Last year Marcel's esteemed chef/owner Robert Wiedmaier opened Brasserie Beck to great fanfare and accolades. A welcome addition to the growing McPherson square neighborhood, the Brasserie works to be to beer and bistro fare what Marcel's is to wine and haute cuisine. Having only been in once before, my girlfriend and I decided to swing by the other night on a jaunt downtown.
This particular evening the bar was packed, an unusual occurrence at most DC bars on a Tuesday. Pressing in as close as possible to the small marble bar, we did our best to take a look at the much touted beer list. As I remembered from our previous visit, Beck is indeed heaven for the aficionado of Belgian beer. Buyer/Beer Guru Bill Catron has put together a fine and comprehensive collection. Belgium is to beer what France is to wine, and the menu here certainly does the motherland proud. With a selection of 11 drafts and over 100 bottles to be had, the list is kind of overwhelming; even given the care taken to describe each bottle, by page 12 you will have likely forgotten where you'd begun. I would almost certainly have asked the bartender for his advice, if only I could get within two yards of him. On my previous visit, though, we sat at a bar table, where service was extremely spotty despite the bar being empty, and the waitress offered little help with our questions.
Being a bit set adrift I went with a beer with which I am quite familiar, the Brouwerij Bavik Pilsener. I have to admit that given the full house, bar service was prompt, and I quickly received my beer in a proper, branded glass. The importance of serving beer in the proper vessel cannot be overstated, and Beck certainly has taken this truth to heart, as every beer I saw being served featured its own esoteric piece of glassware. My Bavik was nice, with a body not unlike the more well known Stella Artois, but with a more pleasing nutty, yeasty character. Unfortunately, my Bavik was also tiny, maybe 10 oz at the most, and at $7 a glass without any apprisal, that is unacceptable.
During the brief period between our first and second drinks, we espied the raw bar display, which appeared to feature a fine selection of oysters and other fresh seafood. Being on a bit of a shellfish kick, and having by then staked out a meager bit of bar space, we figured we'd indulge. Our half dozen came out quickly, but I found it hard to believe that what we were given bore any relation to those bivalves on display. Up close, these oysters looked dry, shriveled, and like my beer, tiny. Hoping appearances might have been deceiving we dove in, but these sad little shellfish tasted exactly as they appeared— dried out, flavorless, and hardly half a mouthful. As I'd said, we ordered on a bit of a lark, so when we were presented with the bill, which included a sixteen dollar charge for the underwhelming oysters, I was irritated.
Having read so many great things about Brasserie Beck, not the least of which on this very website, I have to say I am surprised that my experiences have been so mediocre. I have seen none of the exquisite service for which the restaurant is so acclaimed, and though I have to give the beer list its due, the prices across the board are inexcusably high. Add to that the level of frustration I experienced with the restaurant's Flash-heavy website, and I have to surmise that Brasserie Beck, like many a downtown eatery, emphasizes style over substance in order to justify their prestige pricing. I hope that I am wrong (and am sure that I will hear a word or two to that end), but even with a beer list as impressive as theirs, I cannot echo the predominate praise.