The new restaurant Brique is easy to find. Once you're over the Bay Bridge, it's just one left turn onto Route 213, and a slight left onto North Commerce Street, the main drag of Centreville. Brique is up ahead on the right. It's just across from the pretty county courthouse, the state's oldest in continuous use. Its shady grounds look like the set for the kind of movie where Julia Roberts returns home and discovers what really matters.
In that kind of movie, though, there is never a restaurant as sophisticated or as stimulating as Brique, which is capable of producing moments of ravishing pleasure over the course of an evening. This surprise element, the presence of a chic and forward-looking restaurant in a quiet, retiring town of 2,000 people, adds to the allure of a place like Brique.
When we visited, it had already been discovered, and the handsome, clean-lined 60-seat dining room was full. On a tableside visit, chef William Dolan told us that guests had been trickling in from Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
What encouraged this trip over the bridge was a look at the menu, which reads like the work of someone operating with sheer confidence in himself and his diners. So, yes, there is offal — a Berkshire pork belly, a chicken liver and truffle mousse, and Hudson Valley foie gras. And there are a few items that sounded brand-new. If anyone is serving them in Baltimore, I haven't noticed. These were the pork rillette Le Mans — a Dolan specialty — a regional French preparation of seasoned pork belly and shoulder confit, and a cioppino featuring clams, mussels, kale, and starring a broiled bay bluefish.
It turned out that the rillette, which you can think of as a coarse pate, was a model appetizer, full of rich and invigorating flavor, garnished with mâche and accessorized with a kind of bistro chic that Dolan excels in. And that bluefish, which goes wrong so often, has seldom been in better hands. And if there's one dish you have to try in the next 60 days, it's this one, which besides the bluefish offers a shellfish broth that you want to lap up from the bowl. I think I did.
Just about everything the kitchen sends out succeeds, and everything arrives showing evidence of great care. Dolan plates his food beautifully. Rustic simplicity is the big thing now — food is just itself — so it's nice to see a chef insist on flattering his food with arabesques of bright and shimmering coulis. Of course, this is only worth doing if the sauces actually belong there. They do, and they taste like they've been slaved over.
We loved so many things — at the beginning, the bruschetta appetizer, warm buttery bread with a mélange of wild mushrooms, topped with a perfect poached egg; another starter of spicy duck meatballs, which woke our tongues up with flash notes of fire; and its perfect complement, a refreshingly cool salad of raw yellowtail.
Among the bigger plates, the bluefish was the triumph, but the "butler" steak (for which Dolan uses different cuts of meats) was right behind, juicy and tender, served with a dandy port sauce and luscious blue cheese butter. A knockout entree named "Heads and Tails" assembled expertly handled braised beef cheeks and oxtails, accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes and farm-table carrots. At the meal's end, there's homemade cheesecake, baked into a circle, topped with a thick layer for fudge-y chocolate and set to chill, that made me like cheesecake again.
Only by comparison did a few things pale, but they are still recommended, especially for smaller appetites. The cedar-planked salmon, served with a caper-raisin puree, is blameless. The seared diver scallops only make sense if you remember to involve them with the grapefruit puree that's been placed on the plate — otherwise, they're just good scallops. The presentation needs to make that more emphatic. The only thing we didn't like at all was a crab and crawfish pate that came across like bland holiday dip.
The setting for this fine food is described as upscale casual. That term, for once, makes sense. Neutral colors predominate in the single dining room, which on its long end features floor-length windows looking out on the courthouse. The dining chairs are attractively upholstered, the tables are clothed and precisely set, and the noise level is subdued. Back toward the kitchen there is a small bar, which looks just large enough to handle a small crowd waiting for tables.
There are just a few things I'd change about an evening at Brique. I want a bread basket after a long drive. The menu divides, unhelpfully I thought, into "appetizers," "table starters," "salads," "small plates" and "entrees." I want the staff, which is thoroughly solicitous and polite, to be sharper about navigating their guests through the meal, especially when they're asked to.
Those are small things. Brique is otherwise an impressively solid new restaurant. Put Centreville on your culinary map.
Where: 122 N Commerce St, Centreville
Hours: Open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Saturday
Food: TWO AND ONE HALF STARS
Service: THREE STARS
Atmosphere: TWO AND ONE HALF STARS