The Austin Food Bloggers Alliance City Guide 2012 offers information about dining options in the Austin area created by local bloggers. The following blog entry is an overview of the 2012 French fusion dining scene in Austin.
Austin’s dining scene includes some impressive French options, ranging from inexpensive creperies and bakeries to inventive upscale spots. The following is an overview of some of the best French dining options in Austin for 2012, organized by the following categories: brasseries and bistros, gastropubs with French influences, French bakeries, and crêperies.
BRASSERIES & BISTROS
Chez Nous is just steps from Sixth Street, but once inside, truly feels like you are a world away.This jewel is one of the most under-appreciated spots in town. This cozy French spot is as authentic a French experience as you can have outside the City of Lights. Operated by three Paris natives, Chez Nous is a romantic nook of a restaurant that offers beautifully presented, authentic French dishes at remarkably reasonable prices. The menu du jour offers a three-course fixed price selection for under $30 per person. The house pâté and rillettes are reliably sumptuous, and the desserts always impress. Chez Nous is very romantic, and makes a great date spot.
On the other side of downtown in the Warehouse District is Péché. With its dark woods, dim lighting, and grand bar, this sexy spot evokes a Parisian speakeasy. The Prohibition-era cocktails are carefully prepared using handcrafted ingredients and near-encyclopedic knowledge of beverages (the French 75 is one of the best in the city, and the Fig Manhattan with house bitters and fig foam is also sinfully good). Let the bartenders help you with a suggestion, if you are feeling overwhelmed. Pair the cocktail craftsmanship with the divine European comfort foods prepared by the amazingly talented chef, Jason Dodge, and his staff. The staff are incredibly knowledgeable at Péché, and the dishes are consistently clean-your-plate delicious. You can’t go wrong with the charcuterie plate (ever-changing but always spot-on) or any daily risotto options, which are always scrumptious. Check out a detailed blog about Péché here.
On West Sixth Street, Bess Bistro is one of the most romantic restaurants in the city. Housed in a beautifully renovated bank vault, the intimate experience starts when you enter down a flight of stairs down beneath West Sixth Street. The warm lighting, beautiful exposed stone walls, glittering chandeliers, and cozy booths make the Bess Bistro experience both welcoming and intimate. Bess is owned by Sandra Bullock, but this is no scenester celebrity watching spot. Instead, at Bess, the experience is all about feel-good food with an upscale twist and a warm, inviting ambiance. The food is Southern comfort with a French flair. Start your meal with a bubbly Bess Cocktail, and I highly recommend sharing the divine macaroni and cheese (it’s reliably a crowd-pleaser).
West of downtown near Lake Austin is Fabi + Rosi. This hidden gem is nestled in a beautifully renovated bungalow that exudes charm and warmth. With its glittering chandeliers and glass bubbles dangling from the ceiling to its dark walls to its white leather accents, Fabi + Rosi is at once sleek, modern, and a bit whimsical. The place oozes romance. The kitchen whips up European classics with a modern twist. The food draws from a variety of European influences. The escargots, schnitzel and spätzle, and duck confit are standouts. Champagne lovers should note that on Thursdays, all bubbly is half price. Check out a detailed blog post about Fabi + Rosi here.
Just east of I-35 on 11th Street, is an unassuming French spot called Blue Dahlia Bistro. This casual spot serves up French favorites including Salade Niçoise, cassoulet, and coq au vin, but with unexpected spins (ratatouille with Israeli couscous). The menu also includes an impressive range of tartines, breakfast offerings all day (including a French favorite, chocolate croissants). Blue Dahlia offers a number of vegetarian and gluten-free options. Blue Dahlia plans to open a second location in the Westlake area on Bee Caves Road this year.
Much further east on 5th Street is Justine’s, a sultry brasserie in small house with crimson walls and dark woods. Although waits here can get long (even longer on weekends), use the delay as an excuse to stand close together at the bar or huddle near one of the outdoor heaters while sipping quality handcrafted cocktails like Sazeracs or French 75s. The menu is filled with delicious French dishes ranging from cozy comfort classics like coq au vin to more daring options like a delicious steak tartare (which is delicious). The vibe at Justine’s is definitely young, hip, and bustling.
Just past downtown on North Lamar, Wink offers accessible fine dining with a flair of French craftsmanship. Wink prides itself with using restraint to highlight the natural flavors of the freshest available ingredients. Wink flies in its seafood daily from boat coasts, and constantly changes the menu to accommodate its freshest finds. The same evolving approach applies to the wine offerings at Wink, with an extensive list available that receives constant tinkering, in order to accommodate even small vintners with limited offerings. But although Wink prides itself on not being pretentious, make no mistake–this kitchen offers skills, elegant meals (a recent daily menu included black buck antelope with chard, oyster mushrooms, and port reduction, as well as seared duck breast with date-molasses gastrique). This is a cozy spot for an intimate, sophisticated meal without an intimidating air.
