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Mussel Bar & Grille, Woodmont Avenue in Bethesda and Ballston by the Owners of Marcel's


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I noticed that the paper in the windows changed about a month ago and it declared that Mussel Bar was coming soon. There is now (as of this week) a public hearing notice for March 18th (I think for the right to serve alcohol, etc). Plus, the door was cracked open, so I peeked briefly inside....the place looks like it is being completely gutted prior to building it back out.

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"...As for the rest of the menu: you’ll find that on chalkboards over the bar, where you can order Mussels with Grilled Pineapple and Sweet Chilis and 15-Hour Roasted Pork Belly".

Hmmm, 15-hour Roasted Pork Belly

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They were open last night so I would call or stop by - they might be serving lunch today or tomorrow.

First impressions from opening night: Great set up - large bar area, good beer list but I got the feeling that they are still working with Montgomery County to get more. There are 6-8 mussel varieties - I tried the Indonesian Curry Peanut and Pineapple Sweet Chile and they were both so good that I wanted to take the extra broth home. I hoped for a bit more spice but they both still had a lot of flavor. There are sandwiches and tartes on the menu, as well as a few entrees. Everything on the menu looked like something I would want to try. Service was great - our waiter said he is going to be the oyster cart guy when they get that going. I imagine this place will be packed once "officially" open, both the bar area and tables were pretty full last night.

------------------------------------------

eatmoredrinkmore.com

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So....did it open? A friend and I have been looking forward to checking it out? Any news?

It's open, baby!

We went Thursday evening. The bar was already packed; it was bustling, crowded, lively, but the staff really did try to make you feel attended. Instead of try and wait out two bar seats, we sat in the dining room, which at 6pm still had a few open tops.

The staff seems to be working the team concept. There are assigned servers, but it seemed like each staffer that walked past us eyeballed our table to see if we needed something, and a shell catch plate got replaced or a glass of water got refilled. The bar got backed up a little but it wasn't gravely long nor unexpected. And when a nice glass of Carolus Tripel shows up, that pretty much removes my need to complain ... other than my wife got a glass of Kasteel Cherry, which was unbelievable. "Next time."

I enjoyed the generous serving of mussels in the "classic" broth (garlic, shallots, sauv. blanc, seemed like a little dairy in there) and fries. Probably shouldn't have attempted to down all the broth, but I couldn't help it. I'm a clean-plate kind of guy. Good thing the kids were already in bed - I felt fairly safe from vampires for the rest of the evening. Because my dear wife is on some insane starvation diet, she went for the spinach tortilla stuffed with roasted vegetables, which was actually pretty tasty. It won't convince die-hard vegetarians to flock there, but at least it's an option. But no, I won't be ordering it in my lifetime.

The look of the restaurant is very ... rustic. I mean this with no disrespect intended. There are big, strong wood tables and large squarish chairs that are mildly, well, uncomfortable. Or maybe they make you sit up straight and be mindful of your surroundings. It's loud and vibrant, a good place on a summer evening to get a big plate of bivalves and inhale the essence of the sea, steamed. Our dinner runner actually told me before uncovering the mussels to "breathe deeply - ready? Go!" I was glad that he did.

Chef RW was front and center, expediting dishes but still making time to - and I kid you not - take pictures with Japanese tourists. What can I say. I don't miss Levante even remotely.

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Stopped in on Friday for the first lunch service. Like the space - very rustic and open. Have some booths (maybe 10 or s0) and an oval bar that accomodates maybe 15-20 people seated. I was alone so opted to sit at the bar. Bartenders were friendly and outgoing making suggestions and giving me the lay of the land. RW was in the kitchen making sure everything came out properly. Appeared they had a decent lunch crowd for the 1st day

Started with 1/2 dozen of the west coast oysters ($12), which were a good size but served a little warm for my liking despite being on a bed of ice. Followed by the Spicy Thai mussels ($16). Mussels were a medium size not huge with about 30 in the pan. Spicy Thai had a nice spice to it but not over the top served with frites and a bread basket. Washed everything down with a Brabo Pils ($7).

