It’s not often that a restaurateur chooses to reinvent an already successful restaurant. But that’s exactly what Brian Held, chef-owner of Brian’s in Lambertville and NoLa in Stockton has done. The new (May 2016) Brian’s has melded the best of both restaurants into his eponymous restaurant in Lambertville creating a wonderful new and unique fine dining experience.
We applaud Brian’s thoughtful evolution. While Stockton is a charming town for NoLa, we feel like Lambertville is the right location for his flagship offering. With convenient parking and its central location, Brian’s is an easy destination for more diners. I know we’ll be coming more often!
The new space is a welcome departure from the previous spartan and excessively noisy one. Diners are welcomed by a comfortable, sound absorbing carpet, coupled with an almost elegant dining room. Gone is the pizza oven, along with the wall separating the dining area from the kitchen. This opens up the space and gives it a feeling of a restaurant that belies its cozy size. The orderly and surprisingly quiet kitchen staff, led by Held, moves about efficiently, preparing dishes that delighted diners all evening.
The restaurant has exactly the right number of tables. Unlike other places which pack tables so tightly that you feel like you’re dining with the table next to you, Brian has thoughtfully spaced the tables far enough apart that you feel comfortable in your private space. It’s subtle things like this that are often not consciously noted but make a big difference to one’s joy when dining out.
Brian clearly wants to create a dining experience that brings people back week after week. Staff frequently checked on us, without intruding – quite a feat! Our water glasses were kept full. Empty plates were efficiently removed and our needs attended to quickly by the professional staff. Other restaurateurs in our area could learn from this.
Brian has maintained his cash only, BYOB Prix Fixe menu – three courses for $50 on Friday and Saturday, $45 from Tuesday through Thursday. We’re somewhat divided on this. While this is a relative bargain for a meal at this level, sometimes we just want to come out for an entree, and maybe a salad, skipping dessert. We’d prefer to save the full three course dinner for “special occasions.” If we had an à la carte option for weekdays, we’d probably come almost every week. Just a thought…
On to the food!
Unlike many prix fixe menus, Brian’s feels like it has ample options. On this Saturday night, we had five options for starters (an English pea soup was a daily addition), six entrees and three desserts – enough to satisfy most tastes.
Regular Brian’s diners will be happy to see that his famous sweetbread remains on the menu. Other options include a light arugula salad, a savory cauliflower soup with duck confit truffle oil and an Asian inspired seared tuna.
Entrees range from the exotic halibut with uni butter to the crowd pleasing beef short ribs, with hen, scallops, beef tenderloin and duck breast also available. Note – this is not a destination for vegetarians!
Finishing the menu are a luscious chocolate pot de crème, a white chocolate bread pudding and a roasted pineapple.
Brian noted that the menu will change throughout the year so that he can take advantage of the best seasonal ingredients.
We were happy to see that the menu has lightened up from the previous one. Now, we see more Asian-fusion dishes with light broths, compared with the old Brian’s menu where most items were heavy, classic French items. We would gladly enjoy dining on these dishes every week whereas the old menu was reserved for special occasions or those times when we crave decadence.
That said, I had to get the sweetbreads to start. As noted, Brian’s has always been famous for its sweetbreads Milanese (featured in this New York Times review), so I had to taste the new version – braised sweetbread with prosciutto and buttered egg noodles.
How was it? Delicious! The buttery, al dente egg noodles alongside the sweetbreads in a light sauce was worthy of an entrée so it was delightful that I was able to enjoy it as an appetizer. While sweetbreads will never be a “light” dish, braising it this way rather than frying it in traditional fashion allows one to enjoy the earthy, yet subtle, flavors without the greasy mouth that accompanies the traditional Milanese preparation.
As a counterpoint, my dining partner (and wife), Evy, ordered the Arugula salad with hazelnuts.
The salad was light and refreshing and beautifully presented.
Being a fan of Tuna, Evy also got the seared tuna, foregoing dessert. She often says that she’d rather go savory than sweet, so it was great to be able to try another of Brian’s starters. The wasabi sauce was superb. I have to admit, with appetizers like that, I’m also tempted to skip dessert!
It was difficult to choose an entrée – everything looked so delicious! I was totally torn between the halibut with uni butter and scallops in miso broth. Ultimately, I decided to go with the scallops but I must return for the halibut…
Again, Brian created a light, yet supremely flavorful dish. It tasted like the essence of Japan.
Being half-Japanese and having visited Japan on a number of occasions, I have memories of traditional miso soup. The blending of white miso with the tastes of ocean, imparted by the seaweed and other flavors, is something that is hard to find in the United States, but Brian’s nailed it in this dish. I loved it! So much so that I grabbed my spoon and drank every drop of broth after finishing the main elements of the dish.
I should warn you, these Japanese flavors might be a little “different” for those unaccustomed to them. You have to like miso in order to enjoy this dish. While I encourage you to try it, as it’s one of the most delicious I’ve had in some time, try something else if you’re squeamish about things tasting of the ocean — perhaps the amazing duck that Evy ordered!
If there’s one food Evy likes, it’s duck. When she wants a special meal, she often chooses duck. There’s just something about this unctuous delight that makes her smile. So when she saw duck on the menu, there was no hesitation!
Just looking at it gets me salivating again. And judging from the sounds Evy made as she ate Brian’s duck, she loved it! Fortunately, she shared a bite with me, and it was truly delicious.
I like how Brian serves this duck with veggies and a light broth rather than the typical, butter-laden mashed potatoes. It allows one to enjoy the rich duck meat without being left feeling heavy. In fact, when I make duck in the future, I may steal this concept because it works so well.
In the spirit of research, I ordered a dessert – the roasted pineapple in vanilla bean butter with ice cream. While I lusted after the other options, my appetite wasn’t up to them, so pineapple it was.
Like every other course, dessert was delicious, though I wish it were served in a bowl so the sauce could be more fully enjoyed. The vanilla butter sauce truly made this dish. So much so that I used my spoon to drench the other items between bites and had to restrain myself from picking up the plate at the end to drink it!
Evy and I love to eat great food, and we’ll definitely return to Brian’s to sample the other menu items. In fact, we’re already planning our next trip. The halibut and beef tenderloin are calling our names 🙂