Monday, October 26, 2009

A Hit, A Miss & A Home Run at Branzino

Last Thursday I took Matt to Branzino (2429 2nd Avenue, Seattle 98121) for his birthday. I picked the restaurant because I love Top Chef on Bravo and the executive chef at Branzino competed on the current season of the show Top Chef: Las Vegas. Needless to say I had very high expectations for the quality and creativity of the food at Branzino. However, the verdict on our experience at Branzino: VERY inconsistent.

I was pleased when we walked in and I saw the ambiance in the restaurant: dark wood furniture, candles, big windows looking out onto the street. We were shown right to our table without a wait (as we should have been considering I made the reservation well over a month in advance) by a pleasant host. However, this was the last part of our service with which I was entirely pleased.

The menu at Branzino is not entirely clear in the sense that you cannot tell if each of the listings is meant to be a small plate (so you order 4 or 5 items to share and get full) or entrees (so each person orders one entree and an appetizer/salad). When I asked the waiter about the size of the portions and the vision behind the menu he was very cryptic and just said, "it depends on what you're looking for". Hmmm . . . yeah, dude, you are completely useless and NOT helpful at all, but good try. At this point I was annoyed (can you tell?). Finally on our second try to order the waiter brought over a more knowledgeable staff member (thank God) and we were able to settle on duck confit (over monkfish), ravioli, gnocchi and beef carpaccio to start.

The beef carpaccio came out first and it was fine. I will say that any kind of beef isn't really my bag, so I only ate a few bites. Matt loves beef and the carpaccio was gone by the time our gnocchi came out.

I had high expectations for the gnocchi as it is supposed to be something of a specialty at this restaurant. However, I was a little thrown when the menu said it was rabbit gnocchi. I have never eaten bunny before and I was apprehensive about eating poor, little, fluffy, Peter Rabbit. However, I got over it pretty quickly because the dish was fantastic. The rabbit meat was tender and delicious. The first few bites of the dish were overly, in your face salty, but as we dug into the dish the seasoning was much more even and it tasted great. This salty gnocchi fact is a bit ironic since the chef was sent packing from the show for salty gnocchi (and undercooked prawns). Maybe if Padma and the crew had dug into the dish a bit more after the first bite they would have been pleasantly surprised. Definitely a hit for me.

Next they brought out the mushroom ravioli and the duck confit. They put the duck confit in front of me first and the ravioli in front of Matt. The duck confit was a home run, out of this world fantastic experience: perfectly cooked duck with crispy skin, barley, pear and fennel. It was VERY filling, but an absolute delight. I had never tried duck before either and I am very glad that I ventured out of my comfort zone because I found myself a new favorite food. As I was noshing away and saying, "Ohmigod, this is fantastic," Matt was eating the ravioli and looking much less thrilled than I was eating the duck. We each got about halfway through and switched plates.

I tasted the ravioli and I instantly understood why no yummy noises had been coming at me from across the table. Definitely a miss. The cheese and the mushrooms were a weird flavor match and the ravioli lacked je ne sais quoi, pizzazz and umph. All around lackluster and completely blah, except for the strange aftertaste.

Personally, I think we should have ordered the monkfish instead of a second pasta dish. I blame the waiter. Other than the lack of knowledge and ability to give a foodie education on the dishes the service wasn't terrible. The staff was friendly and our food came out relatively quickly.

I was also disappointed in the way the staff chose to seat the restaurant. There were a ton of empty tables and the staff chose to sit a couple right next to us instead of staggering them a few tables away. When I say directly next to us, I mean it. There is no partition between the booths that go up the center of the restaurant and they were literally next to us. I could have extended by arm and touched the girl next to me. Not so hot for having private conversation. I felt like I really had to edit myself. Alas, this was near the end of our meal and it didn't really matter.

The prices at Branzino were fairly reasonable and we got out of the restaurant for about half of what I had budgeted. After an inconsistent experience, the reasonable price made me happy.

I would go back to Branzino again, but only to order the duck confit. Maybe I'll venture out to a few other things that looked good on the menu, but I won't hold my breath.

On the bright side, I made a carrot cake from scratch for dessert (my mommy's recipe) and it turned out damn good (if I do say so myself)!

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