Service was great and food was what I had hoped for from a RW place. Only a minor complaint would be the pricing. I work in Old Town and hit up Brabo Tasting Room every now and then. The prices at The Mussel Bar seem to be a dollar or two more than both Brabo and Beck, maybe the rent is higher or they are still searching for the proper price point. A minor issue that will not stop me from going since it is so close to my house.

Talked to the bartender who mentioned they currently do not have any happy hour deals but may add something in the future.

A welcome addition to the mundane dining scene in Bethesda.

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The prices at The Mussel Bar seem to be a dollar or two more than both Brabo and Beck, maybe the rent is higher or they are still searching for the proper price point.

Wholesale alcohol prices in Montgomery County are automatically 25% higher for the restaurant/retailer. This is because the County Department of Liquor Control, by law has to first buy every drop of alcohol then resell it to the restaurant/retailer. The County mark-up is 25% of their cost. Their cost also includes state excise tax. For example if a case of XYZ Belgian Blonde ale were sold in DC/VA for $30.00 to a restaurant/retailer then the same case of beer would be sold in Montgomery County for $30.00 plus $7.50 (25% mark up) plus a little more for the excise tax. Final cost to the Montgomery County restaurant will be around $38.00.

Plus rent prices are very high in that part of town. Not sure how they compare with DC and VA though.

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Went here for lunch yesterday and left as encouraged as I was optimistic about this place. It was just me and my 9 month old so we didn't linger long, but I enjoyed my spicy Thai mussel dish, which is completely in this place's wheelhouse. The frites were very good but not the reason to return like some restaurant renditions. The restaurant seemed to have a lot of staff for an only half-empty place, but everything was smooth and the staff was very friendly so I appreciated the strength-in-numbers approach. Places like this (i.e. relatively affordable, good ingredients, and strong execution) are welcome everywhere, but it's especially a blessing for Bethesda. This place should make money hand-over-fist. The only problem I see for them is I don't remember seeing a beer under $7 and most were $12+. That should increase table turnover but not their profits. It's possible, too, that folks won't like how dark it is (I wasn't a fan of the dark wood on dark stained concrete). Couple other helpful notes people considering a visit: 1) the lunch and dinner menus are exactly the same, 2) they are open Saturday and Sunday for $12 egg-centric breakfasts, and 3) ugghh...something else that slipped my mind. I'll edit the post if I can remember it. I'm just glad this place is here.

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Places like this (i.e. relatively affordable, good ingredients, and strong execution) are welcome everywhere, but it's especially a blessing for Bethesda. This place should make money hand-over-fist.

It all depends on how much their business and sanity is damaged by the likes of "Anna" or "Anu" (and the culture she represents all too typically) as described here, and the real answer to the question "Why aren't there any good restaurants in Bethesda?" and the bane and downfall of many who came before. Even Silver Spring wasn't far enough away to have not been subjected to more than our fair share of this.

Weidmaier and his team are true talents and real pros, more and better seasoned than most, and Mussel Bar is an awesome concept, so if anyone can rise above it, it is them.

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Just wait. I order mussel's quite often when I'm out with my 3 year old. What started out as one or two on his plate has now reached the point where I'm lucky if I get to eat one or two myself.

I'm looking forward to trying Mussel Bar and letting him get a plate for himself for the first time. Perhaps with less broth than the grownups though!

Went here for lunch yesterday and left as encouraged as I was optimistic about this place. It was just me and my 9 month old so we didn't linger long, but I enjoyed my spicy Thai mussel dish, which is completely in this place's wheelhouse. The frites were very good but not the reason to return like some restaurant renditions. The restaurant seemed to have a lot of staff for an only half-empty place, but everything was smooth and the staff was very friendly so I appreciated the strength-in-numbers approach. Places like this (i.e. relatively affordable, good ingredients, and strong execution) are welcome everywhere, but it's especially a blessing for Bethesda. This place should make money hand-over-fist. The only problem I see for them is I don't remember seeing a beer under $7 and most were $12+. That should increase table turnover but not their profits. It's possible, too, that folks won't like how dark it is (I wasn't a fan of the dark wood on dark stained concrete). Couple other helpful notes people considering a visit: 1) the lunch and dinner menus are exactly the same, 2) they are open Saturday and Sunday for $12 egg-centric breakfasts, and 3) ugghh...something else that slipped my mind. I'll edit the post if I can remember it. I'm just glad this place is here.

