Café 909 in Marble Falls: One Chowhound's Review
I only remember seeing one chowhound's review of this restaurant:
Though no chow details were mentioned, I’ve been wanting to try Café 909 in Marble Falls for a long time. One recent, rainy weekend, I finally did. The restaurant is located on Main Street, right down the road from Patton’s on Main, in the downtown area. Café 909 bills itself as “rustic gourmet,” which I take it means “gourmet” fare in a low-key but elegant environment. It's even quite family-friendly, which will likely elicit a “great!” or “oh god!” depending on your point of view (and how close you’re seated to a table full of toddlers). When I visited, the dining room was half-full of mainly locals—older couples and young families—plus random parties composed of out-of-towners.
An amuse bouche was offered to start the meal. I’ve totally forgotten what it was, but I remember that it was pleasant enough. Appetizers sampled included the smoked-trout kedgeree, the lump-crab croque Madame, and the spring asparagus soup.
The kedgeree (also known as kitcherie, kitchari or kitchiri) was the best of the three dishes. This is an Anglo-Indian dish, apparently popular for breakfast in Victorian times, consisting of flaked fish, boiled rice, eggs, and butter. The version at Café 909 was made with meaty smoked-trout, curried couscous (instead of the boiled rice), hard-boiled quail egg, red onion, and coriander. It was topped with halves of soft-boiled quail egg and bits of toasted coconut. Housemade papadum-like flat bread and cucumber raita were served on the side. The flatbread was very good, and freshly fried. As for the kedgeree itself, its curry flavor was excellent, and the quality of the smoked trout itself was top-notch. This was a very simple dish with a big flavor pay-off.
The spring asparagus soup was not made with cream—It was just pureed asparagus, topped with a bit of lump crabmeat and a few griddled asparagus tips. The roasted sweet-peppers promised on the menu were nowhere to be seen. The soup was bright green, but the flavor was flat and the soup itself a bit watery. I suppose it was not bad, but only because it wasn’t the only appetizer I sampled.
The lump-crab croque Madame had many of the same flavor components as an eggs benedict: Black-forest ham and gruyere cheese were layered over a sourdough base and then topped with crab béchamel and another quail egg, this time fried. Unfortunately, the gooey bread and flavorless béchamel (like canned white gravy) produced a disappointing result. An open-face, hot ham-and-cheese sandwich, with a fried egg on top, should taste better with béchamel sauce spooned over it, not worse. In this case, perhaps the béchamel sauce was unnecessary.
The bread served with the meal was not bad—decent crust, soft crumb. A good variation on the soft “Italian” bread served at local restaurants. Café 909 offers a small selection of wine by the glass. I’ve already forgotten which red I ordered, but I do remember their lovely Cascinetta Vietti Moscato d’Asti—with a nectarine or peach-like, delicate flavor; a light body; and a flowery bouquet.
The main courses were generously sized, with some enjoyable side dishes, but they had similar problems with their respective sauces. The veal rib chop was served a lovely medium-rare and had a delicate flavor and soft texture that was overwhelmed by the fois-gras bordelaise. I wonder if such a rich sauce would have been better with veal loin. Or better yet, maybe the fois gras would come separately, sautéed with sherry or Armagnac and a veal demi-glace. The flavorful wild mushrooms that came with the veal chop were a nice version of this standard accompaniment. Baked, thick slabs of fingerling potatoes and chunks of onion were undercooked and, hence, not flavorful. What a waste of fingerling potatoes.
The cider-cured Berkshire pork chop was more of a success because the sauce was fairly simple—though sweet. This is also the dish that most children seem to have ordered, but I’m not sure if that customer-base influences the kitchen. A lot of adults like sugary sauces, too. However, the French green lentils that were served with the pork chop were a sophisticated, delicious treat, and the sautéed escarole provided a contrasting, slightly bitter note. The sweet and sour cipollini [onions] were cooked until they’d caramelized; they were tender and delicious.
