Currant American Brasserie is a whimsical blend of rococo opulence and edgy modernity. The restaurant is a clever re-imagining of the traditional French brasserie with a distinctly American and cheeky twist. Checkerboard floors, Louis XIV furniture, and antique chandeliers create an atmosphere that is both nostalgic homage and Alice-in-Wonderland fantasy. Chef Geoffrey Yahn's menu reflects the restaurant’s aesthetic, with playful renditions of bistro classics elevated to the heights of decadence using inventive, seasonal ingredients. For the daring imbiber, Currant’s “Absinthe-Minded” cocktails transport the drinker to Lautrec’s Paris and help complete the ambiance of bohemian chic.Read More ...
Tucked away beneath the shadows of law offices and bordered by the Horton Plaza shopping mecca, Currant Brasserie has carved out an intimate niche just outside of the Gaslamp’s crowded streets and noisy competition. The restaurant brings a welcome blend of Old World charm and whimsy to the bustling Downtown scene, with Chef de Cuisine Geoffrey Yahn, creating dishes that are a sophisticated, yet playful twist on traditional brasserie cuisine. With a menu as eclectically refreshing as its décor, Currant Brasserie is a delightful trip to an imagined land: part nostalgic French daydream, part Alice-in-Wonderland fantasy, and part organic, local farm.
Currant Brasserie’s allure is in its details, which delight the eye and the palate. Before entering the restaurant, we pass the inviting outdoor patio, with its wrought iron railing and charming herb-laden garden boxes infusing the air with their subtle aroma. Diners lounge under tarnished copper awnings, soaking in the late afternoon summer sun and the unique European-bistro atmosphere. They seem so wonderfully far-removed and out of place amid the honking traffic and congested sidewalks of Broadway. A picture window looking into the kitchen entices passers-by, creating an Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass moment as we on the street are seduced by this enchanting promise of things to come, a promise of gastronomic adventures and an escape from middle-of-the-week doldrums.
The restaurant’s interior space is as invitingly intimate as its patio. The restaurant, which seats up to 119 guests, is divided into three parts, with the main dining area greeting diners and absorbing most of the space. To one side, the restaurant’s lounge area seduces guests with velvety couches and decadent cocktails, creating a sultry atmosphere reminiscent of a secluded boudoir, but with all of the chic refinement of Downtown’s cosmopolitan nightlife. Nestled into a far corner of the restaurant is Currant’s cozy private dining room. Cloaked in pearl chiffon curtains, the semi-private room evokes the romance and elegance of a vintage European drawing room. With only this thin veil dividing private gatherings from the rest of the restaurant, private parties of up to 10 people can be removed enough from the noise and distraction of the main dining area without being completely cut off from its lively atmosphere.
The main dining room is the pièce de résistance of the restaurant’s décor. It is a visual feast, a splendid conflation of a multitude of influences and moods. The design is heavily influenced by rococo, with distinctive curlicue wood accents, dramatic black and white damask prints, and graceful crystal chandeliers casting a soft, romantic glow over diners. Although the overarching design of the restaurant is highly evocative of this decadent period, there is a distinctly modern flare to its application within the space, reminiscent of Sofia Coppola’s edgy “Marie Antoinette,” but less confrontational. Subtle brasserie touches like fresh mini baguettes served in brown paper sacks, and appetizers presented in wax paper bring a more casual bistro feel to the restaurant and juxtapose well with the décor’s refinement. The black-and-white checked floors and mismatched dinnerware are both suggestive of brasserie origins and of the playful mischief of a Mad Hatter tea party. It is a magical yet sophisticated visual feast, filling the diner with anticipation for the culinary wonderland that lies ahead.
Like its setting, Currant’s menu is eclectic, fanciful, and highly polished. Chef de Cuisine Geoffrey Yahn deftly plays with the familiar and the extravagant, balancing less accessible flavors with more approachable, fresh ingredients. Despite their complexity, the focal point of each of Yahn’s dishes is the ingredients, many of which are organic, sustainably-harvested, and when possible, locally grown. Even Currant’s wine list exhibits this local emphasis, with the majority of its selection from California wineries, although there are notable Mediterranean, Argentine, and Austrian exceptions. The result is a seasonal, constantly evolving menu, dictated by the ripeness and freshness of available produce.