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OK, went today with work pals. Here's a quick review--

  • Nice space but it gets noisy quick
  • Good service
  • beer prices are pretty steep, but good selection and if you buy non-draft, they'll pour your glass for you
  • frites have too many small pieces, but the aioli is decent (though not epic)
  • Mussels are very good, but the portion for the price is a little out of balance
  • bread is very good
  • chairs are a bit uncomfortable, but makes for quick turnover I guess

I'd go back, but it'd have to be every once in a while only because of the price (for lunch). It'd be an easier call to come back here for dinner though. It was pretty busy throughout the time there.

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OK, went today with work pals. Here's a quick review--

  • Nice space but it gets noisy quick
  • Good service
  • beer prices are pretty steep, but good selection and if you buy non-draft, they'll pour your glass for you
  • frites have too many small pieces, but the aioli is decent (though not epic)
  • Mussels are very good, but the portion for the price is a little out of balance
  • bread is very good
  • chairs are a bit uncomfortable, but makes for quick turnover I guess

I'd go back, but it'd have to be every once in a while only because of the price (for lunch). It'd be an easier call to come back here for dinner though. It was pretty busy throughout the time there.

Pool Boy's impressions generally mirrored mine, but I'll add a couple of things:

The salads are really nice, and generously sized. I really enjoyed my belgian endive salad with blue cheese and caramelized walnuts. And while I really enjoyed the broth of the two mussel dishes I tired, the classic and the Provencal (particularly the classic, which seems to have a good hit of cream (not mentioned on the menu) in it in addition to roasted garlic, shallots, and white wine), the mussels themselves were disapointingly small.

I have trouble with many Belgian beers because of the typically-high alcohol content (after it gets above a certain abv %, I just can't seem to enjoy the brew), but I found a nice "Saison du Pont" on the menu which went very well with the food, and came in at a reasonable 6.5% (about my limit).

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I'm excited...so long as the frites are good :(

So how are the fries really? I 'm seeing mixed reviews. I was surprised to learn in Tom Sietsema's first bite that these aren't hand cut :

"Wiedmaier calls his use of a commercial product, from Simplot of Canada, "the hardest decision of my life." [1]

I understand the business decision but it's disappointing . And as a former Idaho resident I've got to wonder, are these really Canadian potatoes!?!

True, many of the best fries I've had in trips to Belgium were not hand-cut, so a lot of it does come down to preparation. Nevertheless, for such a significant part of the tradition ....

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/10/AR2010081003308.html

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So how are the fries really? I 'm seeing mixed reviews. I was surprised to learn in Tom Sietsema's first bite that these aren't hand cut :

"Wiedmaier calls his use of a commercial product, from Simplot of Canada, "the hardest decision of my life." [1]

I understand the business decision but it's disappointing . And as a former Idaho resident I've got to wonder, are these really Canadian potatoes!?!

True, many of the best fries I've had in trips to Belgium were not hand-cut, so a lot of it does come down to preparation. Nevertheless, for such a significant part of the tradition ....

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/10/AR2010081003308.html

Only been once, but I found the size of the frites to be extremely disappointing. Too many very shot bits -- frites are supposed to be long and skinny. Ah well.

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I had dinner here Saturday night with Malawry. There was no wait at 5:30 & they seated me immediately even though she wasn't there yet. Overall we liked our meal: half dozen "West coast" oysters, traditional mussels, pork belly sandwich. I had a glass of rose (Corbieres, IIRC) & she the Cremant d'Alsace. I had a few quibbles, of course. The vanilla sweet potato fries were too sweet for me, and the pork belly needed a sturdier underpinning than the flimsy pita, but the oysters were fresh, the mussels were excellent, and the fries were crispy and not too short. :( There was a buzz, but we were able to hold a conversation without hollering across the table. I'll return to try some of the other mussel variations, like the curry.

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I'll return to try some of the other mussel variations, like the curry.

