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What I Ate: April 25, 2009 (Zoot)

Posted 25 April, 2009 at 11:42pm by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Food, What I Ate)

Dinner: We spent the afternoon house hunting - ending in the area near Bee Cave, Texas. Knowing that we were going to be in that area, I had made reservations at a restaurant I wanted to try called Zoot (11715 Bee Caves Rd., Austin, TX‎ - (512) 477-6535‎). Zoot has been around for years (since 1991) but just recently closed their Austin location and moved out to Bee Caves (opening at the beginning of last month, March 2009). They're focused on the taste of their food (as opposed to trying fancy things, gimmicks, or exotic tricks) and to that end they select the best season ingredients for their dishes (many from local producers and growers). To say their food is flavorful is like saying a box of Crayola crayons is colorful. The quality of cuisine that we experienced exceeds practically every restaurant at this price range ($60-65 per person without wine) that we've tried in recent years (Ad Hoc in Yountville may be the only exception).

Zoot is located in La Hacienda shopping center in Bee Cave. We expected a stand alone building for this restaurant, but were surprised that it wasn't. There seemed to be a shortage of parking, but it just might have been that I didn't know where to look. There is a small rustic outdoor seating area that we passed on the way into the restaurant.
Zoot - Outdoor

The inside of the restaurant is mostly modern in decor. The room in which we were seated had tan walls and several works of modern art (in our case square tiles of varying shades of gray and square white tiles with various splatters of gray) on the wall. I personally felt that if the walls were a lighter shade (or even pure white) the art would work a little better. With the color they chose, I almost felt like the restaurant would be decorated in a more "old world" motif. The ceilings could have used some updating as could some of the lighting fixtures (which I thought would have been modern in the late seventies - the style, not the lamps which were clearly new). The other thing that we noticed as the meal progressed through the night (it took about three hours to work our way through the courses) was the bright lighting which helped my photography but seemed a little out of place. All in all though, the restaurant felt comfortable and little more casual than other fine dining establishments - which was great since we weren't dressed up due to our afternoon's activities.
Zoot - Interior

We spoke with our waitress at length about the food and what we wanted to experience (trying to bend the rules of the Tasting Menu as much as possible). We ended up revising the Tasting Menu in such a way that instead of the five course menu (including dessert) we ended up with a seven course menu (including one dessert). That way we could try more of their dishes and still have both of us eating the same tasting menu (a requirement at Zoot). The service at Zoot is very friendly, and it's easy to find yourself relaxing here. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be too knowledgeable about how the food is prepared and where the ingredients are sourced from. As a foodie, this is a fairly important aspect to my dining experience (but, for me, not as important as the taste) so it was disappointing to not know what breed of swine the pork loin was prepared from or what chocolate was used in our dessert. The staff did know what the food tasted like and could describe that quite well, so if you're in doubt, ask for recommendations - they know what they are talking about.

After we placed our overly complicated order, an amuse bouche of greek yogurt, strawberry, carrot, snow pea, and pickled radish was presented to us. We scooped it into our mouths and then were pleasantly surprised by the interplay of texture (crunchy, chewy, soft, and creamy) as well as the blend of flavors (a barely distinguishable tartness against a backdrop of vegetable and fruity sweetness). I raised an eyebrow, looked up at my wife, and said, "I like this" (which she, correctly, took to mean the not just the amuse but the promising start to the meal).
Zoot - Amuse Bouche (greek yogurt, strawberry, carrot, snow pea, and pickled radish)

Our first course was the Seared scallops with sunchoke puree, hazel nuts, English peas and key lime gastrique ($14 for two; all pictures show only one of the two servings we received for each course). The scallops were perfectly seared with the interior flesh still moist and tender but the exterior cooked just enough for texture and to boost the scallop flavor. The addition of the crunchy hazel nuts and English peas served as a great counterpoint to the smoothness of the scallop. The only thing I would have changed was perhaps more sunchoke - but that's because I've been on a sunchoke kick lately. We sopped up every last bit of the dish with our bread. (We did this for every dish we had, so I'm not going to repeat it - we finished every last bit of every course.)
Zoot - Seared scallops with sunchoke puree, hazel nuts, English peas and key lime gastrique

Shrimp and littleneck clams in saffron broth with tomato, basil and crème fraiche ($12). The shrimps we received were huge (and, unlike many large shrimps we've been served in other restaurants, they were not overcooked and underflavored). The briny broth the shrimp was served in worked really well to round out the natural sweetness of the shrimp. The clams were pleasantly chewy with the unmistakable taste of fresh clams (that's what they were and that's what they tasted like). Clearly, the Zoot's chef chooses his ingredients with care because there's not really a way to fake fresh, flavorful shellfish. Tina loved the use of basil in the broth. We both enjoyed it so much we finished off all the broth even though it was on the salty side.
Zoot - Shrimp and littleneck clams in saffron broth with tomato, basil and creme fraiche

Parsnip and carrot soup with sunflower seeds ($7). This was a great soup - slightly sweet, salty, and creamy without feeling heavy. The texture was wonderful - smooth with some graininess (as if you took mashed potatoes and made it more liquid). Again, we made sure we got every last drop (this time without using the bread since we were suspecting there was a lot more food to come - the servings were decent sized and there were a few more courses to go).
Zoot - Parsnip and carrot soup with sunflower seeds

