Vin Bistro's New Chef
- tom in austin Feb 1, 2007 09:31 AM
Christopher Lusk is the new executive chef.
I've always felt that Vin/Zin Bistro had a ton of potential that was never quite realized. Can anyone speak from experience about whether Lusk is the guy to take them to the next level? Anyone have any takes on this place?
>most of the core staff have at least the MS1 (master sommelier intermediate) under their belt
Well the waitperson I had about eighteen months ago certainly didn't. I had to explain to him what 'corked' wine was, and if I hadn't persevered I would never have gotten my badly corked bottle replaced.
Looking forward to your report, though.
I don't generally run out and dine at a place right after it's been reviewed in the Statesman, but, coincidentally, I did visit Vin this past Friday night. The new chef, Lusk, worked at Commander's Palace in New Orleans among other places, and I can tell you as someone who grew up in the New Orleans area, Commander's has a pretty high reputation.
I really enjoyed the meal. I had never eaten there previously, so can't compare to how it used to be.
They are really pushing the whole "wine paired with food" concept here. The menu lists the wines first, then the recommended dinner entree to accompany it - the reverse of the way most restaurants suggest wine/food pairings. It's a little confusing, and frankly, off-putting at first. There's more description about the wine than there is the food - which is too bad, because I think the food here is good enough not to hide behind the wine on the menu.
To start things off, we were given a (now standard) amuse-bouche of a shrimp mousse on a cucumber slice. It wasn’t the tastiest one I’d ever had, but it was pretty good. I ordered the soup of the day, chicken with greens and sage, and my wife had the mixed greens salad. The soup was good, not great – a standard chicken soup with either turnip or maybe collard greens flavored with fresh sage – kind of a twist on a classic southern home cooking dish. For me the flavors were almost a little too mild and the broth on the watery side. The salad had everything you’d expect out of a standard mixed green salad at a good restaurant – fresh greens and vegetables, not-over dressed, good flavor – a solid menu item.
Out of our party of five, three, including my wife, ordered the Cast Iron Seared Sea Bass, one of the most popular dishes according to the waiter. Easy to see why – it was excellent. The fish is seasoned and then seared in a hot pan, so it has a nice brown, slightly crispy exterior but flakey white in the middle. The accompanying lemon sauce really went well with the fish, providing a really nice acidic bite but wasn’t overpowering. The spinach also was very tasty, but the croquettes made with ricotta cheese were fabulous. As far as I could tell the ricotta was mixed with flour, seasonings, breaded and deep fried – but, despite being fried were very light. They were placed on the plate with the fish and lemon sauce over the top. This one is a must.
For my dish I chose the Five Spice Atlantic Salmon. It’s a solid dish, but not in the same league as the Sea Bass. Five spice powder is a very distinct seasoning, but an obvious experienced light hand used just enough to get it a hint of the flavor. The salmon was cooked very nicely, almost still a little rare in the center, not dried out at all. The potatoes on the side were a combination of small fingerling style, roasted and then drizzled in the butter sauce – very good.
We splurged and got dessert – the Vin Sin flourless chocolate cake and the Crème Brulee. Nothing new here, really – flourless chocolate cake and crème brulee are menu standards, and both were fine examples of a good version of these desserts. The crème brulee, in particular was quite good, as evidenced by my wife almost attempting to lick the plate clean.
Service was spot-on. Our waiter, Alan, knew the menu well, recommended a really nice (and reasonably priced) wine to start with, was frank with his opinions on the different entrees when asked, and was attentive without being intrusive. Couldn’t have asked for much more there.
The last plus is the outdoor patio - I recommend taking advantage before it’s too hot outside. All in all – yes, it’s a wine restaurant, but it’s worth going for just the food.