Tarte de tomates

Brasserie Provence soothes the savage critic

“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.” Or maybe “beast.” Everybody thinks the Bard wrote this, but it was actually William Congreve, a decidedly lesser poet who lived a century or so after Bill Shakspear trod the boards.


My breast was savage, and so was my beast, the other day. I was crabby. I’ll admit it. And I showed few signs of getting better. What was gnawing at my liver? Let me count the ways. (The Bard really did say that.)

First, I was getting over a nasty infection and gobbling two flavors of antibiotics. One hyped me up as if I had chugged a half-dozen cups of coffee, with the attendant impulse to chatter. The other precluded beverage alcohol.

A delightful evening with friends at Brasserie Provence, a place that I really liked last time, was on the calendar, and I was aching to go. Then it turned out that Mary had a conflicting meeting and couldn’t come along.

What to do? No bride to keep me company. I didn’t feel great. No appetite for meat, poultry, fish. Didn’t dare order an adult beverage to boost my sagging spirit. This was not a joke. We’re not talking about “do not drive or use power tools or heavy machinery” here, but an immediate and dire risk of projectile regurgitation. No adult beverages: Not. One. Drop.

TMI? Fine! Let’s move on. A food critic has to be fair, that’s the prime directive. Mood matters. Could I possibly dredge a fair and balanced review out of a visit when I faced strict limitations, not to mention feeling like koala roadkill on a Tasmanian back road?

?Being aware of the issue is the key, I guess, harrumph. Staying home wouldn’t make me better, and I could always deep-six the review if I felt too cranky after all. So I bundled up and headed out into a chilly night with a fierce wind blowing that reminded me a lot of a Provence mistral, only colder.

Before long, I wheeled into the suburban parking lot where Brasserie Provence beckoned with cozy lights and a table full of smiling friends. I felt better already! Owner Guy Genoud, a certificable Provençal who hails from Cannes, France, has turned the tired old venue that long housed the national Tony Roma’s chain into a fresh replica of a French brasserie.

Working with him, Chef de Cuisine Edoardo Bacci (a native of Trieste in northeastern Italy, another Mediterranean port town that I love) has put up a menu that reminds me of some fondly remembered places in the South of France. It’s not a low-cost eatery (although you can get a more affordable taste for lunch), with 14 entrees ranging from $17 to $42. “Brasserie” suggests a focus on beer, and the modest list does hold some good Belgian ales and local microbrews; the wine list looked interesting, too, but I had to resist temptation. Whatever!

Nursing my cranky convalescence, I decided to assemble a string of small plates, washed down with a goblet of strong, dark iced tea ($3). It was golden-brown, a bit hazy, with a distinct smoky overtone. Probably not Lapsang Souchong, but maybe China Keemun. Damn! I’m tasting tea as if it were wine!

Snow-white, delicate baguette rounds boasted a thin, shattery crust that took my taste buds straight to Paris. They’re supplied by Ghyslain, I’m told.

Soupe au Pistou ($7). “Pistou” sounds like “pesto,” and there is a reason for that: It’s the Provençal equivalent, basil, parsley, garlic and olive oil are ground into an aromatic paste. Dollop it atop a shallow plate full of a steaming potion that resembles a the offspring of French onion and Provence vegetable soup, inhale deeply, and enjoy. Who needs chicken soup?

Tarte de tomates et chévre au basilic ($11) is a warm tomato and goat cheese tart with basil. This simple dish looked wonderful! In other words, it looked like a pizza! I love pizza! No ordinary pizza, though, it was built on a base of flaky puff pastry!

Roquette ($8), French for arugula, made a cooling meal-ender, decent if a bit anticlimactic. Bitter greens and a few mandoline-sliced shavings of fresh fennel were garnished with a couple of surgically peeled orange segments, amply dressed with sweet walnut-oil vinaigrette,

Dessert? I didn’t even want chocolate. Bah! But hey now, what’s this? Mousse de fruits rouges ($8)? “Mousse of red fruits”? That sounded abstemious enough to suit my mood, but guess what! Fruit can be decadent. A vertical cylinder of feather-light mixed-berry mousse atop tiramisu on a flaky crust, topped with a tiny, almost-frozen artisanal chocolate-covered cherry. I ate it all, and was the better man for it.

In my medicated condition, decaf ($5.75) made a perverted sort of sense. Make strong, quality decaf, run it through a French press, and guess what? It’s good.

My solo dinner, without wine or cocktail, small plates and no entree, still came up to $45.32, making clear that this place is pricey (and, I think, worth it). Our charming server, Krisztin, who handled a large table with smiles and sincere hospitality, earned a $10 tip.

Brasserie Provence. It’ll heal you.

Brasserie Provence
150 N. Hurstbourne Parkway