Monday, February 1, 2010

The Carillon

1900 University Avenue
Austin, TX 78705

Laura: I tried to wrap my head around the idea of a fine dining restaurant located on the UT campus. Why not? They have their share of Chick-fil-A's, taco carts and a music venue with a questionable future (Mariah: doomed future) so why shouldn't they have a fine dining restaurant too? Head chef Jeff Watkins brings his experience from the Driskill Hotel to the Carillon at the AT&T center. He and his hospitable staff served up some treats for a viewing last week.

Mariah: I've heard the Carillon had a great chef and was getting rave reviews and its been on my top 5 "new places to try" list for a month or two. I've been reticent to try it though mostly because its on the UT campus and I 1) hated my experience at UT and don't care to relive it if I can avoid it 2) I think dealing with anything around campus is a Hassle (with a big H). I don't think there is any way to avoid #1, but to be honest, dealing with #2 isn't really not that bad. It's at the corner of MLK and University so its close enough to the edge of campus to precision strike the place and not get too concerned about campus traffic. Once you find the entrance to the garage (it's on 20th street, just FYI), and realize you can't park on the 1st two levels, parking really isn't that bad either (they validate parking at the front desk, so its free too). You get on the elevator, go up to the Restaurant level and BAM you're at the Carillon. Note to any big brother style regulatory agency reading this and looking to fine us for breaking the law, this meal was comped.

Laura: Please excuse the quality of these photos. My DSLR is in the shop and while the lighting was great for the atmosphere, it wasn't very conducive to taking pretty food photos. Thanks for talking me into getting insurance on the camera, Josh. You were right, eventually I would drop it.

The Cava was flowing

Mariah: The cava was tasty (and trust me, I had 4 glasses of it). I'd recommend it here or elsewhere.

Little nibbles at the bar

Mariah: Ok so I was kind of grossed out by the nibbles. We were expected to be shared nibbles, but the olives had no olive fork. So everyone ended up sticking their grubby fingers into the olive bowl to grab an olive. I even saw one person (and I won't name names) pick up an olive, look at it, then put it back down to select another. I can understand if it's a shared appetizer between friends, but out on the bar? Yuck.

White Bean Soup with Smoked Sea Scallop.

Laura: Mariah compared the texture of the soup to paint spackle. The word that came to my mind was gravy. The contents were so thick that they got stuck at the bottom of the shot glass. It tasted heavily of bacon but we were promised it was a vegetarian soup.

Mariah: The presentation in the little shot glass was cute for a standing appetizer party, but the texture of the soup did NOT go well with the cute little shot glasses. The soup itself had a nice smokey flavor that, if in an actual bowl, would probably be quite nice. But it just didn't work in the cup and ended up unsettling me more than it should have.

Variety of treats including eggplant caprese with tomato relish and steak tartare with white truffle

Mariah: The steak tartare was rather bland. I had one and despite it having two of my favorite ingredients, both steak and truffle, I only had one serving. The eggplant caprese was quite nice, but rather hum-drum. There was a tiny fried cheese ball (a la a sonic cheesestick) that didn't taste very good alone. But when paired with the eggplant and the relish blended quite harmoniously. I think I ate 3 or 4 of these little spoons (but I notice now its not on their normal menu, so tough luck). One dish Laura didn't mention (but is pictured above) was the pork belly. It was quite nice. Crisp and flavorful with just the right amount of give and fat content. The fried mint leaf on the top was a nice touch, but its flavor and crispness were sort of overpowered by the already flavorful and crisp pork belly. It fell slightly short of Trio's amazing pork belly appetizer, but it is still noteworthy and delicious.

Laura: Mariah's right on the fried cheese description. However, it was one of the few items I could eat at the tasting so I had about five of them. Hey, I needed something to soak up the Cava.

Braised Beef Short Ribs. Mariah's favorite.

Mariah: Ok if there is one reason you make your way to Carillon, it needs to be for the short ribs. Holy crap were they good. Nice and meaty with a pleasant flavor. They were covered in an apricot glaze with an accompanying celery root puree. The asparagus feels like it was thrown in as an afterthought. BUT I have to say pairing celery and apricot with beef works. Really really works. It's genius in fact. You have to try it. Now.

Where the magic happens

Laura: We watched the staff putting together all the bits and pieces while we sipped our drinks. I love when the restaurant design pulls off an open view of the kitchen. The overall atmosphere of The Carillon is hard to grasp from these photos. It is grandiose done with class, just like you would expect from UT.

Mariah: It was very Fort Worth cowboy chic. Everything was warmly neutral with browns, leathers and wrought iron. Very "upscale Texas." My only other complaint was we didn't get to sample more of the menu. I would have liked to have tried a fish dish and dessert, but I guess my curiosity has been peaked just enough to go back again.

Laura: Perhaps this is Fort Worth cowboy chic, but I don't know anywhere like this in Fort Worth. The final verdict? I need a return trip to check out the other menu items. Hint, hint, nudge to you Carillon PR and Jeff Watkins. ;)

The Carillon is open to the public for breakfast (7 am - 10 am) and for dinner (5:30 pm -10 pm). Lunch is reserved for UT faculty and staff only.