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Details, Details

EJ's Brasserie does it mostly right.



Waiting to exhale? EJ's Brasserie, on Germantown Parkway, is a setting just made for shedding the day. EJ's interior is small, casual, and festive. The wood is teak, the colors are blue and gold, and the walls are dotted with lively paintings of harbors.

We began our meal with what the menu calls "beginnings." First up, crab cakes -- lumps of crabmeat delicately mixed with bread crumbs, spiced with red pepper, and cradled by curry oil, cranberry ketchup, and papaya chutney. Next were the spring rolls, a mixture of Chinese vegetables wrapped and deep-fried, served sliced atop an orange pico glaze. A mound of steaming black mussels then appeared, though the aroma of curry, saffron, and fennel arrived at the table first. This flavorful cream sauce was a divine accompaniment to the mussels.

Finally, the featured beginning, known as the "smørrebrøds platte." Smørrebrød, literally buttered bread in Danish, is an open-faced, artfully presented sandwich made with all kinds of fish, meat, and vegetable fillings. This night's platter -- it changes frequently at EJ's -- featured a smoked salmon roll stuffed with cream cheese, beef tips, mushrooms, and havarti cheese, all on a party-size pumpernickel bread.

Salads are not included with the entrées, but do not pass on these greens. EJ's simple salad is merely mixed baby greens, cucumbers, and tomatoes drizzled with a champagne vinaigrette. The warm goat cheese salad features a ball of pecan-crusted goat cheese on a palette of baby greens with a balsamic vinaigrette. On this night, the cheese was too warm and had begun to melt by the time the salad was served. The flavors mingled well, but the timing was a little off.

The Caesar salad, though, was definitely a hit -- chopped romaine lettuce tossed in a mixture of coddled eggs and grated Parmesan cheese in an olive oil vinaigrette flavored with garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and anchovies, then finished by a garlic crisp.

The baby spinach salad had a Danish twist. Baby spinach and pickled beets tossed in a walnut vinaigrette were piled high on a plate surrounded by chunks of Roquefort cheese -- a nod to the importance of color and texture in presentation. It's difficult to find the true Danish blue cheese, Danablu. I commend EJ's for substituting Roquefort since it's as close to Danablu as locals typically find. But in Denmark, Danablu is a well-known cheese based on the French blues. Details, details, details. Very good.

The choice in entrées made selection difficult -- salmon, halibut, tilapia, calf's liver, pork tenderloin, duck breast, and chicken risotto. The variety was almost overwhelming, so we sought the advice of our waitress, who highlighted ingredients and flavors. Again, details. It is critical that the wait staff be knowledgeable of the fare they are serving.

After much deliberation we settled on four entrées; the pompano, the veal scaloppini, the filet of beef, and the mahi mahi. Pompano is found off the southeastern U.S. coastline, and it is a beautiful white-meat fish. EJ's pompano came wrapped in phyllo dough with a mango salsa and orange fennel sauce. The golden richness of the phyllo dough and the texture of the fish melted in our mouths. The mango and orange gave the fish a Caribbean punch.

The thinly sliced cutlets in the veal scaloppini were placed atop a mound of creamy, garlic whipped potatoes. A deep-amber Marsala (Italian fortified dessert wine) reduction intensified the delicate flavor of the veal and potatoes. Not to be outdone, however, was the mahi mahi, cut into fillets and packed with a variety of herbs. The result: a rich, moist, firm, and sweet fillet towering over a tumulus of butternut squash purée, melting leeks, and basil vinaigrette.

Last but not least, the black-pepper-seared filet of beef. My dining companion ordered it medium-well; however, the filet appeared extremely well done. To add to our disappointment, the shoestring of potato tossed in white truffle oils and a grain-mustard demiglace was also overcooked. Don't rule this dish out, though. It has an interesting mix of flavors, and everybody has an off-night once in a while. Even so, all of our entrées were well thought-out. Balance, color, textures -- at EJ's it's artwork.

