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I love me some mussels. But only if, and it's a big-ass if, every last one of them is perfectly fresh and each and every one of them is cooked just right. I'm beginning to suspect that this is simply too much to expect. Mussels can go bad in the blink of an eye, they can be full of grit, and it only takes one stinker to ruin a whole damn plate.

But every couple of months I find myself ordering them. And 9 times out of 10 I kick myself for it when I get that unmistakable whiff of god-awful funkiness or, worse yet, toss one in my mouth and get a flavor that is vaguely reminiscent of the busiest... uhm... "adult entertainment industry professional" in town and that only gargling down half a bottle of wine will help ease my misery.

I’ve awaited them anxiously at some of the most well regarded high end joints in town, and I’ve rolled the dice in some real dives. Whether I’ve paid $18 or $4.99 for a plateful, I can never be certain I’ll enjoy the results.

I’m not sure what my question is, but I guess I’d like to hear from some grizzled restaurant veterans on what they do, if anything, to try and ensure that I won’t gag on a bivalve at their establishment. I totally understand that it may well be impossible to source mussels that are 99.97% pure. Do mussels get returned to the kitchen with any greater frequency than other dishes? Has anyone else’s experience been similar to mine? Should I just give up on mussels and stick to the chicken fingers?

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Great question! The last good bucket I had was at Rustico. But I've gotten them mushy, mealy and gaggy. What gives? If I get fresh ones and make them at home, can I expect varied results?

I hesitate to buy a whole big bag of them for just me and DH only to find they are bad quality, even though alive when I made them.

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Hmm. I don't know what to tell you. I love me some mussels, too, but seem to have had better experiences around town than you have had. I usually end up with a few "dead soldiers", but I think that is to be expected.

Lately, I've been a fan of the mussels at Rustico, too, served in a spicy tomato caper broth. I think its about $8 for a huge bucketful, and no god-awful funkiness to date.

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Darn good question, and one that I'd love to read the responses to.

My suspicion is that good mussels are among the foodstuffs most dependent on obsessive quality control through the entire chain...each supplier had better know their supplier in painful detail. The mussel itself has no choice but to concentrate its native environment - it's aquatic, a filter-feeder, and an immobile one. (This aquatic lifestyle can have significant consequences in the post-industrial age - mussels and oysters are especially high in heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury) I'd have to think that it begins with the "where" and "when" of harvesting. Apart from the time it spends in tanks flushing out the sand, the mussel can get no better. Everything else in the supplier chain is merely an opportunity to degrade its quality.

When I lived in Boston, we'd try to avoid dining on local filter-feeders the week after a storm, on the notion that the outflow would simply churn a fresh batch of the city's sediment out into the Mass Bay...and Boston was the last major East Coast city to lack secondary sewage treatment.

On the other hand, some of the best mussels I've had in the area were at Monocacy Crossing, and he simply bought them regularly from a particular large supplier at the wholesale market in Jessup that he deemed reliable. Perhaps this is analogous to shopping for wine based on the importer's label.

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I've eaten mussels all over town and can categorically state that the moules poulette at Bistrot du Coin are the tastiest, most consistent, most satisfying mussels I've had in Washington. The Poulette is a wine-cream sauce and is great for dipping both mussels and bread in. A large order is extremely filling. They seem to have a system for cooking mussels there that is seemingly fool proof. They are the same every time - no grit, no stinkers.

Best,

GRV*

*grizzled restaurant veteran

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I've eaten mussels all over town and can categorically state that the moules poulette at Bistrot du Coin are the tastiest, most consistent, most satisfying mussels I've had in Washington.

Thanks GRV*. Come to think of it, I've had the mussels there 3 or 4 times, and I don't recall any encounter with the classic stylings of Grand Funk Bivalve. Perhaps BdC will be my one and only moules refuge.

*Great Recommender of Vino

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I love mussels, too, but haven't experienced the "bad" ones, although I have been served ones which didn't open. Maybe my senses of smell and taste aren't as sensitive as yours--which is entirely possible. What I try to follow is Bourdain's dictum about only eating mussels in places that sell a LOT of them. Which describes Bistrot du Coin to a T. I also had them at Open City and thoroughly enjoyed them.

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Boy. I rarely eat mussels out because they're so easy to make at home, plus you get to do your own quality control. I wonder if Al has access to store that sells reasonable seafood? :)

PS: Anyone remember Bertha's? As in the ubiquitous and vaguely disquieting bumper sticker "Eat Bertha's Mussles?"

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PS: Anyone remember Bertha's? As in the ubiquitous and vaguely disquieting bumper sticker "Eat Bertha's Mussles?"

Still there; paid them a visit on a pub crawl of Fell's Point last winter. Wasn't too taken with their mussels, which weren't bad, but not great either.

Thanks for the pointer to BdC, Mark. That description is making me hungry.

