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The Carillon

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As a food blogger, one of the questions I get asked most often is what is the best restaurant in town? Of course, this is a loaded question highly dependent on what kind of food you like. I appreciate a greasy burger, bowl of queso, or slab of brisket just as much as fine dining. But if you are looking for a dining experience my favorite go-to is The Carillon.

Half the time I tell people about it, they have never heard of it although it has been around for several years. It is located on MLK in the AT&T Executive Center on the U.T. Campus across the street from the Bob Bullock Museum. (Pro-tip- There is a parking garage and the restaurant validates, so parking is not an issue.)

DSCN2026DSCN2034The Executive Chef is Josh Watkins who has been a force in the Austin restaurant scene since his sous days at the Driskill with David Bull. Watkins commitment to farm fresh, ingredient driven food is evident on every plate.

Pastry Chef Plinio Sandalio is one of the best in town. Not only are his desserts works of art, they also play with surprising combinations of sweet and savory that delight the palate. As delicious as the food is, do not make the mistake of skipping dessert. In fact, save room for two if you can.

One of the first indicators of the caliber of a restaurant is the bread service. It is an area that is often farmed out to an outside bakery leaving diners stuck with spongy rolls more appropriate at a grocery store than restaurant. Not at the Carillon. There are always at least 2 varieties of bread. Tonight we had whole wheat and an olive loaf that were both light and flavorful, along with butter sprinkled with black lava sea salt. That kind of attention to the bread is a great indication of flavors to come.

DSCN2060DSCN2044Of course, you can dine ala carte or there is a 6 course tasting option but one of my favorite dining bargains in town is prix fixe menu for $50. You pick any 2 appetizers and 1 entree from the entire menu.

My friend Michelle from Beyond Picket Fences joined me for dinner, not only sharing her food but also helping photograph our lovely meal. I love my blogger friends. Thanks Michelle!

Our first appetizers were the Escolar Crudo with pickled mustard seeds, celery, golden raisins and paprika aioli and the Crab Salad with wontons, champagne aioli and American caviar. Delightful light bites to whet the appetite. The soft, freshly-picked crab with the crunch of the wonton, slightly acidic aioli and pop of the caviar got my taste buds revving.

DSCN2074DSCN2048From the hot section came P.E.I Mussels with Spanish chorizo, saffron, jalapeno, and grilled foccacia. The broth was fragrant with a slight punch from the jalapeno but not so much that it overwhelmed the perfectly cooked mussels. I could swim in a bowl of that.

The scallops came with almond butter, grapefruit and crispy prosciutto. The only odd thing about this dish was the grapefruit. Texas Ruby Reds are delicious when in season and are sweeter than some oranges. I think a  bitter version would have lent the dish the acidity it needed to cut through the richness of the nut butter. Also the scallops were on the small side making it difficult to get a good sear without overcooking. Don’t get me wrong, I practically licked the plate but it was not my favorite dish of the night.

 

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Michelle went for a seafood trifecta with the Miso Marinated Mero with wilted spinach, maitake mushrooms and carrot-apple-ginger reduction. The meaty mero eats like a thick fish steak. This dish was a wonderland of flavor. The slightly sweet reduction was the perfect foil for the umami of fish, mushrooms, and spinach.

My main was the smoked pork chop with cherry polenta, collard greens, turnips and bourbon gastrique. My only complaint with this dish was the turnips, which were in awkwardly large chunks and slightly underdone. I would have preferred a more bite-sized dice that would have been easier to cook correctly. But I have to say, it is hard to see in this lighting but that pork is a perfect rosy pink. It was slightly smoky, tender and juicy. The creamy polenta was accented with pops of sweet cherry and bitter greens, a nice counterpoint to the pork.

DSCN2093DSCN2099DSCN2087Although dinner was delicious and we were more than full, we had to have dessert. Since we could not decide on 2 out of the 5 offerings, we went for 3.

First up was the most unexpected of the three, Plinio’s play on devils on horseback with Bleu des Basques panna cotta, date cake, bourbon toffee, mango pudding and bacon brittle. I have used blue cheese before in a dessert, a poached pear in puff pastry with a frangipane filling and blue cheese mousse, so I was curious to see how this one tasted.

Each of the elements on their own were tasty but as a whole, the blue cheese was a bit overwhelming. Coincidentally, though I had a small bite version of this dish a week later at a special event and instead of the panna cotta, Sandalio used a lighter mousse with just a hint of the blue cheese and I found the second version to be a more well balanced bite. I’m not sure if he adjusted the dish or if we just happened to get an off bit.

Second dessert was the sweet potato creme brulee with aji amarillo custard, basil pudding and annatto ice cream. This was a lovely little bite to tuck into. The creamy sweet potato highlighted with the herb accents is so far from the marshmallow holiday side dish.

The most delightful bite of the evening came with the chocolate and banana terrine. Cashew dacquoise, candied cashews and coconut custard decorate the bittersweet chocolate that holds a surprise center of creamy banana. It made me giggle.

So thank you to the wonderful staff at the Carillon for another incredible meal. I hope you get a chance to try it soon. I bet it will become your favorite too.

 

 

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christyluv

My name is Christy and I was born, raised, and still live in Austin, TX. I love to travel. I have been all over the US, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, etc. My second favorite place in the world is Negril, Jamaica where I have been 10 times and counting. I am a trained pastry chef but I am not currently working in "the industry" right now. I became a pastry chef in part to complement the fabulous dinners conjured up by my best friends Ethan and Michelle, who hopefully will be contributing to this blog as well. We went through a 2 year period of "Tuesday Night" dinner parties which were a smorgasbord of bloody meat and red, red wine. Friendships and laughter. The men did all the cooking while the women got tipsy, as all dinner parties should be. If I wanted to participate with food, I had to bring something and I became Dessert Girl. Eventually I attended the Le Cordon Bleu program at the Texas Culinary Academy and received a certificate in Pastry and Baking. I have had several baking jobs but found it hard to make ends meet, so I earn my living elsewhere for now. I have had the pleasure of working with several celebrity chefs including Rebecca Rather, Bronwen Weber, and David Lebovitz. I have also cultivated some amazing friends and resources in the Central Texas area and would like to share my knowledge with all who care to join me. My most recent honor was winning Best Sweet at the Bacon Takedown during SXSW 2011. As the culinary icon Ms. Childs' says, "Bon Appetit!" ***CONTACT ME at christy111luv@yahoo.com or twitter @christy111luv***

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