Gerard Craft's restaurants have been all over the local and national press of late, what with the opening of Pastaria in Clayton, the relocation of flagship Niche, the impending departure of Ted Kilgore from Taste, and multiple appearances on all manner of 'Best Of' lists. While all of this has been going on, Brasserie by Niche has been rolling along under the radar a bit, steadily putting out its signature quality, affordable rustic French fare with very little fanfare. We made a return trip to this CWE favorite recently to refresh our memory of this gem.
With its bold brick and wood exterior replete with rows of windows and gooseneck lights, Brasserie definitely stands out from its more sedate neighbors. Inside is a warm and inviting space, with tall ceilings, spare yet colorful decor and homey touches like the weathered chifforobe used as a hostess stand. During milder months, the outdoor patio seating provides some of the best people-watching in the neighborhood.
While sister eatery and next-door neighbor Taste is known for its cocktails, Brasserie has a quality drinks program, as well, as evidenced by original libations like the Unnamed # 4 ($8), a tasty combo of bourbon, Benedictine, pear brandy and salted caramel syrup, and the Parisian ($7), a take on a classic spritz with Aperol, Lillet Blanc and Champagne. These went quite nicely with an order of Gougeres ($5), tender yet flaky cheese puffs from the Amuse Bouche offerings, as we perused the menu.
The night of our visit was a blustery one that just begged for some comfort food, and Brasserie's menu met our needs and then some. The soup du jour, a creamy cauliflower creation ($8), warmed us as we settled in for the feast ahead, and it didn't take long to figure out just what that would entail. We opted for two classic French dishes, Boeuf Bourguignon ($23) and Cassoulet ($23). The beef dish, (we just can't call it a stew) would have made Julia Child proud. The tender meat was served over a creamy potato puree with onions, mushrooms and bacon and the requisite hearty red wine sauce. The cassoulet, served in a miniature iron skillet, was a wonderfully heavy and rich amalgam of duck confit, spicy garlic sausage, bacon and potatoes, all swimming in a slurry of tender white beans. Digging into these delights while sipping a glass of Chateau Jourdan Bordeaux ($9), it almost felt like we were weathering the storm on a Parisian boulevard.
For dessert, we again went the uber-traditional route with Chocolate Mousse ($8), a decadently dense confection that paired almost too well with a glass of Armangnac ($14).
In addition to dinner service, Brasserie boasts a weekend brunch that has garnered a reputation as one of the best in the city. While we are big fans of the other eateries in the Craft stable, Brasserie is definitely every bit the equal of its sister restaurants and deserving of just as much attention.
--Brasserie by Niche, 4580 Laclede Ave., 454-0600, brasseriebyniche.com.