Homestyle desserts with a Danish flair are prepared in-house at EJ's. The white and dark chocolate mousse was served in a puff pastry. My dining companion was entranced by this dessert, and for a moment the rest of the table wasn't sure if she was going to let us try the mousse or keep it all to herself.

I couldn't determine if EJ's raspberry sorbet included a beaten egg white or milk, which some chefs add to keep crystals from forming during freezing. Unfortunately, the sorbet was swimming in an overpowering and pungent raspberry purée. A third dessert, the lemon tartlet, was tangy, sweet, and savory and had no top crust.

I applaud the owners, the chefs, and wait staff at EJ's Brasserie for their dedication and attention to detail. It is so refreshing to visit a restaurant that truly embraces its clientele, makes every effort to impress, and keeps diners wanting to come back for more. n

EJ's Brasserie is located at 1884 N. Germantown Road. Lunch: $5 to $15; dinner: $5 to $12 for appetizers and $16 to $26 for entrées. EJ's is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Sunday. For reservations, call 751-1150.

food notes

Mash Mouth

Ever had your ice cream mashed on marble before it's served to you? Given the crowd at the newly opened Marble Slab Creamery people like it that way.

The Marble Slab Creamery, a nationwide chain, reached Memphis two weeks ago and is as much about the experience as it is about the ice cream. It works like this: Choose among the 38 flavors of ice cream, 35 toppings, and 9 cones, then watch the Creamery-ers smooth the ice cream onto a frozen marble slab, mash the toppings into the ice cream, and then serve it up in a cone. Among the ice creams: egg nog, peanut butter banana, and chocolate amaretto. Toppings vary from every candy bar imaginable to miniature marshmallows and sliced almonds. Customers' favorite cones include vanilla cinnamon and white chocolate.

The Creamery makes its own ice cream and cones from scratch and also sells frozen yogurt, ice cream pies, fresh-baked items, and gourmet coffee.

Marble Slab Creamery is located in Germantown at the Shops of Saddle Creek. The hours are 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.

A New Market With New Flavors

And speaking of ice cream ... Are you in the mood for Jamaican banana ice cream? There's only one place in Memphis you can find it.

Three weeks ago, Epicure, a European gourmet market, opened in Midtown to sell a wide variety of foods, from Belgian chocolates to French lemonade. Epicure sells fresh bread and ice cream, both of which are made in the store daily.

"This place is different. You can't find the Jamaican banana or the white chocolate and strawberry ice cream like ours anywhere else in Memphis," store owner Michel Leny says. "I grew up in Belgium eating the same chocolates we sell, and they are the best. We are only one of eight businesses that carry them, and the only one in the Mid-South."

Along with the gourmet foods, Epicure has chefs cooking new items daily -- crabcakes rémoulade and roast chicken with passion fruit and almond orzo. Epicure also sells seafood fresh from Florida and lamb stuffed with herbs and vegetables.

Epicure is located at 208 N. Evergreen. The hours are 10 a.m.- 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Road Trip

Peaches, peanuts, and homemade biscuits -- all are on the agenda of the Southern Foodways Alliance's (SFA) field trip to Greensboro, North Carolina.

This is the first of a series of Southern Foodways Alliance field trips and an addition to the annual Foodways symposium held at Ole Miss.

There are 75 to 80 spots open for the trip, scheduled July 13th through July 15th. Says John T. Edge, director of SFA, "It's a true field trip to get immersed in the world of food."

The trip will include a tour through Goat Lady Dairy, where Ginnie and Steve Tate will discuss gardening and serve samples of award-winning cheese. Participants will also learn to make biscuits. Also scheduled is the Boiled Peanut Party.

Edge expects participants from across the country. The trip is open to the general public at $250 per person and $225 for SFA members. Hotel costs are not included. For registration or more information call John T. Edge at (662) 915-5993. -- Hannah Walton

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