As I mentioned before, I try to take opportunity of Sunday brunch to do some chowhounding after all the catered meals at out-of-town weddings. I thought my options for a wedding in Brenham, Texas would be slim (biscuits and sausage gravy or a sausage biscuit?) until I remembered a thread on DallasFood.org about the only 2008 Mobil five-star restaurant in Texas.
Welcome to The Inn at Dos Brisas, a luxury country getaway in Washington, Texas that offers four casitas each at the bargain price of $575 per night. Pleasures at the ranch include horseback riding, fishing, hiking, skeet shooting, a full service spa, and of course, the fine dining restaurant overlooking an infinity pool.
As a full weekend at Dos Brisas is not in my budget (and likely won’t ever be), we stayed at The Inn at Best Western in Brenham instead. Not Mobil rated, in case you were wondering. Despite the Best Western front desk clerk’s “swear on her children’s life” that the breakfast at the attached diner was “to die for”, we lived out our whimsical desires and headed for Dos Brisas for Sunday brunch instead.
Driving through the bluebonnet filled plains of southeast Texas, it’s easy to see why the owners chose the site of Dos Brisas. A manageable hour and a half drive will get the prospective guests out of Houston’s concrete jungle and into this serene haven of deep blue skies and lush greenery with no end in sight. With the intense midday sun, squinting as hard as possible, I still could not look directly at gleaming white stucco walls of our destination. This must be a perfect match for the Hollywood vision of a modern Texas ranch.
We were the first guests to arrive on this Sunday. Thus, we ordered a couple of mimosas and enjoyed the view of the inifinity pool from the comfortable lounge chairs before marching inside the restaurant to be seated, an herb garden struggling in the brutal Texas summer sun to our left and a pair of horses lackadaisically munching on grass in the distance. I rolled the pulp from the fresh orange juice in my mimosa back and forth on my tongue, and a sense of calm rivaling that of the pristine white flour beaches of Tulum came over me.
My stomach growled. I left the romanticism at the infinity pool and quick-toed my way into the dining room, where we were seated at a cozy two seater table with a stool placed curiously halfway between the chairs. The reservation was for two, and we were not expecting any kneeling companions for the meal. But before I had the chance to show my social illiteracy, the waiter came by to greet us and moved my purse (that I had placed on the carpeted floor next to my chair) onto the stool.
A purse stool! Of course! Mobil four-star rated restaurants take note, the addition of this integral piece of furniture may greatly help your case for the upgrade to five-star. My purse will never dine anywhere without its own seat again. Right, purse?
Joking aside, Dos Brisas brunch is a prix fixe three course meal for $49. The diner has a choice between three selections for each course. Scanning through the seasonal menu, I was surprised at the conservativeness of the protein choices: salmon, chicken, or wagyu beef ($26 supplement). I’m accustomed to seeing at least one or two choices on high end menus that would shock children (cute fuzzy bunnies, booger-like oysters, “what the heck is that” offal, etc). But Dos Brisas’ menu is completely shock-free for the chicken finger-loving crowd, with the most foreign phrase being “wasabi tobiko.”
Let me dial the sarcasm back a little and say that I completely understand the reasoning behind the conservative menu. Given its location and the demographic profile of the patrons Dos Brisas is trying to attract, the menu couldn’t be more appropriate. The tables around us started filling up, families (some with young children) were most common, followed by “girlfriend getaway” groups of middle aged women in sophisticated Sunday dresses, each seemed delighted with the brunch choices. It’s just not a menu that excited me right away.
Then the pastry basket came, and the carbohydrate feast put me in a much more positive mood.
The pastry selection included a craisin roll, chocolate donut holes, a kolache, a pluot muffin, and a memorable warm and buttery starfruit muffin with a crusty sugar-glazed top. I could’ve used more starfruit in the muffin for more acidity and moisture, but props to Dos Brisas for incorporating less common fruits like pluots and starfruit.