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I don't care for mussels, for exactly the reasons you give, AlDente. The one time I had them and thought "wow! this is what I've been missing all these years" was three years ago at Greenwood, when ol_ironstomach insisted I try them. So maybe you should try them at Buck's if they're ever on the menu.

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The mussels at Belga are, to my palate, better than the rope-grown Prince Edward Island monsters you find at Granville Moore's. I realize these are farm-raised too, but I think the enormous, "consistent" PEI mutants so many people rave about have all the charm of a steroid-stuffed Purdue chicken breast. They might be big, but they have no flavor, and they're a chore to finish. The mussels at Belga Cafe are smaller and better.

I suspect that the size of the mussels has more to do with their age at harvest than where they came from. Everyone uses PEI mussels these days. That's not to say that younger isn't better in this case.

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I suspect that the size of the mussels has more to do with their age at harvest than where they came from. Everyone uses PEI mussels these days. That's not to say that younger isn't better in this case.

My favorite are those bouchot mussels at Eve. They are small but plump and delicious.

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Also being farmed on ropes in Maine, (Tremont, Blue Hill area) are Bouchet Mussels. You will find them smaller and sweeter than the PEI mussels. They also are much quicker to open their shells when cooking, and contain more sweet mussel liquour. In my opinion, these are the best mussels available.

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What is an acceptable number of mussels not opening in a typical serving?

Depends on the size of the typical serving. Some places only give you a dozen mussels in an order, in which case I'm disappointed if even one is served to me unopened.

But if you're ordering a good-sized entree (2 dozen or more), I think it's acceptable to have two or three that don't open. Any more than that and you're into a significant percentage of the total order.

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My favorites for mussels in DC are:

Bistro du Coin in Dupont Circle

Brasserie Beck at K St & 11th

Cafe du Parc at the Willard Hotel

Any other suggestions? -Tony

Other than Beck, I always enjoy Belga Cafe in Barracks Row and I have heard good things about Granville Moores but have yet to make it over there.

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The optimist in me didn't think Granville Moore's on a Friday would be a problem. Ahem. They were packed solid with a 2 hour wait for 2 .. yikes. On to Plan B(elga). Big mussels? Yup, they were perfect - fresh and properly cooked. Good fries - spuds tasted American to me although I didn't ask specifically. In the past I've found Belga to be a bit uneven but the last two visits (this one and the one before) have been dead on. Highly recommended for mussel fans. One of these days I'll make it to et voila but right now it's definitely Belga and Granville Moore's on my top list.

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26 minutes ago, DaveO said:

The Thursday evening pot of mussels cooked in a white wine and garlic broth with tremendous bread remains one of the great dining deals in DC.  Very large pot, supposedly a kilo (might be--it is YUGE)  --The PRICE?   Knock my socks off and call me silly!!!!   $10.  I do enjoy mussels.  I order them around town and usually find them enjoyable.  I don't need to have some of the more inventive, creative and tasty broths.  I enjoy mussels.  Dino's is a classic broth.  They provide a toasted bread but can also provide their far better high grade bread used for dipping.  Beers,wines, and quite a few cocktails reflect HH prices. 

That is good to know.  I do love me some mussels.  You should also check out the mussels at Lyon Hall in Arlington.  They have mussels on their happy hour menu for $10 as well.  Better yet, Lyon Hall runs happy hour seven days a week from 3pm to 7pm.  I am not aware of too many other Saturday/Sunday happy hours.

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On 6/14/2017 at 8:51 AM, dcs said:

That is good to know.  I do love me some mussels.  You should also check out the mussels at Lyon Hall in Arlington.  They have mussels on their happy hour menu for $10 as well.  Better yet, Lyon Hall runs happy hour seven days a week from 3pm to 7pm.  I am not aware of too many other Saturday/Sunday happy hours.

Ooooh thank you.  Reminder to self--Go to Lyon Hall for HH...better yet...ANY DAY :P   (these days I'm really not an HH person, but that mussel deal at Dino's has been so good and so compelling  ;)  ).  

On 9/7/2006 at 1:22 PM, Waitman said:

Boy. I rarely eat mussels out because they're so easy to make at home, plus you get to do your own quality control. I wonder if Al has access to store that sells reasonable seafood? :)

PS: Anyone remember Bertha's? As in the ubiquitous and vaguely disquieting bumper sticker "Eat Bertha's Mussles?"

Not just that they are easy to make but they are inexpensive!!!!   I haven't thought of cooking mussels in decades, just priced them and the price is sort of stupid dumb inexpensive.  I think I'll work on some broth, get my mussel equipment down and do what you did, cook some at home.  Mussels and beer.  hmmm. 

I was just at WF for lunch and besides enabling me to price them WF had smoked mussels from Maine on display and with a one day sale.  Ooooh those are tasty.  Lots of opportunities here  :D

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Here is a super easy recipe for a tasty appetizer. Steam mussels as you normally would (white wine, shallots, etc). When they are done, separate the shells, place the mussels on the half shell on a cooking sheet, add a small dab of pesto (Costco's pre made works fine) and broil for a few seconds. I guarantee you they will not last!

