Guide to Austin Restaurant Week Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Houston for their Restaurant Week.  Not being from Houston, I was only familiar with a few of the restaurants there and I had a hard time choosing just based on menus.  For those of you unfamiliar to the Austin Restaurant scene, here are my impressions of some of the restaurants participating.  Since I only publish reviews of restaurants I have been to several times, I will leave out restaurants I am unfamiliar with.

1886 Cafe & Bakery The casual bistro at the Driskill Hotel.  Both the lunch and dinner offerings are $25.  I would rather dine at the main restaurant at the Driskill if I had to choose but the menu choices do sound delicious.

Aquarelle A beautiful and romantic French restaurant.  This is the place to whip out the ring when the champagne is poured.  I am still chasing the dragon of the perfect scallop that I had here, which is offered on the Restaurant Week menu.

Austin Land and Cattle Company Forget Ruth’s Chris, this is the best steak in Austin.  And my favorite cut, the fatty ribeye, is on the menu.

Chez Zee American Bistro A popular place most famous for their desserts and creme brulee french toast.  While the food is good, I am saving my restaurant week picks for something a little fancier.

Ciola’s Italian American Delicious Italian food.  I would go more often but they are all the way out in Lakeway.  Maybe I will venture out for their popular “Big Night Out” Feast, a tribute to the movie of the same name, coming October 21.

Cipollina West Austin Bistro This is the sister restaurant to the very popular and very expensive Jeffrey’s.  After a recent glowing review of the new chef, I will have to revisit soon.  At $25 for the dinner menu and $35 with wine pairings, I may have to add this to my list this week.

Driskill Grill Classic Austin and one of the best in town.  The Driskill’s reputation has slipped a bit since the David Bull/ Josh Watkins era but still a solid offering.  The leather clad room will take you back to a time when cattle barons brokered deals with Texas politicians, a cigar in one hand and a whiskey in the other.

Eddie V’s Edgewater Grille Arboretum With a beautiful view of the hills, this is the Eddie V’s I frequent most.  Their happy hour is a great value and the food is wonderful.  In addition to the seafood they specialize in, they also have a reputation for cooking a mean steak which is also on the restaurant week menu for $40.

Eddie V’s Edgewater Grille Downtown The downtown location in the heart of Austin.  Solid with a slightly different menu offering for restaurant week, also includes the steak option for $40.

Estancia Churrascaria A locally owned Brazillian steakhouse similar to Fogo de Chao.  If you are unfamiliar, there is a huge lavish salad bar to start and waiters in gauchos parading cuts of meats on swords for all you can eat steak.  I am addicted to the Pao de Quiejo or cheese bread.

Fabi & Rosi I actually have not been to this one yet but I will be finally trying this one next week.  Austin is surrounded by small communities with strong German ties but sadly lacking in any German restaurants.  This one is run by a German chef and his Austin native wife.  At $25 for the dinner menu, this is a value as well.

Fleming’s Domain A new location for the popular chain.  They actually have a $35 prix fixe menu that changes seasonally, so kind of a waste during the limited time of restaurant week.

Fogo de Chao Same description as Estancia, lavish salad bar and meat on swords but this is the fancy chain version located right next to the convention center downtown.

Frank Fancy hot dogs.  This really does not do justice to Frank’s, so I will reprint the description of my favorite, the Jackelope- Antelope and Rabbit sausage,  huckleberry compote, sriracha aioli, smoked cheddar.  They are also one of the few places in town to serve poutine which is the heart attack on a plate popularized in Canada of fries and cheese curds covered in gravy.  Call my cardiologists now.  And it is $25 per couple for the special menu.

Garrido’s Restaurant The former executive chef from Jeffrey’s does authentic Mexican in delicious new ways.  A tostada with pork and watermelon was one of my favorite bites last year.

Green Pastures The beautiful grounds are a favorite among Austin brides and the Sunday brunch with the boozy southern milk punch is classic Austin.  The menu for restaurant week includes steak and lobster and is among the best values for sure.

III Forks The Austin location of this chain is helmed by Jaime Gutierrez who elevates it above the typical chain food.  Too bad his delicious duck is not on the menu this week.

Imperia Fancy Asian food.  This is a tough one.  I went here when they first opened and was impressed.  Especially the lobster mashed potatoes.  Not very Asian, I know but delicious none the less.  They have lost the mashed potatoes as well as a revolving staff of chefs here.  I hope they find their groove again soon.  If you do go, sticky banana cake for dessert.  Trust me.

