Brennan’s, at The Kitchen Table
I was looking forward to a recent media dinner at Brennan’s. It’s Brennan’s, after all, one of the grande dames of Houston dining, and one that has been serving the city with a certain amount of refined New Orleans-inflected taste and style since 1967. That evening, I quickly got the impression that the event was to highlight the notion that Brennan’s is much more than a destination for boozy business entertaining, decadent brunches, and wedding-related celebrations to a group of food writers who might be younger than the restaurant’s typical patron. And, the event and the food was much more interesting, and better, than I expected. It will have me thinking of more excuses to visit Brennan’s in the future.
I’ve long enjoyed Brennan’s. It’s had its ups and (relative) downs for me over the years. The cooking is often excellent, though sometimes somewhat rote, as it was for my last dinner there before Christmas when I ordered incorrectly what was seemingly grab-bag of ingredients that they might have an excess of brought together in an entrée that was rather pedestrian. My thought is you should never be allowed to order incorrectly at a place like Brennan’s. That visit was still a very enjoyable evening with friends featuring polished service and a sufficient amount of well-poured cocktails and wine.
The multi-course media dinner in the Kitchen Table remedied any slightly sour thoughts from that last meal. Orchestrated in full view of the expansive kitchen by Executive Chef Danny Trace and team, along with appearances from GM Carl Walker and managing owner Alex Brennan-Martin, the long meal was excellent throughout. The preparations were lighter than what I have had in the past – possibly because I usually order rich items at Brennan’s, which is easy to do – but they were certainly more vibrant and well-conceived than my previous visits. It was the best meal I have ever had at Brennan’s.
It started with Jimmy’s Oyster Roast, a trio of hickory smoked Gulf oysters served on a small iron skillet with flecks of seaweed. Next up was the Crispy Louisiana Softshell Crab, just in season. Deep-fried, of course, but light, fairly delicate and with a nice amount of sweetness (maybe it was a she-crab) and no real evidence of the shell at all. It was probably the best soft shell crab I have ever eaten. Course three was the Galveston Docks Koo-Be-Yahn, a soupy Cajun-influenced Courtbouillon sauce served with potatoes. Featuring the rarely seen barrelfish, a deep-water product that is by-catch from commercial grouper fishing, the dish was a bit more refined than the courtbouillons I have had in the past, and the firm, tasty white flesh of the barrelfish was a very nice match for the preparation. After the several courses seafood, the star of the plate moved to land, sort of, the Buffalo Bayou Honey Roasted Duck, which is cooked in the kitchen’s new duck oven, an oven recently purchased after some considerable research solely to cook ducks. With nicely crispy skin, some unctuous bits of fat and meat in a bite, gave notice that they know how to work with the new kitchen toy. The duck was served with crawfish fried rice, and a fairly graceful orange sauce. Luckily for me, if not my waistline, the writer next to me did not eat meat, so I was able to sample the duck again just to make sure of the consistency of the kitchen.
A truly artisanal cheese plate followed, which was terrific, then the onslaught of desserts for the table of twelve to share: Dessert Ponchatoula Strawberry Shortcake; Mississippi Mud Pie; a fantastic, tart, but beautifully balanced Lemon Meringue Pie; Southern Pecan Pie; White Chocolate Bread Pudding; Grand Marnier Crème Brulée; and the famous Brennan’s Bananas Foster made table-side. The strawberries served with the shortcake deserve special mention. From a small farm in Louisiana, the plump berries were perfectly ripe, luscious and absolutely delicious; I cannot ever remember having more flavorful strawberries.
Dining at The Kitchen Table is far from inexpensive – dinner is $80 per person and starting at $155 with wine pairings while lunch is $60 per person and beginning at $105 with wine pairings – for a five- to seven-course meal of the chef’s choosing. But I would recommend that you keep it in mind for a special occasion. The food and experience at my recent dinner there were outstanding. It was a lot like my best meals at Commander’s Palace, its famed sister restaurant in New Orleans. I mean that in the highest praise.
3300 Smith (just southwest of Elgin), 77006, (713) 522-9711