Ninety percent of the time when owner Dustin Lara brings a hunk of melting cheese to one of a dozen or so tables in this narrow space of his, someone pulls out a phone. Be it stills or video, or another guest creeping over from their table to snap the scene—a metal utensil scraping the warm, oozing cheese slithering onto a plate of roasted potatoes, dressed arugula, cornichons and a must-add portion of charcuterie—raclette is worthy of this sort of attention.
Raclette, an Alpine cheese often melted and served as a performance, is the star, for now, of Brut, the facelift of the decade—old Grape + Bean in Old Town Alexandria. The former brand, of which Lara helped launch, now resides on the second floor for tastings and private events—and unchanged in its second location near Del Ray.
Brut specializes in Champagne and bubbles from regions outside of the famed French one, like Uruguay, Australia and South Africa. The lists of reds and whites are slim, curated and unusual: exactly what is expected of a wine bar by an industry vet.
Lara helped open Restaurant Eve (now-shuttered) and PX with Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong, and worked under heavyweights Danny Meyer in New York and Michelle Bernstein in Miami before returning to Northern Virginia and starting up again with the Armstrongs, already plotting a second Brut.
Opened last April with a sheet of dramatic floral wallpaper and a larger bar—eight more seats means a lot in a space this tight—Brut is slowly shedding Grape + Bean’s skin. A luxe truffled egg toast is still on the menu, but alarmingly, so were seasonal misfits (green pea pesto crostini, BLT with tomato confit), though as new crops arrive in spring, Lara will commit to changing the menu accordingly. Gambas al ajillo makes a tepid showing in heat, and a mountain of raw garlic doesn’t help. But, a bolognese, so often hefty, is sparing in its sauce on penne; it’s sophisticated and homey, light enough to not burden a flight of sparkling, which Lara will pour one at a time to ensure each glass remains chilled and fizzy.
Dessert is brought in for now, a rotating pie from local Acme Pie Co., and there’s probably not a better slice out there, and a few select pieces of cracked chocolate bars in exotic flavors like garam marsala from neighbor Kingsbury Chocolates plated with marcona almonds and dried fruits. Sip with whatever haunting dessert drink, maybe a port, Lara suggests. He hand-sells the glasses. It’s intimate here.
The beginning of this year promises more updates, more leaning into the wine bar aesthetic: Spanish and Portuguese tinned fish and a caviar platter with all the trimmings. But for those who just want more cheese: expect tartiflette, a bacon, potato and cheese casserole. Lest it sound low brow on paper, its origins are French, just like what’s in the glass. // Brut: 118 S. Royal St., Alexandria; Open for dinner daily; Small plates: $7-$12; large plates: $14-$17
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