North by Northwest
10010 Capital of TX Hwy N
Austin, TX 78759
It's amazing how the Internet will allow you to divulge some of your deepest, darkest secrets for the world to see. Not only that, it's amazing how carefree you can feel when you're about to air your dirty laundry. I'm not sure if Mariah, Laura, or the community of loyals readers for Dining In Austin are ready for this, but I'm ready to share one of my deep, dark secrets. OK, here goes... For a short while, several years ago, I moved out of Texas and lived in Columbus, Ohio.
There. I said it. I said it, and I feel much better about it. It's like a huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders. Now, I won't say why I made that decision, but I will say that it left me pretty dang homesick for Austin and everything about this wonderful city. It was dreary up there. It snowed; you had to pay income tax to both the state and the city; I couldn't attend home games for my beloved San Antonio Spurs; there was no Central Market; and don't even get me started about the food. Since I've been back, though, I've been really trying to play catch-up, particularly where food is concerned. My list is full. I'm trying to make it a point to visit all of the places that opened up while I was gone, and I'm also trying to revisit my old favorite haunts from back in the day. Well, I finally make it back to one of my old favorites last week, and I'm just surprised that it took me so long. I'm talking about NXNW.
It came to mind as I was planning for a dinner date with a newly found ladyfriend, and wanted to find a place between her work and my own. Well, when NXNW came up on the radar, I was all over it and excited to kill two birds with one stone. It's up on Capital of Texas between Mopac and 183. With a movie theatre and the Arboretum both just a stone's throw away, it makes for a great location if you're trying to find something to do before or after dinner.
I arrived around 6:00 to find that not much had changed about the place, which was very comforting for me. The parking lot was just as crowded as I always remembered it to be, but it wasn't really a hassle since there was free valet service right outside the front. Stepping inside, the scene was exactly as I had remembered it. The bar area is rather smallish and full of a crowd of professional and classy looking people. The atmosphere was abuzz as this small area was packed. However, looks were deceiving as I was able to get a table for 2 without any wait despite the looks of the crowd socializing and drinking before me. For the record, though, they do have call ahead seating in case you're really worried about getting a table.
The overall look of the place is pretty much a modern and upscale twist on a cabin that you'd find in the Northeast....or at least that's how their website describes the decor. I've never been to a cabin in that region, so I'll have to take their word for it. There's a fireplace right dead center in the dining room that makes for a cozy atmosphere, particularly in the winter months. From the dining room, you can also see (and smell) the wood burning ovens.
OK, I'll get to the food in a second, but let's first talk about one of the things that was my biggest draw in the days of old...the beer. NXNW is a microbrewery, and makes several types of beer themselves. As a matter of fact, the silos you see outside as you approach the place are functioning silos containing their grains and other ingredients of beer making love. They've got a variety of beers here, which I can attest are great, but I'll forego discussing them now.
I found the menu to be well thought out. It was quite diverse including entrees ranging from seafood to meats. There also seems like a good variety of sides and they are paired up well with entrees. The overall menu feels like it has a tight theme without being boring. It's also not too large, either. Also, a note for Laura.... There are several vegetarian dishes on the menu. (heh. What are the odds that I'm sharing new information with her?)
I ordered the Chicken Adobo Pasta. I was impressed with the serving size and thought the presentation looked grand. The adobo cream sauce gave the dish a mildly sweet flavor with a heat that gradually built during the course of the meal. My lady friend ordered the Grilled Chicken Sandwich. Again, the portions were nice and the produce quite fresh. If there were any complaints about it, it would have to be that the bread was a bit on the soft size for a sandwich of that calibre. Towards the end of the sandwich, a fork and knife had to enter the picture. The garlic fries as a side were terrific, too. I couldn't help but steal a few. They reminded me quite a bit of the seasoned pomme frittes that I couldn't get enough of when I lived in Germany.
I'd have to say that the service from the waitstaff was great. Our waiter was attentive, but not annoying. He was also knowledgeable about the menu. (Was I asking questions because I was genuinely curious or was I trying to impress a girl? I'll never tell.) There were also no complaints as we got lost in conversation and accidently ended up hogging the table for a little while after dinner. Fortunately, we became aware of this and retired to the Arboretum for an evening stroll and dessert at the Cheesecake Factory. Yum!
On another note about the food, I went back a couple of days later by myself, and had the Grilled Duck Breast. Wow! It was great. Perfectly cooked and served with a marsala sauce that kicked some serious butt. The roast garlic parmesan polenta it came with wasn't as creamy as I'd like. But with so many ways of serving polenta, I'll never gig anyone on polenta as long as it's cooked and seasoned. The veggies that it came with were also very delicious and crispy...just the way I like.
So, now I get to end this review with two feelings of refreshment. The first was getting back to a restaurant with both food and environment that I loved several years ago. The other? Well, I feel a little less burdoned getting that dirty secret of living in Ohio off my chest. If anyone else has any similar skeletons in your closet, feel free to post a comment about it. You'll rejoice in how much lighter the everyday struggles of life become...
As always, Mariah and Laura, thank you for the opportunity to share with your readers by posting on your awesome blog!!!
Lee - 9
Laura's note: I've been to NXNW three times. Once when I was severely broke in college to apply for a third job (I accidentally mistook the owner and or manager for a nosy drunk flirting with me and that didn't go over well. Needless to say, they didn't hire me). Once for a friend's rehearsal dinner (it was in my carnivore days and I remember the food being good in a very Americana way, but the steak being undercooked. I'll write that off to personal preference at the time and not a flaw on the restaurants behalf.) And recently for happy hour.
Happy hour has great prices, but parking is atrocious as Lee mentioned. Yes, they have valet, without it I would have been screwed. But to me valeting in less densely populated areas of town like near NXNW feels offensive. Anybody else agree?
I know, I'm weird. Maybe it just reminds me to much of my hometown of Houston.
The place was packed and our service was SLOW. The beer was good. I like that it is it's own microbrewery. We had a few appetizers including fried artichokes that were pretty good (as we've discussed, it's hard to go wrong with fried anything), and a garlic goat cheese entree that was not quite what I expected- it was more toast with garlic than anything foodoir.
Overall it came off a little bit like bar food, which to it's credit may be because it was happy hour. The restaurant is what I like to call "Quality Microbrewery Generic" which is much better than normal generic, or even microwbrewery generic (think Rock Bottom Brewery in Denver) but isn't particularly innovative and doesn't get me excited.
Laura ~ 6