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Dec 18, 2007 01:44 PM

Who's Currently Serving the Best Seasonal Specials in Town?

In the course of planning a couple of celebratory dinners at local "upscale" restaurants, I've pulled up various online menus. Yet I'm having trouble finding the kind of hearty seasonal fare that appeals to me once the days get shorter: potatoes au gratin, roasted root vegetables, sweetbreads, veal cheeks, short ribs, savory roasted-apple-and-bacon pudding, etc. While I really like Backstage Steakhouse, I don't remember anything like this on their menu; since their website has ceased to exist, I have no information on any recent changes. Jeffrey's seems to have the exact same tasting-menu that they've been using for the past couple of years, although with a different kind of tart accompanying the lamb dish. Wink's menu looks relatively unchanged as well (with the possible exception of the grilled venison); however, they do still seem to be serving grilled sweetbreads. I've been wanting to check out Trio, but the online menu is not seasonal. I'm not really craving a tomato-watermelon salad at this time of year. Finally, though I like Vespaio's risotto (but not their pastas), I'm not keen on retrying this restaurant given Enoteca's downhill slide on everything other than pizza and supplì.

Some places I found that might fit the bill: Cibo's featured specials (potato gnocchi with braised pork belly; roasted duck breast with figs, prosciutto-taleggio supplì, and Swiss chard; sweetbreads with mushrooms, shallots and thyme) and perhaps the fall tasting menu at Hudson's on the Bend.

Has anyone tried the specials at Cibo or the fall menu at Hudson's on the Bend? Or do you know of other (non-chain) places in town serving unique, delicious seasonal specials—that maybe aren't on the regular menu? No Castle Hill, Cafe Josie, Aquarelle, or Driskill Grill, please. If I end up having a mediocre meal, I want it to at least occur at a place that has not seriously disappointed me before. ;-)

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    1. It's not as fancy as the places you mentioned, but I order frequently from the Kerbey Lane seasonal menu and have never been disappointed there (whereas I HAVE gotten a couple bum meals off their regular menu). Current offerings include a mint-maple glazed pork chop, Moroccan lamb stew, and yummy acorn squash.

      1. You might want to check out the online menu for European Bistro. Their fare is hearty Hungarian food that I find appealing when it gets colder.
        Two disclaimers (1) although I've been here many times, I haven't been there in about 2 months, so I don't know if the menu has changed with the weather; and (2) if you do go there, the roast meat or sauerbraten specials they usually have are hit-or-miss, sometimes they are too dry.

        1. As of last week Cibo had replaced the "potato gnocchi with braised pork belly" with "gnocchi with Oxtail Ragu."

          With so few top kitchen choices in Austin I am reluctant to write any venue off because of an occasional mistake. The oxtail ragu I had was a bit salty, but that is an unusual error by Chef Packwood's team. I don't feel that is reasonable to expect perfection but rather that the odds are high that I am going to have an excellent meal.

          That's I why I cycle through venues with the top kitchens such as Aquarelle, Zoot
          Jezebel, Vespaio, Fonda San Miguel, Wink, Castle Hill, Café Josie, Driskill
          Enoteca, Mirabelle, Hudsons, T&S, Vin Bistro, Starlite, Siena, Uchi, Bistro 88, Uchi,
          Jeffrey's, Chez Nous, Eastside, Trio, Kenichi. That odds are high, for Austin, that the ingredients will be fresh, flavors entertaining, and the technique accurate.

          Also I am finding that websites are frequently out of date or incomplete. By visiting these top kitchens we can get better information on what's happening. I enjoyed the terrific happy hour at the Driskill for a month before they made it less generous and posted in on their website.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Paul Silver

            Thanks for the update on the change to Cibo's special of potato gnocchi, Paul Silver. However, I'm afraid I have to respectfully disagree with the philosophy behind these two statements of yours: "With so few top kitchen choices in Austin I am reluctant to write any venue off because of an occasional mistake" and "By visiting these top kitchens we can get better information on what's happening."

            If we chowhounds accepted these two propositions, we would simply keep going to the so-called "top kitchens" just because they're supposed to be "the best." That sounds like a great business plan for the chefs and owners, but it doesn't work for me. After all, who decides which restaurants have the "top" kitchens? The owners/managers and their paid PR hacks? The Austin American Statesman? Not in my book. I don't have to personally re-visit restaurants that are churning out mediocre product when I can trust my fellow chowhounds to always cut through the hype. It seems like a good time to link to the chowhound manifesto ( ).

            Good point, Carter B., on the unreliability of online menus. That's why I inquired here. As for Trio, someone recently posted—I don't think it was you?—that they were still serving the out-of-season watermelon-and-tomato salad. But this restaurant remains on my list.

            Thanks for the good tips, everyone! You've given me some good ideas—and have made me really hungry.

          2. The braised lamb shank at vin bistro is wonderful. My wife and I had it, and the wild boar, with a root vegetable salad and the suggested bottle of Deerfield Super T-Rex. Wonderful all the way around.

            Also the cocktails before dinner were wonderful, they have seasonal take on the mexatini that is delicious.