Mussels Mania, Volume 2
When Cafe Montrose split up, one party, Catherine Duwez, went to The Broken Spoke on Washington, and the other party, Jeannine Pettas, opened up Jeannine's Bistro. Having recently reviewed Broken Spoke ["Mussel Mania" November 26, 2009], I decided to give Jeannine's a shot. Because Cafe Montrose had a semi-cult following, naturally people are going to choose sides. Although the menu appears to be identical, the differences are bigger than the mussels they steam.
Jeannine's is located in a small strip center on Westheimer. As you walk in, the newness of the decor strikes you. The walls are filled with expensive artwork for sale (think five grand), and everything is shiny and clean.
I met up with a group of friends who had never been to Jeannine's on a Monday night. The six of us sat down in the dining room, and to start, we ordered some moules marinière and frites (mussels steamed in butter, white wine, celery and onion, served with french fries). Jeannine's serves the same variety of large mussels as The Broken Spoke: Mediterranean. I immediately ordered a Belgian Maredsous beer with a walloping 9.7 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). The moules looked exactly like the ones I had at The Broken Spoke. It is obviously the same recipe. The frites were especially good. In fact, I would go so far as to say they were better than those at TBS. Unfortunately, our server forgot the mayonnaise.
I ordered the entrecôte, a.k.a. a rib eye. You get a choice of béarnaise, poivre (peppercorn), mushrooms or Roquefort to top your steak. I went with the Roquefort, a French blue cheese made from sheep's milk that is aged in caves. It has a salty, stinky, tangy taste and huge, bluish-green veins running through it. One of my favorite cheeses, it especially goes well with steak.
My dinner companions ordered the Carbonnade Flamande, Flemish beef stew prepared with Chimay beer; the Waterzooi de Poulet, a Flemish-style creamy chicken stew; an Omelette Végétarienne with mushrooms, spinach, onions, olives and potatoes; and the Chicken à la Reine, a puff pastry filled with chicken and mushrooms in a creamy sauce. Some of my tablemates shared several of the dishes, but I couldn't wait for my juicy steak, with big chunks of stinky blue cheese, and another Maredsous.
My steak came to the table nicely charred on the outside, properly seasoned and cooked to perfect medium-rare, but the Roquefort arrived in the form of a sauce in a little metal gravy boat. I could understand crumbling it on top of the meat cold — or even broiled — but cooking it into a sauce? It made me wish I had ordered the béarnaise, a hollandaise-like sauce with tarragon.
Another order of frites came with my steak. Again, they were really good — hot, crispy and, this time, served with mayonnaise.
These are very traditional recipes that would probably make any beer-guzzling, cheese-sniffing Belgian feel right at home. I love this kind of stuff. Give me a juicy steak with some potatoes and a cold beer, and I am happy.
But my dinner companions were not that impressed with their entrées, finding the Flemish stews to be bland. I tried all of them, and I would agree. Most of them looked like a big plate of cream, and that just didn't drop anybody's panties here. The veggie omelet, which looked more like a frittata, open-faced and packed with potatoes and olives, was pretty tasty. I think everything was prepared well.
I ordered another beer and convinced everybody to order crepes for dessert. Crepes Casonades with brown sugar and melted butter — um, yeah! That's a no-brainer right there. We also ordered Crepes Normande, a caramelized apple crepe, which was really good. Some of our entrée plates might have been half full when the server took them off the table, but the crepe dishes were clean.
I would have licked the plate, but suddenly a strange smell came over the dinning room. It was very strong. Some of my tablemates had to cover their noses, it was so intense. I looked over my shoulder to see a group of diners who had just received five steaming pots of mussels. Those stinky little bivalves were like 30 feet away, too. I remembered it was Monday. Maybe they were serving mussels delivered on Saturday. What confused me was that the mussels marinière that we started with smelled fine. I would have sent them back if they'd smelled like that.
I would go back to Jeannine's and eat mussels, but I'd probably go on a Thursday or a Friday, and I'd ask the server if they are fresh. I'd also go back just for the frites and Maredsous — if I were in the neighborhood, that is. But The Broken Spoke is more my style. It's a less pretentious place with the same food. The feel is bohemian, and I would be more at home ordering a beer and a pot of mussels there. Still, I can see how a certain crowd would prefer Jeannine's. It's interesting to see how one restaurant split into two, and how they are so different yet the same.
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