Sunday, November 19, 2006

Inspiration from a familiar source

This week, Mrs G and I hit a milestone - 2 years of marriage have gone by in a whirlwind - it's hard to believe that it's been so long already.

One of the most obvious differences between Israel and DC is that we can't walk out of our front door to a choice of top notch kosher restaurants in a 5 minute radius. DC does have some fairly good eateries (including a drive-thru kosher Krispy Kreme - Mmmm!) but the conventional wisdom around the city is that you have to head to Baltimore (a 45 minute drive away) in order to really have a good meal.

True to form, Mrs G managed to locate the most exclusive place in town for our anniversary, found the menu to her liking and booked a table for two. I also liked the content of the menu, if not the prices, but a generous gift from my in-laws meant that we could splurge and not have to worry too much.

When I mentioned that I enjoyed food, quite a few of the locals had mentioned this establishment in hushed tones, and I was looking forward to giving it a shot. Its diverse and imaginative menu gave me pause for thought upon ordering and the extremely polite young waiter seemed very knowledgeable in recommending the various types of steaks (after we made it clear that we weren't interested in the fish specials). Ordering my sweetbreads I was salivating at the thought of my last outing at Gabriel's and hoping that I'd be similarly impressed.

During the short wait until our starters were ready, we cast our eyes over the slightly dated decor - very different to the ultra-trendy dark wood and steel which we are used to. The space there is however large enough to allow for not having to worry about knocking into the next table upon getting up to wash - a distance which was to be to our advantage as had we been forced to listen to any more than the occasionally louder snatches of gossip emanating from the party of married, expensive-sheitel-bought-by-their-mother-in-laws, shopping, exercise and children obsessed women on the next table, it would have certainly spoiled our evening.

The first courses were somewhat disappointing; the heavy sauce on the sweetbreads pretty much killed off their flavour and no matter how fancy a name you give the smoked salmon it still looks odd on a bed of canned sweet corn kernels. I did have high hopes for the main course however - the note at the bottom of the menu that they "are not responsible for well-done steaks" suggesting that the chefs know what they are doing.

The offering that emerged from the kitchen was an impressive looking 24 ounces of meat on the bone draped langurously over a plate which was also loaded down with chips and cooked vegetables. Presentation would have been better either on a larger plate or with smaller portions of the latter which, with a steak that size are clearly going to be pretty much overlooked. The steak was well cooked - a little bit too well cooked than the medium rare that I had requested but delicious nonetheless. Mrs G's Lady Steak was as rare as she loves (were raw to be an option she wouldn't hesitate) and though it appeared that she was struggling, she got her second wind and did it justice.

Dessert was out of the question - we were both well stuffed so we asked for the bill. Thanks to my very favourite waiter, I was aware that tipping rates in the US are a little higher than Israel!

So how does it stack up to what we have in Jerusalem? Despite being a good effort, I can think of at least half a dozen places in Jerusalem off the top of my head which can wipe the floor with The Brasserie at 1/2 - 2/3 the price. If I thought for 30 seconds I could probably come up with another half dozen. That's not to say that The Brasserie is bad; rather that Jerusalem has undergone a renaissance in the last few years. Gone are the days when you were limited to El Gaucho and Norman's. Increased competition has led to higher standards so that is inundated with a wealth of possibilities - reason enough to make Aliyah I think. The wonderful Baltimore Jewish community can't sustain a wide variety of kosher eateries in the same way as Jerusalem.

Were it in Israel, I wouldn't make a trip from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv for La Brasserie and if Eli's steaks turn out to be comparable we won't be going back in a hurry. Nevertheless, we'll give them a B for effort, for the varied menu and for the attentive service.


No comments: