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Brenner Pass Offers Elevated, Creative Takes on Classic European Dishes

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A little background: Brenner Pass is named for a mountain gap between Austria and Italy — and that's much of the inspiration for this Scott's Addition restaurant's concept. The expansive space, much larger than owner and chef Brittanny Anderson's Metzger Bar and Butchery, calls to mind a modernist take on a chalet, with concrete floors, high ceilings, plenty of glass windows and wooden accents that add just a touch of warmth.

Anderson's Metzger co-owners, Nathan Conway and Brad Hemp, join her in this second venture, as does Saison's James Kohler. Having perfected her take on modern German cuisine at her first restaurant, Anderson branches out to neighboring European countries, with Italian, French, and Swiss influences evident throughout the menu. The cocktail offerings favor bitter and herbal flavors, with Campari and amari making multiple appearances. The wine list is principally composed of lesser-known varietals, such as Italy's nebbiolo, or the French white altesse.

The menu offers snacks, small and large plates, as well as a pasta and grains section. For snacks, try the fritto misto ($8), loosely translated as mixed fried items, here composed of the unlikely combination of white anchovies, fennel, onion and lemon. Thin slices of lemon soften enough in the fryer to eat easily and offer an acidic punch to cut through the rather large mound of fried goodness you're consuming. If you prefer simpler snacks to share, a bread and butter basket ($3) or marinated olives ($5) might do the trick. But if you're here to transport yourself to the continent for an evening, why not venture out and try the tinned seafood platter ($10) with your choice of mussels escabeche or sardines in tomato sauce?

Beyond the snacks, the best option for sharing is the classic fondue ($36). Melted Gruyere and Emmentaler are served with an array of accompaniments to dip into the molten cheese: large cubes of house-made sourdough bread, tiny cornichons, pickled cocktail onions, bite-sized fingerling potatoes and speck. When we exhaust all of our mix-and-match combinations, and the plate sits empty, my friends and I wonder aloud about the etiquette of cleaning out the fondue pot with a spoon.

Other excellent sharing options are the raw seafood platters, but be forewarned — they will set you back between $50 and $150, depending on the size. The smallest of the bunch, the prince plateau ($50), features a dozen oysters and a half-dozen raw clams. Additionally, trout roe is served with creme fraiche and tiny corn cakes, which, when combined, make for a perfect bite of salty and lightly sweet flavors, punctuated by the tangy freshness of the cream.

The menu will compel most diners to whip out their smartphones to Google some ingredient names — or at least to pepper the friendly and knowledgeable staff with questions. Ingredients such as spigarello, an Italian cousin of broccoli, and fonduta, a thicker Italian version of fondue typically made with fontina cheese, are both part of the doppio ravioli ($18). For the price and its place in the pasta section on the menu, I expect a heartier serving size, but the two oversized ravioli were exquisitely crafted, with a perfect balance of flavors between vegetables and cheese.

For main dishes, the steak au poivre ($34) is an excellent entree choice, with a New York strip steak cooked exactly to order, served sliced and covered in the classic buttery pepper sauce that's made with both green and black peppercorns. The accompanying classic French Alps dish of stacked and thinly sliced potatoes flavored with bacon lardons, tartiflette, almost steals the show.

Sunday brunch is a treat, and I suggest a few rounds of house-made punch ($5) to accompany a breakfast sandwich ($14) made of a rich thick rabbit sausage patty topped with egg and Gruyere.

Brenner Pass adds a dash of sophistication to the rapidly growing Scott's Addition, and with its continental European focus, it adds something new to the Richmond dining scene overall. Anderson and her team have carved out a niche for themselves by elevating familiar European dishes with creativity and impressive technical skills. Thoughtfully conceived and impeccably executed, Brenner Pass is on its way to becoming a fixture in the growing list of Richmond's must-visit restaurants. S

Brenner Pass
Mondays-Thursdays 5 p.m.-midnight; Fridays and Saturdays 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sundays 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
3200 Rockbridge St., Suite 100
658-9868
brennerpassrva.com

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