Excelsior carves an identity with experimental cuisine

Owner and chef Francoise Vandersticht named the Excelsior Brasserie after the brewery that his father owned in his native Belgium. Some of the art decorating the second-floor restaurant was taken from that famous brewery.

There’s nothing old-fashioned about Excelsior Brasserie, however. The restaurant is hip and contemporary, with a menu that reflects the owner’s cosmopolitan taste and sense of adventure.

When asked where he gets some of the exciting innovations that show up on the menu, Chef Vandersticht answers with tongue planted firmly in cheek: “I like to play with food.”

You’ll see lobster ravioli on the appetizer menu with tarragon, shallots, mascarpone cheese and a vanilla champagne beurre blanc ($14). You’ll also see bacon-wrapped scallops served over polenta corn cake ($12). This starter is further enhanced by roasted corn salsa and spicy red bell pepper sauce.

Another surprise on the appetizer menu is blue claw popovers ($11). These popovers have crab and Boursin cheese tucked inside a fried wonton shell. A spicy peanut dipping sauce adds to the flavor and the fun.

We love the crab cakes ($12). They’re served with a remoulade and chipotle honey, while the tuna tartare, made with fresh ahi tuna, gets its kick from cilantro, jalapeno, mint and shallots in a honey rice wine vinegar liaison.

Creativity abounds on the appetizer list, so try a few. The breaded parmesan fondues are made with fried parsley and lemon ($7), and the Szechwan pepper seared ahi has a definite Szechwan twist with pepper, soy mustard sauce, baby greens and lime grape seed oil.

There are 15 appetizers on Excelsior’s menu, not to mention the soups and salads. The New England clam chowder ($8) is a favorite. It has a New England base, but boasts a distinctive taste, with corn, bacon, potatoes, celery and onions in the mix.

Among the four salads on Excelsior’s menu are bacon-wrapped goat cheese salad ($9), baked brie and pear salad with golden raisins and an orange-honey hazelnut vinaigrette ($9) and mixed greens with herbs and a pomegranate vinaigrette ($8).

The seafood and meat sections of the menu are equally exciting. Try the grilled salmon on avocado ($17). It has a flavorful jalapeno tequila sauce that makes it irresistible, and the fried potatoes are wonderful.

Belgian fries accompany many of the meat and seafood offerings, and if you haven’t tried these crispy wonders, you’re missing out. Excelsior capitalizes on another Belgian tradition with its bottomless mussels and fries selection. For $28, you can feast on all the mussels and fries you desire, and the white wine broth with Mirepoix is delicious.

If you like swordfish, try the swordfish provencale with onion fritters ($19). This dish features eggplant, squash, zucchini and tomatoes. The coconut curry seafood, a combination of sole, mussels, clams and shrimp, is paired with jasmine rice ($21). A spiced ahi tuna loin is seared to order and served with asparagus, potato corn and crab hash, and roasted tomato vin ($23).

Starting in spring, Excelsior serves lunch. Many of the dinner selections are available on the lunch menu, along with a half-pound Angus beef burger ($8), steak and grilled onion sandwich on sesame roll ($8) and three pasta selections (ranging from $9 to $12).

Excelsior Brasserie is at 1025 Prospect St. Call (858) 454-8092.