Monday, March 10, 2014
After more than 30 years working nights in a kitchen, Krista Kern Desjarlais has decided she’s had enough.
Desjarlais, one of Portland’s best-known chefs and a finalist for a James Beard award last year, has decided to cut back dinner service at Bresca, 111 Middle St., to two nights a week. From now on, dinner will be served only on Friday and Saturday. This is a permanent, not seasonal, change.
The good news? On Wednesday, for the first time, Desjarlais opened Bresca’s doors for lunch.
And I was lucky enough to be her first customer.
Lunch will be served at Bresca beginning at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Closing time will depend on demand.
Why the shift? The chef and I chatted for a few minutes after I placed my order, and she told me she is simply tired. Now in her mid-40s, she and husband Erik Desjarlais (proprietor of Weft &Warp Seamster, which makes culinary knife rolls and aprons) have a toddler to chase around, and Desjarlais said her priorities have simply changed. Working nights and worrying about flashy awards is a young person’s game, the chef explained.
Desjarlais is proud of the fact that she has been on the line in her kitchen every night Bresca has been open. She could hire someone to replace herself, she said, but the restaurant is just too small to make that a practical choice financially.
The new lunch menu will be “smallish,” and the chef will change it up when she gets an idea of what guests prefer, but she promises there will always be a good price point for the quality of the food. Most of the dishes on Wednesday’s menu were between $9 and $12.
That’s not all. She’s also planning to make pastries for eating in or take-out (think tarts, eclairs, etc.), and Bresca will probably start opening even earlier when that part of the plan is ready to launch.
Desjarlais has floated similar plans in the past, but says she has now found “the nerve” to actually make the changes. She said she wants the new version of her restaurant to grow organically, and hopes to find her own niche in the Portland lunch scene.
For my first lunch at the new Bresca, I chose the roasted fennel and root vegetable tart. The tart was light, flaky and crispy, covered in roasted veggies and a delicious parsnip cream. Some dressed greens and a roasted tomato sat on the side. (See complete menu below.)
Why would you choose a sandwich, chips and soda in the Old Port when you could have a lunch like this for about the same price?
To sooth my scratchy throat, I also had a cup of the “Bresca Blend” hot tea, a delightful blend of hibiscus, rose, lavender and chamomile.
Dessert is not on the menu yet – presumably Desjarlais’ pastries will serve that function – but when she asked me if I wanted something sweet to finish the meal, how could I say no? I’ve had her desserts before, so it didn’t take much arm twisting.
Here’s what she sent out: a chocolate-almond torte with crispy phyllo, vanilla anglais, pear-cardamom sorbet and maple salted gelato.
If you’ve found it hard to get to Bresca for dinner, either because of personal circumstances or because they’re always booked when you’ve tried to get a table, you owe it to yourself to try Desjarlais’ food at lunch.
Here is the menu she launched with on Wednesday. (The frog legs aren’t arriving until Thursday.)
Shaved brussels sprouts, toasted walnuts, Parmesan, pecorino and olive oil $9
Green salad $4
Gorgonzola, pear, walnut and chicories $12
Roasted fennel and root vegetable tart with a 6-minute egg, parsnip cream, white anchovies $12
Cream of celeriac soup with winter mushroom puree and Parmesan popcorn $9
Crispy frog legs Indochine with baguette $11
Veal and ricotta meatball sub with overnight tomatoes, sottocenere fonduta $12
Steak tartare on brioche bun with fried egg and cornichons $12
Lumberjack porridge: 7-grain hot cereal, sauteed foie gras, fruit and granola, maple sugar balsamic $16
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.