Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spring 2011 Austin Restaurant Week: Aquarelle


I always lamented how Austin lacks French restaurants.  We have an abundance of inventive establishments that have successfully woven together a variety of culinary traditions, but sometimes, I get a hankering for authentic cuisines.  Ever since I left Paris, I haven't had another experience comparable to L'Os à Moelle's amazing prix-fixe dinner in the U.S. 

My first visit to Aquarelle last Friday brought back a hint of that French magic, the bright colors and palatte of the dishes leading up to the main course, the uncomplicated taste of a piece of well cooked meat against the backdrop of an exquisitely balanced sauce, and the dainty portion of subtley sweet dessert to bring the dining experience to a comfortable close.  However, the main thing that prevents Aquarelle from capturing more than just a hint of that French magic is the sometimes heavy-handed use of salt and the over-cooking of some minor ingredients.

Austin Restaurant Week Menu

Aquarelle really made it convenient for restaurant-goers by offering their Austin Restaurant Week menu on Thursday and Friday evenings in addition to the regular ARW days.


I love the quiet, cozy yet elegant atmosphere at Aquarelle. It's a slightly sterilized take on French hospitality, but it still manages to be one of the most charming and inviting dining rooms in Austin.

Chilled Asparagus Mousse with Baked Prosciutto

Dinner started with an amuse bouche of chilled asparagus "mousse" with a piece of prosciutto that was baked to a crisp. I was actually a bit worried about cracking a tooth on the prosciutto after producing a hollow wood sound when I knocked my spoon against it. I soaked the prosciutto in the asparagus mousse for a few seconds in an attempt to soften it. That didn't help, but at least it didn't break my teeth when I decided to chomp on it. Although the amuse bouche was light and delicious, the contrast between liquid and solid was a bit much.

Crusty French Roll

The French roll also prompted teeth concerns.  Similar to the prosciutto, the roll made a hollow-sounding thud on the plate.  It certainly didn't quell my toothy fears when the roll felt like a baseball in my hands.  Fortunately, the roll was just a slightly crustier version of the baguette, but it didn't wow me.

Pork Ravioli with apple compote, grilled Swiss chard, almond brown butter

I picked pork ravioli for the first course.  The ravioli itself was cooked just right and it was a very tasty version of the common pork and apple complement.  However, the almond brown butter was overly salty.  It killed the sweetness of the pork and apple.  I usually scoop up all the sauce from a dish, but I found myself deliberately pulling the raviolis away from the puddles of butter on the plate.

Lump Crab Salad with zucchini, ginger and leek vichyssoise

My dining companions' lump crab salad, which was presented in a shallow pool of leek vichyssoise, turned out to be the lighter and more balanced dish, but it was still slightly too salty.

Filet of Red Snapper with chickpeas, tomato confit, kale, and garlic butter

I was super happy that a party of three meant being able to try out all three main course and dessert dishes offered on the restaurant week menu.  I was especially happy when I found out that the main course was the turning point of dinner, and the food started to impress.  I ordered the red snapper, which was perfectly cooked with a crunchy skin.  The garlic butter this time wasn't overwhelming like the almond brown butter on the ravioli.  The tomato confit under the snapper gave the fish a delightful sweetness instead of the expected tartness of tomatoes.

Filet of Flounder with orange orzo, spicy pickled cucumbers, watercress salad, and orange beurre blanc

The winner for me that evening, was the flounder.  The texture of the fish was buttery and tender.  The orange beurre blanc was perfectly light and sweet.  I haven't had a fish this good outside of Uchi and Uchiko in Austin.  The spicy pickles were a bit random.  I didn't quite understand how it contributed to the overall dish.
Beef Tenderloin in Cinnamon Demiglaze with farro, sundried cherries and marscapone, wilted spinach, and parsnip curls

The beef tenderloin was a close second to the flounder.  It was beautifully pink, moist, and tender.  The cinnamon demiglaze was not overpowering.  The focus of this dish was really about the high quality beef.

Lemon Fromage Blanc Tart with raspberries and lemon cream

The desserts were all not too sweet, which is perfect.  I thought that the lemon fromage blanc was going to be like a cheesecake, but it turned out more like a cake in a tart crust. Regardless, it was a very tasty treat.

Profiteroles with rum raisin and chocolate sauce

The rum raisin cream in the profiterole was sublime, but the puff was a bit too tough and chewy.

Nocello Crème Brulee with candied walnuts

The creme brulee was the simplest but the best dessert of the evening.  It was creamy, smooth, nutty, and not eggy.

Overall, Aquarelle has a lot of potential to be a great French restaurant.  It just needs to make each dish consistent, season the ingredients delicately, and watch out for over-cooking.

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