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Angels Report

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As part of the Birch Street Promenade redevelopment in downtown Brea, Taps Fish House and Brewery brings an evolving North County dining scene its first New Orleans-style seafood restaurant.

For those who have eaten their way through the streets of the Big Easy, you know what this means: fresh shellfish, spicy dishes packed with all kinds of sea life and lots and lots of beer.

This much Taps delivers. So it’s a safe assumption that Taps’ buffet brunch has to be a bit different from the others. And on its Creole surface, it is. A serving station piled high with gleaming oysters on the half shell, Day-Glo orange shrimp and firehouse-red crawfish greets you as you enter the large, barn-like brick restaurant.

The festive jazz of a five-piece Dixieland band plays almost nonstop. And yes, the servers all wear Mardi Gras beads.

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This is about as New Orleans as you get in these parts, and because it’s one of the great culinary cities in the world, I thought it would be reasonable to expect a fair representation in Taps’ brunch. After all, some of the local flavors I’ve enjoyed on various jaunts through the Crescent City have practically brought forth tears of joy. I like Cajun/Creole food that much.

While discovering some interesting and tasty items on Taps’ buffet spread, I found myself questioning the quality of many offerings and the glaring lack of other Cajun/Creole staples, such as etouffee and piquant sauce dishes.

But if you’re into drinking handcrafted beers, champagne and exquisitely spicy Bloody Marys (the first two come as part of the $23.95 price; the last for $3.50 a pop) while digging though soft-peel shrimp, large, tasty oysters and buttery crawfish tails, Taps is where you want to be.

The shellfish are part of the first serving station, which runs along the oyster bar. Besides these, there’s a battalion of salads and vegetable dishes (including a wonderful vegetable curry dish and a ceviche packed with tuna chunks), a crock pot of savory gumbo and a large poached salmon with accouterments of diced red onion, sour cream and capers.

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You could just load up on the shellfish, salmon and the curry-fused gumbo while tossing in a few of the super-delicious mini-muffins they serve and have a memorable brunch. But that’s counterintuitive to the brunch experience, and you must go on to the second and third stations. If you’re like me, though, you will wish you didn’t.

Stop No. 2 is the manned omelet/pasta station. Added to the typical fillings are bay shrimp, crab and minced clams. The omelets are adequate, but I was more interested in the pasta section--choice of four pastas, with a marinara or pesto sauce and a choice of fillings. I opted for a fettuccine with a pesto sauce filled with crab and shrimp. Not the finest pesto around, but overall, it was fine.

Stop No. 3 featured the hot selections and the breads, muffins and desserts. Here’s where I had some real difficulties. There were a number of Creole/Cajun-inspired dishes, but other than a spicy jambalaya peppered with lots of andouille, nothing else made me long for another trip to Jazz Fest. The eggs Marguerite--an eggs Benedict-type of item featuring a cornmeal biscuit and andouille--were sabotaged by an industrially bland biscuit. Blech!

The carving station offered dry, Cajun deep-fried turkey that even thick gravy couldn’t save. And the seafood potpie was just too fishy. But the seasoned fried chicken was pretty good, I must add.

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What this buffet cries out for is the addition of some real Cajun/Creole dishes. A shrimp etouffee would fit in perfectly, as would a dish called alligator sauce piquant, in which cubed gator meat is served in spicy gravy filled with chopped vegetables. And where, oh where, were the Po Boys?

My brunchmates and I--all of us New Orleans veterans with a taste for the authentic--pondered these questions while I picked at a very tasty flan (heavy on the caramel) swimming in an amaretto sauce.

Taps provides a brief taste of New Orleans cuisine, and some of it is good. But as with most things in life--and especially with Cajun/Creole cooking--this newly introduced brunch just won’t be as good as it should be unless some heart and soul are put into it.

*

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Taps Fish House and Brewery, 101 E. Imperial Highway, Brea. (714) 257-0101. Sunday brunch: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Cost: $23.95 for adults; $8.95 for children 10 and younger.


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