The much-hyped desserts were disappointing. The fabled pistachio parfait has been raved about in the national press, where they seem so charmed by the fact that a chef in Texas would use a Dixie cup to mold a dessert. They also liked the fact that the parfait wasn’t too big. Well, I did, too, but just because it didn’t taste very good.
This parfait isn’t layered, like many are. It wasn’t this kind, either, which looks great.
It was instead a cylindrical chunk of frozen pistachio mousse, garnished with toasted pistachios and sitting in a pool of not-very-burnt “burnt honey” caramel. The main problem when I sampled this was that the parfait was too hard and never softened, as though the dessert hadn’t been given time to thaw properly. [Ironically, our party had been late for our reservation that evening, due to all the wild weather we’ve been having.] The mousse had a creamy texture, but it wasn’t as rich as I’d have liked. The burnt-honey caramel, puddled at the bottom, added a welcome contrast, but there wasn't enough of it. This dessert also comes with a pecan sable (essentially, a pecan sandie) that was pretty good, but I was tired of their desserts by that point. That was unfortunate, as the same cookies were presented along with the check.
The “El Rey” chocolate torte was not a good solution to the parfait crisis. It, too, was not properly thawed out. There were so many ice crystals in the chocolate that it tasted like chocolate water. And I’m quite sure that no one ordered a frozen Yoo-hoo.
On my visit to Café 909, I found their Indian- and Eastern-Mediterranean-inspired appetizers and sides more compelling than their main courses and disappointing desserts. Although I really wanted to like this place, I was sorry afterwards that I hadn’t just stopped at my old favorite the Backstage Steakhouse, especially since I’d passed it on the way to Marble Falls. If I find myself near Café 909 again, and I'm not in the mood to try Patton’s on Main or drive on to the next town, I might stop in for the kedgeree. I’d probably select a simpler main course, like the seared halibut. While I wouldn’t say that this restaurant is worth the long drive for all Austinites who want a special meal, I’m glad I visited it once.
Thanks for the report. I don't think I'd even heard of Marble Falls until today.
Anytime I see kedgeree/kitchiri on a menu, I'm usually quite surprised. This is a comfort food dish that I grew up on (and am still growing up on), and I find it equally surprising that it appears on the menu of a seemingly elegant (upscale?) place. It's basically the Indo equivalent of jook/congee (and other countries have their equivalents too). I think I know what I'll be making for dinner tonight. =)
Thanks for the detailed review - I've been thinking about heading to that place also.
Am curious about your distinguishing between the appropriate richness for a sauce that would go with veal rib chop vs veal loin. It's been eons since I've had veal - how are the 2 different in a way that would influence their optimum sauce?
I ordered Café 909's veal chop with fois-gras bordelaise because I'd enjoyed a similarly-sauced roasted veal loin at another restaurant (out of town). That's one reason that I noted a difference between similar treatments of the two cuts of meat. Veal tenderloin has a more subtle flavor and fine texture that can seem bland if not accompanied by a strong sauce or baked with fruits or nuts like blood oranges, apples, cranberries, figs, chestnuts, etc. Since it can dry out easily, it's also often wrapped in bacon or prosciutto or served with fois gras.
Because veal chops so easily absorb other flavors, strong sauces can overwhelm the delicate but delicious taste of the veal itself. Other restaurants often serve veal chops very simply, by roasting, pan-broiling, or grilling them with rosemary and/or other herbs. They're frequently served with wild mushrooms or polenta (or something similar) on the side. The chop at 909 was a beautifully pink, tender cut of meat that also would have tasted great this way. In fact, I scraped off most of the sauce on the veal in order to enjoy its own flavor, then sopped up the bordelaise later with bread.
I hope this helps put my comments in context.
P. S. Nab, if you try Café 909's kedgeree, I'd be interested in hearing the take of someone who grew up on it.
Thanks much MPH!
The tenderloin explanation seems analogous with beef tenderloin.
It's been so long since I've had veal of any kind, I'm curious to try it again. Was going to get some at Central Market but they finally had duck breasts back in stock so I nabbed a couple of those to grill with a little cherry wood.