Starlite- Excellent meal
I did a quick search and realized that there were no threads devoted specifically to Starlite, so I decided to start one based on my wonderful experience last night.
We arrived just after 7 and the restaurant was about 1/3 full. Right off the bat, the hostess impressed me. Rather than the snooty, stare down the nose, "Do you have a reservation?", she simply asked if it was just the two of us and then took us to a nice table along the left banquette. (And, having hostessed in fine dining here in Austin, I can say she was very good at her job...making me as a guest feel welcome. Also, the banquette was nicely arranged and they didn't try to shove too many tables in. I never felt like other customers were "in my lap" or eavesdropping.)
After a quick scan of the menu (I was prepared as I looked online earlier in the day), our server stopped by, a nice young woman with a pleasant attitude (not too friendly, not too stiff). She took our drink order and then went to the bar while we decided on the rest of the meal. Before the first course arrived we were offered an Amuse of very soft baguette topped with American Sturgeon Caviar and chives along with dots of nice olive oil on the plate. While caviar is always tasty, I found the amuse a bit uninspired. Tasty yes, but inventive...no. Plus the amount of caviar was minute.
I started with the Salad of Roasted Organic Red and Gold Beets with a glass of the Berger Gruner Veltliner. The salad consisted of thinly sliced beet medallions, pieces of cabrales blue cheese, marcona almond, a smattering of micro greens and kumquat preserves dotted around the plate. The beets were not super sweet but nicely prepared and served room temperature. The blue cheese and almonds made an interesting contrast. The greens were a nice addition, and the kumquat preserves were amazing, almost candied but tart. The SO started with their Starlite Highball (some combo of gin, soda and something citrusy...with a pale orange color, which he enjoyed, but I avoided as I'm not big on gin) and the Fried Green Tomato Salad. I didn't try it, he had eaten all the tomatos before I had the chance, but it came with a lime and cucumber salad (which he didn't care for) and a nice aioli (which he enjoyed but thought too much was provided). All in all a good start.
As we were waiting for our entrees we realized that our server seemed to be the only one in the house. A younger man was delivering food along with what appeared to be the manager. But, our server was holding down the fort (at one time an 8-top in the middle of the floor along with 5 or 6 2-tops, and maybe 3 4-tops). She was trying to give ample service and was good about checking back at the right times, even if she was running a bit. When at tableside she never let this workload affect her demeanor and took time to answer questions or make wine suggestions.
Entrees arrived shortly after. I had the duck breast. At first glance I was a little worried as it appeared medium to medium well. But, one bite revealed a tender and delicious breast regardless of cook time. It was served with a rhubarb and pomegranate glaze/sauce swirled around the plate, and atop a salsify puree topped with thinly sliced grapes and tiny morsels of foie gras. The grapes were interesting and lovely. The foie was nice but very very subtle....so much so that I forgot it was foie until looking at the menu again this morning. The puree was divine. On the side was a small helping of sauteed spinach with garlic. A nice addition. I complimented this with a glass of Rioja.
Again, I didn't taste the SO's dish....he's a quick eater and he had largely finished before I thought to ask. He had the Wild Alaskan Halibut which was grilled and topped with what appeared to be either carmelized onions or a jam. It was served on top of grits and had broccolini on the side. He loved the fish and grits but the broccolini was too much (literally 7-8 stalks) and not one of his favorites...a little undercooked (sauteed....might be better steamed?).
By this time I was getting full, but I never let dessert pass me by. A quick glance of the offered menus and I decided on the Lavender Scented Panna Cotta. I asked the server if she might suggest a dessert wine to go with this. After giggling a bit she went on to describe a Moscato that she thought was out of this world. Blushing, she revealed that their sommelier referred to it as the "panty dropper." I was amused by her humor and decided why not. However, I was dissapointed shortly after as she came back to report that none was chilled. So, she suggested a nice rose sparkling. The SO ordered the banana cake.
The panna cotta was divine. Nice, custardy with a pronounced lavender flavor (it took me back to a trio of creme brulees that I used to love at Demi Epicurious). The poached pear on the side was very tasty but hard to eat with a spoon. There was also a strawberry rhubarb coulis that was tasty, although the honey tuille from the menu description was no where to be found...I think they substituted a fresh strawberry on top.
