Monday, November 8, 2010

Celebratory Dinner at Brix Wine and Tapas

I've said it before and dangit, I'm saying it again.  Is there ANY job in the world that is cooler than being a Food Critic?  Well, probably yes- like being a Professional Napper or Tropical Resort Reviewer. But that's beside the point.  8 months ago, I "hired" myself as The Chef Next Door's official Food Critic and Restaurant Reviewer. I gave myself the coolest job on the planet, in my opinion...and I've been doing a terrible job.  I've reviewed a grand total of TWO restaurants in the last 8 months.  Two.  Dos.  Deuce.  Taylor and I go out to eat about once a week, and in the last 8 months, I've only mustered the strength to review Luciano and Cotton Row.  If I were my boss, I'd fire me.  ;)  Oh well, the only thing to do is move forward....and I'm starting right now with a review of Huntsville's newest gem:   

After wrapping up a super-busy and successful week last week, we here at The Chef Next Door decided it was time to celebrate.  We wanted to hit the town, have some great food, share some good wine, and overall just kick back and reward ourselves for a job well done.  Right down the road from us is what used to be Luciano, which we adored and visited for special occasions.  Now, it's been re-named and re-opened with new owners and a new attitude!   
Brix Wine and Tapas.  You had me at "Wine".

The ambiance is not terribly different from what it used to be when it was Luciano's- hope that doesn't offend the new owners!  I mean it in a good way.  It is romantic and upscale yet still comfortable.  Beautiful finishes and colors surround you everywhere you look.  The tabletops are a crisp White as opposed to Luciano's Burgundy.   The dinnerware and stemware is ultra-modern and sophisticated.  We were whisked down to the "Garden Room" which seems to have received a toned-down face-lift from when it was Luciano's...although I never actually dined in the room before so I can't be exactly sure how it used to be.  I found myself longing for twinkle lights strung across the ceiling, a la the Braverman family dinner on "Parenthood", but the beautiful "brick" and faux "balcony" really get the job done of making you feel like you are in a swanky Spanish bistro.  

We were pleased to see a familiar face and one of the many bright features of the former Luciano still around- our server, Jay.  As always, Jay is a super-star server and is friendly but not overbearing, professional but not stuffy, relaxed but not aloof.  She had the unfortunate position of notifying us of several items that were unavailable that evening:  a Meritage wine, the Ahi Tuna appetizer, the Scallop entree, and the Salmon entree.  Three of the four "86"s were bad news to us, as our friend, Joseph, was looking forward to the Meritage, and I definitely had my eye on both the Tuna app and the Scallop entree.  Oh well, it forced us to dig deeper into the fantastic menu and find other items to suit our senses.

The three of us decided to each order two Tapas and pass them around the table for each other to sample.  I chose an '09 Dacu “Ribera Del Guadiana” Tempranillo from Spain to accompany my meal which was smooth and delicious, especially at a reasonable $7/glass.  We ordered the Spicy Chipotle Hummus for the three of us to share while we waited on our Tapas.  (Please excuse the terrible iPhone photos due to the low pixels and low lighting)

The hummus was a brilliant orange color and we immediately detected Curry.  It was not at all spicy like we were prepared for, since it was advertised as being Spicy Chipotle Hummus, but the pita bread was phenomenal- soft on one side, delightfully crispy on the other.  Thick enough to handle a large scoop of the hummus, but not so thick as to fill you up before the main event arrives.  In place of the usual bread basket with butter, the hummus was a delightful change.

For my first course, I chose the Shrimp and Grits Tapas.  The perfectly-cooked tail-on Shrimp were perched on a scoop of Polenta and sprinkled with diced tomatoes, crumbled bacon, and capers.  A drizzle of a cream sauce pulled the dish together, and except for adding a dash of salt and perhaps a squeeze from a Lemon wedge, I wouldn't change a thing.  The capers were an unexpected addition to this classic Southern dish which added that little bit of something extra in their salty tartness.

