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Lovely Dinner at Justine's

After reading a nice review of it on Chowhound, we traversed to the far east side to have dinner at the charming new restaurant, Justine's, 4710 E 5th St. www.justines1937.com. The place is east side funky in decor, and I mean that in a good way. The food is exquisite and very reasonably priced for what you get.

We started with the artichoke with drawn butter and the escargot. Both were excellent. They really shine with the entrees. We order the steak tartare (one of the best I've had), scallops and snapper with burre blanc sauce and hericot verts. The fish was good but was clearly outclassed by the amazing grilled scallops and the even more amazing steak tartar.

Dessert was also excellent. The creme brulee was one of the best I've had anywhere. I will say that my dining partners were not as enchanted as I was by the chocolate tart.

We had a lovely bottle of rose wine, at $30 the most expensive one on the menu. Dinner was $140 before tip, an excellent value for the high quality of food (for 2 cocktails each, 1 bottle of wine, 3 entrees, 2 appetizers and 2 desserts).

Bonus points for a kitchen that stays open until 1:15 am. I can see myself with a hankering for that steak tartare in the wee hours.

Service is still working out the kinks. The restaurant was completely full at 8:00 pm, and I don't think they expected that kind of volume so soon. The hostess was charming and competent, and helped out when our server fell a bit behind. Still, it did little to dampen our experience at a thoroughly charming addition to the Austin dining scene.

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  1. We went last night and I was real stoked to try this place out. I understand opening kinks and am very patient when it comes to getting "slammed". That being said, I'm afraid that Justine's might be in over its head. We got there at 645, sat at our table around 705, didnt get a menu or any service at all until 725, ordered around 735, and still hadnt gotten our entrees at 905 when we left. I looked around the dining room around 845 and less than 20% of the tables had food on them. Neither the kitchen nor the servers seemed up to the task.

    That being said, the appetizers we got while we waited for our table were very good. So were our cocktails. The wine was well-priced though unexceptional.

    I want this place to succeed real bad, but they need to get there act together. I'd avoid Justine's on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays until they get more experience or experienced personal.

    9 Replies
    1. re: uarent

      Wow, I think that kind of wait would've damped our experience for certain. I definitely agree they need to staff up. I just don't think they expected the volume so quickly. I still have very high hopes for the quality of food and hope they can get things going more smoothly before long.

      1. re: txgrl99

        So I checked out the link you put on here. Great looking menu. Exactly the kind of food I like. But what's up with the photo on the website? What's a bathtub scene got to do with the place and the food??

        1. re: austx03

          What IS up with the pictures on the Website? I went to the site to get the menu and didn't pay much attention to the photos and then sent the link to a bunch of people to get a group together to go eat and got lots of hilarious responses! Be sure to warn everyone not to view the site at work! I'm not quite sure what their brand message is...

          1. re: austx03

            I went there for the first time a little over a month ago. I loved what we ordered - several appetizers- and great wine list. Really nice rose. Like the space, (the tables were a tad small) liked the waiter, she was helpful, friendly, totally knowledgeable but jesus christ turn the music down!! what is it with restaurants and loud music? El Chili, La Condessa the same, your lunch/dinner turns into a yelling contest with the music. Even drunk it's no fun, I know, I tried that.

        2. re: uarent

          We went on the same Friday as you, and had a similar experience. They were clearly not up to the task of dealing with early success.

          We arrived at 6:20 when the place still had several tables available, already knowing what we wanted to order, as we thought we'd compare meals plate-for-plate with our current fave French cafe, Chez Nous. We were seated, but then it took ten minutes for someone to get our drink order. We would've ordered the meal at that point, but our server seemed harried and hurried. We were able to place our order about 15 minutes later, and a short time later our escargot appetizer arrive. Promisingly enough, the snails were succulent and tender, though the sauce was a bit prosaic.

          Then began our interminable wait. 45 minutes later, our server came by to tell us that there had been a mix up and someone else had gotten our entrees. Okay, fine, no big deal it happens. She was very apologetic, as was the owner who stopped by to get us more wine (finally). The problem here is, it took another 30 minutes for our replacement plates to arrive, during which time we were basically neglected; no more bread, no more drinks. When the food finally made it to the table, things only went downhill. My SO had ordered the steak frites; the meat was fine, nothing special, but the frites were abysmal – shoestring-cut and limp with grease, totally the opposite of my memories of Europe. My confit de canard was even worse, so heavily salted that it was, to my palate, inedible. Having had the dish in both France and stateside, I know what is acceptable brine, and this was not it. And to top it off, the meat was dry and stringy, hardly archetypal French fare.