This seasonal freshness permeates all of Currant’s dishes. The Crab Stuffed Squash Blossoms arrive to the table as if blooming from the center of their plate, the delicate tempura-battered stems radiating upward like new spring buds searching for sunlight. Seeping out from beneath their pillowy masses is a delicate, foamy Meyer lemon sabayon, its soft yellow contrasting beautifully with the vibrant green of the shaved asparagus that is scattered throughout. The dish is light and airy: the subtle buttery flavor of the tempura blends delightfully with the soft sweetness of the crab meat, while the sweet-and-sour of the lemon sabayon and the slight bitter of the asparagus and squash blossoms add a punchy complexity. As my companion and I mop up the remainder of the sabayon with our bread, it is clear that this appetizer is a favorite.
Currant Brasserie’s thoughtful blend of haute cuisine and farmhouse comfort is epitomized in the Caprese Nouveau salad. Meaty chunks of pinkish-green heirloom tomatoes and creamy buffalo mozzarella are assembled in a rustic pile over a pool of basil oil. Two polenta-crusted fried green tomato slices crown the salad, adding a unique note of epicurean finesse to the dish. The grainy crunch and tartness of the polenta tomatoes contrast beautifully with the milky mozzarella and sweet heirlooms. This nuanced caprese is a delicious slice of summer: cool and crunchy, with all of the sweetness and tanginess of the freshest fruits of the season.
The Crudité, charmingly presented in a metal cup and wax paper wrapper reminiscent of street-vendor treats, transports us to the boulevards of Paris. Tall spears of asparagus and carrots peak teasingly over the paper, suggesting the tasty bounty that lies beneath. Peering inside, we are greeted by a vibrant color explosion of the organic yellow squash, radish, and cucumber chunks that are tucked tightly inside. The vegetables are the essence of fresh; cool, crunchy, sweet, and slightly bitter, they are well complimented by the rich, chunky Point Reyes Blue Cheese Dressing that accompanies them. The healthful, invigorating effect of this appetizer inspires thoughts of a future return to Currant Brasserie for their happy hour, where select light and refreshing appetizers like the Crudité are offered at half-price alongside their panoply of Absinthe-Minded cocktails, a sophisticated and inspired alternative to the usual greasy bar fare.
The heady aroma of the Duck Confit in the air precedes the dish, a rich, gamey and herby scent that immediately fires up my salivary glands. The taste and visual presentation live up to the dish’s olfactory promises. Two pieces of earthy duck meat are meticulously placed over a heaping pile of De Puy lentil soffritto, each dark brown legume pungently infused with the strong, floral flavor of chives, parsley, and marjoram. A reduction of house-made duck stock (made from the duck bones and remaining meat), is the essence of duck, a deep, gamey flavor that lends an autumnal feel to the dish. A small cluster of burgundy Bing cherries snuggle close to the duck morsels, their sweet juices mingling with the stock and accentuating its sweet notes. This dish is an exercise in juxtaposition: the three distinct flavors of herby lentils, gamey meat, and sweet cherries unexpectedly complement one another and never overpower. Even the duck meat itself is a culinary exploration of difference. The first bite distinguishes itself from previous duck forays: its pungent freshness immediately suggests its farm-fresh Mao Foods origin, whose duck, like its Jidori chickens, are free range and hormone-free. The confited breast, with its smooth, almost velvety texture contrasts dynamically with the crispy, juicy leg meat, brined in an allspice, juniper, and thyme mixture that recalls the lentils beautifully. This complex and nuanced dish is a surprising adventure and an exploration in sublime satisfaction.
The Citrus Shortcake is a pleasant finale to the meal, its light, delicate flavor a refreshing palate cleanser. A fluffy, cakey brioche sandwiches a tangy, sweet strawberry-rhubarb compote, while a soft, cloud-like crème fraiche adds a welcome richness. Mint and lemon garnishes add lovely complexity to the flavors, the mint’s cool pungent flavor mixing with the crème fraîche and contrasting elegantly with the sweetness of the strawberries. It is a gratifying summation of our experience, a distillation of Chef Yahn’s masterful translation of simple farm freshness to haute cuisine sophistication.
As we leave Currant behind and return to the commotion of Broadway, I am shaken from my satiated reverie as if waking from a dream. My enchanting culinary escapade is over and I am left only with the lingering flavor of Currant’s garden of earthly delights and the ethereal memory of my adventure. I close my eyes, like a dreamer trying to retreat back into the warmth of sleep, savoring the magic and romance of my Currant experience.
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