Review of Bru Grill and Market in Lake Forest
Giving Bru a Second Chance
Three years ago I visited a new restaurant in South Orange County called Bru, which looked promising, but ultimately disappointed me because they made too many “safe” choices and some execution issues with the food and service. Fast forward three years and I decided to give them another chance.
Since Bru opened they have gained competitors in South Orange County, mainly from The Blind Pig and BLK burgers. Based on my last visit, it appears that the owners have refined their business model, taken a few risks and upped their game to deal with the competition.
Basic Premise of Bru
Bru is essentially modern American fare. They hit all the right notes that usually makes foodies sing, for example seasonal menu, farm to table, farmer market sourcing, all-natural, hormone and antibiotic free, “mostly organic”, communal bar seating, strict policy on craft beer only and emphasis on boutique wine. With these credos in place BRU could be on a Portlandia episode. Although the question is can they execute on these virtues now that they had three years of practice? Lets find out together.
Bru Grill and Market is seamlessly set up with three concepts in one: retail liquor sales, communal bar lounge and restaurant. One of the cooler elements of Bru is the communal tables in their bar lounge. This is a very European set up that is effective at generating conversation with fellow dinners. This concept is in place at several breweries and a couple restaurants like The Playground and Broadway. I hung around the bar for a little bit to watch the interactions, for the most part people were friendly to each other, although people did not get into each other’s business. The crowd was a mixture of friends chatting and a solid mix of singles intermingling. The restaurant side is pretty standard, comfortable booths and tables for private dining. The interior is rustic farm house winery chateau with exposed wood beams and gothic chandeliers.
Retail Beer and wine Program
On of the interesting concepts at Bru is that they operate their wine as a retail wine program, which means you purchase you wine at standard retail pricing and then pay a small corkage fee, $5. This turns out to be a very good deal when you order a bottle of wine. Since they run retail you can go in and purchase a bottle of wine or a craft beer to take home. Their craft beer program was pretty impressive and in the game with places like Haven Gastropub. Their refrigerator is stocked with local and craft breweries, my favorite was from a label called “betty”
What we ordered at Bru
Dr. Pepper Baby Back Ribs
The Dr. Pepper baby back ribs were very delicious and I could have eaten a full rack of these ribs. The ribs themselves were fairly meaty and tender. They were “wrapped” more like layered with a strip of bacon and then slathered with the sweet and ever so slightly tangy BBQ sauce. If you are a rib purest, these are not your Momma’s dry rubbed ribs. I like Bru’s Dr.Pepper Ribs because they had a nice flavor layering and I did not get bored of the flavor, rather I wanted more. The ribs are served on a wooden board with cole slaw and fries. ½ Rack ($25) Full Rack ($32).
Unfortunately we only got the half rack and I was forced to beg my wife for portions of her side. I felt like the house dog asking if she could spare a bone. Fortunately my smile and sappy whispers won me an extra fully intact rib.
Daily Special – Hanger Steak
This was a daily special and may not be on the menu next time you visit. The hangar steak is grilled and then it appears like they sautéed the meat in a wonderfully tasting demi glace and caramelized onions. The hanger steak was tender, juicy and flavorful from the glazing. The steak is served sliced and served with their farmer’s market green beans sautéed with bacon and roasted petite potatoes.
All the components of this dish were delicious, almost perfect for my palate. The main issue of this dish is the plating. I found the platting of the dish to be too crowded, a little rushed and messy. ($25)
I rarely order a burger at a restaurant unless it is a specialty burger joint like Slaters ; although my friend ordered it and she loved it. The bun was of high quality with a crisp exterior and airy, fluffy interior. The burger patty looked like just under a ½ pound, she said it was juicy and cooked to her order. It is served with a three-year old cheddar, IPA drunken caramelized onions, house cured pickles and Brü Ajisimo smoked pepper aioli.
The only issue is again with platting, the reversed the buns so that my friend had to reconstruct the buger with her hands. Minor gripe, but important lesson for the kitchen staff. ($12). Add Fried Egg (1)
Craft Beer is Bru’s specialty so we ordered from their draft beer menu. When you visit, notice that the beers highlighted in green have been recently taped.
Ommegang Game of Thrones Fire and Blood
Brewery Ommegang is a micro brew based out of Cooperstown New York who normally focusses on Belgian Ales. They collaborated with the HBO series Game of Thrones and release the beer Fire and Blood Red Ale is brewed with pilsner, spelt, rye and other specialty malts. It’s hopped with Styrian Golding and German Tettnang hops and spiced with ancho chilies. This is a dark red beer with a slightly smooth, malty and fruity characters that slightly bites the throat on the way down. I ordered two of these and plan on buying a case. Delicious.
Refuge Blood Orange Wit
Refuge Blood Orange Wit is a well-structured light white beer with a balanced approach to cirtrus flavor layering. My wife, who is a big fan of Wit beers and citrus laced beers, really enjoyed the Refuge Blood Orange Wit and said she could drink a couple glasses of it without getting old. Refuge Brewery is located nearby in Temecula.
The first time I visited Bru was during the first year of opening and the service was good in a Claim Jumper kinda way. During my last visit, I noticed that the service had improved significantly. The wait staff was extremely knowledgeable of all the beers, cocktails and food. Our waiter was able to explain each of the dishes in details and know the beer’s characteristics as if he was the brewer. This was very impressive.
My Final Thoughts
I am happy that I gave Bru another chance. We ended up having a lot of fun that night and really enjoyed the food, beer and service. Aside from the minor issues I described with platting, I think Bru has grown up to be a respectable restaurant that I would recommend. I only challenge the management team to unleash their Chefs more to create some dishes that are innovative and push the limits of the South Orange County customer base. You guys are almost there, now take it to the next level.