Sunday, March 11, 2018

SO Low SO Long

They grow up so fast. Restaurants, that is.

When I'd first visited Brenner Pass last July, it was uncrowded, having barely been open a month. and some servers were still learning how to open wine bottles (ours had to call in someone more qualified). The second time, wine skills had been mastered and the food was even better.

Craving a third time, Pru, Beau and I had made dinner reservations ahead of tonight's play at the Basement. Unlike that first time, though, the hordes began arriving as soon as the doors opened. We had a good excuse for our ridiculously early reservation (an 8:00 curtain), while I'm guessing many others in the first seating were there simply because it was the only time they could get seats.

Keeping with our Jura theme from last visit, we began with a bottle of Benoit Badoz Cremant Rose and a small plate special: rillete of oil-poached swordfish with frisee, mustard and housemade chips to spread it on. The night was off to a good start.

One noticeable difference was the level of the music, meaning we could actually hear it this time (and who doesn't want to hear Slowdive?), which added considerably to the overall vibe. And when you have a restaurant as large as Brenner Pass, you really need a good sound system to overcome the din of loud talkers in an industrial space.

Beau couldn't resist the fondue burger, although I think that had to do with the ability to order it "tres epique," meaning with veal demi-glace and mushrooms. I can attest to the burger's tastiness even if the fries were a bit on the dry side.  Pru's lamb leg was swoon-worthy with prune jam and armagnac puree.

My arctic char with pickled mushrooms over barley boasted an obscene caviar cream sauce that ensured my choice of fish scored me no virtuous points whatsoever, but, man, was it memorable. And something else, too - barley is an underused grain and I'd love to see it on more menus. Along with flour, sugar and tea, my D.C. grandmother's kitchen canister set had a container for barley but it fell out of fashion by the time I was a kid, so I've only discovered my taste for it as an adult.

We were already on the second bottle of Cremant when we finished our entrees, but our server was good enough to understand that we were in no hurry for dessert and allowed us to linger before ordering.

Pru, like several other friends recently, demanded to know why I was suddenly on Instagram and where my line in the sand was when it comes to technology. Apparently it unnerves some people for me to exist in a new realm without having a cell phone.

Looks like they'll have to adjust.

Since we hadn't had time to order the souffle on our last visit, Pru corrected that this time, while Beau and I shared a salted caramel and dark chocolate ganache tart with hazelnut dragees while they explained to me the appeal of Cubano coffee and I pretended to appreciate the nuances.

By the time we vacated the premises two and a half hours after arriving, Brenner Pass was in full-on Saturday night mode, with people waiting for tables, the bar too crowded to see the staff and the music lost to tipsy conversations.

Coincidentally, the first act of the play we were seeing at TheatreLAb, "I'm Gonna Pray for You So Hard" was a drunken conversation between a father and daughter as she waits for the reviews to come out of her first play.

Alan Sader was superb as the father, displaying a restraint with his acting unlike his usual scenery-chewing ferocity. Any theater fan knows he's a master, so seeing him rein it in was all the more impressive.

TheatreLAB's theme this year is "taking sides," which means the stage is placed between two risers of audience seats, providing a view of half the audience in addition to the action on stage. It's a brilliant move, allowing us to observe what others are watching or how they're reacting in a way viewers don't often get to do.

Not gonna lie, I like to watch. Does that make me a voyeur?

Maybe, but in my present state of mind, I'm not good for much more than that. Tres triste.

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