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On 6/14/2017 at 11:51 AM, dcs said:

That is good to know.  I do love me some mussels.  You should also check out the mussels at Lyon Hall in Arlington.  They have mussels on their happy hour menu for $10 as well.  Better yet, Lyon Hall runs happy hour seven days a week from 3pm to 7pm.  I am not aware of too many other Saturday/Sunday happy hours.

I've tried the first 2 versions of mussels on the Lyon Hall menu, one sort of traditional and one w/a tomato sauce and other items.

prefer the Dino's version which is very garlicky and actually not that heavy on broth but ample.

BUT a nice HH deal for mussels in Arlington at a very good bar/restaurant.

yeah....they have my business

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For the past two weeks I have had the plumpest mussels in memory.  In both cases they were at Fireworks Arlington (Monday/ half price mussels all day).  But I can't imagine Fireworks has a special provider.  I also suspect they are PEI.  In any case if you enjoy plump mussels it might be a good time of year to indulge.

BDBC4ABF-289D-4F10-A919-CFDEE683719A.jpeg

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On 10/15/2018 at 4:20 PM, DaveO said:

For the past two weeks I have had the plumpest mussels in memory.  In both cases they were at Fireworks Arlington (Monday/ half price mussels all day).  But I can't imagine Fireworks has a special provider.  I also suspect they are PEI.  In any case if you enjoy plump mussels it might be a good time of year to indulge.

(couldn't get the photo to upload...but these are quite large inside the shell and of firm quality)   Really good

When you think "plump mussels," think "PEI mussels!"

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Over the last few weeks I've had mussels at Bertha's in Baltimore (been eating mussels there since the first year they were open), Fireworks/Arlington, The Local Oyster (in Ballston Quarter) (no review yet;  another Baltimore mussel/seafood joint), and Dino's in DC. 

Okay, mussels, beer, and bread to sop up the liquid are a favorite food of mine.   These days I don't have a huge favorite from among that group although I'd probably opt for the Fireworks in general and the Fireworks 1/2 price special on Mondays. 

Seems about time to get back to Bistro du Coin, as per the G.R.V above

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On 6/10/2019 at 3:59 PM, DaveO said:

Over the last few weeks I've had mussels at Bertha's in Baltimore (been eating mussels there since the first year they were open), Fireworks/Arlington, The Local Oyster (in Ballston Quarter) (no review yet;  another Baltimore mussel/seafood joint), and Dino's in DC. 

Okay, mussels, beer, and bread to sop up the liquid are a favorite food of mine.   These days I don't have a huge favorite from among that group although I'd probably opt for the Fireworks in general and the Fireworks 1/2 price special on Mondays. 

Seems about time to get back to Bistro du Coin, as per the G.R.V above

Funny you should post about Bertha's now since we're thinking about going Saturday and there's no thread. We have an overnight in Baltimore sandwiched between a visit to Lancaster (Dutch Wonderland) on Friday and a Red Sox (OK, Orioles) game on Sunday. The last time we went to St. Arnold's my 5-year-old stole a bunch of my mussels, so we thought we'd take her to the mussels mothership, but I wasn't sure how good Bertha's actually was (though I know it's certainly iconic). Seems like you like their mussels?

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@dracisk I wouldn’t call myself an expert or a regular at Bertha’s though it did hit me that I’ve been there each of the 5 decades they have been in existence.  It also hit me that I couldn’t recall the last time I was there.

It’s a dive, downstairs at the bar, nicer upstairs with tables.  I’d get the basic, with garlic.  Bread is very plain as noted above. Get extra.  

Mussels beer and bread are simply one of my favorite comfort foods.  I could eat them several times a month.  Enjoy Lancaster, enjoy the game, and enjoy yourself at Bertha’s if that is where you land.  Are they the best?  I’m still tasting.

 

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On 10/15/2018 at 4:20 PM, DaveO said:

For the past two weeks I have had the plumpest mussels in memory.  In both cases they were at Fireworks Arlington (Monday/ half price mussels all day).  But I can't imagine Fireworks has a special provider.  I also suspect they are PEI.  In any case if you enjoy plump mussels it might be a good time of year to indulge.

BDBC4ABF-289D-4F10-A919-CFDEE683719A.jpeg

As opposed to the extraordinarily large plump and tasty mussels at Fireworks/Arlington from last Autumn the mussels today  (Monday's = $6/pot mussels) they were puny and tasteless .  I discussed with the bartender (who talks a good game but I suspect has no insights--((who can blame him)) ) who told me they are ordering from the same provider.

Who can figure.  Meanwhile he referenced a recent article I too had read:  Chesapeake Blue Crabs are large and numerous this season but expensive. 

Could it be that the major force, the man upstairs has deemed that mussels have shrunk and blue crabs have grown????  Inquiring minds want to know!!!!

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