          We'd originally planned on trying desserts, but by this point we both just wanted to escape the place. Unfortunately for us, the staff refused to facilitate this final wish. It took another 20 minutes for our server to return to check on us, at which time my SO requested (actually it was more like begged) for the bill. After another 15 minutes the server realized she'd yet to bring our check and snatched my card from the table, only to return a few moments later with two card receipts and no itemized receipt.

          I might try this place again in 3-4 months, but based on this initial experience, I'd have to say your money and time are much better spent at Chez Nous.

          1. re: poryorick

            my frites were really good. table devoured two orders. maybe one was your?

            1. re: ieathereforeiam

              Could be. Did you get some duck, too? If so, I assume you got the edible version.

              1. re: poryorick

                no. didn't have the duck. had great charcutrie, pork chop and snapper

          2. re: uarent

            All I can say is THANKS for the heads up. I would have walked at 7:15, I'm not nearly as patient.

          3. Have heard a lot of excited buzz about this place... Returned from france week before last and Justine's sounds like it might be the place to revel in my European food memories... Do they take reservations? Anything particularly exciting on the wine list or cocktails menu to ease one through a potentially loooong wait? (I only see a dinner menu online) Thanks

            2 Replies
            1. re: femmenikita

              Allllllright sir, I'll reply to my own post, b/c I wound up eating at Justine's Saturday night. I will preface by saying that I went in expecting a loud, noisy, trendy place with a long wait but also (hopefully) decent food. So, maybe I had low expectations, because I was very pleasantly surprised by Justine's. It's further east than I had expected-- just off E 5th and Springdale. Had expected it to be closer to Shangrila/RIo RIta, etc., but the far east location made for easy parking on the street, which was nice. It was kinda noisy inside, but after I put my name on the list, the BF and I had no trouble finding a free table outside on the front patio, where it was surprisingly quiet and pleasant. Had a kir royale, a French 75, and the house red. Cocktails were well mixed (although the KR had a lemon twist in it-- not something I'm used too, but still a good drink). We were told the wait would be 45-1 hr. We were seated within 40-45 mins. Food did take a while to come out, but I expected this, and it was no problem, because 1) I was enjoying my cocktails 2) bread was replenished twice 3) the waiter checked in a few times, and kept the water coming when we asked. Sampled:

              --french onion soup (GOOD flavour. yummy gooey broiled on gruyere. small crouton. A+),
              --White asparagus (vegetable was delicious, the sauce was a creamy sauce that lacked flavour IMO. The addition of a strong complimentary herb or a broth or butter sauce would have made it better, I think. B.)
              --Scallop skewers with lardons on a bed of frisee (tender, meaty, B+)
              --Ratatouille (served in a bowl-- not the layered style of ratatouille. Good, fresh vegetables, peppers, especially were so sweet and succulent, in a scrumptious, simple wine/herb reduction. A.)
              --Creme Brulee (As much as I want to complain about the lack of visible vanilla bean flecks, I cannot complain. The custard was cold, creamy. The top was just fired-- had to blow on it a sec to let it finish getting hard. No frills, no sauce or berries, just the simple delicious custard. A+)

              I'd say the strength of Justine's is the simplicity of the food. If you can get past the mentality of "oh here is just another trendy spot on the eastside with a long-a** wait.." I think you will appreciate the food. Austin needs more places that use high quality ingredients prepared simply and classically so that the food speaks for itself, no frou frou vertical presentation, no tricks. Just simple French Brasserie food with a kitchen thats open past 1am. I will definitely be heading back.

              1. re: femmenikita

                I'm glad you had a good experience, too. We ate at Parkside on Wednesday, and our server said they sent out a notice to the hospitality industry trying to staff up. They just never expected such a rush at the beginning. Hopefully the kinks are getting worked out. I was a huge fan of the amazing creme brulee, too. Thanks for the excellent review.

            2. French 75. How was their French 75? I've only had one and that was at Vespaio. They had never heard of them but looked it up and made me one. It was a good drink but this one was a bit tart. Maybe needed some more sugar. Tell me more about it. Thanks, J.

              1 Reply
              1. re: singlemalt

                singlemalt: I wish I could say that I am a FR75 connisseuse, but I have only recently gotten into them. I can tell you that the one at Justine's was refreshing and swig-able. I told some friends that the Justine's version is like drinking a slightly sweet fizzy martini. It had the nice hint of lemon one looks for, but was neither lip puckeringly sour, nor cloyingly sweet (was the sweetness from champagne alone? not sure...). The taste of the gin was present with its notes of bitterness, but was not overpowering, i.e. you won't have that feeling when they hand you the cocktail that you have just been served a glass of straight booze. Have you tried a French 77 (similar, but with St. Germain liquer added) yet? Had one for the first time at Peche recently, and though I'm not a fan of that place, I've got to say it was quite tasty. Good Luck.

