By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
The phone rings once, three times, five, and then Charlie Master answers. "Brix. Happy Monday."
This would be an incredibly annoying way for anyone to answer the phone -- shades of that "case of the Mondays" scene from Office Space -- if Charlie didn't sound so sincere. He really means "Happy Monday": half a request to have one, half a statement that it is one.
In the background are the sounds of a house getting ready for service -- the tinkle of silver, raised voices, the music turned up enough that I can hear it over the desk phone, but not quite enough that I can pick out the song. "Hey, Charlie," I say. "It's Jason from Westword."
Baked goat cheese: $7
Garlic hummus: $3
House chips: $3
Shepherd’s pie: $14
Mum’s Zinfandel beef stew: $14
Moroccan chicken: $12
"So what's going on?"
Zero hour, I say. Review time. Although Charlie and I know each other -- we met through his parents, Mel and Jane Master, after I reviewed Mel's Restaurant & Bar last year -- I'd already managed to sneak in and out of Brix twice without being picked out of the crowd. Once was a few weeks after the restaurant opened this past February. The other was just days before, I tell him.
"Really," Charlie says, maybe a little shocked. And I say, yeah, really. I am, if nothing else, one serious James Bond motherfucker.
Charlie doesn't ask about the review. He doesn't get all freaky like some restaurant owners do, giving me the oh-no-what'd-you-think routine or flying right into the bad week/chef just quit/Mom's in the hospital excuses. He doesn't have to. He knows he has a good house. He's spent his entire life -- both professional and personal, like from the day he was born -- in very good houses, surrounded by some of the world's heaviest food-world big shots, so he knows good from bad, from mediocre. Whatever judgments he has about his own place are juried against memories of Alice and Jeremiah at Chez Panisse; Waxman at Jams; Puck, Bocuse and Keller at the French Laundry; against the litany of his parents' restaurants -- Mel's, Top Hat, Jams (again) -- and the restaurants of everyone they know, a list that includes, well, everyone.
So the opinion of some frantic podunk scribbler doesn't matter much when weighed against the voices already in Charlie's head. Still, had I hated Brix -- had I found it false, lame, plastic, if the kitchen had been asleep at the switch or the staff treated me poorly -- this would have been a tougher call. Tough because I know Charlie, and through his father get regular updates on "the Boy" (Mel always laughs when he says that) and how the Boy's restaurant is coming along. I tell Charlie that judging from my two anonymous meals there, Brix seems to be coming along very well, indeed, and say I'll stop by later.
Great, Charlie says. It's been a long time, and Mondays -- even happy Mondays -- are slow.
You have the whitest teeth I've ever come across...That's what it says, scrawled in thick, black marker low on the yellow post in the front dining room and bar of the space that used to be Aquarela and now is anything but. The post is meant for graffiti, and it's covered with the names, one-liners and men's-room humor of patrons inspired by cheap drinks and good company. There are hearts and initials, pictures, pub wisdom and toasts ripe with Irish melancholy -- May the roof above us never fall in and the friends gathered below never fall out; Here's to the kisses I've missed and the misses I've kissed. But the teeth line always gives me the best laugh.
For a supposedly slow Monday, Brix is busy. Brix is almost always busy, with clientele demographics heavily weighted toward girl and pretty, the front bar and back dining room regularly at (or beyond) capacity. So Charlie is up and down, greeting and seating, answering phones, checking on the kitchen, popping out for twenty minutes to pick up an order of cheeses from The Truffle. In his absence, I eat. The baked goat cheese comes in a shallow white dish, baked hard and hot so that the oils squeezed out of the cheese have mixed with the oils of the garlic and the fruity sweetness of a few slices of sun-dried tomato laid on the bottom of the dish. When I dip into it with spears of toasted baguette, the hot goat cheese clings to the bread. The tastes smooth out in my mouth, mixing with spit and all those natural human juices for some very personal applied chemistry.
Over the past four months, this dish has seen a series of changes -- more garlic, less garlic, then more again; fewer tomatoes, then just the couple hidden under the cheese like the prize at the bottom of a cereal box. The tinkering's done by Charlie in conjunction with his cook, Alessandro Sosa, Mel's former sous chef, with an eye not to cost, or to maximizing interaction and potential customer satisfaction (that's far too schoolbook), but just to making it right. To making every dish taste the way it wants to.