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Taste Test: Menu MBK
February 3, 2014 | 12:30PM

Words and photos: Stephanie Breijo

Throw a dart at anything on Menu MBK‘s menu–be it from the bottom floor’s market, the chef’s table or the top two floors’ full-service bistro–and you’re guaranteed to hit something delicious. We’d expect nothing less from Frederik De Pue, one of D.C. fastest-rising culinary stars and the chef behind Table, one of our favorite restaurants of 2013.

Though we couldn’t help but feel a tinge saddened at the news of Azur’s closing in Penn Quarter, we were thrilled to explore Menu MBK, De Pue’s new three-tier concept. Imagine our excitement when we sat down to dinner at the bistro.

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The BistroBar’s menu–European-and-American-influenced bistro fare–is mouthwatering, to say the least. Though the menu warns of potential daily changes, expect items like lamb sausage with frisee and egg mimosa to crispy sunchokes with romesco sauce and almonds; and those are just the appetizers.

We began with the cauliflower panna cotta, served with capers and almonds. This savory starter’s creamy base plays well off the texture and depth of roasted cauliflower and would do well in nearly any season though the heartiness of the vegetable was perfect to warm us up in winter. If you’re in the mood for seafood, you might do well to order the calamari, grilled & fried, with peperoncini, lemon confit and charred garlic, or even the black escargot with pickled daikon.

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From there we moved to the entrees, both fresh and light (but still punctuated with flavor) as De Pue does so well. The seared Skate wing was tender alongside lemon brown butter, creamy parsnip puree and sauce gribiche; the dish is a delicate and fresh balance of herb and Skate. The winning plate, however, was the confit pork loin with hubbard squash and mint gremolata. The pork–perfectly juicy–and fresh mint pair well with the purée, which is the softer of two forms the hubbarb squash takes. The other, roasted and taken fresh from the oven, lends an earthier depth to the dish.

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From there we sampled from both BistroBar’s dessert menu and Cheese Chariot (a godly creation if we ever heard of one), both fulfilling paths to after-dinner bliss. The chariot, hosting a variety of specialty cheeses, will rotate its selection with almost all options available for purchase in the market’s cheese case.

The desserts are worth a visit alone whether you’re more of a vanilla (try the panna cotta with orange blossom, pink grapefruit and pistachios) or a chocolate (served with spicy ganache and pretzel sable that’s more akin to a fresh cookie). If you’re feeling adventurous, do order the sundae of caramel popcorn ice cream, Coke sorbet, and nougat ice cream for a gourmet spin on classic at-the-movies fare.

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“It looks all refined but we keep very few ingredients on the plate,” De Pue said. “I want to keep a menu where everyone can really come.”

With a menu–and plating–like this, we might judge you if you don’t.

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