              2. Went last night around 7:45pm and had a choice for seating inside or out. Of course we chose to sit outside because the weather was amazing.

                Started with a glass of house red and Kronenbourg 1664. It's really difficult to find Kronenbourg in stores here, let alone on tap and for 3 bucks..!

                Started with the escargot which was very tasty and the snails themselves were bigger than I expected, but the bread provided was dry and salty.

                For the main, i ordered the snapper with haricovert and boyfriend got the ribeye with frites. He originally wanted the canard confit but they were out. Is 8pm kinda early to 86 an item if you plan on serving til 1:30a? I felt my snapper was a bit over cooked, but I suppose that's the trade off for crispy skin. haricovert were a bit greasy, but seasoned well - not too salty. I heard the ribeye was good, but for how thin it was, he regretted not ordering it rare as opposed to medium. The roquefort sauce was interesting, but i'm not a fan of blue cheese so I thought it was gross. Frites were good, tasting like they were fried in olive oil. i'm guessing for this reason some other reviewers got limp fries. We also ordered the white asparagus to go with our meal. i've never had fresh white asparagus before, as I grew up eating the kind from a can that goes into crab and shark fin soups. So, my impression based on those served last night were that they were bitter and the ends were not trimmed, but they were still crisp and not mushy compared to what I'm used to.

                For desert, we chose the creme brulee and the concensus was that it was good, but thin. I'm guessing again that because of the thin-ness, bruleeing caused the custard to become runny and warm. Still very good though, not too sweet and very smooth.

                Service was friendly and not overbearing. The ambience was great and the music was perfectly loud enough. The food came out in appropriate intervals and we never had to wait too long.

                In the end, my only complaint is that having chosen to eat outside, as the night progressed and the drinking crowd trickled in, the patio area became crowded with a bunch of people. The inside, though, was much louder and warmer than I probably would have tolerated had that been our choce.

                I think for 3 glasses of wine, 2 beers, 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, and a desert, a meal ticket of $80 is fantastic. I would definitely go back again.

                1. I made a return to Justine's yesterday at around 11pm.

                  I had the Charcuterie plate, the Duck Confit, the Salade Verte, and the Creme Brulee.

                  The Charcuterie plate was good, particularly the Chasseur pate they had that night which combined pork, rabbit, duck along with I believe macadamia nuts. The Pork rillette and the duck liver mousse were solid. I do wish that the portion was a bit bigger for $14. At its current portion size, its very difficult for even 2 people to share IMO.

                  Salade Verte - good light vinaigrette with good coverage on fresh butter lettuce.

                  Confit de Canard - excellent duck confit, probably the best duck confit I have had in austin. The meat was fatty and fall apartwithout it turning mushy or overly stringy. Incredibly tender and delectable and made me pick it up with my hands and eat it off the bone. Only complaint was that the skin could have been slightly more crispy.

                  Fries were better than the first time I tried it, crisp if I didn't let it sit too long.

                  Creme Brulee - Very solid creme brulee with an excellent tasting custard that burst with fresh egg and creme flavors and no burning on the sugar top. Only complaint was the sugar top might have been a bit too thick.

                  1. If you love waiting hours for poor service and overly salted so-so French fare, this is your place. We really wanted to love Justine's but were sorely disappointed.

                    Went with some friends a couple of weekends ago to enjoy this fabulous east-side find that everyone keeps raving about. We already expected a long wait, but just knew it would all be "worth it".

                    Yes, we waited for 2 hours for a table for four. That would have been fine if 1) they capitalized on the expansive outdoor area with additional seating for waiting parties, and 2) we could actually get a drink to enjoy while waiting. The bar was so crowded it was impossible to get the bartender's attention, and the cocktail waitress outside was so busy we were lucky to get 2 drinks in the 2 hour period.

                    Despite these hangups, our spirits were still high once we scored our table inside. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. Service was slow and the waiter made it clear he didn't have time or interest in answering questions. The wine list was uninteresting and not one I would consider "well selected". Mussels were the featured special so we ordered them as an appetizer for the table. They tasted absolutely terrible and were tiny. For a group of friends who never leave a mussel shell empty, there was a lot left on the table. Had it not been for the fact that we were famished, we would have sent the dish back.

