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.

 

 

Austin Wine and Food Fest Part 1

Morimoto makes me dream of sushi.

It took me awhile but I think I am finally recovered from the bacchanalia that came to Austin at the end of April.  The inaugural Austin Wine and Food Fest had a few logistical issues like high winds that led to a film of dust that covered everyone and everything and timing for the demos could have been better.  But for the most part, it was a success.  I was proud to play a role at the fest as the lead in charge of volunteer checkin.  I also serve with the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance as Volunteer Coordinator which led to the opportunity.  So I spent a good portion of the actual fest at Auditorium Shores working instead of drinking and eating as much as I would have liked to.  Fortunately, there were several periphery events before that I was able to enjoy.  Plus it was fun to have a behind the scenes view of the first year.  It will be interesting to see how they adjust going forward.

Now for my food porn.  First up was the fantastic dinner that Columbus Salame sponsored at the Carillon.  Columbus is an artisan salame maker out of San Francisco that makes truly stellar handcrafted meats.  Each of the courses included some of their product.  As always, Josh Watkins and Plinio Sandalio gave me mouthgasms with their delicious dishes.  You can find Columbus locally at Central Market and Antonelli’s.

 

I <3 salame!
Pre dinner tasting
Mache * Watermelon * Secchi * Minus 8 Syrup
Seared Diver Scallop * Fresno * Basil * Granny Smith * Crespone
Hawaiian Blue Prawns * Finocchiona * Charred Tomato * Corn Butter * Cilantro
Smoked Bandera Quail * Cacciatore * Morels * Texas Vinegar
Pork Belly * Felino * Artichokes * Brown Butter * Preserved Meyer Lemon
Almond Cake * Fennel butter * Hot Sopressata Caramel * Fennel Chips * Hot Sopressata Brittle * Olive Oil Ice Cream

Stay tuned for Part 2.  Dessert dinner, Live Fire meat and pie, secret dessert party, and more Morimoto.

Best Desserts in Austin

Roasted tomato sorbet with cherub tomato confit and chevre fondant from Philip Speer of Uchi/Uchiko.

Austin has a ton of dessert options, from trailers to fine dining to bakeries you are sure to find something to satisfy that sweet tooth.

Two of the best restaurants in town are Uchi and her sister restaurant Uchiko.  You may have heard of them, Tyson Cole won a James Beard Award last year for best chef Southwest and if there is any justice in the world, Paul Qui will be crowned Top Chef tomorrow night.  As ethereal as their food is, I always save room for dessert.  Sometimes two.

 

Peanut butter semifreddo with apple-miso sorbet from Philip Speer at Uchi/Uchiko

Director of Culinary Operations at Uchi and designer of desserts Philip Speer was just nominated for a James Beard Award for the third time.  His plates are as beautiful as they are tasty.  Speer uses familiar flavors and combines them with bold techniques to make a sophisticated presentation.  One of his biggest sellers is the peanut butter semifreddo which came to him one day when he was making a sack lunch for his daughter.

My next post talks about the Social Hour they offer at both restaurants.  If you go, make sure to try the desserts as well.

 

 

 

Guanja chocolate terrine with grapfruit segments, candied baguette, and chupa nut puree from Plinio Sandalio at the Carillon.

The Carillon is the restaurant located at the AT&T Executive Center on the University of Texas Campus.  This is one of the best restaurants in town that nobody seems to know about.  It is probably due to the fact that it is located in a hotel/conference center run by UT and is only open to staff for breakfast and lunch but it opens for fine dining to the public in the evening and it is outstanding.  I have been a huge fan of the executive chef, Josh Watkins, since his days at the Driskill.  As much as I love Watkins’ food, his dessert program did not do justice to his high caliber food.  That problem was recently resolved with the addition on Plinio Sandalio to the team.

Foreground- Goat cheese cheesecake/mango pudding/candied cashews Background- carrot cake fritters/ mustardo/cream cheese/candied pecans from Plinio Sandalio at the Carillon

Sandalio originally comes from Bolivia but spent most of his life growing up in Houston.  He is known for his daring desserts that combine savory elements like foie gras or offer surprising twists like flavored pop rocks. I always look forward to his inventive design.

 

 

Huge tip-  the restaurant validates for its parking garage.  It is one of the few places downtown you do not have to worry about parking.

 

Additional fine dining desserts:

Steven Cak from Parkside presented this beautiful beet dessert at the Dessert Project on Sunday
One of my all time favorites is the Chocolate Soup at Wink

 

 

Tons of pastry cases around town including many Mexican bakeries that you should try but that is subject to a whole separate post.  Here are a few of my favorite European style bakeries:

La Patisserie offers gorgeous macarons as well as French pastries and tasty sandwiches.
Walton’s Fancy and Staple is owned by Sandra Bullock and offers delicious desserts and sandwiches on fresh baked bread
Vespaio Enoteca offers cookies, breads, pastries, cakes, tarts and more next to a gourmet deli case capable of stocking a picnic basket with tasty treats as well as a sit down area with a menu, full bar, and espresso.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do not forget the trailers!  Far more delicious desserts than I can count but here are a few of my favorites:

Holy cacao offers those cute little cake balls and homemade s’more fixings but my favorite from here is the iced hot chocolate. The incredibly decadent hot chocolate is mixed with chocolate ice cream and mixed into a refreshing beverage sure to cool you down and quell even the biggest chocolate craving.
La Boite recently changed suppliers for their almond croissants but I am happy to report they are still as close as you can get to Paris. They also sell beautiful macarons, delicious coffee drinks, and the award winning Confituras preserves.
Gordough’s has relocated to 1503 S. 1st along with Izzoz and Dock and Roll. Gordoughs offers huge fresh fried donuts with an abundance of topping options. My favorite is the Flying Pig topped with bacon strips and maple icing.
One of the first trailers to start the wave, Hey Cupcake has the tastiest cupcakes in town. They offer several varieties but my favorite is the Double Dose, chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. They have several locations around town including a brick and mortar.

Big Reds and Bubbles 2011

Favorite bite of the night from the Carillon
 The Wine and Food Foundation of Texas celebrates the beginning of the holiday season by breaking out the best red wines and champagne along with bites from the best restaurants in town at the Driskill for its annual Big Reds and Bubbles fundraiser.  Here are my pics from this year’s soiree.
 
 
Lady in the champagne dress.
 
 
 
Jack Gilmore from Jack Allen's
 
 
Prepping bites for DC Tavern- Mark Paul and Stewart Scruggs new concept driven restaurant in Bee Caves
 
 
More delicious bites.
Foreign and Domestic was serving Iberico ham directly across from where I was pouring.
 
My favorite wine of the night was the 2006 Brunello I was pouring for Banfi.

 

 

Beautiful pastry assortment from the Driskill.
 
 

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.

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