I ate at Belga once before. It was a few years ago, just as Barracks Row was establishing itself as a locale for good food. I liked it then, so when a friend suggested having dinner there after a reception on Capitol Hill, I readily agreed.
It was a warm spring night, maybe just a little humid. There sidewalk tables were full, so we were seated inside. That probably was better for conversation, but a sidewalk table would have been a fun spot to watch the hustle and bustle of 8th St. SE. There even was a pair of street musicians playing New Orleans jazz across the street. (I tipped them after dinner.)
The menu at Belga offers a lot of variety. You could make a light meal out of starter plates and side dishes. But it’s not really a ‘small plate’ menu, the entrées are too good to pass up.
One of my friends had an evening special cherry gazpacho. The accommodating server provided extra spoons, and we all got a taste. The soup was bright red. If you didn’t know it was cherries, you’d have sworn it was beets. We all wondered if it would be sweet. But it was not; just pleasantly tangy. It was served with a spoonful of cucumber sherbet which was unusual and refreshing.
I started with a salad, which was good but not particularly memorable. It was a little bland. I should have asked for a little cracked pepper.
For an entrée, I had braised short ribs. They were fabulously tender and served with a rich, dark sauce. They were served with a spoonful of soft polenta which readily lent itself to mixing with the sauce and shredded forks of beef. The plate also featured a mélange of vegetables which were very good and nicely complimented the rest of the meal.
My friend who had the gazpacho ordered coquilles Saint-Jacques for her entrée. It was beautifully plated, and she said it was very good. Our other friend (who actually was the host for dinner) had the evening special entrée. It was a salmon roulade filled with lobster. Like the cherry gazpacho, it was an unusual and very creative combination that she liked very much.
The only thing was, none of us had mussels. They have a nice selection of mussels on the menu prepared different ways. None of us ordered them. Maybe we should have had an order and shared them. But like I said, we had come from a reception and just didn’t want to eat that much.
The ambiance of Belga is casual and comfortable. Our server was friendly and made helpful suggestions. I felt the prices were reasonable for what you get, but then, I wasn’t picking up the tab. I was happy to be back for my second visit. I’d gladly make a return visit in the future.