By this point, three healthy servigs of wine later, I forgot to check out the banana cake, but I'm sure it was excellent, as nothing was left on his plate.
All in all a wonderful evening. Excellent food in a beautiful space. I was impressed with the acoustics as well. It seemed that although there were tall ceilings and little buffering in terms of construc. materials, I was still able to easily talk thourhgout the meal, even when the restaurant was maybe 2/3 full. The tiffany blue paint job mixed with brick and warm wood along with the giant central chandelier made for a romantic setting. I'd only been here once before, but will definitely place it on top of the list for a special meal in the future.
thanks for the awesome report! i've had the pleasure of brunch at Starlite once, and dinner once. both were lovely meals with top notch service. i also enjoy going there for cocktails and dessert in the upstairs lounge.
Small world - I was at Starlite Thursday night at 7:00 PM as well. I was part of one of the 4 tops - the one at the back of the main room. I think I may remember you, if you were on the left along the wall.
I'll throw my comments in as well. I've mentioned in a few posts Starlite is IMO one of the better restaurants in Austin. Our experience was very similar to yours - some excellent points and a couple of hiccups.
First - I wasn't too impressed by the amuse bouche either, it was almost like they forgot to plan ahead and threw something together at the last minute. The wife and I had the Fried Green Tomato Salad also, and we both quite liked it. The cucumber was thinly julienned and tossed with lime and mint, making for a very light refreshing compliment to the fried tomatoes, which were very flavorful (of course anything is better fried - right ?). Yeah, there was a lot of the aioli, but it was on the side so no harm.
One of our party got the mushroom truffle risotto as an appetizer, and I had a bite - very good, creamy risotto with still a little texture, and plenty of mushrooms - quite a healthy serving for an appetizer as well.
For the entree I had the duck as well, which when I first got it I also thought it was overcooked. But, like you, I found it to be very juicy & tender, with great accompanying flavors in the sauce, grapes & foie gras, and the side of spinach. My one complaint would be I felt the portion was a little small in comparison to the others.
My wife got the nightly fish special, a striped bass over lentils that I felt didn't measure up to the rest of our meal. The fish itself was quite good, pan seared not dried out, but the lentil dish it was served over missed the mark. I had several bites and found some of the lentils to be chalky and bitter. Plus the combination of flavors just didn't work. It wasn't terrible, but they need to rethink that one before offering it again.
One of our dining companions got the NY strip, and they knocked that one out of the park (he cut off a piece for me to try). Very nicely prepared, slightly charred and crispy edges on the outside, but a perfectly cooked medium/medium rare inside - excellent flavor and very tender. I didn't try any of the sides, but the steak itself was great.
For dessert we had the key lime tart, which I found to be another winner. The tart was just that - tart - but not overly sour, and the buttermilk ice cream, not being very sweet - actually went with the tart very well. I think if they had used a more traditional sweet ice cream the dish wouldn't have worked. It was very creamy - not really like key lime pie except in flavor.
Regarding the service, we also noticed the waitress seemed to be covering the entire restaurant, but despite that she did a pretty good job, all things considered. I don't know if they had a scheduling snafu of someone didn't show up, but the front of the house was definitely undermanned. And, I have to add, when our table asked about the risotto appetizer, she blushed and said she once had a table describe it as "orgasmic", which, she added with a laugh, made her wonder if she shouldn't feel sorry for them. We laughed as well, but after reading about the "panty dropper", seems to me she may have determined the innuendo references work well when it comes to tips. For the record, the risotto was very good, but not orgasmic.
The previous time I went to Starlite, I thought it was one of the best meals I had had in Austin. This one fell a little short of that, but overall was still excellent.
I was impressed by the other two reviews and went tonight with a friend. It was great. Ambience - great. Service was really good. He suggested the right wine, gave good comments on the menu. Only (tiny) service complaint was they got busy near the end of our meal and we waited for a little while for a dessert order to be taken. It did appear that they were not overstaffed - which I think is good. As a former restaurant person, I would rather work than stand around. And the standing around usually means whatever tables you have suffer.
