Matt Van Nest, who opened Brasserie V with his wife, Andrea, in August 2007, was a bit concerned late last year when construction started to expand the popular Monroe Street restaurant into a former bridal shop next door.
While he wanted to provide relief for customers waiting for a table who were generally “squished in the front window,” he worried that the extra room might kill the good energy that a crowded, bustling restaurant enjoys.
Van Nest needn’t have fretted. The extra space at Brasserie V has been filled with customers since the capacity of the existing restaurant doubled, and it has certainly maintained its warm, vibrant feel.
Thinking we would avoid the crowds by visiting at 7:30 on a Sunday night, we were wrong. The restaurant had a 30-minute wait. There weren’t even any seats at the bar in either room.
Our next strategy was to go at 11:30 a.m. on a Monday for lunch and this approach worked. By the time we left, however, almost every table on both sides was filled.
Gratefully, during lunch, the restaurant was quiet and relaxing. And it’s nice that each roomy table is its own row so that no one is next to you, which provides an unusual level of privacy. The calm, peaceful feeling carried over to the service, which was swift, friendly and professional.
Brasserie V’s famous Belgian fries cannot be beat, particularly the ones with white truffle oil and Parmesan ($7). The medium-cut, skins-on frites were tender rather than crisp, with the shaved Parmesan clinging to each fry. They are served in a whimsical, wax paper-lined metal cone with two delightful types of aioli for dipping. Ketchup seems too pedestrian for these fries.
The restaurant’s local purveyors are listed on a chalkboard in the restaurant’s entrance and you can taste the superiority of ingredients in the soup, salads and sandwiches.
The homemade soup this day was a sausage one ($4 for a cup) whose peppery flavor and slight kick came through once it cooled. The well-seasoned broth boasted large, plentiful slices of high-quality sausage, along with cabbage, carrot, onion and celery.
The Belgian salad ($8) was a mesmerizing mix of frisee and grilled Belgian endive with bits of egg and apple, lots of thickly-cut bacon, toasted almonds and a liberal amount of apple cider vinaigrette dressing. My only complaint was that the frisee could have been cut down into more manageable bites.
The V Burger ($10) was made with Fountain Prairie Farm dry-aged highland ground beef and instead of a hamburger bun, it was served on slices of toasted Madison Sourdough bread. Beer-battered onion straws, Muenster cheese, spinach, tomato and aioli all added to its appeal.
My companion thoroughly enjoyed it. “This is their calling card,” he said. “I don’t care what anybody says, the difference between an organic burger and a factory farm burger is very noticeable.”
I later learned that while the farm is certified organic, the meat is not. Dorothy Priske, who owns the Fall River farm with her husband, John, did say that the cattle are not given growth hormones or antibiotics and not fed any meat or animal byproducts. Hey, that’s good enough for me.
The Croque Monsieur ($9), made with Nueske’s applewood smoked ham inside and Swiss cheese outside, also sported tomato and honey mustard. The sandwich was fine, but no match for the one on Sardine’s brunch menu.
Sandwiches include a choice of mixed greens; super-crispy, homemade pub chips that were overly oily; or a daily side, which the day we visited was a minimalist chickpea salad, that didn’t really need any dressing up.
Dessert, a silky-smooth, homemade vanilla ice cream ($6), was topped with syrup made from peach Lambic beer that was reduced down. It gave the ice cream a unique, slightly bitter twist.
Nearly six years later, Brasserie V is going stronger than ever. And I got an insight into why that is during a recent email exchange with Van Nest.
“I always preach to all my staff,” he wrote, “never get comfortable with our success.”