Moules Frites, or mussels and fries, is one of my all-time favorite dishes. I have recently tried mussels and fries at two Belgian inspired D.C. restaurants, Belga Cafe near Eastern Market and Granville Moore’s on H Street. While Granville Moore’s interior has more of a casual, laid back feel, Belga Café is more upscale and modern in its appearance.
Both spots are known for their mussles and fries, but which one does this classic dish best?
At Granville, I ordered the Champagne mussels, with a porcini mushroom cream and red pepper puree broth with crispy artichokes. This broth had a smooth, creamy flavor without being too rich. However, I had difficulty detecting a porcini mushrooms or red pepper flavor. The broth was great as it was, but since I had the expectation of mushrooms and red peppers, I was disappointed. Here’s one thing that was constantly pounded into my head at culinary school – when writing a menu, it’s important to tell diners exactly what to expect. Most people don’t want to be surprised in a restaurant.
While both of my visits to Belga Cafe were enjoyable, like Granville Moore’s, the menu promised more than was delivered. I tried the Mussels “Chimay,” with Chimay beer, Belgian endive, celery and Chimay cheese (pictured, left). The endive, sliced into tiny pieces, was hidden underneath my mussels at the bottom of my bowl. Too bad, because it was really tender and delicious.
On another visit to Belga, I tried the Mussels “Green,” with Chorizo and spinach in a garlic cream broth. I enjoyed this preparation better than the Chimay, but I was still frustrated. I understand the dish is about the mussels, but if the menu says Chorizo, I want to taste it from the start. Not after I’ve eaten most of the mussels and am too full to enjoy the chorizo in the bottom of the bowl. I would have liked to have had the chorizo and spinach mixed in with the mussels, so I could taste all three flavors together.
Belga’s mussels were cooked perfectly – slightly firm, but still chewy. I ate every mussel in the bowl. On the other hand, my mussels at Granville Moore’s were a mixed bag. While a few were cooked well, the majority of the mussels were undercooked. Some of the shells hadn’t opened, so I couldn’t eat them. Although I ate the undercooked mussels anyway (maybe a bad idea?), the chewiness of them was not particularly enjoyable. Perhaps going on a busy Friday night was not the wisest choice, but still.
After I finish my mussels, I love to soak up the extra broth in the bowl with bread. The bread at Belga Cafe was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, perfect for finishing the broth. Granville Moore’s bread lacked the attention that was given to Belga’s.
Let’s talk about fries. Belga’s fries were good, but they lacked the crispness and seasoning of Granville’s. Belga’s fries also came with a golden mayo that was spot-on. Granville gave me the option of several different types of mayos, including a curry mayo, horseradish cream mayo, garlic ranch mayo and a truffle mayo. I enjoyed the simplicity of Belga’s mayo more. That’s all you need – a straightforward, delicious dipping sauce.
The fries at Granville Moore’s were not included with the mussels. A small was $4 and a large was $7.50, but the portions were generous. Fries were included in the price at Belga Cafe. With fries, the mussels from both restaurants ended up being about the same price.
Impressive at both restaurants was their selection of Belgian beers, most of which I had never heard of before. At Belga Café, I tried a great Rodenbach, a Belgian beer with a hint of sour berry flavor.
So…what’s the final verdict?
Mussels – Belga Cafe
Frites – Granville Moore’s
While both restaurants have their pros and cons, the mussels at Belga Cafe win. The fries at Granville Moore’s are a solid step above Belga Cafe’s. Take the mussels from Belga and the fries from Granville and you’re good to go.