Head further North to the Mesa Drive area for a cozy spot that feels like a European neighborhood bistro. Bistrot Mirabelle is a reinvention of the restaurant formerly known merely as Mirabelle. The remade Mirabelle drips with dim lighting, dark woods, and crimson walls. There is a warmth, care, and comfort to the food, service, and decor that makes it the sort of place you want to make a regular spot (the service was some of the best I’ve had in the city). Standouts at Bistrot Mirabelle were trout meuniere (perfectly cooked and seasoned with restraint) and coq au vin (which was earthy and fall-off-the bone tender). The crème brûlée is also luscious. Check out a detailed post about Bistrot Mirabelle here.
Further afield in Lakeway, Artisan Bistro makes its home. This spot offers standard French fare including beef Bourguignon, pâté, escargot, and cassoulet. However, Artisan Bistro also offers an extensive selection of French pastry/bakery options including tartes, macarons, and profiteroles. Artisan Bistro also includes a wine bar.
Just a hop from Lakeway in the Bee Caves area, Riviera Bistro offers a blast of French cooking to an area that has been fairly chain-heavy in recent years. Riviera Bistro is located at the Hill Country Galleria, and offers fare from Southern France and Northern Italy. The menu is completely gluten free, and the kitchen focuses on using local and organic materials, with a family-style approach and a relaxed atmosphere. Diners at Riviera Bistro can watch the action, thanks to the open-view kitchen. This spot also offers an extensive wine list.
GASTROPUBS WITH FRENCH INFLUENCES
East Side Show Room makes its home on a thriving strip of Sixth Street east of I-35. This eclectic spot serves up handcrafted cocktails in a spot inspired by pre-World War II era European cabarets and music halls. The cocktails are prepared with a nod to historical integrity, using hand-selected liquors and fresh-picked herbs. The menu changes regularly, but features charcuterie, soups, and European sauces with a farm-to-table, whole-animal focus.
Near campus, just off The Drag on Guadalupe is a cozy little gastropub called Hopfield’s, which serves up delectable French fare, along with an impressive selection of beers, wines, and specialty cocktails. The walls are lined with bottles of specialty liquors, vermouth, and bitters, along with glittering glasses and antique vessels. The menu at Hopfield’s includes a number of delicious items for reasonable prices. The Salade Niçoise is exquisite, with a tangy dressing, seared tuna, and sardines for a bite of salt. The burger is amazing, with a perfectly prepared, generous patty, Camembert cheese, stone-ground mustard, and a jar of mayo on the side (add the jalapeños for an extra kick).
Just over the river from downtown, La Boîte serves up French delicacies in the most unexpected of venues–a renovated shipping container. La Boîte is a green-focused bakery, producing croissants, confitures, French-style sandwiches, and beautiful, delicate French macarons.
Out near Lake Travis in the Bee Caves area, Baguette et Chocolat is bringing a taste of France to the western fringes of Austin. This spot is part crêperie, part bakery, with a smattering of patisserie for good measure. The offerings here range from house made breads and croissants to an extensive selection of savory crêpes, sandwiches on artisan breads, and paninis.
For a more casual French experience, Austin also has a number of crêperies, which whip up some outstanding street food combinations with unexpected combinations.
Le Café Crêpe downtown on San Jacinto serves both savory and sweet crêpes, as well as croissants. This spot has a definite Parisian café vibe, and also offers wine, beer, coffee, and ice cream. The Nutella and fruit crêpes are crowd favorites.
Also in downtown near 5th and Congress is a tiny food cart called Crêpe Crazy Food Cart. This cart, which often makes its way to local festivals serves a range of filled crêpes. Some popular offerings to sample include the vegetarian pesto crêpe (with pesto, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, and mozzarella) and the Greek salad crêpe (with chicken, tzatziki, onion, tomato, and feta).
Flip Happy Crêpes is one of the earliest stars of the Austin food trailer scene, and has been a happening spot ever since being featured on the Food Network several years ago. This trailer posts up on Josephine Street in South Austin behind Romeo’s Italian restaurant, and garners big crowds, particularly on weekends. Of the savory offerings, the ham and gruyere gets raves. The dessert crêpes–particularly those with the dark chocolate sauce–keep the crowds coming back.
Another South Austin spot, Crêpes Mille, parks itself on busy South Congress. Crêpes Mille has a huge, eclectic menu. The offerings at this bustling spot include bulgogi, shrimp scampi, pepperoni pizza, and rotisserie chicken crêpes. If sweet flavors are more your thing, check out the “easy crêpe,” with chocolate milk and Oreos.