Venue Review: Georges Brasserie
The Charlotte Observer
4620 Piedmont Row Dr.
Even the staff calls Georges Brasserie "George's," so don't go worrying about the quality of your French pronunciation.
In fact, don't go worrying about much of anything. The place may feel a bit formal when you enter, but settle in, because servers will warm up, and most are willing and able to walk you through just about anything on the menu.
And whether that menu is historically a brasserie menu, we're just going to agree not to quibble about, d'accord? Because though a brasserie is usually defined as being pretty cheap (which Georges is not) and pretty traditional (which Georges is, in places) it is also usually defined as a fairly big, bustling place (which Georges is) with a similar menu served through the day (which Georges has).
Classic dishes include onion soup, duck confit, escargot, bouillabaisse (a sort of fish stew), cassoulet (white bean casserole with duck and pork and sausage), boudin blanc (white sausage), beef Bourguignon and four variations of steak frites. Heavy-ish, yes.
But there's also a fairly varied raw bar, with petit and grand plateau choices (these "plates" vary in size) of shellfish and an assortment of salads. And many of the more contemporary offerings are light: a lovely chilled blue crab appetizer with avocado and tomato-ginger coulis, for instance, and a terrific salad of red and yellow beets with feta, orange and candied pistachio.
My experiences were generally pleasant, with one standout and one crushing disappointment.
Happiness first: The steak frites, with the hanger steak. A gorgeous, perfectly cooked, perfectly bloody strip of beef served with crisp fries. Yes, blue cheese butter or red wine shallot sauce were offered, but this needed neither. Marvelous. A watercress or arugula salad would have been the only possible improvement.
Despair: Oysters. For a place that trumpets a daily selection, these were just dismal: dull, watery - nothing of the bright salinity and ocean flavor you want. We had only East Coast varieties (the place was out of all from the typically bolder-tasting West Coast that night), but Blue Points, Malpeques, Sunberries all fared poorly. At $2.25 and $2.50 a pop, I'm unlikely to try again. (And when you offer multiple varieties, all servers should be able to differentiate.) Shrimp, on the other hand, were excellent: firm, meaty, flavorful.
Bouillabaisse is a winner, with a decided anise flair among generous amounts of mussels, clams, scallops, fish and squid. It's buttery, too. Bread is simple and good and refilled often (sop up that broth!). A veal chop was sizable and came with pretty, skinny asparagus still in possession of some crunch.
At about this point in one meal - as entrees were being cleared - our server's careful, pardon-me attitude hit the point of overkill: "If I may," "excuse my reach," and the like are fine once or twice, but every time someone approaches the table? Too much.
Georges comes from Triangle-based restaurateur Giorgio Bakatsias, who has several restaurants of varying cuisine styles there.
Georges' best self shows in moments of welcome and comfort - a server waxing enthusiastic about the bouillabaisse - or this, when two of us ducked into the lounge area to try the "endless happy hour" menu of relatively inexpensive bites served weekdays after 3 p.m. The very French-looking hostess seated us and asked what she might bring us to drink. When I said we were just nibbling from the bar menu, she replied: "As well you should."