Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Beers and burgers (and salad) at BXL

Last night after work I met up with my brother and our friend Lawrence, also known as the NYC Food Guy (http://www.nycfoodguy.com/), for dinner at BXL. BXL is a Belgium beer house/restaurant on West 43rd Street, just off 7th Ave. Because of its proximity to my office, it's the go-to after-work drinks spot for my colleagues. Aside from its enormous selection of Belgian beers, both bottled and on tap, BXL is known for its fries (or "frites," if we're being fancy about it, which we are). So I plugged the place to Lawrence, who is all about the fries, and soon we and the bro were off to BXL.

The oh-so-Belgian facade of BXL

Inside, BXL is dark. In nice weather, they open up the front windows so the few tables in front of the bar get some light, but most of the seating is past the bar in the dark, dark bowels of the building. Yes, I'm breaking my rule to only go to restaurants that have ample lighting so my pictures turn out well. What can I say? BXL and NYCFoodGuy had to meet.

The darkened cavern that is BXL

The three of us settled in at a table in the corner of the dining area. Aside from being dark, the space is dominated by a large mirror running the length of the one of the walls, which reflects the images of the TVs constantly playing European soccer matches, presumably Belgian soccer, assuming there's a lot of soccer in Belgium. The walls also have a few prints dotting the blank spaces, providing a bit of whimsical artwork to brighten the mood (figuratively, that is. Did I mention it's dark in there?).

We spent a while grappling with the food and beer menus. My brother ordered a Hoegaarden, which they didn't have, so the friendly waitress recommended another beer (Ommegang), which both he and Lawrence ordered. I got a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Yes, it's weird to order wine at a beer house, but a) I don't like beer, and b) their Sauvignon Blanc is actually pretty good.

Extensive selections of both food (left) and beer (right, also double-sided)

Wine and beer

Drinks in hand, we looked over the menu. The waitress gave us ample time to decide, and when she returned, I ordered the house salad (surprise!), while both Lawrence and my brother went for the cheeseburger. For the bro, cheddar cheese; for the NYCFoodGuy, American cheese with extra-crispy bacon.

While the kitchen got to work, I requested a bread basket. I consider the BXL bread basket more of a stopgap measure than anything gourmet; it's great when you've had some wine and need to absorb it, but on its own merits it's nothing special. The basket comes with thick slices of white bread and some slightly less-white bread-- looks like it's trying to be wheat bread, but I'll be damned if there's any whole grain in that puppy. There was also a small dish of ice cold pats of butter. Kudos to BXL for their powers of refrigeration... but Lawrence and I warmed our pats over the small candle for a moment or two to try to soften them. We were only sort of kidding.

Bread: white in back, not-quite-wheat in front

Right on the tail of the bread basket, our food arrived. First up: my salad. Standard mesclun greens with a few wedges of tomato, coated in a delicious creamy vinaigrette dressing. I supplemented with the discarded garnishes from the burgers (more tomatoes and greens), and that, some bread, and some stolen fries provided a good meal.

A tangle of greens

The burgers, of course, were a different story. Hand-packed and grilled, according to the manager, they arrived on large plates next to a small mountain of fries, accompanied by a grilled bun, a dish of mayo (for the fries... again, Belgium), some garnishes of lettuce, tomato, and red onion, and tiny mound of side-salady mesclun. The cheese was well-melted, and even to a vegetarian, these burgers looked good. Hey, I understand carnivores, I'm just not one. Some shots of these masterpieces-- I used flash on the burgers, upon the urging of NYCFood Guy ("Be obnoxious!"):

Cheeseburger with cheddar, behind fortress of fries

There's the "well-done" bacon in the back. It was really crispy.

Burger in progress

While Lawrence busily photographed his burger (stay tuned for his post on the experience), the bro and I got to work on our food. I munched on my greens and stole the occasional fry. A word on BXL frites: they're good. Really good. And I'm a bit disappointed in last night because they weren't piping hot-- when they're fresh out of the fryer, they're irresistible. Crunchy, just thick enough, and dusted with large specks of sea salt (although I always add more of my own), they're tiny little sticks of potatoey goodness, perfect by themselves, although some prefer to dip them in the pots of ketchup (definitely Heinz, my brother noted) provided on the table. My two companions definitely went to town with the ketchup, both for the burgers and the fries, and when they exhausted the small jar at our table, a new supply was brought out immediately upon request.

We ate, drank, and talked, and soon the food was gone. Our plates were cleared quickly, but it's worth noting that our waitress let us linger for as long as we wanted, even after it became clear that we weren't going to order anything else. It's a bit loud inside BXL, but it's a great place just to hang out, chat, and linger over a drink.

A note on the bathrooms, as always: The women's bathroom at BXL is cold. There's not really much else to say except that-- it's really cold in there, as though there's a window open to the outside or some sort of cross-ventilation, even though it's tucked in the interior of the restaurant. Ladies, go to BXL; pee; see for yourself.

I must say, I'm fond of BXL. Perhaps it's because I've had a lot of good times there with colleagues, but the food is always good, the drinks are delicious, and the atmosphere is fun. Sure, the service sometimes is a bit iffy, but the waiters do wear cool softball-jersey-style "BXL Cafe" shirts. But you're there for the people you're with, and for the fries (I hope I can get NYCFoodGuy to return for an order of piping-hot fries so he can see exactly what I'm talking about). We met the manager on the way out, who proudly discussed the construction of their burgers with Lawrence for a few moments. It was clear he felt good about the place he was running, and I do too. For all these factors, I give BXL a solid Three Offset Spatula rating.

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