Thursday July 19, 2012

LENOX -- As a Lenox local I've seen too many inspired restaurants open up only to vanish over the winter lull. It will always be a risk in our economic area, in which the sales figures from September and November can be on different orders of magnitude.

This is why I'm happy to conclude that the month-old Brava is here to stay, primarily because this tapas, wine, and beer bar in the heart of town is poised to become just as much of a local staple as summer hot spot.

I didn't know a thing about the place before I stepped inside, still a bit sore from the loss of Fin Sushi & Sake which, just months ago, lit up this very storefront.

First glimpse whisked my memory to timeless, family-run enotecas of the French and Italian countryside, then to the earthy microbrew, farm-to-table bistros dotting the vineyards of Northern California's Napa and Son oma counties -- the sort of places without clocks where you can order a dish of this or glass of that as the sun fades.

Brava's décor invites and soothes. Muted light glowing from smart nouveau fixtures, a sunburnt Mediterranean color palette evoking olives, flax, earth, and stone, and comfortable leather seating create of this modest space an atmosphere comfortable to both the eye and the touch.

The music filling the air enhanced this era-nonspecific charm, encompassing Belle Époque cabaret instrumentals, first-generation Jamaican ska, 1950s rockabilly, and contemporary trip hop. It could easily heave been a playlist I'd prepared for a first date, but was equally suited to the tranquil pairs of sexagenarians dining when I arrived at 7p.m. and the chattering groups of sharply dressed 30-somethings that had filled the joint by 9 p.m.

Within minutes of choosing a stool at the beautiful russet bar and striking up conversation with owner and barkeep Whit ney Asher, I learned that my first impression wasn't far off. The menu did speak with a Northwest Mediterranean ac cent and Asher, it turns out, moved here from California in March. But what I hadn't anticipated were alluring Bas que and Iberian dishes, abundant cheese and charcuterie options split between domestic and imported, and a deftly curated array of craft beers on tap.

The menu can provide you with a light nibble, a leisurely meal, or a panoply of morsels to be shared and discussed. Hot and cold tapas such as bratwurst with mustard greens, house pickled vegetables, and grilled lamb chops with grilled peach and minted yogurt range from $6 to $13.

Specialty salads and a tempting list of bruschette occupy a similar price range (The bruschette are $7 well spent.) and beg to be passed between friends.

Larger plates include handmade pizzas ("We make the dough fresh every day," said Asher) topped with blends like arugula, prosciutto, fontina and ricotta or caramelized onion, bacon and crème fraiche costing $13 apiece.

The other entrée-sized option is a cheese and charcuterie plate -- $15 for three offerings and $25 for five, which you select from a diverse list.

A bus full of famished campers or a large family seeking a feast with macaroni and fries for the children may not find Brava's options adequate, but once the kids are asleep you'll know where to find that well-deserved glass of wine and bowl of gelato.

Our goal was to sample as much as possible, which is clearly what the menu was designed for.

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My tomato, jamon serrano, anchovies bruschetta exploded with piquant flavors and a mélange of textures. I thought it was great, though Garrit, who's not an anchovies man, far preferred the salad of roasted beets, chevre, and basil.

I agreed with Erin that her tomatoes stuffed with eggplant, riccota, and Parmigiano were like savory ambrosia, but Seth was fixated on the pimientos (fried shishito peppers). The pimietios wowed everyone, as did Nick's San Mar zano tomato sauce, Ma ple brook mozzarella, basil pizza, which was our least ostentatious dish, but shined with an uncommonly balanced simplicity. 

I was particularly impressed by my charcuterie sampler, including Spanish chorizo, "Hot Coppa" (USA),' "Pros cuitto di San Danielle" (Italy), petite Basque sheep's milk (France),' and "Summer Snow," a American bloomy rind sheep's milk that bowled me over and paired swimmingly with each meat.

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We debated and bragged about whose order was the best, and similarly shared and compared our array of beers and wines.

The only unanimous conclusion was that Brava is a welcome and unique addition to the Berkshires.

So here, finally, is why I think Brava will be with us for years to come:

In addition to serving food that will satisfy the fussy gourmand as well as the guy looking for a quick bite, and being situated on Lenox's main tourist trail and also in the center of the hometown bar crawl triangle created by The Old Heritage Tavern, Firefly, and Rumpy's, Brava serves its full menu seven nights a week from 5 p.m. until MIDNIGHT, and serves drinks for an hour after that.

This will guarantee a strong following among the area's countless restaurant workers, a food-savvy crew with pockets full of tips looking for quality late night food and fun.

It is this local appeal that will easily carry Brava through the lean winter months and into many future summers.



Brava, 27 Housatonic St., Lenox. (413) 637-9171. www.bravalenox.com

Style: Chic family-run tapas bar with many wines and craft beers.

Dress: Casual is fine, though elegance is invited.

Cover: None.

Entertainment: None, but sit at the bar to learn volumes about meat, cheese, wine, and beer from Asher and his staff.

Our rating: 1 mug, Run away; 2 mugs, Yawn; 3 mugs, Cheers; 4 mugs,

"I'll be back"; 5 mugs, "Round's on me!"

Your rating: You can rate Brava at www.berkshireeagle.com/The413.