This evening, I had the Red Indonesian Curry Mussels ($16) with peanut essence (although I'd say it was more "crushed peanuts" than "peanut essence"), along with a Wood Fired Tart ($15) with pork belly, mussels (one per slice), tomato, and Gruyere cheese. Both were excellent, and I didn't mind the frozen frites in the least (I recently read somewhere that Robert Wiedmaier said serving frozen fries was (and I'm paraphrasing, not quoting) 'one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make,' which sounds needlessly dramatic. The basket of (good, not great) bread was perfect for marinating in the Curry sauce (one side for about two minutes, then flipping, and doing the other side for about two minutes), and the (garlic?) mayonnaise was de-lish with the cone of fries. The fine beer program features pints of Brabo Pils ($7), a beer for which I've searched for years: medium-bodied, malty, slightly sour (Gueze-like, but only a fraction of the sourness of a Gueze). An astounding house beer that I swear I've had once at Beck, although perhaps not. I cannot imagine coming here again and not getting this, because it is the rare, flavorful, malty, medium-bodied lager which I so desperately seek out and yet cannot find, anywhere. Can someone please, please, PLEASE contact me and tell me how to find this for my own personal consumption? It is EXACTLY the beer that I've been searching for in vain.

A great night at Mussel Bar, and what initially seemed expensive, ultimately came in at about $45 before tax and tip, leaving two hungry guys waving the white napkin and skipping dessert. It's so refreshing to see a limited menu done well (it's actually not that limited, but people are going to be coming here for mussels and tarts).

David Ashwell (late of Marcel's, now at Beck) was working here tonight, probably for early-on QC (Robert "The Great" Gadsby is listed as the Chef de Cuisine on the menu).

Cheers,

Rocks

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...vanilla sweet potato fries were too sweet for me, and the pork belly needed a sturdier underpinning than the flimsy pita...

I like this place but these would be two of my quibbles. I have to admit, too, that the heat of the pork belly caught up with me halfway through the sandwich, but I didn't find that a negative.

Pax,

Brian

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Greetings,

After hearing a lot of positive buzz about the Mussel Bar in Bethesda, we went there for lunch today. What a disappointment!

We ordered two items...the Berkshire Pork sandwich (touted as similar to a Doner Kabab) and a specialty seafood pizza (lobster, mussels and oysters on a tomato base).

The sandwich came dripping with grease...I mean so much grease that there was a pool of it on the plate! In addition, the bottom third of the sandwich was empty, just a wrap. Before I ordered it, the server had said that the pork was braised and then put on a vertical spit and sliced very thin, like a gyro. In fact, there was a big lump of meat in the top of the sandwich and then empty below. The pizza turned out to be unbelievably spicy. It wasn't described that way and the server said that she didn't realize it was spicy.

I asked the server to bring the pool of grease to the chef and manager's attention, and let them know that the pizza description wasn't adequate. The manager apparently responded to the server by saying that the grease was due to some rub that they used (that makes no sense) and just dismissed our complaint. The manager and/or chef never came to the table nor made further inquiry. It was apparent that they just didn't care.

If you are expecting to actually eat something at the Mussel Bar, think twice.

BehaviorQueen

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Greetings,

After hearing a lot of positive buzz about the Mussel Bar in Bethesda, we went there for lunch today. What a disappointment!

We ordered two items...the Berkshire Pork sandwich (touted as similar to a Doner Kabab) and a specialty seafood pizza (lobster, mussels and oysters on a tomato base).

The sandwich came dripping with grease...I mean so much grease that there was a pool of it on the plate! In addition, the bottom third of the sandwich was empty, just a wrap. Before I ordered it, the server had said that the pork was braised and then put on a vertical spit and sliced very thin, like a gyro. In fact, there was a big lump of meat in the top of the sandwich and then empty below. The pizza turned out to be unbelievably spicy. It wasn't described that way and the server said that she didn't realize it was spicy.

I asked the server to bring the pool of grease to the chef and manager's attention, and let them know that the pizza description wasn't adequate. The manager apparently responded to the server by saying that the grease was due to some rub that they used (that makes no sense) and just dismissed our complaint. The manager and/or chef never came to the table nor made further inquiry. It was apparent that they just didn't care.

If you are expecting to actually eat something at the Mussel Bar, think twice.

BehaviorQueen

 

First of all, it bears mention that Judy's previous post can be found here. Yes, I know who she is, but I know nothing more than you do about motives, alignments, etc.