The food! The amuse was house smoked salmon. Very nice. Simple. It had a drop of a white sauce something (can't remember what it was) and sprouts (or microgreens?) on top. It had both the fresh texture and the smoked flavor. Good bread roll served. Very hot, not bland.
We had the fried green tomato salad and the hearts of romaine salad. We loved the fried green tomato with the cucumber and minted lime - but it seemed like the aioli made it. I feel like I rarely say that - usually the aioli seems like something I would rather leave alone. Hearts of romaine - good, crisp. I didn't really taste the anchovy, but I love that flavor probably more than other people do. Good cheese.
Lamb loins - if you ever complain about not having enough food at a place like this - it seemed PLENTY. I am a woman, but a good eater. I loved loved the tandori chick pea puree and wish I could get it at the grocery store. The cucumber feta salad was also a good compliment. It sounds like it was "extra" but it was great.
Lovely sauce with the lamb. I don't remember what was in it, but it was good. Now that I think about it, the lamb might have been a hair dry, but I didn't try it until my friend had it for a while. The outside was very good - crispy and firm with good seasoning.
The halibut was also very good - cooked just right, still delicate, but firm. The grits were great and the best part was the glazed endive. It sounded unusual to me, but was lovely - really made the dish. Broccolini was very good, one of my favorite veggies. Again, something that could seem like a superfluous element, but was in fact something that you really want to eat.
The interesting thing about this dish was that I tasted the salt at the end of a bite instead of at the beginning. Kind of a fresh feeling at the end. I love salt, and to me this indicated that they had worked out the seasoning in a way I have no idea how to do.
We didn't eat dessert, but the bar poured a very nice (more than generous) Makers on ice. This is not a dig, but neither of us loves fruit in desserts. There was a lot of fruit in almost all the desserts. Just a matter of personal taste. We were full anyway.
We were there on a Wednesday night. I would go again and suggest it to others. I think the total was 110ish with a nice bottle of wine before tip.
For some reason I never think of this place when we think of something to eat. I think the name of it puts me off of thinking of it as a fine dining place. These reviews are excellent and I am going to make it a point to go within the week.. To Newme, you say they poured you a Makers. Are you referring to the burbon Makers Mark?
I really enjoyed a recent brunch at Starlite. I ordered the french toast, it was wonderful. My SO had the Downtown, a combo plate of breakfast items. Our only complaint was that his housemade sausage could have been a little hotter temperature-wise. But the sausage was excellent anyway. The crowd was very laid back and quiet, mostly couples that appeared to be downtown residents. I personally really enjoy Starlite's atmosphere and have been really happy with their staff on both of my visits.
I have not eaten dinner at Starlite, but I did have happy hour martinis and appetizers one weeknight evening last summer. The house-smoked salmon was delicious, and I really enjoyed my cocktails, one contained vanilla vodka and strawberry juice (great if you like sweet drinks), and the other contained amaretto and chambord. I really enjoy a great/unique mixed drink and consider myself to be very picky. I especially liked both of these signature cocktails.
After reading such tantalizing descriptions of the food at Starlite, I had dinner there on two recent occasions. I'm afraid that I found the food less than delicious. I wish that my experiences had been more like that of many of the chowhounds here. All I can do, however, is report on my own meals.
Amuses bouche—One night this consisted of a piece of nicely-roasted cauliflower served with a black-pepper crème fraîche and an herb emulsion with chives and (maybe) tarragon. The roasted cauliflower was fine, but maybe not great. Someone else at the table called it inoffensive. On my second visit, I gave my amuse bouche away to a really hungry co-worker. I was feeling cynical about the restaurant's offerings by that point, so it didn't feel like a sacrifice.
Bread rolls—These were really bad. They tasted like brown-and-serve rolls from the frozen-foods section of the grocery store. The dough was very salty but otherwise flavorless. The crust was extremely hard without being crunchy. The butter was soft but otherwise not particularly noteworthy.
