Thursday, January 1, 2009

Breaking The Chain

For me the horror of the corporate chain restaurant is only eclipsed by the horror of encountering the corporate chain Italian restaurant. I love Italian food, when its not a mass produced pile of limp noodles, overcooked protein and runny reheated sauce served in dishes that closely resemble troughs.  These chain restaurant strips  away the individuality of the chef and presents a false impression of an entire country worth of cuisine.  Of course, you can say the same thing for any chain restaurant, Chinese, Mexican, French, whatever, but for some reason the Italian ones seem to offend me the most. 

So today when I found myself planning to visit Brio, the new "Tuscan grille" by Crabtree Valley Mall, I was looking forward to ripping into them and writing my first really negative blog.  I was quite surprised that there were quite a few things I actually liked about Brio. 

Upon entry the leading chain assaults you musically with That's Amore and other Americanized Italian classics.  I don't remember the music at Brio, which is a good thing. I've been in too many restaurants where the atmosphere was carefully designed to distract from the food.  Brio has a nicely neutral palate with the most noticeable thing being the smell of the brick oven. It's a comforting campfire type of smell and it certainly helped put me as ease. 

Following my rules I ordered the fish special, grouper with a lemon butter sauce served with sauteed veggies and potatoes. For a starter I got the soup of the day - tomato bisque. Dan tried the crab cakes with a lobster bisque. 

When the soups arrived I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a reasonable cup of soup, rather than the bucket I had been conditioned to expect.  It was creamy and tangy at the same time, rich and satisfying.  The lobster was equally creamy with chunks of lobster and a nice spice on the end of it.  Lunch was off to a good start. 

The grouper arrived shortly after and once again it was a nice filet. The perfect size for the preparation of the dish. The sauce was drizzled lightly over it with most of the plate being occupied by the sauteed vegetables. The fish flaked easily and was complimented, but not overpowered by the sauce.  The vegetables however, slid back into chain territory. Bland, oily and flavorless they did little other than look pretty.   

The fish was good enough to encourage me to check out dessert. I was delighted to see their presentation, tiny espresso cups filled with creme brulees, chocolate cake, cheesecake and other tiny treats. I ordered the chocolate, Dan got brown sugar brulee and neither one of us was disappointed. The brulee had a nice subtle brown sugar carmel finish and the cake really gave the feeling of eating fine truffles. 

So can a chain ever overcome their bland mass-produced nature? They are, after all, designed to offer the same quality at every location, individuality  be dammed!  Brio almost overcame it's chain roots by bucking tradition and serving meals small enough to be cooked properly giving the feeling of individual service, but was ultimately done in by ignoring the details. Vegetables are not a garnish and deserve to be treated as well as the entree! 

Also an odd note - we ordered peach iced tea and were rather surprised to see it delivered to the table in plastic bottles.  Not cool. This isn't a cheap place and tea isn't hard to make. Grow up and brew your own!  

No comments: