National Provisions Brasserie is the third business in the reborn building at Walton and National Avenues. It began in late fall 2013 National Boulangerie and continued with the opening of the beer garden that faces National Avenue. The Brasserie, with a full bar, opened this past fall.
In two visits to the Brasserie, I was both impressed and disappointed.
Impressed: This is a beautiful space. It respects the historical, semi-industrial character of the 1949 building that the owners have transformed while providing a modern, urban look and creature comforts to make a 2015 diner and drinker happy.
Some of the food my companions and I sampled was very good. A ruby red trout ($23.95) at dinner had a delicate but distinctive flavor and was beautifully cooked and served in a cream sauce.
Likewise the catfish and sweet potato brandade (($7.95) — fried like a hush puppy — that we had as an appetizer. It was crisp on the outside, bursting with flavor inside and well matched with a tart yogurt-based sauce.
But the duck and dumplings ($18.95) seemed almost as if they hadn't been cooked together. The duck itself was tender and flavorful, but the dumplings, flimsy things, had very little duck flavor, and the sauce that both swam in was way too garlicky. I love garlic, but this was an overwhelming, almost raw, presence that dominated the dish to no good effect.
At lunch, the true standout was the waffle potato chips. Crisp and tasty, they were a treat. The Kentucky beef burger ($12.95) was good but (I wouldn't expect this in a French restaurant) a bit overcooked, even though I asked for medium rare. A heritage bean soup was a very tasty mix of at least three legumes in a subtle broth.
I sampled only one dessert in two visits: an apple strudel with cardamom caramel sauce ($7.95) — and it was excellent. Served with two generous scoops of vanilla ice cream, it was easily shared among three people. The pastry was flaky and buttery, the apples were cooked just right, and that cardamom added a kick that complemented the rest beautifully.
The service at both my visits was indifferent. For lunch, it was way too slow. National Provisions clearly doesn't see itself as a place for a quick bite, but still, during the business week, it shouldn't take 20 minutes to order. At both meals, we had to ask for bread (this at a place that includes a bakery). Service is the most common complaint in online reviews, so I don't think it was just bad luck on my visits.
Another gripe, which might seem petty, is what's called the prix fixe menu, presented on a large blackboard. At dinner, each of the three main courses included an added charge, written in such small numbers that we had to get our server to explain them to us. Your assumption with a fixed-price menu is that you get a slightly better deal by ordering that day's offerings together. But at National Provisions, it was hard to figure out the final price and compare it to ordering à la carte.
Speaking of information flow, I tried both times to call for reservations but reached only a recorded message. The first time, I left a message that wasn't returned; the second time, I didn't bother.
So, this is the bottom line on National Provisions for me: I loved being in the space and am thrilled that the owners have given new life to this neglected building; some of the food was great but not enough considering what it cost.
Finally, I've eaten a lot of meals at restaurants in France, and the better the restaurant, the better the service. Step it up.