What's your favorite food?
Whatever I'm eating at the moment. Whatever I just ate. Whatever I might eat tomorrow. Right now, faced with a cuisine you might call Austro-Mideast-global fusion (if that didn't sound so ridiculous), with appetizers and entrées like conch schnitzel, escargots, fillet of kampachi with currants, Kurobuta pork with raspberry chipotle sauce, pork loin soup, and roasted rack of lamb in herb crust, my favorite food is whatever Aboud Kobaitri's cooking at La Brochette.
How do you choose the restaurants to review?
I choose places that are fairly new. I also review restaurants that have changed owners, chefs, locations, menus, or décor. And I review places that I think have just been overlooked. And then there are places like La Brochette, which doesn't really fit any of my categories. Kobaitri has been running it for almost 15 years, in Cooper City, in a strip mall between a Walgreen's and a Winn-Dixie, and all that's really changed in his decade-and-a-half are the nightly specials, often rare fish or game that are flown in. The fish is fresh; the staff's been there forever. The décor is willfully old-fashioned. Local media have sung La Brochette's praises time and again. Kobaitri has adoring followers. You can't get in without a reservation, and if you're late, as we were recently, you might lose your table.
Why review a restaurant that everybody already knows about?
To see if the chef is still on his game. Kobaitri is. A trip to Cooper City is in order to recall the way he can take a whole bronzini and debone it, stuff it with fresh crab meat, and lay it in a pool of lobster sauce, its fishy tail still intact ($29.95).
$29.95 plus gas to Cooper City? Do I look like money?
No. You're just like the rest of us, scraping by on a paycheck that's already tighter than Kirstie Alley's knickers. You want your money's worth, and you wouldn't mind a romantic interlude too, plus whatever proof you can get that the world isn't going to hell faster than you can say "Bush is a wanker."
What are you talking about?
Look: Dining out isn't just about what the waitress sets in front of you — not at these prices. It's about entering a virtual world, a place where you'll be fed, of course, but also a place where you can hope to be entertained, delighted, surprised, enriched, coddled, diverted — even enlightened. At La Brochette, there's a panache in everything from the gruffly sardonic Frenchman in a white apron who recites the specials to the linen tablecloths and flickering, slow-burning tapers. It's in the intimacy of a corner table set against a wooden balustrade, the sounds of a well-dressed party of six clinking glasses, and the sight of young, New York-style hipsters digging into bowls of gratinéed onion soup, the same fare their parents would have enjoyed 40 years before. Have you ever wondered what it might be like to go back in time — say, to a little European restaurant circa 1954? La Brochette has the answer. That it has it in Cooper City in 2008 is practically surreal.
But come on: What the waitress puts in front of you is pretty damned crucial.
You're right. And if I've given you the impression that La Brochette is nothing more than some twee reprise of post-war Europa, I've done both you and the restaurant a disservice. You might have found schnitzel in some funky Austrian hostel back in the day, but it wouldn't have been made from a pounded conch fillet rolled in Japanese panko crumbs, sauced in key lime emulsion, and presented spilling out of its beautiful shell with tufts of fresh herbs tucked around it, tender and salty-sour and marine-flavored ($12.95). You might have found a chowder made from shredded pork butt, onions, and tomatoes, but it probably wouldn't have had such peppery, vinegary piquancy, and it certainly wouldn't have been served in an off-kilter bowl with a slender, crumbling cracker and an upright spear of green onion ($6.95). I know that the vintage Frau X wouldn't have offered you a plate of kampachi ($27.95) because this farmed Hawaiian fish, with a taste a bit like snapper, is a fairly recent invention; and her chef-husband never would have sauced the fish with a drizzle of butter and lime juice flecked with capers, pine nuts, and pomegranate seeds. Kobaitri is from Lebanon, where a family dinner in better days might have included a skewer of grilled vegetables en brochette; I do not think you would have found seared pineapple and turnips in that company, or tiny, whole red and yellow peppers and slices of summer squash, although your warm roll may have been as soft and probably would have been served with the same thin square of sweet butter.
You're a food critic. They probably fawn all over you. I won't get that kind of treatment.
They have no idea who I am. They never recognize me when I go incognito, in my blond bouffant wig, cat's-eye sunglasses, and zebra platform boots. You ought to get swift, friendly service, like any other customer at La Brochette. I think that's a big part of the reason folks keep returning there, despite the weird location, even in this dismal market: They know they'll be taken care of.
What's for dessert?
Amazing bread pudding made from croissants with cream and white chocolate ($7.50), with dark, bitter espresso ($2.50) as devilish as anything you'll find on the streets of Paris.
I'm not really into clinking wine glasses and eating hand-cut filet mignon or sipping espresso. I'm more into specialty martinis and small plates.
La Brochette only serves beer and wine, and their wine list is full of overly familiar bottles. There's no bar food — no quesadillas, no spring rolls. But you need to think of this as more of a third-date venue. First date: You get acquainted someplace quiet and non-committal. Second: You want a place where you can show off a little, someplace that suits your grooviness, where you can get wicked on lavender-and-Meyer-lemon mojitos. And so we come to the third date, where you want to show your range. She thinks she's got you pegged now, but she'd never have expected La Brochette. You're going to look great in that candlelight.