Ah, the grand question that most New Yorkers ask themselves at least a few times: “Where the hell should we eat in Midtown?” If money is no object then the answer is simple. Jean Georges or Marea or Per Se if you can get a reservation. And don’t forget Le Bernardin if you favor seafood.
However…for those of us on a budget of less than $250 per person for a last-minute weekday dinner and who enjoy food that isn’t cleverly disguised steam-table slop, Midtown is a wasteland. But who doesn’t occasionally have a burning desire for Belgian brasserie fare and wants it satisfied in New York? Well, that would be me. I had no idea that Belgian Brasserie food was a category unto itself; I had no idea that such a restaurant even existed in New York, and I had no idea that I should care!
But after our meal at Brabant Belgian Brasserie* (yup, it’s a mouthful), I care very much. Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t a replacement for the glorious restaurants I mentioned above, but then again, these folks aren’t trying to be the next four-star joint. What they seem to be trying to do is create a friendly, reasonably priced restaurant with some interesting dishes that are simple and well-executed examples of Belgian comfort food. And based on our one visit? They have succeeded. It’s been open for a very short time, yet they seem to be much more comfortable than one would expect.
We walked in and were greeted promptly and in a friendly manner. When we told the hostess that we would like to have a drink at the bar before dinner, she smiled and said just tell her when we wanted to sit down. A big deal? No, but a nice, professional touch. The bartender was pleasant, made a nice drink for my lovely wife, and knew the dozen beers on tap well enough to recommend three different but excellent Belgian ales. Of course, given the opportunity to continue the meal at the bar, we will take it every time. Aside from the backless stools, it was a very comfortable bar for dining. The owners didn’t pack the stools so closely that it was a fight for every inch of elbow room, and the bar was deep enough for whatever plates we had in front of us (although, to my everlasting shame, I do not recall whether they have hooks for purses). And the bartender was no slouch either; he knew the menu well, and he gave us some good advice.
But on to the food! We started with a low-country bar staple called bitterballen, which is nothing more than a beef croquette. But these were perfectly fried and very nicely seasoned. A great bar food that went perfectly with my Leffe Brown Ale. My lovely wife had a “Salade Rouge,” with goat cheese, beets and some nice greens — a solid and successful effort.
Our mains were similarly impressive. I had the Fricadelles, which is nothing more than three big meatballs in a great onion and beer sauce. The meatballs were impressively light, but also impressively rich. They came with some marvelous mashed potatoes that were just as rich as the meatballs. I pride myself on being able to finish any meal a restaurant cares to serve me, but I brought this home and happily ate it for lunch the next day. My lovely wife had the star of the evening — a fantastic, unique twist on that restaurant staple: tuna tartare. The dressing was not the typical citrus and oil that we find at most places (not that there is anything wrong with that), but a wild red-chili aioli, with what sounds like truffle oil (they call it truffle essence, but we all know what that is). I couldn’t taste the truffle, but the dish was fantastic anyway. My lovely wife felt differently, and would have preferred a less aggressive use of “truffle essence.”
We will return to Brabant Belgian Brasserie (still a mouthful!) for the pleasure of a relaxed, well-run restaurant that makes its guests feel comfortable…and for that tuna tartare!
* I apologize for the irritating music on this web site. But it’s par for the course for restaurants, apparently there is some code of ethics that requires restaurants to build extraordinarily awful sites.