The scallops were a revelation, probably the best dish of the evening. The main components were seared with skill (the visual evidence of Maillard reaction was deliciously clear), the charred corn fresh, crisp and rich, and the truffle pearls decadently wet and sinful-seeming in the mouth. Under it all, the corn purée.
And yes, this scallop plate was beautiful to the eyes, never a bad thing.
Houston restaurant Brasserie 19, the source of the scallop dish, was packed on the evening of our visit, a weekday, the usual mix of people arrayed at tables around us.
At my left, two women in their twenties whose expenditures obviously benefitted the plastic surgeons they consulted and the boutiques who supplied their wardrobes. To my right, a thirtysomething couple — he in red shorts and tennis shoes, she attired in a denim dress and cork wedges — enjoying a bottle of non-vintage Taittinger. Two tables over sat a seventysomething couple in evening dress (on him, a black suit and white shirt; on her, a perfect black dress) who would have been at home in the chicest boîte in Paris. The bar was fully occupied save for a random stool here and there.
Laughter, a few serious conversations, and much mirth filled the space. What better ambience for a meal?
We began the evening with a glass of Champagne, Delamotte Brut, and discussed the menu (the Summer 2018 version, which will be available for a few more weeks at least). It boasts a fairly diverse lineup, including hors d’oeuvres of deviled eggs with caviar and pickled onions, charred octopus, and the aforementioned scallops. We began with those, and you should, too.
There was a perfect sear on these scallops, one repeated on my recent follow-up visit to Brasserie 19, and the corn purée was smooth and rich and full of that sharp corn flavor available only at season’s peak (don’t eat corn at any other time). The truffle pearls — no, that is not caviar — combined with the black truffles in a wonderful way, with an obvious and delightful textural juxtaposition. And, the beauty of charred corn is in the mix as well. Get this dish.
We tried the bone marrow as well, and it came to us large and boastful, two giant vessels containing gelatinous marrow topped with a refined shallot jam and microgreens. The grilled sourdough pieces received the marrow and jam, and we dined on this with gusto. The marrow was hot, and salty.
Less successful, the Plat du Jour. It was Thursday, so house-made tagliatelle with chanterelles and black truffles it was. I’m not sure if the plating was rushed, but the ribbons of pasta were in large part one conjoined mass, and though the flavor was there (nothing like truffles and chanterelles), the experience of the dish was diminished by the clumps of tagliatelle. (Here’s the rest of the week’s dishes: On Monday, prime rib; Tuesday, bouillabaisse; Wednesday, Dover sole; Friday, beef bourguignon; Saturday, filet Rossini; and Sunday, a pork chop.)
The mood at the table lightened immediately, however, when the main courses appeared. A filet mignon and a roasted duck breast capped our meal, and both made us happy, the duck pink and tender and gamy, the filet juicy and rich with its wild mushrooms, Robuchon potato, and green peppercorn sauce.
Duck breast is a favorite of mine, and when it’s done well it can be a moving thing. Don’t overcook, score the skin properly, and season the way one should. This plate scored high in all categories, and was served with potatoes that had been roasted in duck fat, cipolini onions, Swiss chard, and a cherry aigre-doux.
Not long before the filet and duck arrived, the two young and surgically enhanced women made their dramatic exit, and the older, sophisticated couple in black bid farewell to the hostess. The room was still lively, though, and we sat for a while, nursing our glasses of wine (a 2015 RouteStock Pinot Noir and a 2015 Merlot from Alexander Valley Vineyards) and discussing the events of the day.
Jaime Salazar, the man in charge of the kitchen at Brasserie 19, is much more than proficient at what he does, and his technique is showing well at the Clark Cooper Concepts restaurant. I don’t need to tell everyone that the wine list offers some great values, but if anyone reading this has not yet experienced an evening at the Houston institution, you deserve to do so soon.