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El Arbol

Wow! A group of us went to one of the soft openings for El Arbol and we were completely blown away. The food, decor and atmosphere were all fantastic. The service was impressive as well.

We had pork, beef and scallops. The sides were two dipping sauces and one small portion of purple mashed potatoes. I suspect the full menu is slightly different than what we tried at the soft opening. Big thumbs up on the food and the wine that was selected for us. I can attest to the Cosmos too! Yum!

Since this place is in our hood, we'll be there regularly. The underlit onyx bar on the second floor is going to be my spot until it warms up and I can hang out on the beautiful patio.

Go by and check it out. The decor is retro and you feel as though you might run in to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin or Sammy Davis, Jr. I really enjoyed it. They have a facebook page up but I haven't seen the full menu posted yet. Stay tuned.

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  1. Thanks for the info - what's the price point?

    I found that the location is 38th and Jefferson - relatively close to my hood, too. Here's some info and pix:

    http://www.austinfoodjournal.com/?p=4174

    2 Replies
    1. re: rudeboy

      Since we were at a soft opening, we didn't order off the regular menu. They are supposed to post their menu soon.

      The restaurant website: http://www.elarbolrestaurant.com/

      They also have a cool facebook page.

      1. re: rudeboy

        We went as well, on Friday night. They were a bit bottlenecked in the kitchen and our wait was long, but that's what a soft opening is about. I'm sure they'll have the kinks ironed out soon. The servers themselves where great.

        As for price point, I believe it will be relatively high. But the food was excellent. And their wine markups seem very low.

        They are definitely aiming higher than the typical neighborhood restaurant. For long-timers in that area, the feel is more like Jean Pierre's Upstairs than Brick Oven.

      2. interesting that this post survives, a post about a soft opening, and the post on the soft opening of La Credenza, or whatever didn't because per the Chowhound team, soft opening reports are not allowed. Allright Chowhoud gang, which is it going to be?

        1. Their website still proclaims "opening Feb 21" and has obviously not been updated. It seems like they would at least indicate that they are now open, instead of "check on our progress".

          1. We had a fantastic experience at El Arbol on Saturday evening. The restaurant itself is beautiful, and fairly large, covering three separate floors. We sat on the second floor in one of the white leather booths. The booths are given a little privacy by dividers that separate them from the other booths. There are also tables in the center of the room. Cork on the walls helps muffle the noise, which my hearing-challenged husband really appreciated.

            We started with the empanadas, which were good. We had the beef and pork, and preferred the pork, as it contained raisins and almonds, which made the flavors slightly more complex than the beef empanada. As a comparison, the ones at Buenos Aires (which I also like) are flakier with ground meat, while the ones at El Arbol have more of a pie crust texture and larger chucks of meat.

            I split the Ensalada Quinoa with one of my dining companions. It was excellent, with quinoa, cucumber and red onions. The lime juice “dressing” gave it an incredibly fresh taste. ($10.)

            The highlight of the evening, though, was the entrees. We ordered the “Vieras,” (I think I got that right) which consisted of three dayboat scallops with a mushroom cream sauce. ($27). They were excellent. When I got the dish, I thought that three scallops might be somewhat chintzy at the price point, but the dish was rich and filling. I couldn’t have eaten more than three, and I’m not a bird-like eater. The real show stopper, though, was the steak. My husband ordered the 10-oz filet medium rare ($30). It was truly one of the best steaks I have ever eaten. They are prepared simply with a slight spice rub, which is how we prefer our steaks. The flavor of the meat was remarkable. We liked that the filet was slightly thinner than the norm. It made for a steak that was cooked consistently throughout.

            Sides are served family style. We selected the spinach with hollandaise, the gnocci with mushroom cream sauce, and mushrooms in butter.

            Their wine list seems fairly reasonably priced, with many wines to choose from. We followed the recommendation of the sommelier and had an excellent Malbec from Argentina that was $42.

            For dessert we split an empanada filled with rice pudding, and fried milk with honey ice cream. Our group of five was split over which was better, but we liked them both.

            Service was attentive, and we were very pleased with the sommelier’s wine suggestion. I thought everything went especially smoothly given the short period of time they’ve been open. Overall, we were very impressed with the restaurant and can’t wait to go back and try some of the other dishes. It will be hard to stray from the amazing steaks, though. They also have a very nice patio which should be a fun place to have cocktails once the weather is warmer. All in all, I think El Arbol is an excellent addition to the Austin dining scene.