 Our friend, Joseph, ordered the Pan-Seared Salmon Cakes with a Beurre Blanc Sauce and Mixed Greens.  I'm not one for Salmon Cakes, so I'm probably not the best judge on this one.  They were a tiny bit dry, but I've never had Salmon Cakes that AREN'T maybe that's just how they are!  The Beurre Blanc was delicious, and you can't go wrong with a pile of fresh Mixed Greens.  It was a beautiful, dainty little dish and if you like Salmon Cakes, this one is for you!

 Taylor ordered the Shrimp and Andouille Sausage Ravioli with a Spicy Mushroom Cream Sauce. Three plump ravioli sat in the bottom of a beautiful rimmed bowl calling out to us to eat them.  They were stuffed with a tasty mixture of Shrimp and Andouiille and were coated in a delicate cream sauce- just enough to tantalize the taste buds but not drown the palate. A few Mushrooms were scattered around the bowl, but I think they all got eaten up before the dish found its place in front of me.  The pasta was thick but not gummy, and it was clear that they make the pasta in-house (in a good way).  Being the "chili-heads" that we are, we were still craving a little more heat, but overall, this dish is one that we would order again.

  To lead us into our "main courses", I ordered the Peppercorn Roasted Pork Tenderloin with a Sweet Potato Hash and Apricot Chutney.  Let me start by saying I don't think I've ever had Pork that was cooked so perfectly....even from my own kitchen.  In the dim lighting of the room, I could still tell that the Pork had a perfectly pink doneness and I began to regret our decision to share all the items we ordered.  Two medallions rested atop a mound of heavenly Sweet Potato hash with a pool of sweet sauce surrounding it and perfectly grilled Asparagus laying gently on top.  This one is a winner in all corners, and I will most likely order the full entree portion next time we visit Brix!

Joseph ordered the Tenderloin Skewers served over Mashed Potatoes with an Orange Teriyaki Glaze as his "main" Tapas.  I will not disgrace Brix by posting my pitiful photo of this dish, so instead, I've attached THEIR photo.  Just a wee bit better. :)  Anyways, the medallions of tenderloin were threaded onto a Bamboo skewer amongst Bell Peppers and grilled to absolute perfection.  The peppers were long gone by the time this one made it to me, but the meat was beautifully tender, the potatoes underneath were flavorful and satisfying, and the Orange Teriyaki Glaze was brilliantly sweet and acidic and hearty at the same time.  I give this one a "Yum!"

Last but not least, for our main course, Taylor had the Filet Mignon Tapas with a Wild Mushroom Demi-Glace, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, and Collard Greens.  I advised him not to order this one and get something else instead, since it's hard to be terribly innovative with Filet Mignon and Mashed Potatoes, but he won the argument by pointing out the surprising addition of Collard Greens, so I relented.  However, when his dish arrived, there was a bed of grilled Asparagus where the Collard Greens should have been.  We decided against questioning the absence of Collard Greens and instead, marveled at the BRILLIANTLY cooked Filet on his plate.  Whichever Chef in the back is responsible for cooking the proteins really knows his stuff.  Major Kudos!!!  He said he would probably order this one as a full-sized entree next time.....unless they have the Scallops, which we are all dying to try!

Jay said the magic words when she recited the dessert menu:  "Pumpkin Cheesecake with White Chocolate Creme Fraiche."  Enough said.  And boy, did the real thing stand up to its delicious description!  It was rich and creamy, perfectly spiced and not overly-sweet, and drizzled with a sweet and tangy White Chocolate sauce.  I believe it had a homemade Graham Cracker crust with crushed Pecans or some other kind of nut.  It was amazing, to say the least.  We might have to hurry back in while Pumpkins are still in season for another plate of this incredible cheesecake.  My sincerest compliments to the Pastry Chef!!  You have to try this one.

To sum up, Brix Wine and Tapas is a must-try.  Between the delicious food, the beautiful wine selection, the friendly service, and the warm ambiance, I sure am glad it's only a hop, skip, and a jump down the street from us!  I plan on being a frequent patron.  Hope to see you there some day!


The Chef Next Door

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