Sur La Place

Belgian
$$$$ ($14 and under)
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Editorial Review

Tom Sietsema wrote about Sur La Place for a December 2009 First Bite column.

Chimay bottles stand sentry at the door and double-decker pots flow from the kitchen. Throw in a small statue of a famous boy, um, "tinkling" near the bar and you've got another Belgian restaurant to try, in this case, Sur La Place in the Palisades.

Mussels are the obvious draw. They're served by the kilo in those practical pots, whose covers are used to collect empty shells. Which flavor to get? Diners face a choice of nearly 20 sauces for their steamed mussels, from the traditional white wine, onion and herbs (mariniere) to lobster bisque and brandy ("snob," Sur La Place calls the combination). The version we pick lives up to its billing: The brick-colored Red Devil packs a wallop with harissa and horseradish. Like all the mussel pots here, it costs $20 and comes with tasty french fries.

All the Belgian standbys are present and accounted for on the menu, which includes a beer-enriched beef stew, a waterzooi of seafood, and stoemp, a side dish shaped from mashed root vegetables. Read familiar? Et Voila! across the street serves much the same food. As it turns out, Sur La Place is a spinoff of the popular Mannequin Pis in Olney. Both restaurants are owned by Loren Gomes, who installed Samuel Encarnacion in the new kitchen. He is one of two cooks, brothers from Peru, who learned their craft from the original owner of Mannequin Pis, Bernard Dehaene, and have been cooking Belgian for years now.

Sur La Place is made cozy with lots of exposed brick, lots of red paint, wood floors and heavy silk draperies separating front from back in the very long, 88-seat restaurant. The aforementioned statue, a replica of the famous "pissing boy" fountain near Brussels's Grand Place, is a nod to Sur La Place's roots and its sibling in Maryland.

We had to ask Gomes: How does she think Et Voila! feels about a direct competitor moving into the neighborhood? She says staff members from the older venue have been in twice since Sur La Place opened in mid-November. When he dropped by for dinner, Claudio Pirollo, the executive chef, asked her whether anyone in her kitchen was from Belgium.

It was meant as a compliment, she says -- and he confirms.

Entrees, $ 20-$30.

(Dec. 16, 2009)