- Ron Bechtol
It’s full of brusque and busy black-jacketed waiters, alive with the clank of dishware on marble-topped tables, possessed of menus touting modestly priced specialties such as choucroute garni or gigot d’agneau with haricots blancs. Mirrors abound, often reflecting the mounds of oysters on ice that may dominate the dining space. Beer on tap — since the name means brewery in French — flows freely, as does cheap wine.
That Brasserie Mon Chou Chou is very little like this should in no way diminish your appreciation of its take on tradition.
The Pearl’s recent culinary acquisition has taken over the space once operated by the CIA’s Nao and erased every trace of its existence. Gone are the open training kitchen and the woodsy dropped ceiling, now replaced by brassy light fixtures, black chairs and tabletops, comfortable brown banquettes and a new mosaic floor. The young waitstaff is black-aproned — though they might call you “boss” instead of studiously ignoring you in the French manner — and the serving pieces are emblazoned with Chou Chou’s name in the manner of the classic Brasserie Lipp. And despite the lack of lamb with white beans and sausages with sauerkraut, the menu items do hew to simple, French tradition.
I would personally be happy just to sit and revel in Brasserie Mon Chou Chou’s exceptional bread service — the crusty loaves come from a bakery in Houston, the cult-status butter from a village in France’s Charente region — plus the exquisitely correct salade Lyonnaise with its frisée, lardons and croutons; some haricots vertes and a glass or two of grenache or gamay.
But I suspect some will visit feeling flush and frisky. If that’s the case, keep the salade but replace the breadbasket with the open-faced sandwich au fromage raclette. At $16, it’s a tad pricy. However, the expenditure is worth witnessing staff scrape oozy and fragrant melted cheese onto a split baguette from a cut wheel that’s been held to a vertical heat source. It’s also worthy of sharing, since the tiny mound of accompanying cornichons can’t possibly mitigate all the magnificent but excessive cheesiness on its own. Word to the wise: don’t do this if you’re thinking of capping your meal in French fashion with cheeses from the impressively domed trolley that will be wheeled to your table. No matter how good, there’s only so much cheese a body can take in one night.
A less calorically challenging appetizer is the pastry-domed bowl of lobster bisque, redolent of shell and blessed with just enough buttery meat. Another option is the plate of charcuterie du jour. Ours consisted of crunchy, lightly pickled onions and curried cauliflower, some thinly sliced cured sausage, a mosaicked slab of pistachio-studded terrine de campagne and a portion of pâté de lapin — with the prize going to the rascally rabbit. Rabbit also makes a return in the entrée section’s lapin a la moutarde avec tagliatelles.
Based on experience, I think of rabbit as more a bistro dish, but I’m happy to see it here regardless. The tender, Texas-raised critter is braised, served in a punchy Dijon mustard sauce and accompanied by toothy, house-made tagliatelle noodles. Don’t think Thumper from Bambi — just enjoy it.
There are no nostalgic Disney associations with the steak on the menu, a 12-ounce New York strip. Served in its basic form with lemon and parsley-accented compound butter — other sauces such as shallot-red wine and Béarnaise are available but not really necessary — ours was cooked precisely as ordered. It came with a mound of comme-il-faut frites — fries prepared precisely as they should be: crisp on the exterior and melty in the middle. Despite its classic status, a side of Carottes Vichy was less impressive.\
Many classics populate the dessert menu, among them profiteroles with dark chocolate and Crème Brûlée a l’Ancienne — both worthy choices. Should your choice be the cheesecake from Alsace, the historic home of the brasserie, you’ll find it delightfully less dense and tangier than the typical American rendition. I often find that poached pears need a tad more time in their red wine bath, but I order them anyway, and would do so here again — if only for the crackling almond tuile that serves as a virtuous border wall between the fruit and its accompanying ice cream.
As a parting shot, and in case you don’t know already, “chou” translates as cabbage in English. And despite that, mon chou chou (or mon petit chou — little cabbage) is a term of endearment. Oh, those romantic French.
Cabbages notwithstanding, it appears that Brasserie Mon Chou Chou is poised to become a sweetheart on the San Antonio dining scene. With the guidance of consummate food pros Philippe Placé and Laurent Rea, this should not come as a surprise.
Mask up and make une réservation tout de suite.
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