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Brooks Restaurant: The bread is warm, the vibe upper-crusty

Brooks Restaurant, a staple of fine dining in Deerfield Beach since 1981, underwent a major face-lift at the end of 2011, reopening just two days before Christmas. Snowbirds who migrate to South Florida this season will find a beautified yet still classic roost with impeccable, traditional service and a menu of well-executed country-club cuisine.

To walk into Brooks is to feel as if you're entering a wealthy friend's coastal home or perhaps the dining room of a high-end, Southern beach-side hotel. The ceilings have glowing, recessed lights and are lined with broad, white-crown molding. The walls are painted in muted hues of yellow, blue and terra cotta. Gorgeous, illuminated paintings throughout the restaurant are a delight to peruse.

The dining areas are split into several standalone rooms, giving the restaurant a sense of home. To the north, you'll be drawn to a hallway with marble floors, an ornate, full-length mirror and a chandelier. That hallway leads to an enormous, redesigned party room with a hardwood dance floor, where the restaurant throws occasional opera and showtune luncheons, as well as swing-dance nights. The restaurant, known as a spot for anniversaries and other special events, easily morphs from a big banquet hall to a homey, intimate dinner spot.

Brooks is a highly seasonal restaurant, being open only three days per week for dinner service until after Thanksgiving, when it is open five days a week. With a smaller crowd this time of year, the restaurant seated everyone in a room to the south, where diners engaged in muted conversations. Customers here are refined, mostly in their 60s and above, with more than half the men wearing dinner jackets — an unusual occurrence for casual South Florida.

We began our meal with an offering of warm, tasty banana bread, onion bread and French bread, served with a pair of tongs. Don't be shy to ask for a bit of each.

To get the best value out of the menu, you'll want to spend the extra $12 or so for the complete three-course dinners instead of ordering the entrees a la carte.

Like most of Brooks' offerings, the lump crab cake ($12) is mildly seasoned and easy on the salt, but it's still flavorful due to the quality of ingredients. Do not pass up the escargot ($9), an exceptional version with just the right amount of garlic. You will also adore Brooks' lobster bisque ($11), with chunks of meaty, chopped shellfish served in the bowl before the soup is poured. The bisque is heavily creamed, so much so that it overwhelms the flavor of tomato in the peach-colored broth. The adults enviously eyed our toddler's bowl as she scooped up spoonful after spoonful of the bisque. Tuna tartar ($11) with wasabi, microgreens and chips is mildly flavored, though the chips were too chewy.

For entrees, it's hard to go wrong with Brooks' excellent surf and turf ($30), featuring seared beef tournedos in a red-wine mushroom sauce paired with a mild, simply prepared and buttery delicious lobster tail. Crispy half duckling ($27) offers a moist, rich texture and a sweet cherry sauce that complements it well. Rack of lamb ($35) is coated with brown sugar, mustard and Jamaican rum and served with mint jelly. It arrived undercooked, detracting from an otherwise solid presentation. We reserved our highest praise for the sauteed snapper ($27), served tender in a creamy lemon-caper sauce covered with bits of asparagus and all of it atop a bed of jalapeno-cheddar polenta for eye-rolling deliciousness.

Given the mild seasoning on many dishes, we were surprised to find the kitchen rev it up with such rich desserts ($8 a la carte). Do not leave Brooks without sampling souffles of chocolate and Grand Marnier. (Yes, get both, though the Grand Marnier is best if you must be picky.) These baked souffles are served with a delectable chocolate-and-creme-anglaise sauce.

Key lime pie was creamy and sweet. Apple tart is another great choice with large chunks of apple baked into a sweet, dense crust. Perhaps only second to the souffle is Lisa's mocha brownie parfait, a concoction of chocolate brownie, chocolate mousse and dulce de leche ice cream that more than makes up in decadence what it may lack in subtlety.

With its fresh look, the venerable Brooks offers hope for those people who worry that classic, fine-dining experiences are disappearing from South Florida.

Brooks Restaurant

500 S. Federal Highway, Deerfield Beach


Cuisine: American

Cost: Expensive

Hours: Currently from 5:30 p.m. to close Friday through Sunday. After Thanksgiving, the restaurant will be open from 5:30 p.m. to close Wednesday through Sunday

Reservations: Recommended

Bar: Full service

Sound level: Quiet-moderate

Outside smoking: No

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

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