One of our favorite trends is restaurants that have markets attached, like Eataly in Chicago and Brabo by Robert Wiedmaier in Alexandria, Virginia. Recently, the nation’s capital got in on the restaurant-market hybrid excitement with the opening of Menu MBK.
When Belgian chef Frederik De Pue, founder of out-of-this-world Table (a Shaw neighborhood restaurant that became a nationally recognized sensation in 2013), turned his eye to Penn Quarter, he made his latest D.C. location a standout by making it a little of everything.
Menu MBK, which stands for market, bistrobar and kitchen, is an ambitious blend of small boutique market, casual hangout space and exclusive chef’s tasting bar. It replaces De Pue’s seafood-centric Azur, which he opened only months prior in the space but quickly realized it wasn’t the right vibe for the location. The move showed he not only had the talent required to open a second restaurant within one year of his debut, but the savvy to know when to change course. Combine those attributes with De Pue’s extraordinary ability to combine homestyle cooking with high French sensibility and flair and you see how he’s been able to hit a sweet spot that D.C. foodies have craved.
At Menu, De Pue curates his first-floor market with a critical eye honed during his years as the executive chef for the European Commission Delegation ambassador. Visit the market to snap up the same locally grown produce De Pue uses at Menu and Table. As an environmental bonus, you’ll help the local food system with your patronage, as small farmers now have another outlet to sell their high-quality, low-quantity goods. Artisan foods and oils, beer and coffee are also available, as are charcuterie and breads. Not a cook? Grab a pork belly sandwich or a pre-made beef bourguignon or veal meatball meal to take home.
Upstairs you’ll find Kitchen, De Pue’s six-seat tasting extravaganza overlooking the cooking action. For two hours, you are treated to daily-changing bites of items such as sage-infused rabbit loin, beef with caramelized endive and foie gras carpaccio. Reservations are taken one month in advance and, with only two seatings each evening, have already caused more broken hearts than a search for Beyoncé tickets.
Not to worry if reservations at Kitchen aren’t in your future. Menu’s third and fourth floors offer both a sit-down bistro and a casual space with plush sofas, hanging plants and Wi-Fi, along with a culinary lineup filled with herb-roasted guinea hen, duck confit, and mussels with saffron rice. During the day, bring a sandwich and coffee from the market upstairs to the bistro. It offers an alternative office that’s far superior to any coffee shop — and not just because you can drop a little whiskey from the full bar into your java, either.
Photos Courtesy of Greg Powers