Spring greens with pickled apricot, crispy pork croutons and preserved lemon vinaigrette ($8). This salad course was dressed with a vinaigrette that we thought was both a little too salty and a little strong for the mild greens. The unidentified spring greens were meaty (a texture we enjoy in salad leaves) and although they were mild still carried a decent level of flavor. The pork "croutons" were thin slices of fried pig ears which is even more tasty than the fried pork belly I was expecting. Eating all together - the greens, pork cracklins, dressing, and sweet apricot - the salad was so flavorful that we intellectually noted the overly strong salad dressing and pushed that thought away to just enjoy the rest of the salad down to the last bit.
Zoot - Spring greens with pickled apricot, crispy pork croutons and preserved lemon vinaigrette

Roasted Kona snapper with wild mushroom and spinach risotto, beurre blanc, capers and pine nuts ($28). The first of our two mains was this perfectly cooked snapper. We really appreciate it when a restaurant doesn't overcook their fish, and Zoot didn't let us down (cooking the scallops, shrimp, and snapper to perfection). As many of you know, I'm picky enough that I've refused to eat poorly prepared fish at Michelin rated restaurants (most recently at The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton). So, it's not a passing comment when I lavish praise on Zoot for cooking their fish so well. The snapper worked really well with the beurre blanc and capers which worked like a deconstructed tartar sauce (maintaining the classiness of the dining experience while providing me with the comforting flavors that I crave so much). The risotto was also perfectly cooked with just the right amount of flavor and the perfect texture - unfortunately, an overly zealous amount of capers on my plate forced me to eat several with the risotto which reduced my overall enjoyment of it. When I complained to Tina, she said, "Why did you eat the capers then?" and I quizzically cocked my head and replied, "They put it on my plate…" Over the course of the meal, I had come to trust the chef and cooks to the point where if it's on my plate, I'm going to eat it without question. That's the mark of a special restaurant. (We already knew Zoot was special by this point - after the soup course we already began to plan the next time we'd come and dine and how lucky we were to find a restaurant we enjoyed so much in less than a week after moving to Austin.)
Zoot - Roasted Kona snapper with wild mushroom and spinach risotto, beurre blanc, capers and pine nuts

Rack of lamb with purple potato gratin, rapini and white bean sauce ($34). This last course was my least favorite even though it was decently (but not exceptionally) executed. The lamb was a little underflavored (good amount of gaminess, but not enough salt or other seasonings) and a bit dry. I would have preferred more saltiness and juiciness. The broccoli rabe (one of my favorite vegetables) was a little too salty (so eating it with the lamb sort of balanced out). Having eaten so much food (don't forget I sopped up a couple of the earlier courses with bread and ate a roll with ample amounts of whipped butter) at this point, I was on the verge of a food coma after eating the heavy lamb dish. I was drowsy and stuffed - certainly content and pleased with the dinner, but unable to think clearly. (Drunk on food might be a good description.)
Zoot - Rack of lamb with purple potato gratin, rapini and white bean sauce

When our server returned to present the dessert options, we had to agree to the Chocolate hazelnut tart with crème fraiche ($8). The dark chocolate filling was rich and had a note of acidity. I was pretty certain it was a high quality dark chocolate and was wondering if it was Madagascan (having detected some flavors that I thought were dominant in chocolates fermented and roasted in Madagascar). Unfortunately, this information was not available since the pastry chef was "elusive and only in the restaurant when no one else is around". Now, I'll never know if I had honed my chocolate palate to the point of being able to recognize (at least one) place of origin. The creme fraiche was salted and could have worked to heighten the flavor of the chocolate tart, but I didn't think it pulled it off. It didn't matter, the dessert was excellent without it.
Zoot - Chocolate hazelnut tart with creme fraiche

With this meal, Zoot has joined the short list (which includes Uchi) of restaurants in the Austin area I'd take any opportunity and make any excuse to dine at again.

Lunch: After a morning spent slaughtering fire ants (or at least I hope that's what I accomplished), I heated up some left over potatoes and a crepe, and cooked an egg.
Eggs and Potatoes

I also ate a small bowl of watermelon.

3 comments to What I Ate: April 25, 2009 (Zoot)

Nate, April 26th, 2009 at 3:23 pm:

  • Nice to see food of that quality being served there. Although the chocolate tart appears to be sliding off the crust. Wonder if that was intentional.

Michael Chu, April 26th, 2009 at 8:19 pm:

  • I don't think that was intentional… it was too bad that happened. After the photo, I tried to see if I could slide it back, but it wouldn't budge - it was probably stuck like that for quite some time.

What I Ate: February 12, 2010 (Zoot) | Orthogonal Thought, February 13th, 2010 at 1:10 am:

  • […] (11715 Bee Caves Road, Bee Cave, TX‎ - (512) 477-6535‎). The last time we were at Zoot, we had an excellent dinner, but that was back in April 2009 (about a month after they opened in their new location in Bee […]