BRUSCHETTA AND BUTTER STEAK
By Bill Gerdes
Of all cuisines in the world, I enjoy the inspiring history that follows the evolution of Italian food. Images conjured by this thought are filled with both joyous families at dinner, passing baskets of a secret, Italian bruschetta recipe from centuries ago as well as exciting and modernized American-Italian creations. Sadly, you can’t trust every Italian restaurant in the IE to deliver authentic flavor but the newest joint on the block, Brio Tuscan Grille, proves that its Tuscany-inspired dishes are more than just impressive. I often find myself judging a book by its cover when it comes to restaurants, especially chains. It wasn’t until I sat by the bar in Brio’s little intimate and fun table area, which lies underneath a faux-cupola ceiling, that I was reminded to keep an open mind.
For me, Brio acted as a snob-trap, reminding me for the umpteenth time that each restaurant stands on its own merits, its own place and most importantly its food. For the food here is often delicious, a fact that at first irritated me, then interested me and finally left me content. I was just another foodie relearning the lesson that bigger doesn’t always mean boring, bland or crass.
Here’s what my wife and I ate. We started off with a Roasted Garlic, Spinach and Artichoke Dip that was fine, but not particularly special. “Aha,” I thought. My suspicions about Brio’s chain-status seemed to be coming true. Then a funny thing happened. I tried their bruschetta. I loved their bruschetta. We tried two varieties, the Sliced Steak Bruschetta and the Roasted Red Pepper. The steak version features arugula, fennel, grilled tomato, and shaved parmesan, but the star here is the beef, tenderly sliced medium rare cuts of deliciously cooked beef, sharp and peppery yet with hints of sweetness. It’s very nice. The Roasted Red Pepper version is also yummy—red peppers, balsamic and mozzarella work together nicely taking my taste buds for a bit of a joyride.
Your average salad at your average chain is a gloppy abomination, a kick to the groin of good taste—of any taste really, a heaping of cheap chicken and bacon and high caloric dressings. The Brio Chopped Salad is definitely not that. In fact, it was the dish that clued me in that Executive Chef Tyler Kehr and his staff are on to something here. Simple done beautifully is always a sign of talent, and this is a beautiful little salad that gets the little things right, fresh ingredients like cucumber that one can taste and enjoy the crunch.
And then there were the entrees. First up was the Chicken Limon—a piccata style bird with white wine, lemon, capers, accompanied by some roasted vegetables and creamy, almost brilliant mashed potatoes. It’s a nice dish, but it paled next to the Pancetta-Covered Steak with Shrimp. Brio knows steak apparently; here the meat is so tender its cuts like butter. It also contrasts nicely with the pancetta, the crustiness mixing beautifully with the sweet-savory juices of the beef. The only slight bummer here is the fact that many of the entrees feature the same grilled vegetables and mashed potatoes. We finished off the meal with a Torta de Chocolate that singlehandedly redeemed my faith in desserts with its moist, subtle, rich notes.
Brio Tuscan Grille, 12370 S. Main St., Rancho Cucamonga, (909) 463-1036; www.brioitalian.com.