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We know longtime customers of Brave New Restaurant who haven’t bothered to look at the restaurant’s menu and wine list for years, ever since the “old” days in the little space on Cantrell and now in its spacious, beautiful Cottondale Lane location with the river and downtown view. They merely sit down and order either the pinenut-encrusted salmon with pesto cream sauce or the mixed grill, a La Crema pinot noir, and creme brulee for dessert, and they’re plenty happy. The only variation each visit is whether it’s going to be fish or meat as the main course.
What they and so many other longtime fans of Peter Brave’s cooking know is that the meal is going to be simply and solidly presented, in ample portion and delicious.
But Brave New also can handle the customers with more varied tastes as well it does those looking for tried and true and who aren’t trying anything else.
These days, Peter and Marie Brave have even simplified their menu, making it a two-sided one that features the old favorites (yes, the encrusted salmon or the mixed grill, or shrimp and basil, pecan trout, veal with lime butter sauce, tilapia with Grand Marnier sauce, stuffed chicken, pork tenderloin, New York strip) on one side, and newer, seasonal entree choices as well as five flashy appetizers (some longtime favorites are still on that list, too) on the other side.
Like we said: simple.
For us, it still proves harder than that. We have to wonder what the beef tender with Stilton sauce might taste like. Or the half-duck. Or the layered trout. Or would we rather have poached salmon. Everyone of those appetizers sounds delectable, too.
Then, our waiter offers information on the specials, the freshly flown-in fish that Peter is going to accompany with a special beurre blanc sauce. It’s especially hard to resist when it’s wahoo or mahi mahi.
We recently celebrated the holidays at a table for eight with folks who will share their entrees and appetizer choices, and we all experienced the best of Brave. We could fall back to an old favorite like the encrusted salmon ($23.50), which has to be Brave’s signature fish dish, and enjoy a wonderful, not-the-least-bit-gamey slice of venison Noisette ($27.50). Our table decided it was even better than the exquisite beef tenderloin ($25.50), in fact.
We’re also happy to report that along with the traditional pumpernickel rolls Brave is famous for, the restaurant is serving Scott McGehee’s Boulevard Bread products, and that also includes the magnificent triple-cream St. Andre cheese as an appetizer, served with apple-blueberry chutney ($8.50).
But still among the best appetizers in all of Little Rock is the light and fluffy goat cheese mousse ($8). Almost standing up to its greatness were some newer items, such as the avocado shrimp with balsamic vinaigrette ($9.50) or the smoked fish (this night, salmon, $8).
The deer entree was the standout of the table, by far. But the pecan-encrusted trout was as we always remembered it, with a light battering of crust on a flaky serving of fish. Not every fish dish has to come doused in a butter sauce, as Brave realizes there are folks watching the cholesterol numbers.
For a couple of our more finicky dining companions, the Stilton sauce on the beef wasn’t going to fly. The waiter said no problem, as the kitchen accommodated them with a peppercorn wine reduction sauce instead, another perfect complement. For disappointed Stilton fans at our table, it was no problem with this group either. Hey, bring another entree, we all said, and four of us shared the cream-sauce topped chunk of meat, easily a 12-ouncer and medium rare as we insisted.
Salads come with entrees, and if we have a criticism, it’s that the Caesar and particularly its dressing doesn’t approach some of the better ones we’ve had elsewhere. But the house salad is very good with its vinaigrette dressing.
Our entree selections were complemented by solid wine suggestions from our veteran Brave waiter: a dry King Estate Pinot Gris for the fish eaters and a tasty Clos Pegase Carneros pinot noir for the rest.
Prices range from $19.50 for the pecan trout to $29.50 for the New York strip.
Brave New can be experienced at significantly lower the cost at lunch: The spectacular fish special of mahi-mahi in a mango beurre blanc sauce on a recent visit was $10.50. The lunch menu, also two-sided and easy to follow, differs in several ways from what you’ll find at dinner. At lunch, don’t miss the avocado and crabmeat salad, as delightful a visual presentation as it is delicious (and healthy, our health-conscious dining companion noted, with grapefruit and other items included along with a light vinaigrette dressing.)
Soups are also rich and hearty, such as the corn chowder we sampled at lunch, with a thickened broth.
Desserts have never failed in all our visits to Brave, and the chocolate crème brulee is among the best anywhere.
Brave New Restaurant
2300 Cottondale Lane
Some of the newer additions to the restaurant’s offerings include Boulevard Bread and the triple-cream St. Andre cheese, which spread like butter and is terribly addictive. Another newer appetizer we highly recommend is the avocado shrimp. But you won’t go wrong with the tried-and-true, such as the goat cheese mousse.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday; 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Reservations accepted at lunch for all parties, at dinner for parties of six or more. Expensive. Credit cards accepted. Full bar.