Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Winter Restaurant Week: Brasserie Tatin

Baltimore’s first winter edition of Restaurant Week started yesterday, February 5th, a day that was a veritable food orgy for me. Or could have been. You see, I had lunch with three friends at Ze Mean Bean, a “Slavic fusion” café in Fells Point. Knowing I had a dinner reservation for Brasserie Tatin, I wisely limited myself to a bowl of their excellent borscht and to nibbling on the hriby dip, salad, pierogies, and placki (potato pancakes) ordered by the other ladies. Oh, and the apple pie and chocolate mousse cake too. Ze Mean Bean has a number of interesting things on their menu, besides the Polish/Ukranian foods I grew up with, and I really should get there for dinner sometime.

But back to Restaurant Week. Neal and I have decided to try two places we’ve never been to before. First off was Brasserie Tatin, the French restaurant in the former Jeannier’s space at the Broadview apartments on 39th Street.

We had an 5pm reservation, because we like to eat early (although with my lunch, we could have eaten at 6) and were the first persons in the restaurant. The space, decorated in orange and turquoise, is much livelier and certainly more colorful than the somewhat stuffy and old-fashioned Jeannier’s. We were given the Restaurant Week menu along with the regular menu and wine list, plus a supplementary list of wines available by the glass. We stuck to the RW menu and Neal chose: Carpaccio de Canard (carpaccio of duck breast with orange/vanilla glaze & a warm truffle & frisée salade); Feuilletté de Saumon Grillé (grilled salmon on puff pastry topped with lobster mousse & beurre rouge); and the Marjolaine Le Bec Fin (layers of chocolate mousse, hazelnut buttercream & chocolate ganache). I had the soupe du jour, a crab bisque; the Poulet Rôti & Pommes Frites (roasted chicken served in a rich brown sauce reduction with French Fries & seasonal vegetables); and Tatin’s signature Tarte Tatin, served with caramel sauce, house made green apple sorbet and crème fraiche. We chose a $30 2005 Pinot Noir “Les Vins du Moulin” from Burgundy to accompany the meal.

We entertained ourselves with the bread basket while waiting for the appetizers. Unfortunately, there was only insanely crunchy baguette to be had, impossible to eat without leaving a pile of crumbs on the butter dish, the tablecloth, and oneself. Our appetizers arrived after a short wait. My crab bisque was a dark orange concoction capped with snowy crabmeat. I mentally compared it to the best crab bisque I have ever eaten, that of Fells Point restaurant Louisiana, a decadent delight, full of crab flavor and, I imagine, thickened only with heavy cream. Tatin’s bisque was probably roux-thickened, so it was heartier, and although it had a lovely seafood flavor, I couldn’t swear that it was crab I tasted. The crabmeat garnish was generous, however, and there was the delightful crisp texture of fresh corn kernels in the soup.

Neal’s carpaccio was a Spartan affair: five or six microscopically thin slices of duck breast, seared along the edges and raw in the middle, each no bigger than the top joint of a man’s thumb. The duck was glazed with an interesting orange and vanilla sauce, somewhat like a creamsicle but better than one might think, and topped with a teaspoonful of frisee in a truffle vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was nice, but I didn’t like the texture of the frisee. I think microgreens might have been a better choice, or baby arugula. Frisee is too hard to chew, and too spiky to accompany the extremely delicate duck. I would call this is a real money-making dish for a restaurant. Most places could charge $8 - $9 for what is approximately $0.36 of food. Sliced that thin, a single duck breast could fill 10 – 12 orders, easily.

There was a much longer wait for the entrees. Neal’s salmon, which we figured to be “en croute” proved to be resting on a triangle of puff pastry and garnished by another. It was tender and delicious, with a nice lemony-ness, and the beurre rouge had a somewhat sweet caramelized flavor that reminded Neal of the vanilla orange sauce on the duck. There was also some lobster mousse on the fish that I didn’t get to taste, but apparently it didn’t have all that much flavor. Either that, or the salmon and citrus flavors were too strong to match well.

My chicken dish consisted of three pieces: a small leg, thigh, and partial breast, roasted with herbs under the skin and garnished with haricots verts. The skin was crisp and the breast was perfectly cooked (the other pieces got doggie-bagged). The frites, however, were a bit too dark and crunchy for my tastes, as if they had been thrice rather than twice fried. They came in a separate bowl, which was awkward on the small tables, and our very tall waiter asked if I wanted ketchup or mustard with them. Mustard? Wouldn’t mayo have been more appropriate?

Desserts were impressive. I have loved tarte tatin since I was a little girl. Dad used to buy them from Patisserie Poupon fairly regularly, and I was enamored of their decadent buttery quality and the melting softness of the apples. Tatin’s tatin wasn’t as unctuous as the tartes from my past, but it was lovely: a generous slice, garnished by a pool of homemade caramel sauce, and a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream, rather than the promised apple sorbet, and no crème fraiche. It was also bruleed a bit, as there was a crunchy topcoat to the apples. Overall, there was a fresher, less-caramelized quality to this tatin, different, yet quite delicious. Neal’s marjolaine was equally delicious, the combination of chocolate mousse and hazelnut buttercream reminding me a bit of our wedding cake. My only complaint is that perhaps it was served a bit too cold.

The pinot noir we chose went perfectly with both entrees, and even the dessert course. I was a bit annoyed, however, when I overheard another waitress give a special “19 for $19” wine list to a nearby table. Why we were not offered the same list I do not know. Our waiter, although attentive, seemed a little out of it, and that may have had something to do with it. I have heard that the service at Brasserie Tatin is pretty shaky most of the time. Not an excuse, however, when there are so few customers in the place.

Later this week: True

Brasserie Tatin on Urbanspoon

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