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Published by Mark Martin
Brunch review published in Cuizine Magazine in 2006
Brunch review published in Cuizine Magazine in 2006

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Published by: Mark Martin on Sep 04, 2009
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Brennan's of Houston
3300 Smith StHouston , TX 77006
BRENNAN'S—a case for the classics.BY M. MARTIN Nestled on a side street on the border between Montrose andMidtown, you can find a secluded oasis of old-school charm andold-south fine dining. The original Brennan's restaurant in NewOrleans was a pioneer of the 'brunch' concept, serving "Breakfast atBrennan's" as far back as the early Fifties. When Brennan's of Houston opened in the late Sixties, the parent restaurant had alreadyestablished a reputation throughout The South for world-classcontinental cuisine with an authentic touch of Gulf Coast Creole class.Brennan's of Houston carried that reputation forward, rapidly becomingone of Houston's premiere places to dine, see, and be seen. Forty years later, Houston has a wealth of dining choices and culinarystyles. Even so, Brennan's has retained its aura of old-schoolclass—and continues to earn its reputation as one of Houston's finestrestaurants. When we arrived, it was noon on Sunday. Since the parking valetswere busy trying to determine what to do with a recently arrived tour bus, my companion and I opted to park on the street and enjoy thebrief walk to the restaurant. Stepping through the front door was likestepping back to a time when fine dining meant continental cuisineand very little else, especially in a sleepy little oil-patch town likeHouston. It was a time of tuxedo-liveried waiters, starched white tableclothes, darkly paneled dining rooms, and lavish sauces that didn'tcare what sort of diet you thought you were on. Brennan's has retainedthe décor and the tuxedos, and only mildly tempered the sauces.Wisely so, I think.We began, as always, with the beverage menu—in this case, entitled"New Orleans Eye Openers". Brennan's serves a number of 'classiccocktails', as well as a few modern recipes and a small butimpressive assortment of champagne cocktails. We opted to start
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Saffron Moroccan CuisineTacos A Go-GoTart CafeTe House of TeaThe Lodge at Bayou BendTTR Wine CafeZula
with the "Cafe Adelaide Mint Julep Moderne" from the modern cocktailselection and the "French 75" from the champagne cocktail selection.Beyond being served in a martini glass instead of the traditional silver cup, it is difficult to determine what exactly is "moderne" aboutBrennan's mint julep. It is simply the traditional mixture of mint syrup,bourbon, and water, done well and garnished with enough mint tomake a mojito on the side. The "French 75" is named after a WWI fieldgun. The original recipe called for gin, apple brandy and absinthe--andprobably deserved the comparison to an artillery piece. The principalingredients in Brennan's more refined version are Mont Marçal CavaReserva and cognac. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine noted for itsdryness, which played well in this cocktail. A lemon twist helpedaccentuate the dryness, and made this a bracing and refreshing drink.A bread course was brought to the table shortly after our drinks,consisting of two items: a dinner roll leavened with bits of pepper andwhat appeared to be bacon, and a small muffin flavored with applesand cinnamon. As a happy accident, I discovered that the muffinpaired quite well with my mint julep. For appetizers, we ordered the Creole Apple Pecan Salad and theCrab Ravigote on Fried Green Tomato. Ravigote is a classic Frenchwhite veloute sauce that has been seasoned with aromatic herbs.Traditional herbs include chives and tarragon, but the version hereseems to include a hint of mustard as well. The crab meat had beensteamed to a tender consistency that went well with the slightly piquantsauce. The fried green tomato base added crunchy texture and anelement of sweetness. The Creole Apple Pecan Salad consisted of mixed greens garnished with spiced pecan pieces and baconcrumbles, under a creamy dressing made with local honey andbalsamic vinegar. The dressing was far and away the best part of thesalad, turning fairly ordinary mixed greens into something savory andnoteworthy. As an additional appetizer, we order the "Soups 1-1-1"; a trio of demitasse servings of the house gumbo, the turtle soup, and the soupdu jour--in this case, a poblano pepper-tortilla soup. The turtle soup isa Brennan's signature, to which a dash of dry sherry is added at thetable. It is a rich and complex dish. Supposedly, there are sevendistinct flavors within the meat from a turtle. Considering the simplicityof the other main ingredients in turtle soup—tomato puree, onions,celery, parsley—I do not doubt it. Gumbo is, of course, equally asignature for any restaurant that traces it roots to New Orleans. In thiscase, the standout elements are the richness of the roux and thequality of the andouille sausage. The tortilla soup was an interestingtake on a southwestern cuisine classic—much creamier thanstandard clear-broth tortilla soup recipes, deliciously spiced with thesmoky warmth of poblano pepper. At this point, we decided to order another round of cocktails, this timemaking selections from the "classic cocktail" portion of the menu. In a
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nice piece of synchronicity, the drinks showed up just as the live jazzcombo started their set. This time around, we had ordered the"Hemingway Daiquiri" and the "Brandy Crusta". The Daiquiri consistedof gold rum, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit juice and lime juice. It wasvery sweet and very strong. The brandy crusta contained maraschinoliqueur as well, as well as brandy and triple sec. The 'crusta' in thename refers to the sugar crystal rim on the glass when it is served.Although it has traces of sweetness as well, it is a far more balancedcocktail than the daiquiri. Shortly after, our entrees arrived-- Gulf Coast Crab Cakes for mycompanion, Texas Venison Croquettes for me. In both cases,poached egg figured prominently and well. The crab cakes had aneasy, handmade construction—very appealing, given the freshnessand the quality of the ingredients. Pan-seared to nice golden crust andpiquant with a mere hint of red pepper, these were very definitely "gulf coast" crab cakes, much lively than the east-coast original. Servedatop a wilted spinach salad with bacon dressing, the crab cakeswould've been more than adequate by themselves.The venison sausage croquettes arrived flanking a trio of asparagusspears beneath a healthy portion of very fresh fruit chutney. Thecroquettes themselves each supported a poached egg, which in turnwas covered with an extremely savory "Mustard Creole Hollandaise".The venison sausage in the croquettes was of exceptionalquality—big, vibrant chunks of venison, with a leanness that wouldseem dry in any setting other than these extremely moist and crisplyfried croquettes. I found myself singling out the larger chunks of deer meat so I could dip them in the chutney, then using the asparagusspears to chase down every last bit of hollandaise sauce. All in all, itwas a very successful dish. After that, dessert and coffee. For myself, the Creole Bread PuddingSoufflé; for my companion, the Sorbet Medley. My souffle tasted likeone of my mom's old bread puddings—that is, assuming after thatpudding had died and gone to heaven. The comforting taste of theclassic southern dessert was there in all its homespun glory—but asan elegantly light soufflé, deliciously complimented by a creamy saucefortified with rye whiskey. The Sorbet Trio included raspberry, melon,and lime, served on what the menu described as an "almond tulipshell"--essentially a bowl-sized ice cream cone made of a thin basketweave of almond-flavored candy-glazed pastry. Served with freshberries, the sorbets were a nicely light finishing note for a meal of almost decadent richness. The summation: Brennan's continues to display the classic elementsof continental cuisine and creole sensibility that made both the NewOrleans and Houston restaurants Gulf Coast legends, in a whitetablecloth and tuxedo setting little changed from The Sixties. At thesame time, the menu displays small grace notes of contemporaryhipness and an awareness of the value of local and regional
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