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Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Brixton is Cynical, Fake, and Sad

Posted By on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 at 6:23 PM

This is what fake cool looks like. - KINGSTON W./YELP

Let's get this out of the way: Cow Hollow is white. Is it The Brixton's fault that the color of the patrons skewed so pale on Tuesday night? The Union Street bar and restaurant was packed with women showing off what a couple years of yoga toning, Kerastase color washes, and salads for lunch can do, and guys with the kegger swagger of the Winklevi, only not nearly as hot. In a room where all 135 seats were taken, and customers stood at the communal tables waiting for stools to open up, I counted three Asians, zero African Americans, and two guys who looked Latino, except both happened to be bussers. The place is white!

But can you fault a restaurant for drawing people from the surrounding neighborhood? You cannot.

What you can fault a place for is feeding those white people dishes that riff off the mediocre artifacts of suburban big-box: spinach and artichoke dip, crisp-shelled mini tacos, brown 'n' serve rolls, canned pork and beans. It's cynical. Dress it up like some rad artifact of punk-edged rock culture and it's worse than cynical ― it's sad.

Open since January, the Brixton took its name from London's Brixton Academy (now O2 Brixton Academy), where everyone from Death Cab for Cutie to Armin Van Buuren plays these days, but which has just the right whiff of beer- and sweat-soaked leather to sound cool, Clash-y. Roots-punk glamazon Exene Cervenka looks fabulous in what must be a 20-year-old stage shot that turns the menu into a poster I would've gladly swiped to tape to my dorm-room door. On one wall, a grainy, black-and-white photograph by Michael Zagaris (7x7 has the backstory) shows the Sex Pistols' last gig at Winterland, on the other, framed posters for Jesus Lizard and the Black Crowes. And in the back, wallpaper designed by Shepard Fairey, with the sunken-eyed mug of the OBEY giant worked into the Edwardian tracery. It's cool.

And then you turn to the food.

Pretzel knots, spinach and artichoke dip, pizza ― cuisine for Cheesecake Factory kids. - STEF E./YELP
  • Stef E./Yelp
  • Pretzel knots, spinach and artichoke dip, pizza ― cuisine for Cheesecake Factory kids.

There was nothing pretzel-like about "twisted" house-made pretzel knots (quote marks theirs, $7), except the desultory pucker of braided dough cresting the tops. They were like rolls moms of the freezer generation served at Thanksgiving, warmed, sexed up with a pair of dips: seed-specked honey mustard, and cheddar cheese, dead ringer for the sauce Americans used to drown broccoli with.

A mix of poor execution and not-quite-right ingredients marred the crisped pork confit ($18). The belly meat had been rolled, cooked long, then crisped up in a pan ― it must've looked good on a clipboard in the chef's office, but the slices that reached my plate hadn't cooked to the sticky succulence they should have, or maybe the meat was just too lean to begin with. It never browned to the chewy-skinned lacquer that even moderately good carnitas attains. Plus the molasses-tweaked gigande beans it came with ― an update on pork 'n' beans ― were under-sauced hunks resembling felted wool.

The Brixton burger ($14) featured a slab of well-salted Prather grass-fed, though the confit of balsamic onions spread on its bun left an odd impression, like thin, moist batting. Best thing of the night: sweet potato fries (optional with the burger), slender and crisp, with delicately souffleed interiors.

Sad to say, they were all dishes designed to appeal to a generation brought up celebrating birthdays at the Cheesecake Factory and Hard Rock Cafe. Granted, I had one dinner, on one night ― nothing I'd base a definitive review on. Still there's enough experience in the kitchen to manage a couple of good dishes. The Brixton's consulting chef is Michelle Mah ― her contract here is up at the end of March. Former Weekly food critic Meredith Brody admired the French brasserie dishes Mah turned out for her last employer, the shuttered Midi. Mah knows how to cook, or should; the Chronicle liked her enough to tag her Rising Star Chef once. Her chef de cuisine (chef de cuisine?) is Jon Hara, also from Midi (he'll take up the reins starting next month). That they should be involved with what a Brixton opening press release called its "homey American fare with a modern twist" might be the most cynical thing about the Brixton ― they should know better. I'd totally rather chew carnitas anywhere the Brixton's bussers would let me shadow them to than saw through Mah and Hara's pork confit.

Oh, and as for the rad punk fakery the Brixton has papered itself with? I've got news for the owners: A place with "warm French onion dip" on the menu is the last place Sid Vicious would've ever let himself be dragged to. Sid? He'd be shooting black tar heroin in the dirty-floored shitter at Lung Shan.

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