San Diego Spotlight : Imagination Lifts Brasserie Creations to New Heights

The motto of the restaurant trade may be that the three factors that define success are "location, location and location" (in that order), but it would seem that if you're good enough, you nonetheless can hide an establishment in a light industrial park far from your client bases and get away with it.

Doug Organ, who at 31 seems to have developed into one of the wizened sages of the local cooking biz--his 13 years of ruling the ranges at a number of distinguished restaurants already amounts to an impressive career--tucked his WineSellar & Brasserie into a warehouse development off Mira Mesa Boulevard that, at first consideration, would have seemed likely to guarantee a quick demise. The location does, of course, make sense for the wine side of the business, the WineSellar, whose wares notably enrich the list in the upstairs restaurant. In any event, the place has prospered and has even attracted some favorable national notice, a rare accomplishment for a San Diego restaurant.

Few local eateries depend so completely upon the chef as the Brasserie; Cindy Black's in La Jolla would be another example. Organ's style of cooking may not be unique in all the world, but it certainly stands out here, and while the term "imagination" suffers from over-use in food descriptions, Organ does bring a great deal of it to his food pairings and their presentations.

Several standing items, such as the roasted eggplant soup and the tchoutchouka , an Algerian-style salad of roasted sweet peppers, have appeared on the menu since the Brasserie opened. But the bulk of the list, printed daily, reflects the possibilities of the market and, often, the inspiration of the moment.

This lately has resulted in such excellent creations as a pan-roasted saddle of monkfish, arranged over wilted spinach and finished with a lushly aromatic fricassee of mussels, basil and saffron, and grilled salmon sided by a ragout (properly a stew) of curried green lentils. In both cases, as with most preparations, a principal factor that distinguishes Brasserie fare from that at most restaurants is the inseparable melding of flesh and garnish as a specific dish; there are no all-purpose garnishes. A bunch of Italian parsley, warmed and salted, completed the salmon presentation and was not merely novel but exciting. Salmon has a strength of flavor that requires counterpoints, in this case well provided by both the parsley and the dose of curry in the lentils, themselves a fine ingredient in the dish.

Organ favors high-rising presentations, achieved in the case of the monkfish by a crown of fried potato wisps, which of course added a welcome crunch as well as a bit of architectural whimsy unusual in restaurant food. Julienned strips of carrot and leeks slithered over the summit of the veal shank, braised in Madeira until meltingly tender and stood on end to exaggerate its height. Another excellent dish, the veal, was completed by orzetto , or rice-shaped pasta, which may not sound special but here it had been braised in stock in the manner of a risotto and thus was buttery and rich far beyond the limits of the usual pasta.

Appetizers are built with the same thoughtfulness and meticulous approach. Some, such as the herb-marinated California goat cheese, are relatively simple, and others extravagant, particularly the grilled fresh duck foie gras with gingered poached apples and Port sauce. As rich as the foie gras may be, it probably is surpassed by the arrangement of pan-roasted veal sweetbreads, onion confit (chopped onions slowly simmered into a heady jam) and a wild rice pancake of extraordinarily subtle flavor. Rare ingredients also turn up on this list, most notably the duck breast prosciutto (cured on the premises, and a little like a gamey version of the Italian ham) with dramatically crimson blood oranges, a salad of bitter greens and a crust spread with onion marmalade, like the confit mentioned above but sharpened by a jolt of vinegar.

Even the desserts undergo considerable complication, consistently for the better, so that the rich, flourless chocolate cake, quite satisfactory on its own, takes on a different identity when submerged beneath twin toppings of dried apricot coulis (a strained sauce) and custard sauce. The light apple crisp, almost like a gratin of fruit baked under a few crumbles of crust, is enriched by a spooning of cinnamon-flavored cream; even better is the true gratin of bananas, cloaked with a sabayon (custard) of Champagne, egg yolks and fresh ginger (a wonderful idea) and glazed under the broiler. Ice creams, made on the premises and served in variety, include gingered date--again, an inspired combination--and a wickedly smooth caramel.

The regular menu disappears on Sundays, replaced by a fixed price ($17.95) list set at three courses. The range of choice is less broad than on other evenings, but sufficient; portions unquestionably are sized with Sunday supper in mind and tend very strongly to the light side. There also is less complication to the cooking; a perfect balance marked the appetizer of thinly sliced cured pork loin (more tender than the Sunday ham of yesteryear, although the hint of clove flavor suggested ham) and sharply herbed cous cous salad. The broccoli soup, sieved to a silken consistency and colored with a swirl of basil-flavored cream, came off better than most simply because of the careful preparation.

The light approach of the entrees is highlighted by such offerings as the risotto with broccoli rabe (a fancy hybrid of this vegetable), leeks, basil and sweet Meyer lemon, and the salad of sliced lamb with warmed spinach and feta cheese. Sauteed mustard greens, flecked with tiny cubes of minced carrot and zucchini and surprisingly sharp in flavor, made a delicious base for a braised thigh of gray pheasant. A bit of butter blended with mustard and fresh rosemary melted over slices of roasted pork loin, cooked rosy-rare in defiance of old practices and superbly juicy as a result.

WINESELLAR & BRASSERIE 9550 Waples St., San Diego 450-9557 Lunch Tuesday through Saturday, dinner Tuesday through Sunday, closed Monday. Entrees cost $17.50 to $21; dinner for two, including a moderate bottle of wine, tax and tip, $80 to $110.

Credit cards accepted.

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