Monday, May 12, 2008

Bello Brio

Last year, I read that Cafe Brio had installed a charcuterie room, and have been eager to try their new offerings since. On Friday, I finally had the chance. I was impressed with Brio from the start. My wife and I had decided to go out at the last minute and had phoned a couple of restaurants for a reservation late in the evening. This turned out to be a frustrating experience, until I phoned Brio. The amicable maitre d' was on top of his game and told me right away when we would be able to get a table. He gave us a warm welcome when we arrived and seated us in one of the restaurant's semi-private alcoves. Although we had glanced at the menu online, it still took us a while to make some choices given the number of offerings. In the end, we ordered a wide variety of foods starting with the charcuterie. Although the Lomo and Pork and Foie Gras Paté failed to really impress, the Duck Prosciutto reached the stars. The smooth textured duck-meat and supple layers of fat melted in my mouth and released a harmony of flavours: the curing process had diminished any overt gaminess without obstructing the meat's richness. The Lomo on the other hand was burdened by brine and the fennel hardly noticeable, although some essence of pork did linger on the palate. In the paté also, any distinct meat flavour was relegated to a faint cognisance.

Then the stodgy, but efficient, waiter brought the next course. My wife's Potato Leek Soup met the high standard set by the duck. The truffle oil petite frites burst with flavour and heightened the vegetables' flavour. My Warm Goat Cheese and Guanciale was satisfactory and would have been greatly improved if the endives were fresher and the goat cheese richer (the bread coating rendered the cheese nondescript). Despite the bland endives and goat cheese, the dark honey, pears, and salad made a winning combination that I'll be trying out at home. My wife's Dungeness Crab Frittata was a nice take on the traditional crab cake.

Next came the pasta. My wife's Game Bird Ravioli was outstanding. She had ordered it in hopes of re-experiencing the exquisite chicken liver pates we'd discovered on our trips to Italy, and was not disappointed. I was delighted with my Beet and Ricotta Canneloni, but the dish was a little weighty, so a half-order would have been better. We also shared the Asparagus Fritters; these were battered in tempura and fried. Delicious! On the whole the wine pairings were good and we generally followed the recommendations; however, when I did ask some questions I felt my waiter to be less knowledgeable than I would have generally expected (perhaps, he was a little too dependent on the sommelier's printed recommendations). By this time the kids were expected to be getting back home, so we headed off. Much is left for us to discover on future visits, such as the Lamb Proscuitto, Cured Marinated Sardines and the Grana Padano Crusted Rockfish. Cafe Brio is not perfect, but it is enjoyable. On each of our visits we have always left with at least one indelible memory; many years ago it was the horseradish encrusted halibut, but this time it's the duck proscuitto. Bon appétit.

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