This evening I ordered the Spicy Berkshire Pork Belly Sandwich ($14) with cucumber-tomato relish and tahini sauce, sweet potato fries, and a little ramekin of garlic mayonnaise. Here is a low-quality cell phone picture of the dish which does not do it justice (especially the frites):

post-2-061563800 1285723578_thumb.jpg

Let's take a closer look at Judy's statement: "The sandwich came dripping with grease...I mean so much grease that there was a pool of it on the plate! In addition, the bottom third of the sandwich was empty, just a wrap. Before I ordered it, the server had said that the pork was braised and then put on a vertical spit and sliced very thin, like a gyro. In fact, there was a big lump of meat in the top of the sandwich and then empty below."

I saw the wedges of pork belly stacked on the vertical spit - there were six of them, each the size of a thick deck of playing cards. Unlike processed gyro meat, it would be nearly impossible to "shave these thin" because they're not processed. There was nothing at all "shaved" about this pork belly; it was cut, or cleaved. Since this sandwich is made with native pork belly, each one is going to have a layer of fat on it which, when heated ... drum roll ... melts a little bit. Between the inherent fattiness of the pork belly and the tahini sauce, you are indeed going to have some "dripping of grease." Furthermore, note that the wraps are served semi-vertically, and (although you can't see this from the picture), the bottom portion of the foil is open just like the top portion is. Gravity has this annoying tendency to pull things downward towards the center of the earth, hence some drippings from the bottom of the wraps, but calling it "a pool" is an exaggeration. And when you add the deep-fried sweet potato fries and the garlic mayonnaise, you have an inherently fatty dish.

I was not in the mood for a heavy dinner this evening, but Judy's post was so direct and harsh that I felt compelled to see if it had any basis in truth. I believe, based on her description, that she went today and ordered this dish; but I also believe her post, for whatever reason, was over-the-top to the point of being incorrect. While I wouldn't rush back and order this heavy-handed sandwich, I liked it well enough.

The fine beer program features pints of Brabo Pils ($7), a beer for which I've searched for years: medium-bodied, malty, slightly sour (Gueze-like, but only a fraction of the sourness of a Gueze). An astounding house beer that I swear I've had once at Beck, although perhaps not. I cannot imagine coming here again and not getting this, because it is the rare, flavorful, malty, medium-bodied lager which I so desperately seek out and yet cannot find, anywhere. Can someone please, please, PLEASE contact me and tell me how to find this for my own personal consumption? It is EXACTLY the beer that I've been searching for in vain.

Have you thought about calling Brabo and asking if you could buy a growler (you would likely need to supply the bottle)?

Unfortunately, the major disappointment in my dinner tonight was the Brabo Pils. Now down in price to $5.50, it was nothing like I had the last time I went - the maltiness was diminished to the point of invisibility, and there was nothing special about it at all. I ordered a second glass to see if I could be wrong, but I don't think I am. A request to Mussel Bar: Could you please raise the price back to $7, and readjust things back to the way they were three weeks ago? (I don't know why the beer is so different, but it is.)

Cheers,

Rocks

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People who order pork belly and complain about the fat deserve a WTF.

This evening I ordered the Spicy Berkshire Pork Belly Sandwich ($14) with cucumber-tomato relish and tahini sauce, sweet potato fries, and a little ramekin of garlic mayonnaise. Here is a low-quality cell phone picture of the dish which does not do it justice (especially the frites):

post-2-061563800 1285723578_thumb.jpg

It looks like they've changed the presentation since I was there. That looks more gyro-shaped, while mine was stuffed in a long thin pita. My only complaint was that the sandwich suffered structural failure almost immediately after it was picked up. I may have to call another meeting of the Bethesda/Rockville lunch bunch to try it again.

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I may have to call another meeting of the Bethesda/Rockville lunch bunch to try it again.

The bunch was called, and responded, unfortunately Heather was sick so her chance to try the pork belly sandwich has been delayed a little longer.

Traditional mussels were excellent. Not a single bad mussel in the bunch. At $16, it's not cheap, and the portion isn't huge, but it was plenty for lunch. Well, it was plenty of food after I cleaned the bowl out with probably a half a basket of (decent) bread.

