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Brasserie Zapp adds zip to the Red Lion

After circling the Red Lion Inn on a recent Friday night trying to figure out how to enter the enormous structure, we parked and followed the smell of wood smoke into the lobby of the gorgeous old lodge.
From the second I wandered into the complex of dining areas that comprise the inn’s restaurant, Brasserie Zapp, (cq) I loved the space. I hadn’t been there since Cohasset resident Gerd Ordelheide (cq) bought and expanded the inn in 1998. With the addition of 15 guest rooms, two large function halls, and multiple amenities, the Red Lion turned into a very popular spot for weddings.
Before the renovation, the inn’s restaurant was a quaint stop on a boring winter night. Now, it has a European-style, upscale, après-ski feel with pine farm tables, armoires, antiques, wide-plank floorboards, five fireplaces, and a large open kitchen. A cozy den between the bar and dining room has couches for lounging before, after, or during dinner. (Teens might want to hang out there and watch a large but unobtrusive TV or fiddle with their phones while parents linger over coffee or after dinner drinks.)
A year ago, Ordelheide changed the name and menu, and turned the Red Lion restaurant into a French-inspired brasserie – hoping to create the kind of place where people can drop in for a snack, a drink, or a long meal in a relaxed atmosphere.
As inn guests and diners wandered through the restaurant and filled its tables, we studied the menu while enjoying a French baguette that arrived in a paper bag.
Brasserie Zapp has been running a half-price special on its entire menu for several months that will continue until the end of the year. When halved, some of the prices seemed crazy low.
We started with escargots a l’ail, which sounds so much more appetizing than the translation: Burgundy snails baked in white wine garlic butter ($11 on the menu — $5.50 on the bill).
I expected the shelled morsels to be a tolerable vehicle for the dish’s real star — its wine garlic butter. Instead, I found them to be tender and sweet. I would have believed it if they turned out to be chunks of crab or lobster masquerading as snails. Later, when I mentioned this to Chef Joshua Botsford, (cq) who trained with Barbara Lynch (cq) at Boston’s No. 9 Park, he said the trick was to sauté them quickly and not overcook.
My dining partner didn’t need his treasure hunter hobbyist skills to uncover chunks of crab in the very good blue crab cake with pesto aioli ($16 on the menu — $8 on the bill). The large single cake came with a great mesclun salad.
The brown butter trout ($21 on the menu — $10.50 on the bill), which the kitchen nicely split for us, was delicious. Each plate had one filet of the whole fish, sans its head. It was tenderly grilled and much appreciated for its simplicity, although a bit more lemon and seasoning would have made it impossible to forget. The fresh string beans it came with were perfect but the fingerling potatoes that were served with this and several other entries were uneven: some were hot and irresistible, some room temperature.
The steak au poivre, (cq) or filet mignon with peppercorn brandy sauce ($29 on the menu — $14.50 on the bill), was just as perfectly wonderful as such a superior cut of meat should be.
The menu has many old-fashioned dishes, including its duck a l’orange with wild rice ($26 on the menu — $13 on the bill), which missed the mark. The meat was fine, but the dish’s real attraction – a crispy skin – was totally absent.
We ended with crème brulee ($7) and bread pudding ($4.50), which were equally fabulous.
A few nights after my first visit, I stopped into the Brasserie alone. I’m always looking for a place that serves a really great simple baked chicken and wanted to see if theirs was any good. I also wanted to know if a single diner could feel comfortable at the bar – or maybe lounge in the little living room while waiting for dinner.
Yes, all the way around. The chicken ($24 on the menu — $12 on the bill) was out of this world – crispy, flavorful, moist – spectacular. And I was comfortable sitting at the shiny brass bar, moving to the living room for a while, and wandering about a bit.
A restaurant in an inn is filled with a sense of around-the-clock life, whether it’s a busy weekend or a Tuesday night. I like that.