Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Liking Luxe All Over Again



Brian Okin has been running the kitchen at Luxe since June. The husband and I were on hand for tasting last week of his new fall menu organized for staff and few friends of the house. After making my way through samples of fourteen sides, salads, small plates, pizzas and entrees it's quite clear to me that this skilled chef has settled in and hit his stride. He's putting his mark on this restaurant, which has been around since 2008, and diners have reason to rejoice.

 Okin likes to promote himself as a serious carnivore cook, with a special interest in a certain unconventional protein, and the braised pork shank osso bucco (with cheesy polenta) leaves no doubt that he knows how to handle a piece of meat to bring out its finest qualities. Pork belly and garlic sausage are used to good effect in place of duck in a riff on cassoulet. Earthy porcini spaetzle, made with a powdered from of the mushroom, are dotted with what Okin calls "his best friend," bacon. And the prosciutto and fresh mozzarella stuffed chicken breast is pure poultry comfort food. But what really grabbed my attention was his ability to add real va-va-voom to veggies.

I went crazy over the salads. Really, no exaggeration. The wedge features small baby head lettuces and a fantastic smoked blue cheese dressing made with creme fraiche and a malt vinegar aioli they prep in house. Another is a combination of roasted cauliflower, butter lettuce, chickpeas, and pickled red onion, all set off by a raisin-sherry vinaigrette. But my personal favorite, as well as the entire table's pick for best, was the winter squash. Slices are coated in panko and toasted in clarified butter, paired with arugula, and drizzled with truffle oil and a wonderful Gorgonzola fondue.

A cauliflower gratin in gruyere crema was rich and satisfying. Squash with risotto and raclette cheese finished with brown butter and sage was an autumn on the plate feast. And then there were the fried brussels sprouts tossed in a lemon rosemary vinaigrette with capers and toasted almonds. Simply and yet perfect. Possibly the best version of these little cabbage cousins I've ever had.

One feature of the menu I really like is the family meal option (minimum of two people): $28 per person gets the table a  customized, three-course selection of dishes for sharing. Another noteworthy aspect is the array of options for vegetarians and vegans. 

Luxe has been around long enough to be a Gordon Square neighborhood fixture. But there are all kinds of new reasons to check it out now thanks to chef Brian Okin.

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