Monday, April 24, 2017

B&O Brasserie Spring Menu

When Chef Scott Hines took over from his predecessor Mike Ransom, there was a bit of a transitional period in terms of the B&O Brasserie menu. With the new spring menu, Chef Hines has revamped the entire lineup. focusing on familiar favorites with sophisticated refinements and getting back to the true mission of a brasserie. To that end, you will find the burgers, steaks, and salads that you would expect in a brasserie alongside more adventurous items like sweetbreads and quail. Also, the daily specials--fried chicken, pot roast, meatloaf--have a homey quality that should attract diners looking for comfort foods.

We were excited to get an opportunity to try out some of the new offerings.

Of course, we always have to start with an exotic cocktail from the wildly creative mixologist Brendon Dorr and his crew. Rabbit's Revenge, with flavors of gin, carrot, and beet, is reminiscent of a Bloody Mary, and would be lovely with a big fat shrimp or two perched on the rim. The Rook's Return is a refreshing cocktail using Ford's Gin; it reminded us of pickle brine with a floral aspect. That description might turn some people off, but it's actually delicious.

I certainly experienced a flash of nostalgia when I ate the salmon tartare. It reminded me a bit of the salmon mousse that my Aunt Kay always served for holiday parties. While salmon mousse is typically made with canned salmon, the tartare, a simple yet elevated dish, is made with fresh raw salmon mixed with tiger sauce (mayo and horseradish). The feather-weight, crispy salt and pepper crackers provide the perfect vehicle for the tartare. Even the Minx liked it and she is not a fan of raw salmon.

For some reason that escapes us, many people are turned off by sweetbreads. I think it's just the idea of eating the glands of an animal, but going on taste alone, they are tender and mild. (The Minx likes to think that the phrase "tastes like chicken" came about because of sweetbreads.) At the B&O, they are drizzled with a completely unexpected ancho and bourbon barbeque sauce with some straight-off-the-grill smokiness. The dish also has a scallion cornbread for a contrasting texture.

Chef Hines's sous chef Tyler Johnson once worked at Wolfgang Puck's Italian restaurant, so he has quite a few tricks up his sleeve when it comes to Italian cooking. He has strong influence over the pastas and sauces at the B & O and his rich Sunday gravy is excellent. It has great depth of flavor, as if Grandma was cooking it all day, and is the perfect accompaniment to the tender beef, mortadella, and foie gras meatballs. Now it might seem odd to add fancy bologna and duck liver to meatballs, and I couldn't really taste them specifically. They're mostly there to add unctuousness. The Minx was all over this dish and would love to make it at home.

The lamb rib appetizer is braised in gin for a long time, and the constant reduction of the sauce coats them in a rich glaze that shines like glass. The apricot yogurt accompaniment cuts the meaty intensity with its fruity sweetness and the pea salad brings acidity and crunch.

The Minx loves carrots for some reason, so she was insistent about having the smoked carrot agnolotti with morels, onions, and peas in a simple butter sauce as her entree. This dish of tender pasta filled with a cream-enriched puree of mesquite-smoked carrots may be the vegetarian entree on the menu, but we carnivores found it immensely satisfying. The combination of smoke and mushrooms made up for the absence of meat. More restaurants should offer such well-thought-out meatless options.

As a pasta person, I really wanted to order this too, but we had to try as many dishes as we could so....

My entree was the crispy black sea bass in a spicy boullabaisse with potatoes and confit tomatoes. Crusty bread with rouille is a traditional accompaniment to a fish stew like this, and the B & O doesn't skimp with their coating of the garlicky sauce. Be careful with this; the flavors of garlic and saffron are pretty intense and can linger in your mouth for some time, so if you don't want so much rouille, feel free to scrape it off. As for the bass, it was perfectly cooked with a lovely crisp skin and silky smooth flesh, and the broth was spicy but mellow.

As if that wasn't enough food, we sampled three desserts.

The B&O Oreos, chocolate cookies sandwiching creamy marshmallow filling, are served two to an order. That would be plenty, but it also comes with a large bar of peanut butter mousse encased in chocolate along with several dots of creme anglaise on the plate. It's almost like one dessert to eat there (the mousse) and one dessert to take home (the cookies).

If not a trend, elevated versions of humble s'mores have become a frequent feature on many dessert menus. This particular version takes the unique approach of sandwiching toasted marshmallow flavored ice cream in between house-made graham crackers. A pool of chocolate sauce and some actual toasted marshmallow completes the flavor profile. The ice cream is really subtle, and I recommend that you try a few bites without the cracker to notice its toasty flavors.

Possibly our favorite dessert of the evening was the buttermilk pie with blackberry jam ice cream. The sweet lemony pie has the consistency of thick custard, and the blackberries provided a tangy counterpoint. The ice cream is served on a bed of feuilletine bits, which keep it from sliding all over the plate and also add a crisp texture.

It's a special treat to go to the B&O Brasserie because, while the food has evolved over time, it's always inventive and offers new taste sensations. I think Chef Hines is on an especially smart track with this new menu, blending the familiar with the exotic and evoking taste memories while creating new ones at the same time.

B&O Brasserie
2 North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland, 21201

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