Mussel Bar & Grille, Ballston

(See the Jan 23, 2011 Review here.)

Once more to Arlington. The mussels were very good. The beer was good, although I’m pretty sure my first glass was not what I ordered.

I had the opposite problem as agm: the beer and mussels were both very good, but the mussels were not what I ordered.

This evening, I went into the Ballston Mussel Bar & Grille, in the old Bob Peck Chevrolet building, on which they retained that classic diamond-rimmed arc, and even have a plaque on the sidewalk – many thanks to all involved for keeping some of the original character of that classic building. The bar is full of happy-hour activity from 5-7 PM, with notable – but not huge – discounts given on beer and wine – these prices are fairly expensive, so their discounted prices are still fairly substantial money-makers for them, especially given the added volume.

Sticking with drafts Troëgs Hopback Amber Ale ($5 at happy hour), I noticed that Mussel Bar had 108 bottles beers and 16 drafts (that is a *lot* of bottled beer!). The Hopback is not all that hoppy, in fact, the “Hops” take something of a “Back” seat (see what I did there?), and this is more of a Scottish Ale – amber-red, but lower in alcohol and even pleasantly mild, but having full flavor (it is, after all, brewed in Hershey, PA).

Also taking note of the $10 half-order of mussels happy hour specials for dinner, I got a half-order of Kennett Square Mushroom Mussels (usually $16), but the runner brought out a different prep: the White Wine Mussels (usually $15), and in retrospect, this was probably my fault; not theirs – he was looking around, trying to figure out whose order it was, and I flagged him down, and he put it in front of me. Well, I’m sorry someone else got my order, but I’m glad I got this – the broth is like a New England Clam Chowder: cream-based, with a *lot* of lemon, a half-head of soft, roasted garlic (sliced horizontally) resting in the bottom-center of the cast-iron skillet, parsley, and presumably some white wine, making for a delicious mussel broth. I made the decidedly foolish decision to try and count my mussels in this half-order to give diners some perspective, and gave up, deciding that there were about 50 mussels – over 4-dozen – and they were very tiny, each mollusk being the size of a large English pea, so the work involved in extracting and eating them was considerable, and even eating non-stop, it took me about 15-20 minutes to get through the order, not that I was complaining. I prefer small-sized shellfish in general, and while these were somewhat on the chew side, so what? For $10, this was a fantastic thing to order – a plate of about 5 slices of freshly heated bread showed up about ten minutes into my meal, and I immediately placed them into the broth to begin saturation, then flipped them after several minutes – they served as oyster crackers, and they served me well.

The only problem with this meal was the service – it’s a noise-box, just like so many other bomb shelters in North Arlington, and there were several distinct problems in communicating my needs – my second beer, for example, and when I finally got around to needing the check, I became The Invisible Man, having to wait several minutes before I even got any eye contact. It got to the point where I picked up my receipt, credit card in hand, and held it up to my chest so that anyone casting even the slightest glance would see the situation. I didn’t do this in any sort of aggressive fashion (I hate diners at bars who are aggressive in trying to get bartenders’ attention, essentially butting in line); but I decided it was the only way I’d be noticed, and even *that* didn’t work, as it took a couple of minutes even after assuming that position – the bartenders were off chatting with customers, or doing other things, and it was probably just a coincidence that nobody walked by during that seemingly interminable slice of time.

Nevertheless, I ordered according to the strength of this restaurant: happy-hour draft beer and happy-hour mussels, and so I got the biggest bang for the buck, rather than something another diner might find during non-happy-hour times and prices. My advice is to go here between 5-7 on weekdays, and order exactly what I did – you’ll be pleased. I turned down the slight up-sell of frites or sweet-potato fries, figuring the bread would be sufficient starch, and I was right – I also saw both the frites and sweet-potato fries on the way in, and they looked extremely greasy, and rather unappealing.

So you can consider this a good review of Mussel Bar & Grille, but also a review that happened to play into the restaurant’s strengths. Parking is readily available in the garage on either side of N. Glebe Road (but not the back side) for $2 an hour – the restaurant is right on the corner of N. Glebe Rd. and Wilson Blvd. – make sure to remember your ticket, as it’s an un-manned garage, and you’ll need to pay at the pay stations at the bottom of the elevators, which shoot you right up near the entrance of the restaurant, which, by the way, has a very pleasant patio on the N. Glebe Rd. side.

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