Jasper’s Restaurant A link in Kent Rathburn’s chain.  This is the first restaurant I went to during the first restaurant week and I have been back several times since.  Go early and grab a couple of cocktails in the bar at continuous happy hour prices before dinner.

Jeffrey’s George Bush loved this place so much they opened one in the Watergate hotel during his presidency.  But I try not to hold that against them.  Deegan McClung has tried to breathe new life into this stalwart of Austin dining, sometimes with great success, sometimes not.  The Chocolate Intemperance alone is worth the trip, though.

Judges’ Hill Restaurant The beautiful old home has been converted into a boutique hotel full of southern charm.  This is another place I have not been to in a while that has changed chefs a couple of times since.  They are offering both a $25 and $35 menu for the week that sound interesting.

Uchiko Menu for Austin Restaurant Week

As the red hot Texas summer finally  begins to show mercy, it is that time of year again, Austin Restaurant Week, when many of Austin’s finest do a prix fixe menu ($10 – $15 for lunch and $25 – $35 for dinner) with a portion going to the Sustainable Food Center.  This is your chance to try places you have never been and places you have wished you could all in the name of charity.  This year the “week” runs Sunday through Wednesday for two weeks in a row September 19-22 and 26-29.  My birthday happens to fall towards the end on the 28th, so I immediately put in for reservations at the hottest new restaurant in Austin Uchiko, the beautiful little sister to Tyson Cole’s Uchi, where I had my best and most expensive meal ever. Uchi has limited seating and is perpetually full, so it has never participated in restaurant week.  The much bigger Uchiko has room for the hordes that are sure to descend.  Here is the menu for restaurant week.

Uchiko

The Carillion

Wow.  I am struggling to learn the art of making people salivate with words and the only one I can find to describe my dinner last night at The Carillion for Austin Restaurant Week is, “Wow.”

Josh Watkins is a kitchen dynamo that I have been following since he was the chef de cuisine at the Driskill under David Bull and later executive chef.  I have had the good fortune to work both front of the house and back of the house with Chef Watkins on a couple of occasions and I find his fire and creativity inspiring.

I was on day 3 of my Austin Restaurant Week adventure which I kicked off with the raucous Bad to the Bone Smackdown at Stubbs.  The events are not affiliated but their timing coincided to hurtle me into a foodie fest that feels like the upcoming SXSW must feel to the hordes of music fans about to descend on Austin.

The menu at The Carillion for Restaurant Week at $35 looked like a great bargain but turns out it is pretty close in price to the regular menu with a 3 course tasting for $38 and a 6 course tasting for $60. They also offer wine pairings for $12 and $22 respectively, which the friendly and accommodating staff even adjusted to our tastes.  I was excited to further discover that Tuesday was also the kickoff of their new happy hour menu as well.  Besides the lack of parking in the area that make the expensive parking garage a necessity, my innate love of both gourmet delights and bargain prices had me all tingly with anticipa————tion.

We started off with the pork belly with Diablo glaze, Asian pear salad, and fried mint as well as the lobster risotto with cremini mushrooms, sorrel, and lemon oil.  The pork belly was crispy on the outside and meltingly fatty tender inside, with the perfect matchsticks of Asian pear giving a fresh crunch of sweetness.  The lobster was poached just past raw to a sweet and tender perfection and nestled in a creamy risotto.

The coffee rubbed dry aged New York strip with roasted parsnips, candied garlic, and mesquite syrup was an interesting blend of sweet and savory.  My dining companion was fascinated by the candied garlic which was a pungent raw garlic spice blend captured in an amber sheet of caramel used to garnish the medium rare steak.  The braised beef short ribs were served atop a pool of celery root puree with fat asparagus tips and a black pepper gastrique.  Every component was designed to highlight and enhance the dish as a whole.  This attention to detail is what propels this meal to an occasion.

For dessert we chose the goat cheese cheesecake with huckleberry compote and salted caramel and the guanaja chocolate terrine with crystalized cilantro, burnt orange reduction and corriander cream.  The cheesecake was light and creamy with a buttery, crunchy graham cracker crust.  The slightly sweet huckleberries with the salted caramel made for a flavor symphony.  The chocolate terrine is deceptively small but delightfully rich slice of truffle heaven, paired with an almost honey like orange reduction and topped with a tiny dollop of corriander spiked cream, I found myself slippng into a sleepy chocolate coma.

Our server was enthusiastic and charming.  When she was unsure of a wine pairing we were not happy with, the manager was quick to step in with a wonderful substitute that speaks both to the customer service of the restaurant as well as the exceptional wine list.  I see many visits to The Carillion in my future. I hope to see you there.

