North - The Domain
Following a round of golf, my wife and I had an early dinner at North on October 12. The restaurant had only been open for a couple of days, and at the entrance we had to wend our way through a crowd of black-shirted servers getting a pep talk by the manager. Once inside, we noted that it was a beautiful venue, with large floor-to-ceiling windows, red-brick walls and attractive seating and lighting. We opted, however, to dine al fresco and people-watch on the comfortable patio overlooking the main street that runs through The Domain. It was a pleasant day for mid-October in Austin, Texas, a jazz band was playing, and the total ambience was very pleasing.
We began our meal with a bowl of Zucchini Chips, a very lightly fried and tasty appetizer that, even had the rest of our meal been a complete disaster, would bring me back to North. These are a "must order". Our attentive server was friendly and helpful with his menu suggestions, and introduced us to his manager, who talked to us about his restaurant and their offerings - in fact, he brought us complementary bowls of their Tuscan tomato-basil soup, which was very smooth and tasteful. Fresh, hot parmesan bread with (what we think was) a pimento-cheese spread also accompanied our meal.
Wine is offered by the glass or bottle, and also by "terzo", which is approximately one-third of a bottle - a good way to serve wine, in my opinion, when a single glass is not quite enough, but you don't want to split an entire bottle with your dining partner. The wine list is heavy on Italian labels, and not dominated by the domestics. We enjoyed several glasses of '04 Rosso d' Montacino Chianti and '05 Villa del Borgo Pinot Grigio with our meals.
For our entrees, I had lightly-grilled scallops with orzo in a saffron cream sauce - perfection! The scallops were as fresh and as well-prepared as I've ever had. My wife ordered a pizza, with marinated figs, goat cheese and prosciutto toppings on a fabulous thin crust. As much as I enjoyed my plate, I couldn't stop taking bites of her pizza.
If there was any downside to our meal, the lime gelato we ordered just really didn't work well, but the server astutely took it off our bill when he noticed that we each only had a couple of bites.
Throughout the meal, service was efficient and unobtrusive - we both were of the opinion that the restaurant is trying hard to establish itself among the spate of upscale dining venues that are opening and have opened recently in The Domain. We plan to return soon and often to North, and hope that they can maintain the level of quality that we enjoyed at our initial visit.
I'm going to have to heartily disagree, marfaboy. My main reaction after eating here last night was "are you kidding?" Besides the Dallasite-crowd and the faux-village environment of the Domain, the food was mediocre to poor, with a couple of flashes of decent. The high points: good thin-crust pizza and a couple of nice apps, the grilled artichokes and the calamari. Low points: everything else. One friend had rubbery scallops that were over-salted to the point of being inedible. Another friend's strozzapreti pasta were overcooked to the point of being mushy. An unimpressive and overpriced wine list (especially the reds - nothing under $9 a glass!). That, plus the hour and a half wait, being carded at the bar and having to fetch IDs from everyone in our party (we're in our THIRTIES), and being charged $12 for cutting our friend's birthday cake, all ensured that we're not likely to return to North any time soon. Kudos to the chipper and adorable waiter, though, who tried hard.
Here's what I can say about North. No bias, this is purely about the food.
I had the lambchops and they were terrible. There was no variable texture on the outside (no crisp/tender contrast). The meat itself overall had the consistency of slightly tough chicken breast.
I asked them to prepare my lambchops medium, and they gave me over over done.
Will I go here again? Sure, but I sure won't order the lambchops again because now I know that they aren't capable of doing lambchops well.
I always give restaurants at least 2-4 tries, trying different dishes each time because I know not all restaurants are capable of doing every single dish well.
We ate at North last night and were delighted by the quality of the food. The Osso Buco is magnificent, with a wonderful polenta accompanying it. The flank steak with roquette was a delight, but we both agreed that the Osso Buco was perfection and preferred that. The desserts were nice - the tiramasu and the panna cotta were both creamy and delicious.
The outdoor patio of the restaurant looks out on a oak-shaded central square, apparently they have live music out there at some times. We visited late - around 10 pm - and it was calm and lovely.
It is a shame that the Domain has been built on the backs of taxpayer subsidies, and this land was formerly the IBM soccer fields and picnic area, not eyesore warehouses despite the fantasies of mister i-hate-those-old-austin-hippies. None of the IBM property was ever eyesores. Visiting there is a little like going to Miami Beach - some fantasy land for extremely upscale shoppers. But despite this crass capitalistic backdrop, this restaurant is a jewel, and we will be back.
Paulaustex - I agree with you about the Osso Buco. I used to live across from IBM, and I agree about it not being an eyesore - I think the writer was thinking more of the Braker (Arbor Walk) area - which is just a hair away. I LOVE the zuchinni chips, but I only go to the Domain places either very early or very late, as parking/waits are a problem. We (in out forties/sixties) do not do well waiting for over a hour for a table...there are too many great options in Austin. Just my opinion!
Since no one has commented about North lately...A girlfriend and I went there last night. She had the chopped salad and the grilled artichoke. I had the calamari with arugula. We both had large glasses of wine. Our tab for this meal was about $66. We split the cost but in all honesty, I thought that was steep for calamari and wine. Granted, my wine was about $14/glass and hers was about $11. I can't complain too much, I know.
The food was good. I wasn't blown away. The atmosphere was fun. We didn't pay too much attention to other guests so I have no stereotypes to report. All I know was it was a beautiful evening and their patio opens up to the restaurant. It was full without being crowded and everyone, including us, seemed to be having a good time. I can't report on the dinners, just the small salads/appetizers that we had.