A Diva brunch at Jill’s


Recently, Dessert Diva Danette Randall noted in her column that I ought to have her tag along on a review outing. Class act that I am, I thought it only right to invite her to a spot where a guy ought to wear a sports coat. So I asked her to join me for Sunday brunch at Jill’s at the St. Julien Hotel & Spa.

The $34.95 brunch tariff here initially seems steep, but once you factor in that the price includes limited beverages, including mimosas and Bloody Marys, it’s not so

bad. Consistent with the price, Jill’s provides a modern high-end decor that still retains a sense of warmth through copious use of wood panels and muted color. As a matter of fact, Jill’s is vaguely reminiscent of a compact Kate Mantilini’s, the Beverly Hills hotspot where Al Pacino confronted Robert DeNiro in the film Heat.

Fortunately, confrontation was not on the menu between Danette and myself, as we discovered common ground at the buffet. Both of us were pleased to see the mini-bagels that accompanied fine smoked salmon and the requisite garnishes, although capers were nowhere to be seen. A fine selection of breakfast meats, including a moist and flavorful chicken link sausage, also contributed to our enjoyment.

An excellent slab of carved-to-order prime rib, served hot, juicy and textbook medium rare, was fulfilling as well.

While I skipped the made-to-order omelets, I generally enjoyed Jill’s take on the classic eggs Benedict, made more vegetarian-friendly with the substitution of a ripe tomato slice for Canadian bacon. The poached egg’s texture was velvety soft, with an agreeably liquid yolk. Sadly, the accompanying Hollandaise was on the blah side, lacking the decadent depth typically associated with this sensual topping.

Happily, the high quality bowl of peel-and-eat shrimp and king crab legs compensated for the weak sauce. I’m a serious shellfish snob, and while the legs weren’t the large-diameter specimens seen on Deadliest Catch, they had a surprisingly fresh and delicate flavor. This clean taste was attributable to the fact that Jill’s legs didn’t suffer from the persistent overbrining that’s too common in crab leg processing. The shrimp were equally good, with a clean taste and a pleasingly meaty consistency.

Seafood also took center stage in the paella, which included acceptable calamari, clams and mussels. This attractive Mediterranean specialty was a solid entry, although it could have benefited from additional seasoning. Both Danette and I favored the polenta cups stuffed with saucy braised beef. This hearty selection featured full-bodied gravy with melt-in-your-mouth chunks of beef.

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The Dessert Diva didn’t disappoint in offering her expert analysis of the available sweets. She approved of the dark chocolate fondue, which she estimated to have a 62 percent cocoa content. Chunks of white cake and fresh fruit were ideal dipping accompaniments, although Danette feared that some undisciplined child might be tempted to dunk their hand in the viscous chocolate. Other notable desserts included a smooth and creamy chocolate mousse and a charmingly tart lemon pudding. Happily devouring the formidable toffee bread pudding, it became clear to us that Jill’s is one of the more satisfying brunch buffets around. While the price precludes it from being a regular experience for most, it’s worth it for the special occasion splurge.

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Clay’s Obscurity Corner Puddings past
For most Americans,
the term “pudding” conjures up images of a creamy dessert, hawked on TV
by Bill Cosby.

Southerners may swoon over memories of bread pudding, a sweet
staple of Creole culture, and a likely cousin to French Toast. However, a
transplanted medieval knight or lady would scarcely recognize these
puddings, as the original iterations of this dish more resembled sausage
than sweet. It’s said that the word pudding originally derives from the
French term boudin, which means small sausage. Most early puddings were
meatbased, containing offal-based casings and suet. Haggis is one
example of this category of pudding.