Friday, August 12, 2011

Deep in the heart of Texas....

We arrived yesterday in Austin. Wow, it is hot!!! This is one of my husband's favorite cities; he always muses about moving here if not for the heat and lack of ocean access. Austin is known for its live music scene and eclectic vibe. We started our foray into Austin dining at North by Northwest, a local brewpub known for its craft beers. It was packed on a Tuesday night which is always a good sign!

The decor was pretty cool with light fixtures made out of pvc pipes, mirrored candle trivets and industrial light cages. The ceiling is actually covered with oiled floorboards and the "bar" tables are rounded banquettes shaped like the spinning teacup ride at local fairs. We elected to sit at a bar table to avoid the wait for a table in the dining room proper. It was a good choice, not too loud, great vantage point to see the whole place and all the food coming out of the kitchen, best of all right in the shadow of the tremendous copper brewing tanks. Does it get any better? Our server was diligent, attentive and knowledgeable but not very friendly. She was always there when we needed something and kept the timing of the meal flowing flawlessly so I cannot complain about the lack of small talk.

Since this is a brewpub, and we are getting ready for Microfestivus back home in Roanoke VA, we ordered some of their handcrafted brews. We started with their Berliner Weiss. Wow! I love well-made Hefeweissen, and this did not disappoint. It had strong citrus and bold coriander tones. Perfect for the hot weather. With our first beer course we ordered the Bacon Wrapped Quail over Polenta with Spinach and Balsamic Reduction. We have been on something of a quail kick recently so our mouths were already watering when the appetizer arrived. The presentation was rustic with nice grill marks on the polenta. Unfortunately, the dish took some deconstruction to eat. The bacon was thick and tightly wrapped around the quail. I surmised that the quail would be really moist because of the preparation but I was wrong. The quail was not particularly tender. It had a nice smoke to it and when eaten with some of the spinach and the balsamic, it was pretty tasty. The spinach though, was completely uncooked and the polenta was filled with golden raisins which caught me by surprise. Overall, it was not bad but not great. We ordered another round of the Berliner Weiss and prepared for salad.

The salad was actually pretty refreshing. Field greens were dressed lightly in a mustard seed vinaigraitte. the greens were tossed with crisp granny smith apple slices, candied walnuts and chunks of bleu cheese. Normally, I would say this has been done a million times and is a bit pedantic, but it was executed well and the flavor profile was spot-on.

My husband and I shared the first two courses- lover style as a friend likes to dub it, but entrees were up next and we each ordered a dish. We still share but with a more tentative fork. This course called for a richer brew so we switched to the Blackjack, a deep, black ale that resonates with chocolate and smoke. Yum, yum!! To go with this luscious brew, we ordered the Porterhouse Pork Chop with Bleu Cheese Scalloped Potatoes and crisped Green Beans and Duck Breast with a Madeira reduction served with Bacon and Arugula Risotto and grilled Seasonal Vegetables. My husband partakes of the pork chop whenever he comes to Austin and swears by it. He loves the tenderness that the brining of the meat imbues. I couldn't deny him after this level of reasoning.

The Black Ale arrived in plenty of time to warm some (important for those darker ales)and plates were efficiently cleared to provide a fresh canvas for our entrees. The duck was a perfect medium-rare, and the risotto was velvety. The seasonal veggies are usually a throwaway at restaurants, but these were not. There was a melange of green beans, broccoli, red peppers, red onion, and julienned squash. They were crisp, not overcooked. They were amply seasoned, a little too amply for my taste, but still good. I was disappointed with the Madeira reduction. It was thin and extremely salty. The duck needed some acid to cut some of the richness on the plate, but the Madeira reduction offered no relief. I enjoyed the duck entree on the whole, but it was not the best I have had and showed a pretty heavy hand with the salt. The pork chop, on the other hand was divine. It was not as large as I expected given it is a porterhouse, but the meat was tender enough to cut with a butter knife and completely juicy. I was unsure about the bleu cheese scalloped potatoes, but they were actually really yummy. The potatoes were thinly sliced and the bleu cheese sauce was subtle and not as pungent as I expected. They were baked with a nice panko crumb topping and were a nice foil to the pork. The green beans needed to be snapped and were extremely salty. They remained on the plate. Overall, I had to agree with my husband, the pork rocked!

This brought us to dessert. We were both ready to bust with our indulgence thus far but could not deny dessert when the server told us they were made on premise. I was dubious given the selections, but we forged ahead. We ordered the Chocolate Torte with Seasonal Berries and the Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee with Shortbread Cookies. I added to this a glass of Taylor Fladgate 20 Year Tawny Port because it is indeed, heaven in a glass. I only find 20 Year Tawny Port on occassion and must indulge when it crosses my path. The desserts arrived beautifully plated. The chocolate torte nested atop a grid of creme anglais and a homemade strawberry coulis with fresh raspberries and strawberries rimming the plate. The creme brulee, served in a classic ramekin, had a buttery hazelnut shortbread round on the side with some fresh raspberries on top. Upon first taste I knew the desserts were definitely made in-house. The chocolate torte had an imperfect appearance but was dense and bursting with dark chocolate. The creme brulee had those perfect little black vanilla bean specks. It was creamy but not perfect either. The desserts were worth the hedonistic overindulgence.

North by Northwest has a lot to offer diners including some pretty fantastic looking wood-fired pizzas. The beer is well-done, the pork chop was delicious, and the desserts were fabulous. They are open for lunch, dinner and have a late night menu. I would recommend sitting in the bar banquettes; you can see the brewing area, as well as the kitchen. Don't forget to save room for dessert!

North By Northwest on Urbanspoon

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