Sunday, March 20, 2011

Brown Dog Cafe Is Both In and Out

Now that it's getting warmer, Eric and Neil are encouraging me to be outside a lot of the day.  I like the freedom of playing outside, but the nice days sometimes remind me of my desperation last summer of finding a new family.  That's why I come inside every once in a while just to give me the reassurance that I still have a home.  It probably appears to the guys that I can't make up my mind whether to be inside or out.  I just hope they realize that I'm happy here and like the security of staying in with them at night.  

I was all settled and ready to take a nap in the guest room when Eric and Neil left me and went out for a while.  It was dark and raining outside and I don't think they had dinner yet.  They told me to take care of the house and be good.  Yeah, yeah, yeah!

      We took advantage of Spring Restaurant Week (sorry, it ends today) again last night with a visit to Brown Dog Cafe.  I made the reservation yesterday, so 8:45 p.m. was the earliest we could secure.  We arrived on time despite a downpour and a little trouble finding the entrance.  It's located in a small strip center and the entrance is next to a BP station and the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which has been a variety of names throughout the years.  Things were running a little late and our table was not ready for about twenty minutes.  There were two other couples in the entryway and we were all becoming a little too familiar with the seating chart menu on the computer.  It's an awkward space that could be better served by taking out a table for two and expanding the entry area.  Waiting gave me the advantage of taking in the entire setting and, being a designer, I was more than a little confused.  The space has been redone since my last visit several years ago, although Eric has been there since.  The small entrance appeared whimsical with custom painted walls hung with awards, a wooden settee, and a little 3-D sculpture near the baseboard of a dog coming out of its house.  That's the only reference to the restaurant name that I could find.  Entering through another doorway, that area is a complete disconnect from the bar and dining room.  The attempt now was contemporary which fell short with varying styles of lighting, slightly off wall colors, and mismatched wall décor that look as though they were bought at a rummage sale.  The sophistication and taste level that I would envision for a restaurant of this caliber completely missed the mark.  It would be an easy fix (if you're reading this Brown me) and an investment that could turn this basic box into a little jewel.  For the average diner, these are things that may go unnoticed and it's obviously not affecting their business—at least that particular night.  Brown Dog is strategically placed between the upscale neighborhoods of Montgomery and Blue Ash and it is patrons from those areas that wish to support local businesses, rather than making the twenty-minute drive downtown.

      The other issue was the absence of a mâitre d' as it appeared that the servers and bussers have that added to their duties, which is another "question" for a finer restaurant.  After being seated, the host (?) and server were more than apologetic for our wait, though we reassured them that we expected this during Restaurant Week!  Hopefully, none of this is so apparent during routine business.

      Now to the good news and what we were really there to explore...the food!  We had perused the menu online and while waiting so we had our minds made up.  Brown Dog offered a wide variety of selections for this event and it has found a niche in concentrating on game – namely, venison and boar.  The other nice thing about their menu is that it highlights the gluten-free offerings.  Eric started with the venison ravioli.  It was a well-sized portion and the pasta was cooked perfectly.  There was a white cheese béarnaise sauce and a light brown vinegar-based gravy.  Both tasted good, but the white sauce looked congealed and was slightly lumpy.  I ordered the crab cake, which was well cooked and served on an Asian slaw.  There was too much pepper in it so we turned down our server’s offer of additional freshly ground pepper.

Venison Ravioli
Crab Cake
She Crab Soup
      We both chose the soup du jour, a she crab corn chowder, which was excellent.  It was cream based, thick yet smooth, with a smoky under current and a generous amount of fresh crab.  (As Eric's Nana always said “to tell if it’s fresh, there should be a tiny bit of shell in it” and there was in Eric's serving and he considered that a compliment).

Wild Boar
Two Way Duck
      For the entrée, I ordered the wild boar tenderloin glazed with cider, molasses, and bourbon served alongside Yukon Gold smashed potatoes, wilted greens, and sautéed Ohio honey crisp apples.  This was a well-balanced dish between the taste elements of salty, sweet, bitter, hot, and edamame.  Eric ordered the duck two ways.  One way was plum glazed duck confit with oriental slaw, which wasn’t peppery, and tasted crisp and lean.  The other way was roasted organic Foster's Family Farm duck breast with a nice portion of its fat (or cruckle, according to Eric's Nana) in a candied orange duck jus.  The meat was perfect, but the brown rice and peas (risi bisi) on which it sat was crunchy.  Pasta should be al dente, but Eric didn't care for rice that way and, again, there was an inordinate amount of pepper.

Chocolate Banana Bread
      We decided to share a dessert because, what the heck, we’d had three courses for $26.11, we don’t drink, and the restaurant deserved to make a little profit off of our company.  Our choice was a chocolate banana bread with a liquid chocolate center and topped with coconut praline, caramelized banana slices, and a scoop of home made malted vanilla bean ice cream.  This was a complex, but beautifully thought out dish, that worked without showing off.

Brown Dog Cafe on Urbanspoon

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