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A Fresh French Approach at Brasserie Four

June 18, 2012

By Kirsten Telander:
Brassrie 200x300“Make [food] simple and let things taste of what they are.” Curnonsky (Maurice Edmond Sailland) 
French writer (1872-1956)

Despite her unapologetic liberal use of butter, you won’t find brasserie four’s Chef/Owner Hannah McDonald masking her food in heavy sauces. The cuisine, like the atmosphere in this bistro, is clean and simple, and the only item notably fried on the menu is the frites ­- to remove them would lead to nothing short of Occupy (Four) Main Street.

I decided to be French-like the day I ate at brasserie, which meant I cleared my calendar for the afternoon. I figured if Hemingway could hang out in the cafes of Paris for days on end, I could allow myself one. But unlike Hemingway, Hannah’s moveable feast took place in the kitchens of the people she boarded with for a year while in Paris as a student – Madame Poupon (heir to the mustard family), and a couple by the name of Jacques and Jaqueline who fed her five-course meals at night.

Interior decorator Melaine Jaques of Pure Design joined me at the restaurant to celebrate the transformation of my bedroom into something a respectable grown-up would sleep in. We toasted with Buty Winery’s The Beast, a delightful dry Rose of Syrah and Grenache with gorgeous peach color. In addition to the wine menu, brasserie maintains an impressive shelf selection of both local and imported wines and sparklings, thanks to resident Sommelier Robert Ames, which can be purchased to go or opened for dining in.

The pureed soups here are some of the best I’ve had, but today, we opted for the Galette du Jour, a savory buckwheat crepe filled with smoked ham and Gruyere, topped with a local farm-fresh sunny side-up egg. We moved on to the Moules Frites, a bowl of steaming Penn Cove mussels in a white wine broth with Pernod and herbs, served with the epic French fries and homemade mayonnaise. I learned from a visit to the kitchen that Hannah requires the mussels be delivered within 30 seconds from plating – the kind of attention to detail that her impeccable staff executes. We finished European-style with a stacked salad of beet, fennel, and carrot (the Trois), though I’ve been known to finish my meal with one of their cheeses and an ounce of wild boar salami.

It’s worth noting that Hannah, who grew up in Walla Walla, has made brasserie four remarkably child friendly. Her son, Christian, is often seen dining and drawing in the restaurant, and the staff and patrons are nonplussed with the occasional train cars that find their way under tables from a play area in the corner.

It seemed fitting to write about brasserie four during the French Open tennis tournament which she was broadcasting – one of Chef Hannah’s alternate dream careers is that of a French Open champion (she’d also like to work in fashion in Paris, and be known as the one to ban margarine). In addition to her tenure in Paris, Hannah interned at the prestigious Milles Fleurs in my hometown of Rancho Santa Fe, California, a restaurant that was spoken of with such reverence, you’d think it the birthplace of Jesus, Elvis, or both.

I couldn’t help but bookend this blog with another quote, which seems to embody some of Hannah’s personal and professional ideals:

“Enchant, stay beautiful and graceful, but do this, eat well. Bring the same consideration to the preparation of your food as you devote to your appearance. Let your dinner be a poem, like your dress.” Charles Pierre Monselet, French author (1825-1888)
‘Letters to Emily’

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