Brabo Pils was unfortunately the lesser style from Rocks' previous experience.

Perfect day to sit outside with friends over an excellent lunch. Will definitely be back.

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A positive first visit to Mussel Bar...worthy of a return meal.

Got there around 7pm on a Friday night and the wait was about one hour. Note of caution, this place is LOUD, like why is my voice getting hoarse loud, especially near the bar.

Ordered

Classic mussels - good rendition, a very solid plate of mussels

Indonesian Red Curry/Peanut - declared the winner, everyone was going back for more, very nice red curry/coconut/peanut sauce...with just a small touch of heat

Beet salad - a huge bowl of beets and greens with a lovely yogurt sauce...excellent

Belgium pizza - we gave the (only) veggie version a shot and it was very good...the pizzas seem to be a good way to round out your order

Frites - disappointed with the frites that came with the mussels...esp for a belgium joint.

Bread - we had to continually order bread, 1) they don't give you enough, a table of four and we only got two slices each, which was not enough to slop up the sauce. 2) The bread wasn't that great

Beer

Kasteel Donker - wow, fantastic...sweet, malty, a little spicey, 11% alcohol.

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I didn't even see a star rating... has Tom dropped them or just not up on the website yet or am I too tired to notice.

Not sure about the website, but certainly read like a zero star review to me. according to Sietsema the only good thing about the place is the beer list!

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"Wiedmaier encourages traditionalists to announce themselves if they want 'em briny."

Humma-humma say wha? Oysters come with liquid. You see that big bed of crushed ice on your plate? If you don't like liquid, dump it out. Do I need to revive the "Aw, shucks" Award For Bivalve Betrayal?

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Tom's takedown of Mussel Bar. Ouch.

Ouch, indeed. Before a review like this goes to print, does Sietsma (or print-media restaurant critics in general) give a head's up to the restaurant's owners first so that they can respond? Or is it likely that Wiedmaier had no knowledge that this was coming? Just wondering about the protocol.

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I compared Tom's Mussel Bar review with his Brabo Tasting Room review because Brabo Tasting Room serves similar menu as Mussel Bar does under the same ownership. The messages are basically same but a harsher whip was given to Mussel bar. Both places got no star and food quality is under his expectation.

It is a significant wake-up call.

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I think Tom was right about the noise level, it's way too loud when the place is full of people. I think the review was pretty harsh but I had to agree with him on some of things he said. When I was there the options for dessert were fairly limited and I haven't had a great desire to go back.

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With mussels being the main attraction, which even a so-so home cook can easily do reasonably well and cheaply, then IMO a restaurant really has to take it to a higher level. If I can make it as well or better at home for less without much fuss, then it doesn't make sense to search out a restaurant.

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Ouch, indeed. Before a review like this goes to print, does Sietsma (or print-media restaurant critics in general) give a head's up to the restaurant's owners first so that they can respond? Or is it likely that Wiedmaier had no knowledge that this was coming? Just wondering about the protocol.

In his chats, Tom has always been very coy about the content/star rating about his upcoming reviews and has indicated he rebuffs efforts from restaurants to get an advance notice of what he's going to say.

I compared Tom's Mussel Bar review with his Brabo Tasting Room review because Brabo Tasting Room serves similar menu as Mussel Bar does. The messages are basically same but a harsher whip was given to Mussel bar. Both places got no star and food quality is under his expectation.

It is a significant wake-up call.

It's interesting that of all the reviews here, other than gripes about pricing, only one review wasn't positive.

I suspect that Mussel Bar will live on in spite of Tom's review.

I think that both Grover and DanielK are right. This is one man's take on the place (albeit from an influential voice), and others obviously disagree. But there is nevertheless a clear sense of diminishing returns as Wiedmaier expands his restaurant operations. What I've read about Beck recently has been mixed, Brabo has zero buzz, and I get a sense that concept trumps execution at Mussel Bar. In raising his profile, it seems like Wiedmaier hasn't really enhanced his reputation. I don't know that it's necessarily diminished, but it feels like he's been less adept than some other local chefs in moving beyond his initial success, at least culinarily, not commercially.

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