The first thing they tell you when you sit down at Brand 158, the month-old restaurant across from the Americana, is that they don’t accept tips. Staff are paid competitive wages and the best tip, they say, is a patron’s return visit. The second thing they tell you is that payment is preferred by credit or debit card. Servers handling food and bartenders squeezing limes are not allowed to touch cash or coins. If cash is all a patron has, gift cards for the exact amount are available at the host station.
Not tipping is common in Europe and Asia but this is rather groundbreaking here in the States. So much so that we found the rule hard to follow especially after the excellent service we received. We requested they put a higher amount on the credit card but it came back for signature with the original total. We found this surprising and very classy. We will be coming back but that’s not the only reason why.
We had no fewer than six “assistants” making sure all of our needs were taken care of. The no-tip philosophy breeds a camaraderie and cooperativeness among staff members that you don’t see everywhere. When the overhead lights were too bright, two people worked out a way to dim them right then and there. When there was a mix-up over an order, the owner and a manager came out twice to assure us the correct order was on its way. They charged us for the less pricey item and comped us a dessert. (In case you’re wondering, they had no idea I was reviewing the restaurant.) All of this is to say our service was beyond reproach. Now for the food.
All the things we ate and drank were tasty and over half were bordering on heavenly. The most memorable was the blackened sea bass ($28), a succulent snow white filet with a spiced exterior seared to a crisp. It sat atop a corn-bell pepper melange which was pleasing but seemed a little incongruous in December. Judging by the prevalence of summer produce (corn, tomatoes, mangoes) in the dead of winter, veteran chef Peter Roelant is not a slave to the locally grown/farm-to-table trend.
Instead, his skills gleaned from years at L’Orangerie and Four Oaks help him make these imported goodies quite amazing. The creamy burrata salad with perky arugula, ripe tomatoes and fig balsamic was delectable to the last smear ($14). We found two side dishes to be especially unique and luscious. The Peruvian purple quinoa is served warm with big chunks of sauteed mango, shallots, parsley and almonds ($9). My only complaint is there wasn’t enough. One would expect the basil whipped potatoes ($5) to be a simple airy puff. They’re fluffy, yes, but also earthy and aromatic with roasted onions, carrots and other root vegetables on top.
Pizzas take center stage on the Brand 158 menu but they didn’t steal the show at our table. Our favorite among three was the Zaatar, that Lebanese thyme-heavy spice mix on top of piping hot, air-pocket filled crust ($10). Cucumber, olives, mint and tomatoes come on the side. It would be a great pre- or post-movie snack alongside a cocktail like the Bourbon Blues with blueberry, basil and citrus or the refreshing Cool Cucumber with infused vodka and fresh market raspberries ($11 each).
The atmosphere inside is cool and modern with video art over the bar and a dramatic Aguila espresso machine in full view. I need to come back for one of their signature Nespresso Art drinks like the Sweet Americana with iced Nespresso Lungo Forte, vanilla vodka, Kahlua and cold milk foam ($12). I think I would drink it outside, though. The efficient heat lamps and surprisingly fun swivel chairs make watching the goings-on at the shopping mall across the street comfortable and entertaining.
Where: 158 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale
Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Prices: Pizzas, $10 to $17 ; dinner entrees, $21 to $29; appetizers and sides, $5 to $11; specialty cocktails, $9 to $11
More info: (818) 305-2861, brand158.com