Thursday, May 1, 2008

NJ restaurant- Brandl's in Belmar

Brandl’s gives fresh thought to upscale American fare(photos courtesy of Brandl.)

Posing 9th Ave courtyard reflections in their expansive, display windows (engaging in the summer, but drafty in the winter), Brandl’s converted storefront has earned its place as a staple on every one of my NJ visits. Surviving almost a decade in Belmar’s seasonal, shore community, Chris Brandl’s clairvoyant ability to dictate food trends has earned him a little Manhattan in downtown Belmar. The only catch – this posh cuisine includes a pompous attitude at a big price. Is it worth patronizing a place that patronizes you, solely for the food? For me, this one is.

The intimate layout was drunk in with a quick gulp (deep scarlet walls spattered with artwork and thick, upholstered drapes.) Our welcome by the wooden maitre d’, who’s icy greeting extended from host to server in slow winter months, proved colder than any window draft.

The Iceman cometh to pop our cork (BYOB, now also offer wine) and curtly recite dinner specials, as warm bread wafted like silent apologies from the busboy’s basket. Further reparations were made with the deconstructed Caesar salad, where whole Romaine leaves were grilled and rather than wilting, bloomed in rich, smoky contrast to oven-roasted tomatoes lining the plate. Garlic soaked dressing and large shards of parmesan interpreted this translation of a classic into my tongue’s fluent favorite (#1 Caesar pick nationwide).

A structurally sound tower of tuna tartar and avocado brought the house down with wasabi crème fraiche and citrus soy additions power-washing the palate.
My crab-cakes runneth over with lump crabmeat and the mango chutney with cilantro oil (caramelized shallots with whole grain honey mustard in winter) gave complexity to these miniature morsels without masking the star (side photo).

Threads of the familiar wove through upscale entrees beginning with the Lazy Lobster, aptly named for incapacitating its victim by arriving de-shelled and ready for feasting. Succulent jewels of claw and tail meat plumped beneath a velvet carpet of asparagus risotto finished with cream and vanilla- so rich, it left me feeling like royalty (It’s good to be the king.) A few succulent bites were all that could be scavenged from two teeny lamb chops, but size didn’t matter when it came to this positive portrayal that extracted all of the lamb’s essence without leaving an overpowering tang. Their petite nature was further forgiven with the billowy, tartness of a goat cheese/caramelized onion cake that rounded out the dish.

For a walk on the “wild side” (literally) we ventured for wild boar chops (top photo), whose distict pungency was softened by wild mushrooms, crispy gnocchi and a touch of truffle honey. I could get used to this game. Kona crusted buffalo tenderloin reflected adventurous ambition, but the coffee coating surrounding the tender meat wasn’t my cup of Joe.

Dessert time chimed with tiramisu and its delicate layers of cream followed by the subtle punch of espresso, soaked cake- a pleasure to the eye and palate. The dark chocolate soufflé (ordered 45 min in advance for 2) arrived looking impressive, accompanied by a small pitcher of melted chocolate, but even after being poured, the cake was extremely dry - not worth the money or the wait. The gelato, or should I say overpriced ice cream was disappointing for the obvious difference in taste. If you’re advertising gelato, it needs to be gelato (especially at $4 a scoop)! It’s best to stick with appetizers and entrees- the portions are small, but scrumptious.

Winter offers a $30 three course prix-fixe menu
BYOB optional

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