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Betsy Block

Restaurant Review: Tremont 647

Andy Husbands is on the phone.

"I'll be waiting for you," he says, and I catch my breath.

Full disclosure: I have a little thing - a culinary crush, if you will - on the owner of Tremont 647. He's the perfect combination of hip and sensitive. He's got tattoos, a motorcycle, and incredibly cool friends like Chris Schlesinger, but he's also deeply committed to Share Our Strength's anti-hunger program Operation Frontline. And the man can cook. What a package.

So when I called and asked if the restaurant would be open for brunch on January 2, and he told me he'd be waiting for me, I regressed. Suddenly I was all braces and bad hair. But then he added, "Well actually, I won't be here but my staff will." Oh, I see. Life is like that, isn't it? Chock full of false hopes and dashed dreams.

Honestly, though, it was OK by me (and more OK by my own husband) if Andy wasn't at the stove, because what really matters is whether the food's good and the ambience pleasing regardless of who's in the house. Not to diminish the suspense, but they are.

It turns out that you should probably expect the unexpected of someone who prepares what he calls "Adventurous American Cuisine." On the Sunday after New Year's, they were offering a special New Orleans-themed brunch menu. As one of the staff readily admitted, "We just threw this together for the weekend."

Professional kitchens are like little kids - they thrive on routine. In other words, "throwing a menu together" can throw a staff off-balance if you're not careful. So while this Y2K menu meant that I couldn't report on the restaurant's regular brunch, the good news is that I could judge how they handle pressure. The verdict, in a word: gracefully.

A Cajun Caesar salad with perfect, delicate hearts of romaine, roasted chicken and a seriously garlicky dressing was a light starter and a fine beginning to a Sunday morning repast. The beignets were dangerously close to doughy, but they were still good enough that they were gone in a few minutes. Fried dough is like that.

It was the cayenne buttermilk biscuits that really won my heart and quelled the aching pit of hunger in my holiday-stretched stomach. Freshly-made biscuits were draped with a fried egg, drowned in a slightly spicy andouille sausage gravy and given color by a side of Swiss chard. Mmm, mmm, good. The Creole Benedict had a similar construction: sweet, dense, smoky cornbread was the base for scrambled eggs, flaked salmon and a wonderfully acidic Tabasco hollandaise.

They were short on desserts so I tried the "hung over pastry platter," a combination of deceptively light (and actually butter-laden) confections - a chocolate croissant, mini Danish pastries - that were dainty and adorable. I wasn't hung over, but they did me a world of good anyway.

Fortunately, I'd had the chance to try some of the pastry chef's other handiwork when I visited on a rockin' pre-holiday Saturday night. I started off with the potato and garlic soup, a rich, creamy, delicate bowl studded with oversized butternut squash gnocchi. Of course I had also ordered Husbands' famous momos, a type of Tibetan dumpling he's been working on since his East Coast Grill days. I guess practice does make perfect after all. A crisped, soft dough is wrapped around a pork, ginger and garlic-flavored filling; they're served with a salty soy dipping sauce. Noting a dark orange swirl of something that looked good on the plate, I used a dumpling as a spoon to scoop up a hefty portion, then took a hearty bite. That sunset-colored condiment turned out to be sriracha, a seriously scorching chile paste. My palate may have been dampened, but my enthusiasm wasn't.

I recovered by the time the grilled ribeye arrived, which was lucky, because it was great. It was mesquite-smoky from the grill, juicy and perfectly seasoned. And I loved the crunchy, soft, truffle-scented, fontina-stuffed, extra-large "tater tots," though honestly the truffle part of the equation evaded me. No matter. The only flaw in the meal was the mahi mahi wrapped in a banana leaf. The fish was was essentially raw.

The "posse of chocolate truffles!" and the banana cream pie with pecan brittle and caramel sauce were more than enough to make me forget my troubles. (Plus, I hadn't ordered the fish.) Tremont 647 is a fun, jazzy restaurant that marries funk with finesse. Sort of like Husbands himself.