The new owners of La Frite, a mom ‘n’ son duo with little previous restaurant experience, seem to have settled into a comfortable competence after a rocky start. A collection of Watelwerks, primarily Blue Dog-inspired paintings by ex-owner Damien Watel, is watching over the nascent operation and they (the owners, not the dogs) are channeling Watel as culinary muse as well. Not only are the mussels up to snuff, but the range of available sauces has increased several-fold.
Okay, we aren’t convinced the world necessarily needs mussels with bacon, celery, onion, blue cheese, and beer — but then we admit to not trying them either, preferring instead to take our chances with the “Vert” option employing a more conventional blend of onion, basil, cilantro cream, and white wine. (We’re also not sure about any of the two preparations with Marsala, but would happily order, say, the Casino version with shallots, garlic, butter, red pepper, ham, and white wine.) The mussels themselves weren’t overtly plump and luxurious, but they were fresh and tasted fine; the sauce, of course, begged for sopping or simply slurping. For anyone intent on sampling other items (the frites are required and are as golden-good as ever), an appetizer serving is plenty, especially if ordered with one of the smoky-spicy Belgian beers on tap. The Karmeliet, for example.
Almost a meal on its own as well is the salad of frisée aux lardons, a judiciously dressed composition of curly greens with good bits of genuine bacon, all topped with a perfectly poached egg. Add a little bread (and more beer) and, voila!, one of the best salad(e)s around. The petits plats that serve as starters include an onion tarte with brie (again channeling Watel) and crêpes with ham and gruyere. The seafood and chicken vol-au-vent plates remain from the old menu as well.
We may have to go back a couple more times to get up the nerve to plunk down $24 for the pan-sautéed duck breast with raspberry gastrique, but the onglet avec frites (the menu calls onglet “top skirt,” but the usual definition is hanger steak) should be a safe bet, and here we’d look at the improving wine list for a Côtes du Rhône or maybe a less-known Chinon from the Loire. They’re good with frites, too.
La Frite Belgian Bistro
728 S. Alamo
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