                    For entrees, two of us ordered the snapper, one the steak and frites, and one the scallops. There is a finesse in simple French cuisine that involves balance of seasoning and well-prepared proteins. While I appreciate the concept that Justine's is attempting, the execution failed miserably! The first thing each of us noticed is that everything was significantly oversalted and all the sauces, seasonings, and flavor in the proteins were completely lost. It was as if the chef did not possess the ability to taste salt at all. In retrospect, I wish we had sent everything back. At that point, we were all so disappointed and disgusted that we were ready to get out of there.

                    We appreciate a good French bistro (the couple we were with had just returned from France), but the lack of quality of the food here is appalling. If you enjoy delicious, simple and straight-forward European cuisine as we do, don't waste your time here. Instead, try Chez Nous, or for a less expensive but equally tasty simple european meal, Fabi and Rosi.

                    Thank God for good company, otherwise the evening would have been a total bust.

                    -----
                    Fabi and Rosi
                    509 Hearn St, Austin, TX

                    Chez Nous
                    510 Neches St, Austin, TX 78701

                    1. I've eaten at Justine's twice - once for a small girls' dinner and once for an early family meal, and I was really happy both times. The first time, we arrived, had drinks and were seated within 45 minutes. We did have to tap the server to get bread and more wine, but she wasn't harried or put off by that. My duck was lovely - not exactly what I've had in Warsaw or Nantes, but very nice. Our frites were crispy and my sister's pork was so good we came back a week later just to get more.

                      The second visit was even better than the first. We arrived at 6pm with our toddler and sat outside at the big table by the petanque court. Service was attentive but not trying to rush, the pork was great again as was the artichokes and asparigus. It was a wonderfuly friendly place to have a family dinner, and it didn't seem to sceny. But then I guess if you're running with the toddler and blue hair crowd eating dinner at 6pm, you're not going to have many service issues anywhere.

                      1. i so love this place, but if possible i would only have given it 4 1/2 stars, for a reason i'll explain later. on my most recent visit a few days ago, we were a party of 10, and everyone ordered something different, so there was much passing of plates and tasting and laughing and ordering of more wine. we arrived on time at 6:45 were seated and started right in with perfectly mixed cocktails. after ordering we tasted and laughed and drank for the next three hours. this restaurant is french in every way imaginable. no one hovers, interrupting conversation to ask if everything is all right; they deduce by watching the table. water is strategically placed on tables to diners can pour their own into small glasses (thereby reducing the probability of getting a honking great glass that is unwieldy and unattractive. there is no ice in the water -- which is not good for digestion anyway.

                        our server was spot on. she got the orders right and checked to see when wine was running low. this is not the place to come if you're in a hurry or you get grumpy because the meal doesn't arrive within 10-15 minutes. fast food it ain't. altogether we ordered steak frites (4), fish (3) pork chop (shared), steak tartare (3) and serial appetizers (1). now, about that one complaint: the meat in the tartare was fresh and flavorful, as was the raw quail egg centered into a well-seasoned, beautifully formed mound of chopped steak. but there was a sweetness i hadn't expected and didn't enjoy. i later scoured my french and american cookbooks for any suggestion that honey mustard instead of dijon should be used. nothing. nada. same basic ingredients, no sweetness. so next time i'll make a point of asking that whatever this ingredient is/was be deleted from the preparation of my order. and there will be a next time.

                        a friend from out of town asked me to organize a dinner gathering for her at someplace she hadn't been. those who had been to justine's were enthusiastic about going again. and this time i'm really going to try the ratatouille.

                        -----
                        Justine's
                        4710 E 5th St, Austin, TX 78702

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: gumbosally

                          Thank you for the update gumbosally. On another thread there's been info about the AC not keeping up with the Austin heat. How did you find the temp inside?

                          1. re: gumbosally

                            the sweetness is probably from the pickles that are chopped in.

                          2. In Austin from Boston for just 2 days and needing a respite from visiting a very ill friend in hospital, went to Justine's with a couple who are newly-arrived to Austin from Boston. We got piggy with the escargots which were just the right touch of garlicky - not too. Friend's husband sopped up the remaining butter which put a deep smile on his face. I had the small shrimp salad and the superb creme brulee, but when I tasted my dining companions' steak and frites, and the heavenly pork chop (must'v been brined to remain so juicy), I wish I'd ordered more. To the service, our waiter couldn't have been warmer or more attentive. And when I requested Wilson Pickett on the turntable, the happy bartender complied in a NY minute. My friends have decided to return to Justine's many times, and when I'm back in town, so will I. Only complaint: the chairs could be more comfortable, but maybe it's just my tush.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: SuzieCK

                              thanks for the report, suzieck.
                              i'm a boston transplant myself.
                              seems like there's a lot of us these days.

                              if you have the time, you may enjoy foreign and domestic, and barley swine as well.
                              have fun!