An amuse bouche of cantaloupe, watermelon, apple, peach, and grapefruit in their own juice with a touch of vanilla oil set a fresh start to brunch.
For the first course, I chose blue crab cake with nettle puree and estate grown micro greens.
The crab cake had great flakey texture, large chunks of tender crab meat gently held together with a crisp crust. No mushy lump crab meat here. The curious choice of the green nettle puree beneath the crab cake was flavorless, leaving one to ponder its purpose other than adding a splash of color to the plate.
Across the table, a garden tomato salad with fried mozzarrella and 25 year old Balsamic vinegar.
A beautiful plate of assorted red, yellow, and green tomatoes with airy fried mozzarrella balls whose batter had the texture of funnel cake. The 25 year Balsamic vinegar was surprising sweet and the flavors worked well with the mozzarrella and the tomatoes… minus the green tomatoes, which were far too acidic and didn’t seem to belong on the plate.
Intermezzo was an organic mixed berry sorbet. The serving plate looks odd from the angle of this photo, but there is actually a hemispherical indention where the scoop of sorbet sits, so the diner gets a small perfect sphere of sorbet.
My first thought when I took a spoonful of this sorbet onto my tongue was that it’s so perfectly creamy with no hint of iciness. But as the sorbet melted in my mouth, I found it to be so rich that it seemed inappropriate for a between-the-courses palate cleanser. My mouth was left with that sticky, “I just ate a bowl of ice cream,” feel. Perhaps it would’ve been better served as a dessert.
For my entree, I chose the grilled organic breast of chicken with rutabaga puree and truffled brussel leaves.
Pre-slicing the chicken breast may be good for presentation purposes, but it also dries out the chicken faster. My first few bites were a lot more enjoyable than the rest. The brussel sprouts are estate grown, and one can appreciate the difference in its crisp flavor and unrivaled freshness.
Across the table, the Wagyu beef with fiddlehead ferns, morels, and wild asparagus in a red wine demi glace.
My companion had requested the filet to be rare, and it was a bit overdone (the camera flash makes the interior appear brighter/redder). However, the beef suffered the same fate as the chicken, just on the dry side of enjoyable, and thus was missing that buttery texture that we love so much about Wagyu beef. And again, it was the fresh vegetables on this plate that really stole the show, including those fiddlehead ferns which I’d been wondering about ever since I first saw them at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
There was a considerable wait between the main course and the dessert course. I didn’t mind since we were seated close to a window and the outside scenery was breathtaking. However, when my blackberry tartlet finally arrived, the chambord ice cream accompanying it was already mostly melted and the caramel sauce had thickened to have a crunchy crust.
The plating of this dessert is curious as it was laborious to put the tart, ice cream, and caramel sauce together into one bite. When I finally managed to get the combination into my mouth, the elements worked beautifully together with the tartness of the blackberry balancing the intense sweetness of the chambord ice cream.
Across the table, chocolate covered peanut butter cheesecake with a Valrhona ganache.
It was simply too much chocolate. What peanut butter? What cheesecake?
Our bill arrived. I had to check twice to make sure that was indeed what I thought it was-a handwritten bill in fancy font. A nice unexpected touch, a fitting detail in this almost fairy tale-like environment.
I was a little surprised that gratuity was already accounted for, but with the attentive service during our meal I had no protests either.
Overall, the strength of Dos Brisas is really its unique fantastical setting. In my mind, the highlight of the food were the estate grown vegetables as the proteins were unadventurous and the desserts were just mediocre. I would, without hesitation, come back for a vegetarian tasting menu highlighting the estate grown greens (which Dos Brisas offers at $115 per person for eight courses). I realize that perhaps the protein choices were “extra safe” for a brunch meal, thus I would also consider returning for dinner as Scott at DallasFood.org had some positive experiences at Dos Brisas.
Was it deserving of the sole five-star Mobil rating in the state of Texas? Based on food alone, I would have to say no. But dining out is also about the atmosphere, and Dos Brisas’ peaceful, sprawling Texas ranch is definitely five-star beauty.