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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dario's Brasserie - Omaha, NE

posted by snekse
I like beer. Dario likes beer. I like Dario.

Well, to tell the truth, I only met him briefly, but he seemed like a nice enough guy. And I figure a person who quits a perfectly good job so he can open his own restaurant because he "wanted to do more beers" is okay in my book. Oh, and he makes pretty good food too.

Dario's Brasserie is located in the heart of Dundee on the Northeast corner of 50th & Underwood. Parking is limited, so unless you get lucky, plan on walking a block or two. Also, if you have your heart set on dining on a Friday or Saturday night, call ahead to make a reservation. They are enjoying a fair amount of popularity at the moment, so walking in at 6:30 may mean you're going to wait awhile for a table. You do have the option of eating at the bar located in the back of the restaurant, but with less than a dozen barstools, you'll be playing the odds.

Aside from the sidewalk chalkboard, the outside of the storefront is fairly nondescript with large blank windows and an uninspired red awning. As you enter, you are greeted to a space more welcoming. For some reason the contrast reminds me of Mikado Japanese Restaurant in Oakland. Nothing fancy, but a good warm local neighborhood feel.

The restaurant is about 3 times as deep as it is wide. Unlike most restaurants, the bar and waiting area are located in the back. I think it makes sense in this case to make the best use of the front windows. The entire restaurant is a little dark, so combined with the French(-ish) menu, I think it feels a little more upscale than the owner wanted it to. From what I understand, the original plan was to have a family oriented place. The lighting, beer selection and food descriptions seem to suggest otherwise.

Not that I'm complaining about any of this. Honestly, I think "upscale" is a misnomer in this case. It is very much the epitome of a Brasserie, or at least what I would like to imagine a true French Brasserie is like. I like to think the French do food right, no matter what the setting. A country where eating mussels is as common as eating chicken nuggets is in the States. And beer or wine, as long as it's good, goes well with everything and anything. So for me, Dario's fits right in with my romanticized view of one of those places you go to specifically for good beer and interesting food, but as you begin to unwind, the food and drink become an after thought. So you're really there because it's a place you and your friends feel comfortable sitting for hours ordering a constant stream of food and drinks while you ramble on endlessly about pointless, but riveting topics.

Did I mention I like beer?

So what makes for good beer and interesting food? Well to begin with, offer me something that I can't find at a well stocked grocery store. This means something beyond Fat Tire, Anchor Steam or Pete's Wicked Ale. Not that those beers are bad, but if it's on Old Chicago's beer list, then I've probably had it before. Same goes for the food. Give me something I can't find at Fill In The Blank Bistro. It doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to taste good.

And how does Dario's do in living up to these goals?

The beer list focuses on Belgian beers not commonly found in the area, though the lack of selection beyond that style is a bit disappointing. Not being very familiar with the Belgian styles, let alone the breweries, can make the list a little intimidating. Thankfully they have fairly accurate descriptions listed for each beer. You do have to be a bit strategic in your ordering though. These beers are much higher in alcohol content than American beers and most are sold only in 750ml bottles. So even though a 750ml bottle may seem like only two regular bottles, it's impact is closer to four.

The beer I had was a bit of a surprise winner for the night. I'm a bit partial to dark malty beers, so I ordered a 750ml bottle of Urthel Vlaemse Bock - the description of which sounded the closest to what I tend to enjoy. It was served in a wide mouthed goblet which prompted me to notice at least 5 different styles of beer specific glassware on hand - very cool. The beer had a nice dark, yet slightly reddish mahogany color and a distinct fruit aroma. This made me a bit worried. I can't honestly recall a fruity beer I've enjoyed. Luckily this drank much differently. It was an enjoyable hearty beer with a hint of spice, perfect for the frigid weather outside. It's flavors were complex, but I found some great tasting notes on and the indispensable Beer Advocate.

To go with the beer and the weather, I was looking forward to ordering the pheasant ragu with mushrooms on fresh fettuccine. Unfortunately they were out of that for the night, so I decided to give the Shepherd's Pie with Duck a chance. I was certainly not disappointed. It was *perfect* for the weather and went very well with the beer. It was pure comfort food. As a matter of fact, everything placed on our table was comfort food. Comfort food winner of the night: Mussels with blue cheese and bacon in a white wine sauce served with a large cone of pommes frites (yes, I consider mussels comfort food). Oh, and almost everything on their menu is served with frites.

This unique country French cuisine was a welcomed change from what is normally available in Omaha, though I admit I'm not sure I would have pegged all of the dishes as French in origin. One thing that struck me about Dario's menu is that the beer, not the food, seems to be the focus. It's almost as if the beers were selected first, then food was chosen to be paired with the beers so carefully selected. So central is this passion that beer is even an ingredient in more than a handful of dishes, including a beer float dessert!

Brasserie, not Bistro

So, again, how does Dario's do in living up to these goals?

Not bad, not bad at all. Quite well actually, if you are evaluating everything in the context of a brasserie. Nothing was really a complete knock out, but there were several items we tried that came close enough to make a trip back worthwhile. And like I said, it's really a place that I would visit because I was already planning on going out with friends and we just wanted a place where we could kick back, scarf some mussels and pommes frites, while lubing our gab boxes with some fine Belgian beer.

My only complaint for the evening was service. It was horrid. I'll give the place the benefit of the doubt - maybe it was just not our server's night, but keep your ears open about what others are saying regarding the service. I can't possibly imagine the place would still be open if every guest was busing their own table like our table did. Again, I'm giving them a free pass here.

[**UPDATE**] I just wanted to say that we've been back to Dario's many times since we did this original review and the service has improved greatly.

Rating: 87

Dario's Brasserie - Make a Reservation: (402) 933-0799
Dundee at 50th & Underwood

4920 Underwood Ave. (map)
Omaha, NE 68132
Phone: (402) 933-0799

Hours of Operation
Monday - Saturday: 11:30am - 3pm; 5:50pm - 10pm
Sunday: CLOSED

Dario's Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Foodies of Omaha visit Darios
FOOD @ Dario's Brasserie
Dario's adding panache to casual, comfort foods
The Omaha World Herald
Chef Chat: Schicke whips up Belgian, French fare
The Omaha World Herald
Dundee’s Double Dipper
The Omaha Weekly Reader
Flickr Photo Set
Dario's Brasserie - Omaha, NE
Dario Schicke discusses sous vide cooking

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