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Menu MBK (Formerly Azur), Market, Bistro-Bar, and Kitchen in the Former Cafe Atlantico Space in Penn Quarter - Closed

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A week or two after opening, I just tried Azur -- the new restaurant from Frederik de Pue (of Table) in the Cafe Atlantico space.  We love seafood and had high hopes.  Unfortunately, we were a bit disappointed.  I'll give it a few months and try again.  The space is very nice.  They've taken the old Cafe Atlantico and installed a french coast / St. Barts style, with medium toned woods, whites, and blues.  I think the space is lovely, but found the music unpleasant at times -- a lot of loud, techno-ish music (picture a too-trendy, french nightclub).  To start, I had a nice wheat beer, and my guest has a cocktail.  Her first attempt at a cocktail was supposed to contain wasabi vodka, black pepper vodka, tomato water, tobasco, and caviar.  (Yes, the caviar seemed strange, and the $20 price tag was not justified by the very tiny bit of it on the garnish).  The drink was very disappointing.  There was no detectable trace of wasabi, pepper, or tobasco.  It basically tasted like tomato water, vodka, and fish (presumably from the caviar?).  Bland and in need of salt.  Upon asking the waitress if perhaps an ingredient was mistakenly omitted, my guest was offered a different drink and got a version of a bees knees that was pretty good.

To start: We ordered a tile fish crudo with black lime, pickled cilantro, avocado, white asparagus, and espelette.  The lime, espellette, and little blossoms not identified on the menu had nice flavor.  But the crudo tasted a bit fishy (presumably not as fresh as a crudo needs to be, although I'm not familiar enough with tile fish to be sure).  The avocado was turned into a paste that reminded me of guacamole though needing more flavor.   We also had oyster croquettes with black truffle, micro celery, and old bay aioli.  The truffle/celery combo was nice. But the croquettes themselves were a bit soggy and overbreaded.

For entrees we had scallops with asparagus, pine nut purée, grapefruit sections, puffed red quinoa.  The dish sounded very interesting, but I didn't really get how these flavors went together.  The puffed quinoa provided nice texture.  The scallops were underseasoned (or even unseasoned).  We also had tubot with hakurie turnips, celery, grapes, broccoli, and roasted almond espuma.  Here I understood the flavor combination (more or less).  The turbot was cooked beautifully, well seasoned, and had great flavor.  The accompaniments were a mixed bad.  The almond espuma was great, and we remarked that we would have preffered a big layer of it rather than just a little dollop on the side.  The grapes added nice bursts of sweetness.  Some of the vegetables were a bit bland.  The turnips, for example, desperately needed salt and acid.  The celery and broccoli were a bit better.

The best food, by far, was dessert.  We had honeyed grapefruit with brown sugar meringue and prosecco granite.  The genius of the dish was an ingredient not listed on the menu -- a chiffande of basil.  We loved the savory basil flavor against the sweet but cold granite, the firmer meringue, and the softer fruit.  The even better dessert was a  "strawberry mint salad" with puff pastry crisps and balsamic gelato.  The highlight here was the balsamic gelato -- terrific.  The strawberries were solid, though had only a tiny bit of mint on it, so the dish was probably not well named.  There was also an undescribed cream between the puff pastry crisps.

Although the desserts were good, none of the four savory items were standouts, and three had noticeable flaws.  I like the space and concept, and I'm really hoping the place hits its stride.

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The "plateaux" d'azur beckoned me like a siren's call. Fortunately, Azur has it priced per sailor ($34). The plateaux came with oysters (might have a couple of different types), clams, blue crab meat, shrimps, and salmon roe. The oysters (6) were not uniform in size, and one tasted off, but they're generally good. The clams (4) have a hint of sweetness and I really enjoyed them raw. The crab meat had some shell in it, so the picking wasn't up to par and I didn't relish eating it. The shrimps (3) were well seasoned with old bay but they were a bit mealy. Finally, the ikura tasted wonderful and I ate them on top of the house bread.

Next I had the foie gras poêle & grilled tiger prawn ($18). I had no idea what poêle meant and neither did my gracious but somewhat inexperienced waiter. He said fried but he meant pan seared. In any case, they were both cooked perfectly. The prawn was tender and nicely salted. The peas were a bit firm but since I ate them after the prawn and foie gras, they weren't a distraction.