            1. We went Saturday night. Great atmosphere but the entrees seemed so/so. I got the 14-oz 40-day wet aged prime ribeye (it cost a pretty penny) and yet it was quite fatty and not at allt he medium-rare I ordered (she even repeated back cool pink in the middle). More like medium well. The empanadas were good though. If I go back, I'd avoid the grilled red meat and try some of the other options...

              2 Replies
              1. re: Carter B.

                looking at the menu, it does seem expensiveish considering it's not a downtown place
                i hate it when my beef is not cooked to order. so annoying.

                1. re: dinaofdoom

                  I have been 3x in so many weeks. Serious service issues have plagued what was an otherwise enjoyable experience 2 of 3 times. Tables around us had similar issues with food not showing up, or out of order.

                  Everything I have eaten here has been good or great. The empanadas are really terrific, as was the desserts. I was also impressed with the sommelier (Joe). Both times he picked wines we were really happy with and surprised by.

                  I hope they can iron out the service issues. I don't think they were the fault of a single waitperson, so much as some communication issues between servers, the hosts and the kitchen.

                  The place looks amazing. The only other place in town that does as good a job as making you feel away from home is Fonda San Miguel.

                  A little overpriced, but they gotta recoup the investment somehow.

              2. Last night was our first visit to El Arbol. As we approached, my jaded perspective assessed the beautiful central tree, the nice digs, the fancy setting and I thought to myself, "This is probably a style-over-substance place."

                I was wrong. It is stylish, but either we got lucky or they actually know how to cook.

                We started with the beef heart -- oak grilled with red onion, oil, and a balsamic reduction. Unevenly salted, this was the worst thing we had all night. (It was actually really good.) Not overly chewy as heart can easily be, and with really good flavor. Not overly smokey, they tried to let the meat stand for itself.

                Next we split two small empanadas, filled with eye-rollingly delicious manchego cheese and onions and surrounded by a lake of some sort of sweet, fruity compote or marmalade. Not sure what it was made of; tasted sort of like an apple sauce, actually. When applied sparingly to the empanada between bites, it punched the whole thing into the stratosphere.

                Being a degenerate lover of steak, I had to try the 14oz rib eye. Two split appetizers in, I was already kind of full, but what the heck. This huge cube of beef was perfectly salted, peppered, and charred over an oak-fired grill. Look, preparing steaks over an open flame is tough. You get much more erratic results than in a broiler or on a cast-iron. This steak couldn't have been grilled any better. I went medium rare and it was cool and juicy pinkish-red at the center. The cut itself was delicious and mostly melt-in-your-mouth good, but the outer inch of the steak was so permeated with oakey goodness, and the char all around the steak was perfectly crispy-chewy, I was frankly in heaven. The steak came with some murky red chimichurri sauce that was pleasant enough, but totally unnecessary on a steak of this quality. Probably a nice addition for folks that normally bathe their steaks in sauces of some kind.

                My wife went with the smoked trout salad, featuring spinach, arugula, shallots, and capers. The trout was cool, the salad was delicious, with an extremely balanced application of acid from the lemony vinaigrette that had been applied.

                For dessert, we split the "Alfajor", which was a home-made wafer bar of awesome, crispy phyllo, some thick, rich flourless chocolate cake, dulce de leche, and an additional thin stick of phyllo for those needed bonus crispy textures in their experience. Beside the slim layered cake was a delicate mound of coconut whipped cream, which really completed the experience when applied to each little bite. Maybe I was sort of in a meat-bliss, but I really enjoyed this dessert. One of my favorite desserts in the last couple years. Simple, yet faintly reminiscent of those Keebler (?) fudge wafer bars I occasionally had as a child.

                I recommend this place based on this one visit, but one visit does not make me an expert. Depending on their sources for beef and the erratic nature of grilling, you might have a totally different steak experience. For me, this was my best steak of 2010, way out ahead of second place, and meaningfully better than what I can do at home. The prices were high, especially the steak and the wine, ending up in the Uchi-Parkside-Perla range, but the food made it worth it.

                2 Replies
                1. re: tom in austin

                  This was a really thoughtful, detailed review (and not just because I agree, promise). I completely agree with you. It's my best steak of 2010, and possibly any other year, too (since we started eating there, my husband has given up cooking steak at home, one of his specialties). And I've eaten at Perry's and Fleming's this year. I've eaten at El Arbol several times (more than 6), and have yet to have anything but a stellar experience. It is true, it's expensive, but I think it is completely worth it.

                  I think you and I have related tastebuds, Tom. We always end up liking the same places! You should coin the phrase "meat-bliss." That's a classic.

                  1. re: txgrl99

                    Thanks, txgrl99!

                    Based on your experience and endorsement, I'll make sure my next visit back is soon!

