1204 West Lynn
Austin, TX 78703
Phone: (512) 477-5584
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 6 p.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sun. 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
The restaurant business is a notoriously difficult one to break into, and even harder one in which to maintain a lasting presence. However, every now and then, a restaurant comes along, and manages not only to withstand the ebbs and flows of the economy and changing personal tastes, but also to become an institution. Jeffrey’s is one such restaurant.
Nestled in a thriving section of Clarksville, Jeffrey’s opened its doors in 1975, and broke ground in the New American cuisine movement. In its more than two decades of business, Jeffrey’s has established itself as one of the grand dames of the Austin fine dining scene, and has been touted as a favorite of notable patrons, including former President George W. Bush.
The scene at Jeffrey’s is undeniably elegant. The dining and cocktail areas feature subdued tones, dimly lit rooms, and intimate spaces. Dark, floor-to-ceiling curtains enhance the feeling of exclusivity and coziness.
We kicked off our visit with a round of elegant cocktails. The French 81 featured Juniper gin, Fernet, and lemon prosecco. It was beautiful and refreshing. The Communist married Beefeater gin, Heering cherry, orange, and a splash of sweet vermouth. The Far Easter featured Rittenhouse Rye, tamarind syrup, and a mint ginger brew. All of the cocktails we sampled were elegant, exotic, and beautifully presented.
Our visit fell during Restaurant Week, so the restaurant offered a three-course fixed price menu, with optional wine pairings.
We kicked off our meal with a selection of starters. The Pear and Arugula Salad was well balanced, with the spicy bitterness of the arugula subtly offset by the sweetness and crunch of the pear, the bite of the roasted fennel, and the saltiness of Parmesan shavings. The salad was finished with a refreshing walnut vinaigrette. This dish was earthy, flavorful, and restrained.
We also sampled the duo of oysters. One approach featured Oysters Octavia on bacon royale with a tomato vinaigrette and fresh chives, nestled atop housemade potato chips. The second oyster offering married featured a tangy pico de gallo infused with a bite of heat. Both oysters were expertly crafted, and very well received. The two oyster dishes offered starkly different approaches and completely different flavor profiles. However, the zestiness and spice of the pico de gallo option was composed, sophisticated, and stacked with levels of flavor.
From there, we moved to our entrees. We sampled a house-made gnocchi with roasted butternut squash, which was paired with braised greens, pepito pesto, and a vegetable consomme. This dish was expertly balanced, if a bit fussily presented. The gnocchi were fluffy and light, and the flavorful broth yielded a nice offset to the sweetness of the squash.
Next, we settled on a pan-seared redfish, which was served in a tomato and lemongrass broth, and paired with wilted baby bok choy and oyster mushrooms. Again, the broth was delicate, infused with strong flavors, and quite tasty. The fish was perfectly cooked, and was nicely complemented by the mushrooms. However, again, the presentation distracted from the overall success of the dish. The dish arrived at the table with two surprisingly large portions of wilted bok choy completely covering the fish and other ingredients. (Note: The photo below shows the dish after the bok choy had been moved aside a bit. Prior to this, the bok choy covered all of the dish). The bok choy lacked overall flavor, and in parts exhibited an overwhelming smokiness that bordered on tasting burned. The bok choy essentially became an obstacle to the dish, and ended up being pushed aside so the remaining components could be enjoyed.
The final entree we sampled was the one about which we were most excited. This dish featured a coffee rubbed venison tenderloin, which had been pecan grilled, and served atop an eggplant/zucchini ragout with grilled rapini and a Juniper demi-glace. Unfortunately, this dish was largely a disappointment. Again, the presentation diminished from the dish. The ragout’s bland color and mushy consistency were unappetizing. The ragout unfortunately tasted much like it looked, and lacked interest or flavor. The rapini were actually interestingly presented, and quite delicious. However, the tenderloin itself sealed the fate of this dish. Although, in color, the venison looked to be appropriately prepared, when we cut into the tenderloin, it was quickly apparent that the venison had been sitting for too long, as the loin was cold. The temperature of the dish and the resulting consistency of the tenderloin made this dish the least successful of the night.
Our server, Josh, helped ease the disappointment of the entree course. Two members of our party opted to sample the chef’s wine pairings with each course. Upon noting that one of our party had ordered the redfish, he brought us an additional wine offering he believed well-complemented the fish dish. His knowledge of the flavors coming from the kitchen was evident with this recommendation, as the Whispering Angel rose he offered was the perfect partner to the redfish.
Thankfully, the trio of desserts we sampled were all met with praise at our table. The passion fruit creme brulee was lush, creamy, and tangy, with the perfect layer of crunch.
The cheese plate paired Antonelli’s cheeses with chef’s selections and bread. The plate included a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese, paired with grilled dates. The plate was finished with a cow’s milk cheese, perfectly complemented by candied nuts. The cheeses were delicious, and the chef’s pairings complemented them well, in both taste and textural variety.
Although all of the desserts were well received at our table, the star of this course was undoubtedly the Chocolate Intemperance. This dessert featured a luscious chocolate mousse created from high-grade French Valrhona chocolate, as well as a rich and decadent double chocolate mousse. This dessert was a harmony of textures, as well as a nuanced range of sweetness and bitterness. The dessert was beautifully presented, and was one of the most standout dishes of the night.
The successes of our meal at Jeffrey’s underscored why this lovely bistro has survived decades of turbulence on the Austin restaurant scene that has consumed scores of other eateries. The high notes of our meal shone, showcasing the nuance and skill of a confident kitchen full of craftspeople. However, the missteps are a reminder that even a lauded restaurant cannot rest on its laurels, and must always strive to execute with creativity and perfection. This is the challenge and conundrum of fine dining–every dish matters, and every diner matters. Jeffrey’s is in a transitional phase at the moment, and although there were some inconsistencies in our meal, the highs of our meal hold a promise of wonderful things on the horizon in a new era of this Austin institution.