Lastly I had the “en cocotte” of clams ($22) in "Belgian" style of buttered leeks, belgian ale, parsley,and importantly, thyme. I steam clams at home all the time but I've never put thyme in. These were delicious and the thyme really adds a lot of flavor to the clams. I love the fact that you can pick your shellfish from mussels, clams, to lobster. I would bet the Belgian lobster is delicious, especially with linguine. Too bad these preparations are usually only associated with mussels at other restaurants.

Not pictured are some very good frites, crispy on the outside but mushy on the inside. The reason I ate them is because I wasn't stuffed after the plateaux, foie gras, and steamed clams and they were tasty.

The reviews on Yelp complained about the price/portion ratio. Seafood is expensive. With some restaurants charging $30+ for a dozen oysters, I think the plateaux is fairly priced. As for the atmosphere, I think Oceanaire is too stuffy and Blacksalt too low-key. As my diet is increasingly pescatarian, I value an upscale French/Belgian seafood joint.





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The "plateaux" d'azur beckoned me like a siren's call. Fortunately, Azur has it priced per sailor ($34). The plateaux came with oysters (might have a couple of different types), clams, blue crab meat, shrimps, and salmon roe. The oysters (6) were not uniform in size, and one tasted off, but they're generally good.

Was it the oyster on the bottom left that tasted off?

"The bigger, the blacker the blotches, the badder the bivalve." That's my personal warning system.

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Boy, I'll tell you what - I think I might have had some of the best raw bar in DC yesterday at Azur, or if not, then perhaps at least the best uncooked meal. Happy hour is from 5-7 PM, and if I understood correctly (and I might not have), it's all evening on Sundays, with a subset of the cocktails $6, and $1 Blue Point oysters. These Blue Points were good enough to make this west-coast fan an east-coast fan - I gulped down 12 for $12, and then 12 more after that. The drinks default to vodka and slightly girly, but the bartender toned down the sweetness for me, and they were more than good enough to carry me through the entire meal (at $6 per cocktail, you make do). I then ordered three small plates: Golden Tile Fish Crudo ($14) with black lime, cilantro, avocado, white asparagus, and espelette, Wild Sardine Escabeche ($14) with green apple, breakfast radish, spring onion, and olive oil, and finished with a "cheese plate," Fresh Burrata ($14) with pea salad and herb vinaigrette. Everything was very good to excellent, and I was positively *stuffed* after the healthiest large meal I've had in a long time (think how healthy this food was). Super!

Coverage initiated in Italic, for sure. (That said, Chef De Pue was there, and he can't always be; on the other hand, he didn't cook anything.) :)

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Wild sardine escabeche.

All sardines are wild, so the menu buzzword distinction isn't really necessary.

Tilefish is one word.

Harukei turnips, not harukie; if you order the halibut.

They, and many others, need a proofreader.

(attn. Le DIplomat: couscous is one word)

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We can draw several conclusions from this:

1) I should think twice about copying menu items verbatim (which italicized items always are)

2) Industry members often enjoy a few drinks after work, and at least three did last night

3) Poivrot got hoisted on his own petard, and there's no way around it. :lol:

4) Chef De Pue is Belgian, not French, and Belgians cannot spell (refer to item 3)

5) Nobody cares who spells what term wrong. :P

6) Poivrot is still one of the smartest dudes I know, but this was funny!

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Closing this Friday.  To be replaced by a new market/restaurant concept, Menu.  My wife and I ate here once over the summer and thought it was good, but not particularly memorable (and thus the lack of a post from me).  I also remember commenting on how remarkably empty it was on a Saturday night only a couple of weeks after a favorable review from Sietsema.  We chalked it up to it being summer in DC, but apparently, those issues persisted.

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Has anyone eaten there since it became Menu MBK?

I was there in May, and it wasn't great. Service was haphazard and there was something wrong with every dish we ordered -- salting, cooking, etc. My experience was probably growing pains, so it may be better now. But it's still not the Frederik de Pue restaurant I'd go to. I went to Table for the first time last week and it was excellent.

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