Wild mushroom and black truffle risotto—This sounded much better than it tasted. The roasted fennel on the top and the actual bits of sautéed mushroom mixed into the risotto were enjoyable, but the brothy rice tasted flat. It also was underdone, as though it hadn't been cooked slowly enough to fully absorb flavors and achieve the traditional creamy texture. Because this dish was also verging on excessive saltiness, I wondered if it was made with packaged bouillon. You can't make great risotto by taking shortcuts (with the broth, or even by using a pressure cooker). A sweet balsamic vinegar which the menu states is 25 years old was drizzled around the side. Their risotto lacked both the texture and earthy depth of flavor that I expect from this dish.
Spinach salad—You'll need to like your spinach salads with really wilted spinach to enjoy Starlite's version, since it is served on a bed of hot potatoes. These cubed and roasted Yukon golds were actually the best part of this dish, and maybe the best thing I tasted at the restaurant. After roasting, they were covered in Cambozola, which is a rich and creamy Camembert-like Bavarian cheese. The salad dressing wasn't very bacon-y and didn't taste like it was made from the leftover fat from from the bacon-frying process. Instead, it was a weak-tasting vinaigrette with small pieces of bacon mixed into it. The salad was topped with crumbled egg yolk (and only yolk), which was a unique touch. Two bland grape-tomatoes came on the side. This seemed to need more and better bacon as well as some other flavor component (like tartness).
Pan-roasted Moulard duck breast—Although the duck breast was dry on the edges, two or three moist interior pieces were succulent and tender. The skin was quite flavorful. The accompanying salsify puree and sliced black grapes were okay, though the former was runny and not very rich while the latter seemed an unimaginative side with fois gras. Speaking of which, why would any kitchen serve Hudson Valley fois gras that's been chopped up like giblets for giblet gravy? To me, the beauty of seared fois gras is the delightful textural contrast between the crispy exterior and the warm, melting, almost gelatinous interior. It's so good this way, and it's so *not* good when dog-kibble-sized bits of fois gras have been sautéed to the point of dry unrecognizability. An unpardonable sin! The other side dish consisted of slightly garlicky, very salty, and very soft wilted greens. These weren't good.
Strip steak with truffle butter—This was a special preparation of the strip steak that's always on the menu. The steak was a bit on the chewy side and dry on the ends. Otherwise, it was decent but plain (as in unseasoned) medium-rare beef. The truffle butter tasted mostly like butter, but at least it added something. The strip steak was served with a celery-root puree that was slightly thicker than the salsify puree but basically of a similar consistency. It also came with a pretty good onion-tartlet that actually delivered the flavor and texture that its name promised. Overall, this entree was okay. In my opinion, there are better strip steaks in town.
Regarding the sauce drizzled around the plate with both of these main dishes: It's described as a rhubarb-pomegranate glaze, but the fruitiness didn't disguise the bad-jarred-sauce-like taste.
El Rey flourless chocolate cake—This was so dry, which is odd, since flourless chocolate cakes are usually at least moist. It was also not chocolatey enough for me. The cake was served with blackberry preserves that probably came out of a can. Even though I love chocolate, I left half of this on the plate. Their take on crème-fraîche ice cream was so subtle as to be boring. The only part of this that I finished was the lacy pizzelle-like cookie that was served on the side.
White peach and ginger cobbler—The peaches were bland, though the chunks of ginger were numerous and strong. The flavors of peach and ginger, however, didn't really come together, as though a pre-fab cobbler had been mixed with ginger after baking but before reheating. The crumb-like cobbler topping added only textural contrast; it was totally blah. This dessert was served with the same crème-fraîche ice cream.
The service was young and more or less competent, though they rushed some courses. The parking was a hassle. The look and feel of this spot is what I'd describe as downtown chic but comfortable. The self-consciously hip factor noticeably decreases with one's distance from the bar area.
Given my dining experiences here, I just can't consider Starlite "fine dining." The menu isn't very extensive or creative, but it does raise one's hopes of finding solid versions of tried-and-true bistro basics. Instead, on my visits, both execution and conception of several menu items were flawed. Their food—especially the rolls, the bad sauces, the quick-cooked risotto—reminded me of hotel food of the sort you'd find at an upscale Hilton or Marriott. I didn't love Chez Nous (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/423174 ), but I'd much sooner return there than to Starlite. Good roasted potatoes with Cambozola and a few flavorful pieces of duck breast aren't enough to make up for the mostly underwhelming chow.