Brenner Can Judge A Restaurant Just By Its Menu Alone

by Steven Doyle

Last week the Dallas Morning News food critic Leslie Brenner rolled out an article that basically explained how she could judge a restaurant with a simple visit to an establishment’s menu online. The premise was that if you noted off season ingredients, or tired dishes on the menu the restaurant might not be up to her level of cuisine.

Brenner also specifically mentioned cassoulet and braised meats as seasonal dishes and this raised the ire of the soon-to-open Boulevardier restaurateur, Brooks Anderson. I ran into Brooks last night and he shared his studied opinion on the issue. Specifically that these dishes and more are offered throughout the changes of seasons in a true French bistro.

Today Brooks backed up this opinion on his Facebook wall in an open letter to Brenner and was signed by the four partners in the business, Brooks and Bradley Anderson, Nathan Tate and Randall Copeland.             

Anderson offers up the questions, “is it really feasible to have nothing but light, summery dishes on a bistro menu when the very foundations of bistro food are stews and braises? Is a chef really out of touch if he/she both has a heavy braised meat or two and a heavy stew in summer, in addition to other lighter, seasonal dishes that are ‘proper’ summer fare?”

Anderson goes on to cite various menus including Brasserie Les Halles in New York City which serves braised red meats, cassoulet, six types of mussels and “lots of grilled red meats.”  He went as far to call the restaurant to confirm these types of dishes were indeed served year round.

Anderson also notes that the current issue of Conde Nast Traveler’s features an article on cassoulet.

In the same article written by Brenner she mentions that she would also be watchful of a menu that offered mussels and calamari on the same menu. Anderson notes that Pastis in New York City consistently offers these two dishes on their menu. The New York Times extols the virtue of Pastis and claims The Times mentions in one review of Pastis, “The menu is so traditional that virtually every dish could qualify for protection by the French Ministry of Culture”.

Anderson went on to mention, “Based on the menus of some of the very best, and busiest, French Bistro/Brasserie-style restaurants in the country, it would seem as if serving these types of dishes year round is not only standard, but to be expected.”

In the conversation I had with Anderson last evening he made it clear he was not wanting to spar with Brenner but did want to make note that his menu at Boulevardier would have these menu items year round and that the “decision to serve these types of dishes all year long is not out of ignorance, but out of a love for this type of truly delicious comfort food,” and that “wouldn’t be the French-inspired, neighborhood friendly bistro that we want to be.”

I personally feel Brenner raises great points. Winter vegetables have no place on a summer menu. Crazy rolls, although can be a fun distraction, are off-putting en masse on sushi menus. And the over abundance of sweetners in savory dishes can often show the lack of balance in a chef. However, I am not sure how an authentic bistro can carry out a proper menu without these braises and dishes Anderson mentions.

Look for the new French-inspired bistro to open its doors within the new few weeks in the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff.


Filed under chefs, restaurant news, Steven Doyle

5 responses to “Brenner Can Judge A Restaurant Just By Its Menu Alone

  1. I have not read Leslie’s piece, but I think any time one purports to “review” a restaurant without trying its food, but only looking at its electronic footprint (maybe the menu hasn’t been updated lately), one abrogates the very essence of what criticism is about: To approach every experience well informed but with curiosity and an openness to let the chef speak to me in the language he has chosen, and to listen critically to what that food is saying, how well it’s saying it, and how valuable or unique its message is.

  2. DemigodH

    I think it’s fair to judge a restaurant without trying the food. Those judgements should be taken with a grain of salt but are not entirely without merit. For example, if I go to a Chinese restaurant that is 90% filled with white people, I will assume it’s not very authentic (and I’m confident that I’d be right 90% of the time). Similarly, if I see on a menu out of season vegetables, I can safely assume that they’re not fresh — concluding that the restaurant does not place a high premium on seasonality/fresh ingredients.

    I’m not saying those should be the dominating considerations when reviewing a restaurant (before eating) but I think it’s idealistic to ignore the non-edible clues.

  3. After reading Leslie Brenner’s article, “How to judge a restaurant without ever setting foot in it” I rolled my eyes and felt slightly peeved.  She states in her article “So, what are some of the sign posts for ill-advised menus? Here are a few-….” which she stretched to a drawn out list of several that obviously could have been reduced by a few.  I, too, agree with some of the list but not all.  I can’t help but think that Ms. Brenner is often left hungry after perusing the “online menus” of many Dallas restaurants.

    Therefore, I say follow your “guts” Brooks, Bradley, Nathan and Russell because I am planning on bringing my “gut” to Boulevardier to “truly experience” the “culinary execution” of what the menu offers, regardless of the season!

  4. Many of us cooks we raised on seasonal cooking, however, when guests keep asking for cassoulet in the middle of summer in Dallas, you gotta give ’em what they want. I leave cassoulet on my menu year round coz people want it.

    BISTRO Watel’s

  5. Pingback: "Off with their heads!" and other French cooking terms - Domesblissity

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