Monday, October 3, 2011

Restaurant Preview: Briza

I was sad when I learned Pacci was closing a while back. While never on heavy rotation for us, I had good experiences there and hoped to see the talented and likeable chef, Keira Moritz, succeed. Fortunately the new resto that has taken over the spot - Briza, at the newly christened Renaissance Hotel - is also helmed by a highly-skilled, creative female chef and may turn out to be even more exciting. 

Briza maintains Pacci's hip hotel restaurant vibe, although as its predecessor did, it will probably struggle with its vast size to not feel empty on less bustling nights. That said, it's definitely got the right ambiance for a hot date or entertaining guests or clients.

The Mr. and I were lucky enough to try a special media tasting menu recently. The menu we sampled strikes me as a bit more haute than the menu published on their website, but it was abundantly clear that new chef Janine Falvo has some big ambitions and abundant creativity.

Our Menu
Cucumber Compressed Melon Salad
Mozzarella Egg, Heirloom Tomatoes, Bacon
Halibut, Corn, Chanterelles, Tarragon
Duck Confit Roll, Fois Gras, Peach Marmalade
Veal Sweetbread "Parmesan," Basil, Garlic Chips
Lamb, Grilled Rattatouille, Olive Pistou, Red Pepper Custard
Old Fashioned Donut, Bacon Powder, Chocolate, Coffee Ice Cream 

If Falvo's name isn't familiar, it will be soon. She's on Season 9 of Top Chef, filmed in Dallas. Here's her audition video for an up close and personal intro. Recently relocated from Northern California Wine Country, Falvo is translating her California farm-to-table roots to what press materials call Briza's Southern farm to table menu. 

I'm very wary these days of that nomenclature, so I was happy to see there was nary a fried chicken or pimento cheese spread in sight. Although I love Southern farm-to-table, one does want to eat something besides just that now and then (can I get an amen?) That being said, I'd called Briza's menu more Southern inflected New American, with the Southern vibe coming in the form of seasonal ingredients and things like fois gras tater tots and peach dressing. 

I loved the creativity and aesthetic beauty of the dishes we sampled. The cucumber compressed melon salad was visually intriguing and literally burst with sweet flavor.The mozzarella egg was something right out of a Richard Blais playbook with food that resembles other food, and the crispy kale was a revelation. 

And of course no self respecting wine country chef can resist wine pairings, so each course came with an eclectic wine. Picks spanned the globe, from Napa to Alsace to Mendoza. With Briza's knowledgeable staff, a varied wine list and plenty of bottles under $50, you can drink very well there.

Other than sushi, fish dishes often leave me feeling very blah. Falvo's halibut, however, was rich and buttery and paired perfectly with summery sweet corn. I may have finally found a restaurant where I choose fish over meat. While the lamb we sampled was perfectly medium rare and well seasoned, I'd take the fish over it any day. It's just so rare for me to find a fish dish so full of deliciousness.

Don't mistake me for a pescatarian just yet, though, because the oh so decadent duck confit and fois gras dish was my fave of the night. Wow. Seriously. Salty and crispy and creamy and sweet and rich - oy, I'm drooling just thinking about it. I feel sorry for the world that this is not on their regular menu.  I suggest begging for it with sad puppy dog eyes. It will blow your mind. 

As far as I'm concerned Atlanta restaurants simply don't serve enough sweetbreads. People may turn their noses up at this little gland nugget, but done right, they can be incredible. Props to Falvo for offering up a unique "parmesan" style take. I don't see it on their normal menu at the moment, but don't miss the chance to try it if it shows up as a special. Simultaneously crisp and creamy, like the fois/confit combo, it is a symphony of textures.

I realize that our menu was oh so special, so I can't yet vouch for their regular menu. But what I saw left me very impressed. Briza was sophisticated, thoughtful and willing to take chances. Most important, though, we left full of very good food and wine. What more can you ask for?

866 W. Peachtree St. NW
Atlanta, GA 30306
free valet with validation

Briza on Urbanspoon



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