If you’re headed to Austin for the 28th annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival (March 13 through 22), you can expect more than citywide interactive panels, film screenings, music performances and parties. Austin’s culinary renaissance is at its peak, with fabulous new restaurants opening each month. While there are plenty of tasty options for food on the go, escape the crowds and make time for a leisurely meal or two at any of these restaurants. Just be sure to make a reservation whenever possible, as these hot ticket seats fill up fast.
In a city where standing in lengthy lines for smoked meat is par for the course, a vegetable-focused restaurant is a welcome change. And after the success of their ranch-driven debut establishment, Contigo, co-owners Ben Edgerton and Andrew Wiseheart were probably also excited to explore a different concept. The menu is split into Bites, First, Second, Cheese and Dessert and descriptions are kept at a minimum (“cured cobia: turnip, whey, tarragon”). Vegetarians should ask servers for more detailed ingredient listings because many of the greener dishes are enhanced with animal fat or fish stock — such as the carrots with grapes and subtle beef heart shavings or the savory grilled cabbage with striped bass, jalapeño and marjoram. Cheese plates should not be overlooked here either. A recent display of Saint Agur blue, sweet potato, pecan and sorghum molasses would have made for the perfect end to the meal — that is, if it weren’t for rock star pastry chef Steven Cak’s irresistible dessert creations like his dehydrated apples, hay ice cream, hazelnut butter and hazelnut-hay ash cake or the beet cake with dehydrated dark chocolate, rose ice cream and rose jelly balls.
This winter, chef James Robert and Keith House put together their many combined years of culinary and hospitality experience and opened Fixe. Inspired by his Louisiana upbringing, Robert serves “Sunday supper seven days a week,” keeping an eye on tradition but also adding a modern twist to the menu. Begin your dinner with their Song of the South customized iced tea, a blend of black tea, apple, cinnamon and almond, infused tableside and poured over ice. Try not to fill up on their heavenly biscuits, which are served with ‘nduja and red currant preserves. A few of Robert’s soulful, refined creations include a delicate lobster and crawfish pot pie, buttermilk fried chicken served with kale and green apple, and three interpretations of grits (including The Carnivore, which features Texas quail, pickled pears, pecan granola and barbecue consommé). Fixe’s other sides are far from mere opening acts as well. The restaurant’s potato salad features peewee potatoes, pickled quail egg, mustard greens and lemon aioli. A bowl of grains, puffed, cooked and topped with silken mushrooms and uni, was an unforgettable combination of flavors and textures. The interior design also blends new and old — vintage furniture is juxtaposed with modern light fixtures while a Southern porch is the centerpiece of the space, which is surrounded by several more formal private dining room areas.
Launderette, easily the most anticipated Austin opening of the year, shows us that good things come to those who wait. Dynamic duo of Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki (chef and pastry chef respectively, formerly of Sway and La Condesa) has created a menu that is completely inventive yet unpretentious, drawing on influences from French, Italian, Mexican, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. The kitchen offers “snacky bits” like labneh with beet hummus and millet crunch served with everything crackers; a selection of toast options; and enticing vegetable options like caramelized endive with blue cheese, and parsnip with apple butter and pickled mustard seeds. However, you don’t want to shy away from more traditional standards like brick chicken, meatballs with red sauce and a burger grilled à la plancha — nothing here disappoints. Desserts range from a playful birthday cake ice cream sandwich to an impossibly light rosewater-pistachio parfait with grapefruit and tahini powder. The dining room features ample bar seating via white linear bar stools, plenty of windows for natural light and a covered patio area with beautifully crafted wooden benches.
Opening just in time for SXSW, chef and owner Eric Earthman (formerly of the Austin InterContinental) and executive chef Lawrence Kocurek (formerly of Trace at the W Austin), have introduced an entirely unique dining experience to Austin’s evolving culinary landscape. Counter 3. Five. VII’s name refers to the three-, five- or seven-course prix fixe tasting menus offered to guests, who sit at a 26-seat counter facing the chefs. This setup allows for more interaction with the kitchen through the dining experience while knowledgeable sommelier Jason Huerta circles the room, educating diners on his wonderfully vast selections of Old and New World bottles, which can be paired with the courses or ordered à la carte. Sleek clean lines and glowing wood panels light up the space to showcase each meticulously plated course. Further attention to detail in design is evident in beautiful Japanese stoneware, shapely glassware and streamlined utensils set in custom wooden boxes. Recent standout dishes included a sumptuous house-smoked bowfin caviar served with rich egg yolk and rye; a silken foie gras roulade presented on an anchovy cracker with boquerone vinaigrette; and slices of buttery, rare antelope daubed with carrot puree and sprinkled with charred alliums. Pastry chef Sarah Prieto’s playful creations are highlighted by flowers and vegetables, as seen in a recent arugula sorbet with honey merengue, grapefruit, arugula flowers, ginger pâte de fruit, avocado, honeycomb and a lemon pepper “soil.”