despite so-so food and, in a way, inexcusable service. First, the service.
This is a place that takes pride in its beer. Why, then, did we get a waiter who confessed the second we started to order beer that he knew next to nothing about the beer menu? That's pretty close to inexcusable at such a place, but if that's your problem you suss out a phonetic equivalent to what people are talking about and bring it to the bartender.
No. This guy basically made us open the menu and point, as in a horrible language-barrier situation (and, truth be told, there was a bit of a problem in that department), and even then he once came back after five minutes pointing to something many pages away and asking, "Is this what you wanted?" My wife's order of the rather common Lindeman's Peche drew similar puzzlement and a fruitless (ha!) 20-minute search for a bottle. I suppose it's our own darn fault for not summoning the beer sommelier.
As for the food, the potato-leek soup was pretty good. The steak tartare was artfully presented with a bit of crouton-toast and a fried quail egg, but the flavor and texture paled in comparison with Central's brightly flavored version or Les Halles' classic preparation. Underwood Deviled Ham came to mind, actually. The croques-monsieurs were actually panini. My wife pronounced hers inedible, and one of our dining companions politely had most of hers boxed to go. My mussels were small and dried-out. The frites were overdone and more of a shoestring cut than I prefer; the accompanying mayonnaises had been sitting around too long and were starting to congeal.
The wonderful-sounding pear tarte tatin could have used a lighter hand with the caramel -- it was so sweet and gooey it would have been impossible to know those were pears underneath. The cinnamon-honey ice cream was nice, but just plain cinnamon ice cream would have been a better mate to the sugary tart.
Back to the service: On our third round of point-and-e-nun-ci-ate beer ordering with this server who had acted all night as though the beer menu were printed not only in Swahili but in secretly coded Swahili, this guy CORRECTED MY PRONUNCIATION on one of the brews about which he had professed to know nothing. Nice touch. If the place can't find good help, it should just let us order the beers by number.
I hope to be back to give the place another chance, but my wife was more put off than I was. I would have chalked up the subpar night to it being the Saturday on which Tom Sietsema's Sunday review became available to Washingtonpost.com readers and those of us who receive Post inserts a day early, but the place didn't seem nearly as crowded as I would have expected. I can only conclude, based on all the other good notices, that we ran into an off-night nonetheless.
When my wife and I visited Brasserie Beck two weeks ago, we sat in the bar area and, after getting two very nice beers (Hoegaarden witbier for me, I forgot what my wife had), could not get any wait staff to come back to save our lives. We tried waving, calling out, physically reaching over at a waiter as he passed. Nothing. After half an hour we left $20 on the table and walked out. Another off night?