                    P.S. I had the small chunk of leftover steak from the doggie bag the next day, sliced cold from the fridge. I've never had cold steak this good, or leftover steak this good. I was actually pissed off that it still tasted so good.

                2. Loved this place. Yes, pricey, and the ojo de bife was everything TominAustin said - divine, especially with a side of sauteed mushrooms. That said, I think their happy hour has to be one of the best in town. Empanadas are $2.00 each - we got one of each type and they were all good - not mind-blowing, but very, very yummy. Spinach and cheese was our favorite, DH loved the carne suave (beef and potato) and I liked the chunky mix of the pork with nuts and raisins and olives. The ceviche was very, very good - nice and fresh, although I was hoping for more of a south american flair - sweet potatoes or hominy or something. What was spectacular, though, were the two grilled items- the anticuchos (beef heart slices skewered and grilled) were magnificent - flavorful, plentiful, with a great semi-chewy texture, served with an awesome balsamic/hot chili oil sauce. Octopus was tender as could be, with a smoky tomato sauce that complimented the flavor from the grill. We were full, and happy with HH wine and beer...steaks for special occasions, HH frequently!

                  1. The steak on the crostini appetizer was excellent but a delay due to a kitchen snafu rendered my ribeye medium and grainy. Bad. This after I really went over it with the waiter that it really couldn't be too red. He didn't let me order it rare said it would be cold. Should have sent it back but the delay we'd already waited through kept me from doing it. They comped two pretty deserts but they were lame. And 9.00. Some interesting gelato but paired with untasty cake and jello like material -- just didn't come together. Empanadas at happy hour were a bargain. I'll go back for the 20.00 steak and sit at the bar and make sure I get it in a timely manner....

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: BTAustin

                      The bartender named Jeff makes one of the best Cosmos in town. I love sitting at that bar!

                    2. went to el arbol last night for dinner. the spinach empanada and beef heart were very good (heart was really underseasoned). the beef empanada did not impress, though the pastry was very good.

                      the scallops were good, though only one side was seared. is it an austin thing to not sear both sides of the scallop? wink only sears the top as well...

                      the ribeye was unique. never had a steak that tasted so smoky. was very good, can't wait to try it again.

                      had the coconut dulce de leche and it looked beautiful but the taste didn't live up to the appearance.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: chrisdds98

                        I've really limited the things I get there now. Only go once every few months. It just doesn't seem as fun as it used to. Epanadas are a fraction of what they used to be but still decent. I get the meat/cheese appetizer and I really like the trout salad still. Flemings is still my favorite Austin source for eating steaks out.

                        Wine options are still good and Jeff, the bartender makes my 2nd favorite Cosmo in town.

                        1. re: chispa_c

                          Went there for the first time last week after our move and loved it. We had the octopus and another fish app(can't remember name) that was served with lardo, which is one of my favorites. I'm not big on steaks so I ordered the pork cheek and it was one of the best pork dishes I've had. Wife had the scallops which she said were great. Shared a dessert, I can't remember everything about it but I know it had a great bacon ice cream paired with it.

                          1. re: byanow

                            Agreed on the octopus. I've had that several times and really enjoyed it.

                      2. We had a mixed experience here when my husband and I went this past Saturday night. Originally we were a group of 7 and decided to call with the off chance that they had a table. Without even telling them how many were in our group, they claimed there were no tables available and wouldn't be all night. My husband and I ended up separating from the other 5, and decided to take our chances that there was a table. When we arrived they did claim they would have a table and it would be ready in about 10 minutes.

                        When they showed us to our table, we walked by empty table after empty table. It was very offputting to have been told there were no empty seats (or to be made to wait 10 min.) and then to see so many empty tables. It was obvious the restaurant seating was too large for the kitchen or they were grossly understaffed. If it was the latter, it would have been nice they told us this. If it was the former, it seems to me that they should rearrange the seating area so there aren't so many empty tables at a time.

                        When we got to our table, we felt very uncomfortable. We coudn't hear each other talk, the air conditioner was blowing in our face, and the chairs were quite uncomfortable. We asked the waiter if we could move outside and he very easily accomodated our request. Once outside our evening improved, much due to our great waiter and the quiet ambiance of the patio.

                        We ordered a bunch of small plates... the meat, cheese, and olive plate, the melon salad, two empanadas, and the gnochi. All was delicious, except for the meat, cheese, and olive plate which was not too impressive. My husband loves olives but couldn't stand the orange (rind) infused olives. They really should state that on the menu that the olives are orange infused. He would not have ordered it if he knew.

                        We will probably go back (as we live pretty close by), though probably not for some time and only when it is the perfect temperature for patio seating.