BRASA
2107 Third Ave, 728-4220
Open Mon-Sat 5:00 pm - 2:00 am / Closed Sunday

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A GOOD FRIEND TOLD ME A FEW years ago, "If you want to know the true value of a meal, look in the toilet the next day." The saying has stayed with me like a curse. No matter how well prepared the meal or how romantic the evening, at some point during the next 48 hours I always find myself peering at the interruption of my reflection in the murky water, almost literally flushing hard-earned money out to sea. During leaner times I visualize this process as part of my budgetary discipline. These are lean times. My cupboards are bare, save for the unopened 12-pack of ramen from the Cosmodemonic Food Warehouse. My proverbial ship hasn't been sighted in months.

But as luck would have it, there were still a couple of birthday dinners I hadn't used yet. My boss (who's no Ivana Trump either) was intrigued when I suggested we try Brasa, the latest in a troupe of new upscale eateries located in Belltown, blocks away from established favorites Palace Kitchen, Dahlia Lounge, and the less splashy Isabella. Brasa may be the newest kid in the bunch, but owner Tamara Murphy enjoyed a long, reputable stint as a chef at Campagne in the Pike Place Market. Along with owner Bryan Hill, Murphy could be expected to bring adventurous creativity to the new establishment.

In its first week Brasa was one busy joint, sampled by a wide variety of local gastronomes, and boasting an impressive buzz for a restaurant that isn't owned by a Puck. That first week, Neil Young and Sandra Bernhard enjoyed meals there, and it appears that among its formidable culinary credits, Brasa may also prove to be a prime stargazing spot. Even its exuberant valets seem starstruck by the possibilities of celebrity.

Inside the façade, marked by a tasteful neon sign and massive brass doors, Brasa's pumpkin-colored room is expansive. A second-level balcony lined with booths and tables rings one wall of the restaurant, relieved by curtains that can be used to separate diners and bolster intimacy. Its menus are replicated on unwieldy Moses-sized tablets, resulting in a minor struggle as my host and I juggled the vagaries of casing the joint, acknowledging the myriad suggestions from our server, and handling the oversized menus.

Brasa's fare changes daily; while it can accommodate vegetarians, it's decidedly carnivorous in a splashy sense, with forays into venison and wild game. We started our meal with an appetizer of pan-fried calamari: while palatable, it was neither outstanding nor unusual. We also split a spinach salad, which featured an interesting warm mustard dressing. (By "interesting" I mean that my partner and I couldn't settle on whether we liked it, but we ate the entire creation before the debate was over.)

The night we were there the menu boasted roast suckling pig. Our server proudly described the process by which a whole pig is slow-roasted in a specially built oven right inside the restaurant. My host ordered the pig, while I chose the less-than-exotic lamb chops. We greeted the arrival of our main courses with measured disappointment. We had allowed ourselves to imagine that our server would actually deliver a whole pig roasted with the stereotypical apple in its mouth, but the dish arrived with considerably less flourish: a generous slice of the other white meat, wedged atop a mountain of mashed potatoes, under a roof of cabbage and walled by a thick rind of roasted skin. My partner found it to be on the bland side, not bland enough to complain about, but rather as a foiled intrigue. My chops were grilled and beautifully sauced, accompanied by several asparagus spears--not the tips, mind you, but a mixture of tips and mid-sections.

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I was lying in wait for the dessert, impressed by the selection and assured by the fact that everything on the dessert menu, from an assortment of bite-sized cookies to fennel ice cream, was made fresh on the premises. Having learned that my host had never tasted a napoleon before, I convinced him that a homemade napoleon would be the treat o' the day. However, it arrived looking nothing like I had described. It was triangular-shaped and arranged in such a way that he had to assemble it to eat it. He viewed the affair with suspicion rather than delight, discouraged by its arrangement--but again, not enough to complain. This was, after all, Brasa in its first week.

Our dinner--two cocktails, a bottle of wine, appetizer, main course, dessert, coffee, and cognac, with tip--hit us at two Benjamins, a figure that is becoming more the norm than the exception in these parts. Like its neighbors, Brasa is open until two a.m. six nights a week, and also has a more manageable bar menu, which serves as a less daunting introduction to the restaurant. I'll go again, when the ship comes in, and when it's ready to produce a hefty ballast.