Welcome to Brunched, where Chow Bella samples local restaurants' offerings for our favorite meal. Hey, you get to sleep in and eat breakfast -- what's not to like?
What: The House Brasserie Where: 6936 E. Main Street, Scottsdale, 480-634-1600 When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday How Much: $8 - $18
Mood: It's pretty hard not to fall in love with the Old World aesthetic of The House, a narrow, dimly lit space whose flocked wallpaper, crystal chandeliers and gilt-framed mirrors conjure the French cabarets and bordellos of the late 19th Century. You half expect to see Toulouse-Lautrec sipping absinthe at the bar. Instead you'll find a mix of customers -- high brows, hipsters and oldsters with hip replacements, all there for a crack at Matt Carter's eclectic menu. I've yet to sit at a red leatherette banquette. The bar (and its stunning mirrored back bar) call to me, as does the tree-shaded patio, framed by a white picket fence. For al fresco dining, al fresco drinking or just al fresco hanging around, it's one of the very best spots in town -- quaint and utterly charming.
Food: I've eaten at The House four or five times, snacking mostly, which is easy to do here, given the small plates format. And most of those times, I've left happy. Carter's all-over-the-map menu is broader and far more fun than the so-called "re-imagined classic Mediterranean dishes," mentioned on the website. Mediterranean? Who even wants to characterize a restaurant that way in 2013?
The first thing you should know about brunch is that it's really just everything on the "lunch" and "afternoon" menus (charcuterie, salads, sandwiches and sides) plus two breakfast-y items and one dessert-like crepe. And that's just fine, but if there are only three brunch items, all three brunch items should probably be magnificent.
But alas, they are not. I expected elegant simplicity from prosciutto, scrambled eggs (enriched with mascarpone and ricotta) and griddled bread, and I suppose I got it, but there was nothing remotely exciting or memorable about this dish. And it sure didn't seem worth $12, despite the good prosciutto and other pricy ingredients.
Roasted vegetable tartine -- an open-faced sandwich topped with piquillo peppers, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, and olives -- looked pretty enough, but it wasn't that great either, even with creamy stracchino cheese ($9). Served on fluffy French bread (so characterless it could've come from a grocery store bakery) the dish suffered for its comparison to absolutely anything served at the San Francisco bakery called Tartine.
Meanwhile, the sloppy Double Burger was a $14 dud: two patties of gray meat (no char and not a trace of pink in the middle) topped with cheese, lettuce, mustard and pickle. And seriously, what's with the pale crinkle cut fries, which appear to have been pulled from a freezer bag and baked? If the kitchen has no room for a fryer, then don't do fries. It's pretty simple.
The best dishes of the day came first and last: creamy smoked burrata, drizzled with truffle vinaigrette and topped with chopped leeks ($8) and a warm, vanilla-scented mascarpone crepe smothered in a sauce made of figs, huckleberries and strawberries, sweetened with hazelnut honey ($9). Still, I'm not sure I liked them enough to order them again.
Drink: Take your pick among options such as fresh-squeezed OJ, interesting coffee drinks, a Mimosa pitcher (serving 2-4 for $20) and the House Bloody (a simple but effective Bloody Mary made with Tito's vodka, Worcestershire, cracked black pepper and ghost chile, $10).
Conclusion: I've been a Matt Carter fan since his early days at Zinc Bistro, but this brunch felt remarkably like tourist food -- uninspired, expensive and a little insulting. If Carter wants to attract locals who already know how good his food can be, he's going to have to wake up and smell the coffee.