Taste of Austin 2010- Review

2010-01-27_20.23 TASTE OF AUSTIN GARRIDOLooks like tomatoes on top of a mini nacho but that is watermelon.  Slow cooked pork on top of goat cheese with pepitas and a spicy piquant watermelon sauce was Gariddo’s little bite at Taste of Austin last night.  It was crunchy and creamy with a touch of heat and the slightly sweet notes from the watermelon.  I was all set to name this the best bite of the night.  http://www.garridosaustin.com/menu/ 

2010-01-27_20.26 TASTE OF AUSTINAnd then I tried this.  Green chile mac from Moonshine.  Grilled chicken, corn relish, and a green chile cream.  Warm, spicy, creamy comfort in a cup with a sweet crunch of corn.  I loved them both and declare a tie.  http://www.moonshinegrill.com/menus.php

 

I had a great time at Taste of Austin last night at the Palmer Events Center last night.  Around 50 restaurants participated in this scholarship fundraiser.  It is a fun way to try both new restaurants and old favorites in one location as well as socializing with your fellow foodies. 

I have been debating since last night if I should also post the worst bites at the event.  There was a crunchy risotto, bland bangers and mash, and a cold, mushy stuffed mushroom from a place that was advertising their catering services.  Serving from a small booth at a tasting event is a far different animal than serving from your own kitchen so I am inclined to cut some slack to those that showed poorly but if you are there to plug your catering services, you need to figure out how to serve a hot hors douvres.  I have decided to hold my tongue for now.  A restaurant deserves a fair review over several visits, especially if you are going to publish something negative.  But please, veal osso bucco should not taste like it has barbecue sauce on it.  You know who you are.

Back to the good!  One of my favorite cookie places in town is Kevin’s Cookies.  http://www.kevinscookies.com/  Trey and his adorable wife Jen run this little operation.  They now only have a location south, so I don’t make it over there much but Trey sends out a great newsletter that makes me feel like part of the family.  Last night they had half a dozen different varieties of their delicious cookies.  Crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, and full of chips, nuts, etc.  My favorite last night was probably the white chocolate chip.  And I hate white “chocolate”.  I believe the darker the chocolate, the better.  But these gems were delicious. 

Spec’s had a booth and I <3 Spec’s!  http://www.specsonline.com/  Very knowledgeable wine staff, great prices on wine and liquor, and a decent assortment of gourmet goodies.  Some of the stores have a bigger selection than others.  I frequent the one at Arbor Walk which also has a deli case but I hadn’t gotten around to trying it yet.  I am pretty picky about my sandwiches, so when I got the sample from them, I thought, “Turkey on white, just another sandwich.”  But it was really good.  Fresh bread with very flavorful turkey.  If they do that well on a little sample for the masses, I will be trying them in store soon.

I recently had Craigo’s pizza for the first time and was impressed.  http://www.craigospizzaandpasta.com/  Last night they were serving pasta.  There was an ok lasagna that had a little too much fennel for my tastes but they also had a spinach ziti that I believe was vegetarian and it was yummy. 

One of the most exotic offerings came from Frank, the “purveyor of artisan sausage” at Fourth and Colorado.  http://www.hotdogscoldbeer.com/ That is  tony talk for $7 hot dog.  Last night they were offering the Jackelope- antelope and rabbit sausage with a huckleberry compote, siracha aioli, and applewood smoked cheese.  Good, different, innovative-  yes.  Worth $7 a hot dog?  Not so sure but I was intrigued enough to want to at least check out the happy hour sometime soon.  

There was a classmate of mine from culinary school passing out little bundt cakes from franchise outfit Nothing Bundt Cakes.  http://www.nothingbundtcakes.com/index.php For something ever so slightly different from a cupcake, these cute little cakes were moist and rich with a bit of cream cheesy icing.   

There were a few places I did not get to try because the lines were way too long.  I tasted the sushi from Piranha Killer Sushi at La Dolce Vita this year and really liked it but the line only got longer last night as the evening wore on.  What is really frustrating is when you see a full tray of food at the head of the line and people obliviously standing there and grazing like there aren’t 50 people behind them in line.  Move it, people!!!!!

Taste of Austin is usually my first big foodie event of the year.  It signals the beginning of my favorite time in Austin, spring means festival season!  Before you know it, Austin Restaurant Week http://restaurantweekaustin.com/ will be here.  Then my personal favorite, Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Fest! http://www.texaswineandfood.org/  You can buy discounted tickets for the Sunday Fair now for $25 (reg $45) through this link.  http://twff.frontgatesolutions.com/choose.php?b=1&lid=39935&eid=46543  Price good only till February 1.

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