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

MPH Dec 18, 2007 01:44 PM

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. ;-)

  1. c
    Carter B. Dec 19, 2007 09:58 AM

    I don't have any experience with any seasonal menus, but I don't think you can necessarily trust the online menus. For instance, Trio's menu is clearly labelled "sample".

    It might be worth calling a couple of the places to find out specials. Other than Cibo, I'd check out Trio and Starlite to see if they fit your needs. The one time we went to Trio it reminded a bit of Craft in their focus on simple meats and fish and side veggies. Their roasted mushrooms wood were great and so was smoked ribeye, but the seafood was disappointing. (BTW, in no way am I saying Trio as great as my experience at Craft NYC).

    7 Replies
    1. re: Carter B.
      c
      Carter B. Dec 21, 2007 03:22 AM

      We were at the Wink wine bar last night and I looked at the regular menu--which they offer from the wine bar. If this menu is similar to the one you saw earlier this week, I'm surprised you didn't think it was seasonal. The duck confit and braised rabbit, the amount of mushrooms offered with every dish, yams and other root vegetables. Granted its not all super seasonal but for a late fall menu it seemed pretty in tune.

      1. re: Carter B.
        MPH Dec 22, 2007 11:35 AM

        I did think many of these items were fairly seasonal. It's just that Wink's offerings don't change much from year to year, with the possible exception of the rabbit leg and venison main courses. Since I've tried many of the items on their current menu (soups and salads: celeriac bisque and spinach salad; appetizers: seared scallops and fois gras; main courses: rack of lamb, duck confit, and hangar steak), I thought I'd look for something new. I think I'm leaning towards Cibo.

        Did you happen to sample any delicious chow while at Wink's wine bar? Were they offering any hot libations that sounded tempting?

        1. re: MPH
          p
          Paul Silver Dec 23, 2007 01:01 PM

          I ate at the Wink Wine Bar this week. Had the Brie burgers with a couple of fun 2oz wine pours. Also had the Bruchetta which was suppose to have roasted tomatoes but came with raw concasse. The bartender could have warned me that the Bruchetta would not be server as advertised. This pisses me off but I will still visit Wink because they more often than not get it right.

          1. re: Paul Silver
            MPH Dec 23, 2007 03:07 PM

            At this time of year, raw-tomato concassé does not sound particularly seasonal—or appealing, at least to me. But thanks for sharing.

            1. re: Paul Silver
              t
              theabroma Dec 23, 2007 03:28 PM

              Concasse implies chopped (think "concussed"), and not necesarily 'cooked'. There are many places that cook the tomatoes and then chop them and call it "concasse tomatoes". The term does not imply cooking, only chopping.

              I have learned the hard way to ask at most restaurants whether concasse - to them - means cooked or just chopped.

              And MPH is absolutely correct: whether raw or cooked, unless the tomatoes are coming from the far Southern Cone, where it is spring/summer, this is not the season to be expecting good tomatoes - either raw or cooked.

              1. re: theabroma
                LeroyT Dec 24, 2007 04:30 AM

                While the actual definition is indeed chopped, if you see it on a menu or hear it used in Austin, Texas kitchens, (or the rest of Texas for that matter,) it will mean peeled, seeded, diced.

            2. re: MPH
              c
              Carter B. Dec 27, 2007 03:41 AM

              We didn't really eat much food. I had a salad and we split the fois gras which was good but not out-of-this-world outstanding. This is probably not the right thread but I should mention they've redesigned the wine bar sometime in the last 6 months to include chairs and tables instead of couches so it is much easier to eat there. In fact, the place is less noisy than the regular restaurant and thus can provide a better experience if you aren't looking for a doting waiter.

        2. a
          almarktshirts Dec 19, 2007 09:01 AM

          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.

          1. p
            Paul Silver Dec 19, 2007 08:25 AM

            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
              MPH Dec 19, 2007 10:24 AM

              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 (http://www.chowhound.com/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. r
              rusty_s Dec 19, 2007 07:37 AM

              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. w
                waldy Dec 18, 2007 07:10 PM

                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.

                http://www.kerbeylanecafe.com/t-seaso...

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