Young and Hungry

Is Tom Sietsema’s Review of the Mussel Bar His Harshest on Record?

The review hasn't even officially hit doorsteps yet, but the foodie blogosphere is already buzzing about Tom Sietsema's take-down of the Mussel Bar, chef Robert Wiedmaier's kind of/sort of Brasserie Beck knock-off in Bethesda.

Here are the pertinent grafs from Sietsema's half-star pan:

While I thrilled when the project was announced last December — the chef whetted my appetite with plans to resurrect one of his youthful lively haunts off the Grand Place in Brussels in a "slam-dunk location" in Maryland — the bricks-and-mortar reality tastes DOA. The dining room is cramped, the tables are too small, and much of what lands on them is listless. As for the sound level, it's beyond boisterous. I've never left Mussel Bar without a headache from the noise.

Or the feeling that this is a giant ATM with a dishwasher, and I'm getting ripped off. "What's light and refreshing?" I overhear a beer fan ask a bartender. She responds with 10 ounces of a Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor, with a nice bite in its finish. But it's also priced as if by the Ritz at $12. Note to servers everywhere: If you're asked to recommend something for a customer, you should get some sense of how much he or she wants to spend, or at least specify an item's cost.

The review has spawned a slew of commentary over at DonRockwell.com, including one person who wondered if this might be Sietsema's harshest review on record. Even the Washingtonian was surprised by Sietsema's low star count for the Mussel Bar.

The thing is, this is not Sietsema's most vicious bite. That occurred back in July 2006, when the Post critic issued a zero-star review to the late Le Pigalle on 17th Street NW near Dupont. Wrote Sietsema:

I'd love to report that the new French menu is worth your attention, that Le Pigalle is yet another Komi or Hank's — or even just a satisfying place for a slice of quiche or veal stew. Yet Le Pigalle is far, far, far removed from those ideals. Indeed, it's in another universe in terms of quality. Just ask my food-loving friends. When, following my first experience here, I polled my guests who lived nearby if they'd return on their own dime, everyone shook his head. After a subsequent dinner, at which every plate went back to the kitchen with more than three-quarters of their contents remaining, my most optimistic dining companion could muster only this faint praise: "At least the water was cold!" Personally, I contemplated asking my editor for hardship pay. But maybe I should have known: If the consideration that a restaurant puts into its bread and wine service is any sign of what to expect, I had reason to be skeptical of Le Pigalle, where a few Communion-size slices of dry bread languished in the bottom of the bread basket, and the perfunctory wine list only partially identified some of its choices and included sparklers you could find at your corner market.

Le Pigalle didn't survive that review and was replaced, in fairly short order, by Jack's, which wasn't much better.

  • bobgoatcheese

    When he commented on the frozen fries way back in his First Bite, I took that to be an ominous sign.

  • Sue

    The noise at Mussel Bar is DEAFENING. Why is it that so many restaurants seem to strive for din in the dining room? Is it to turn tables over faster? Is it to con people into thinking they're having fun in a hot new joint? Mussel Bar makes nearby Rio Grande sound like a library.

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