I had a chance to sample the new menu at Brennan’s recently. The occasion was the restaurant’s announcement of Ryan Hacker as the new executive chef, replacing Chef Slade Rushing. I loved what Slade did at Brennan’s when he took on the job, and he’s one of the most talented chefs I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.
Chef Hacker has big shoes to fill, is what I mean, but I was impressed by his food. With a single exception everything I tried was outstanding. More importantly, what I tasted indicated to me that the chef has a great deal of knowledge about both the technical and artistic sides of cooking.
I will give you two examples. First was shrimp quenelles, which is Hacker’s play on barbecue shrimp. I am a sucker for quenelles, because when they’re done right they’re as light as an angel’s breath and three times as delicious. Hacker and his staff are doing them right, and every other element on the plate was outstanding as well, from the whole shrimp to the wafer-thin slice of baguette to the tiny marigold flowers that garnished the dish.
Then there was the “blackened” redfish. I’m not a huge fan of the technique because it’s rarely done properly. So infrequently, in fact, that I won’t order it at just about any restaurant n0 matter how comfortable I am with the chef. Exceptions to that rule include GW Fin’s, Brigtsen’s, K-Paul’s obviously, and a few others that now include Brennan’s as long as Hacker is in the kitchen. This was perfectly cooked fish with a perfectly fried exterior, where there was some bitterness from the spices but it wasn’t obtrusive. Again, the garnishes (crabmeat, squash and a lemon-butter sauce) were perfect, too.
I could go on about the octopus étouffée and how the incorporation of crispy rice paper was a clever note to the Vietnamese influences on our local cooking, or how the stone crab and mirliton salad made me aware that we actually have stone crabs in the gulf, and while that’s something I probably should have known it’s less significant than how sweet the crabmeat was.
My loving wife does not like shrimp, so I try to order shrimp when I dine without her. The shrimp in question were served with grits, roasted lion’s mane mushrooms and sauced with a bacon emulsion. The shrimp were cooked perfectly and the grits were good but the mushrooms were limp and the sauce wasn’t all that great. It was the one off-note on my meal.
Then there was the steak Diane, which I believe was on the menu when I dined as a special. Steak Dianne is the sort of “old-school” dish that’s finished table-side with a flambé of brandy. It is not subtle.
Now as you know if you’re a regular reader of this column, I’m all man – 100 percent Angus-certified all-male charter member of the Guy of the Month club.
I once grew a moustache.
But I am not as manly as my colleague Jay Forman, who ordered the steak Diane and then graciously shared it with the rest of us. We were all grateful.
So, I was impressed by the food at Brennan’s under chef Hacker, and I was impressed by his approach to cooking.
That Ralph Brennan kid can pick talent, can’t he?