Every since sampling the drinks at Officine Brera and the cuisine at the neighboring Factory Kitchen, I've been dying to go back and try more. The meaty Italian concept is a definite must-try in the now restaurant-heavy Arts District, boasting a large, industrial, but beautiful space from which they serve an impressive roster of risotto, fresh pastas, and braised meats. With such a gorgeous space and drool-worthy menu, it's no wonder why Officine Brera has attracted a diverse crowd for its popular lunch service, from Ladies Who Lunch to the Downtown Finance Power Lunchers. Just walking into the restaurant evokes instant hunger; the smell of that wood grill is so tantalizing, it could be bottled and sold to foodies. It certainly must've affected my appetite, because I ate plenty...and there was so much more that I wanted to try.
We started out with the Kale Salad, which despite becoming a ubiquitous item on every hot restaurant's menu, was still treated with a freshness and simplicity that really worked. The kale itself was tender and lightly dressed, with a few simple additions (like pecans) that added a bit of crunch and depth. Shredded pecorino was a very light and subtle addition, but definitely elevated the salad, making it overall surprisingly satisfying and tasty.
What isn't automatically improved with a fried egg? Another light but still slightly indulgent appetizer, the Asparagus was an amalgam of ingredients that I wouldn't immediately assume work together, but really did. The tender asparagus was subtly flavorful, while the runny egg added a nice creaminess. Peas and crisp bacon added some nice textural elements while lending the dish some balance as well. Another really tasty starter.
Now we're getting into the heavy hitters. We almost didn't order a pasta, but I'm so glad we did. The pasta (which reminded me of a subtle fusili) was so fresh and perfectly tender, while the veal ragu was meaty, smoky, creamy, and ridiculously delicious. Some shaved reggiano melted seductively into the dish, while crisp (brussels sprouts?) added a juxtaposing little crunch. It was absolutely one of the highlights of the meal, and I would come back for it anytime. So good.
One of their signature dishes, the saffron risotto with bone marrow, is pretty much everything I crave in my food. Just say the words "risotto" or "bone marrow," and I'm in. And this dish was just as fantastic as described. Surprisingly simple, the risotto itself is perfectly cooked, tender (with just enough chew to it), and flavorful-- the saffron added a beautiful yellow hue, but thankfully didn't overwhelm the dish in terms of taste. The bone marrow was fatty, oil, and melted into the risotto like butter, lending it a subtle meatiness. Unsurprisingly, the dish was pretty rich, making it a great choice to share amongst friends or coworkers so everyone can get a few bites in.
Though I was already pretty stuffed and satisfied at this point, I just couldn't go home before trying the fried chicken (which to me was an unexpected choice for a very Italian-focused restaurant). The chicken itself seemed barely fried-- just lightly crispy enough but packed with spices and flavor (though a tinnnyyy bit dry on the inside). The green bean and root vegetable base seemed almost a bit superfluous after everything we just had, but the spicy aioli was a nice dipping sauce. Though this wasn't the star of the meal for me, it was definitely still good.
Finally, we couldn't leave without sampling something sweet. The donuts were a surprisingly light bite that seemed just a bit sinful. Salty bourbon caramel dipping sauce added some serious indulgence, but the donuts themselves weren't dense or doughy. A great way to finish up lunch.
Overall, our lunch at Officine Brera was great. I'm so glad we came back to try the cuisine beyond the drink selection. Between the beautiful setting and delicious food, it definitely makes for an ideal power lunch. But definitely don't come expecting for something quick and easy; at Officine Brera, you're meant to take your time, enjoy, and savor.