Many years ago, my relationship was new and sour beer connoisseur-dom was still several years away for me and my spouse. Those were simpler times, before we had lofty fantasies about moving to Belgium. DC had yet to find out that Belgian food was real. In those days, we occasionally dined at Belga. We moved on, of course. It’s very difficult to top Sovereign‘s selection of lambics or the food at Bistro Bis.
The staff at Belga gave us one giant book of beverage options for a table of four. This was not in any way conducive to timely selection of drinks. I was also surprised; I recall that they used to have a huge cellar full of interesting beers. I struggled–STRUGGLED–to find something I wanted to drink and eventually ordered a glass of rosé. I suppose there’s nothing inherently wrong with rosé, although I am always self-conscious about how basic I look while drinking it, but it’s usually my last resort drink. Rosé is what I drink when I’ve just given up and don’t even care what I ingest anymore. That a Belgian restaurant would drive me to this point is unconscionable. They carried a variety of lambics from Lindemann’s, but they were both unreasonably expensive and full of candy-like sweetness. My husband and FIL got a couple of fairly blah Belgian beers.
Fortunately, food is a strong suit for Belga. It’s a good quality for a restaurant to have. My FIL got the rabbit stew. Lots of meat was complemented by veggies, smoky lardons, and soft prunes that were unfortunately lost in the soup. The meat was cooked perfectly, though. He loved that it came in his own personal Dutch oven. The busboy humored him by cracking up at his joke that they could just give him the lid and he could bring his leftovers home in it.
My MIL ordered the vegetarian entree, a ricotta tortellini with pea puree. It was damn beautiful but pretty bland and unimpressive. If you’re ordering a vegetarian pasta dish at a Belgian restaurant, you are partly to blame for the boringness. You are no better than the people ordering pizza from every Chinese takeout in DC.
My husband got basically the anti-tortellini: the beer-braised short-rib stew. There are no words, only exaggerated Italian chef kisses. The liquid was so rich and meaty. Their frites are also perfectly crispy and they will bring you house-made mayo for dipping if you ask.
I ordered the salmon with chard and rhubarb. I choose to believe that it was the best dish of the night. The fish was cooked well with a crunchy skin and buttery sauce. The black garlic lumped on the plate added a fermented-y, umami element. The clams looked pretty and tasted like clams, I dunno. They didn’t really have a reason for being there but I guess I’ll take them.
So the food was mostly very good. As a minor complaint, the restaurant was very hot and the service crossed the line from intentionally slow to annoyingly, neglectfully slow. On the other hand, their free bread was ridiculously good so maybe it evens out?
Price: $50 per person.
Bottom line: Belga filled a niche for Belgian food before DC knew what it was missing, but it’s not the only game in town and they need to step their game up.