Our friends – and that includes, we feel, our regular readers – know we're not much on chains, particularly national ones. But darn, that brunch menu at McCormick & Schmick's looked inviting, with lots of seafood, of course, and some interesting possibilities out of that great brunching town, New Orleans. We actually looked forward to succumbing, until we did.
Yes, it's on the west side of West County Center, and the outdoor seating area is going to feel like a sauna soon, what with all the concrete and afternoon sun. But there's valet parking and the darkish interior reflects the restaurant's Pacific Northwest roots, with dark wood and light fixtures from the Arts and Crafts era, plus plenty of beveled glass separating the bar from the main dining room. Perhaps the most discordant note is the bar's stained glass ceiling, featuring giant emblems of the local pro sports teams.
Our 11:30 arrival found a nearly-empty room, but the family-friendly restaurant soon began to fill with multigenerational groups. The large menu takes some studying, so we asked for drinks and water. Special brunch cocktails on the menu include the spiked blueberry lemonade, a tall glass whose blueberry flavor belied its pale lemon color, thanks to the blueberry vodka. Nice and tart, too, but no garnish, no visual appeal. On the other hand, the Ramos gin fizz, an old, old New Orleans eye-opener, was a total bust. We don't know where the bartender was trained, but hardly anything was right, starting with the fact that it is not supposed to taste like extra-sweet limeade. Wrong glass, no ice, no cream or half-and-half, no noticeable gin, no noticeable orange flower water or its replacement, no egg white and no fizz (which comes from seltzer) at all.
Fresh oysters? It's a seafood house; of course we wanted oysters. On the list this day were Hama Hamas from Washington, M&S Sweets and Barcat oysters from Virginia, and what were just described as Delaware oysters. All briny, cold, sweet-salty and all very good, served with red seafood sauce and a mignonette that seemed to have a little Tabasco in it, too. More oysters, fried in a buttermilk batter, came crisp and juicy, the crust not overwhelming the oyster inside. Placed on a mound of sauteed spinach, with a surrounding drizzle of an excellent aioli, lemony and garlicky, the dish scored very well.
Crab cake Benedict turned out to be a mixed bag. First-rate crab cakes, nothing less than we'd expect at a place with M&S's national reputation as a serious seafood house. Nothing else was better than barely satisfactory. Poached eggs were cooked beyond runniness, although in this lawsuit-conscious era, one can never be sure if they were accidentally overcooked or done to company standards. If the latter is the case, customers should be informed. The lack of that warm egg yolk saucing things is unfortunate. And there wasn't much Hollandaise, barely enough to cover a silver-dollar sized area on each egg. Two good-sized crab cakes, but interestingly, no English muffins. Diced potatoes, deep fried, were unremarkable.
“Classic eggs Sardou” announced the menu. “Eggs Sardou, our version” is what M&S meant. No muffin here, either, but a base of creamed spinach with cut-up artichoke hearts and chunks of pinkish fresh tomato stirred in. Topped by two poached eggs of similar firmness, an identical gesture of hollandaise sauce, the whole in a soup plate surrounded by a sauce with some artichoke flavor. Straying away from the brunch menu, an entree of Rainbow trout crusted with almonds lacked flavor and was overcooked.
Our server was pleasant, but seemed unfamiliar with the menu. The thrice-requested water didn't arrive until midway through the main course. Coffee arrived lukewarm, though the second cups were properly hot. And the bill had three errors.
The wine list is large, impressive and expensive, with some offerings carrying Robert Parker's ratings. Some of the 27 by-the-glass choices are offered in a choice of five- or eight-ounce pours, which is a pleasant touch. And some half price wines on Sunday, which no one mentioned and which we did not discover until we went over the menu again, later, at home.
Pollack's First Law always has been that restaurants' prices establish the standards for judgment, and this is too expensive a restaurant to offer food and service at these levels.
McCormick & Schmick
17 West County Center, Des Peres
Lunch & Dinner daily, Brunch Sunday
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Brunch entrees: $9-$15