First Look: Brazen Opens in West Highland

Chef Lance Barto's handsome new digs
September 28, 2014
by Lori Midson

Chef Lance Barto (Central Bistro & BarBeatrice & Woodsley) teamed up with Christopher Sargent (most recently at Acorn) to open Brazen, a new restaurant that straddles the boundary between West Highland and Berkeley. The two transformed a former yogurt shop into a desirable dinner-only (for now) neighborhood spot that has plenty of verve and a playful New American menu.

The Space: Clocking in at just 44 seats (six at the engaging chef's counter, which peeks into the kitchen), Brazen is a handsome display of industrial trappings (exposed ductwork, charcoal-hued paint, polished concrete floors), refurbished accents (semi-trailer wood flooring stretches across the bar, chef's counter and community table) and blond-wood banquettes (recycled church pews) strewn with plump pillows that provide a pop of color. 

The Kitchen: "Our menu is all about approachability and community," says Barto. That sentiment translates into a small, focused board of sharable plates with ingredients that favor easygoing familiarity. "All of our ingredients are humble, insomuch that we're invoking a sense of nostalgia — think deviled eggs and meatballs with polenta — in lieu of luxurious items like foie gras," explains Barto. Nonetheless, those fishing for jewels will find East and West Coast oysters, along with Bangs Island mussels bobbing in a lemon-scented broth fragrant with fresh herbs. And there's a large section of vegetable-heavy dishes, too: smoked corn chowder poured tableside, summer squash latkes and roasted beets with hazelnut butter and blue cheese. But expect seasonal changes: "The menu, like the beverage list, will change organically, and we'll put a few new dishes on it every week," says Barto.

Happy Hour and Late-Night Lingering: Happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 4:30 to 6:15 PM, and ballyhoos $1.25 East Coast oysters, $5-$7 small plates and $5 donut holes with crème anglaise and lavender sugar, plus $5 mojitos and wines by the glass, $6 classic cocktails and a couple of $2 craft beers. An abbreviated late-night menu will also be offered, and the bar stays open until 2 AM nightly.

The Courtyard: An urban patio, complete with a fire pit for making s'mores (a dessert plate with a Hershey's bar, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, fresh strawberries and housemade marshmallows and graham crackers), is encircled by a small park with towering trees, the trunks of which can be used to leash your pooch while you're having dinner.

More to Come: Barto will roll out Saturday and Sunday brunch starting on October 4, and he's got a few things up his sleeve for the chef's counter too: "Everyone who sits at the chef's counter will get an amuse, and on weeknights, only at the chef's counter, we'll feature five- and seven-course tasting menus that are completely impromptu; whatever I want to do, I'll do it, and most of the dishes won't be on the regular menu, so it really will be à la minute," says Barto.

The Details: 4450 W. 38th Ave.; 720-638-1242. For a closer look at Brazen, check out the slide show below. 

Tableside smoked corn chowder with charred kernels, sliced radishes and radish greens and cotija cheese.

Refurbished church pews set the stage for a wall dedicated to bench seating.

A 10-seat communal table encourages hanging out with your neighbor.

An eight-seat bar peers through windows showcasing a lush landscape.

Brazen's exterior features a brick facade, burnished sign and ropes of Edison bulbs that illuminate the courtyard.

Deviled eggs with goat cheese, lemon and rings of jalapeño.

A painterly plate of roasted beets, crumbles of goat cheese and hazelnut butter and sorrel.

The courtyard features tables, a fire pit and expanded landscape that's dog-friendly.

Brazen's chef's counter, which overlooks the open kitchen, commanded by chef Lance Barto.

new american
lance barto
chris sargent
central bistro & bar
beatrice & woodsley