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What I Ate: September 16, 2009 (HEB, Hudson's on the Bend)

Posted 17 September, 2009 at 1:38am by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Food, What I Ate)

Dinner: For our last Austin Restaurant Week dinner for this week (we haven't planned next week's dinners yet), I selected Hudson's on the Bend (3509 Ranch Road 620 N, Austin, TX‎ - (512) 266-1369‎) which might be Austin's most expensive restaurant. The meal was not as good as we had hoped it to be.

After ordering, our bread arrived in a small cast iron skillet set on a folded cloth towel on a tilted stone slab. It came with two butters - a tomato infused butter and a chive and herb infused butter. The bread was sweet and herbaceous. A combination that did not agree with me or Tina. We're normally bread eaters, but today we had one piece and pushed the bread away. The sweetness of the bread was unappetizing and the flavor of the bread completely overpowered the butters (which, when I tasted by themselves, were quite delicious).
Hudson’s on the Bend - Bread

Hudson’s on the Bend - Butter

Speaking of the butters, they came cold - too cold. The plate was slightly wet with condensation, so it seemed apparent that the butter wasn't plated for us, but prepared beforehand. Normally, I would have no problem with this, except the butter had been whipped and then chilled too much, so it broke and crumbled when I pressed my knife down on it. It was unspreadable. Seems like an amateur mistake for a restaurant that shouldn't be making amateur mistakes. A first of many.
Hudson’s on the Bend - Butter chilled too much

An amuse bouche of wild boar and barbecue chorizo tart, white chocolate tomatillo sauce, and cotilla cheese arrived before our courses. The meat was slightly chewy with a strong barbecue sauce flavor and some smokiness. The pastry was very flaky and I enjoyed it. The sauce was tasty, but I had trouble tasting the white chocolate. Tina had an easier time identifying the white chocolate flakes in her sauce, but I couldn't detect any - instead all I got was the nice acidity of the tomatillo and the cotilla cheese. The problem with this dish was that there was too much of the sauce. There was just one bite of this barbecue sauce flavored pastry, then all this sauce. Why all this sauce? What am I supposed to do with it now?
Hudson’s on the Bend - Amuse Bouche

First Course:
Chipotle lobster bisque with a Parmesan puff pastry crouton They brought out the bowl which contained the puff pastry leaning against two small pieces of lobster. Then the waiter pours the bisque over the few items in the bowl, but he does it from a fairly large metal pitcher, and there's a decent amount of bisque left in the pitcher when he's done. If you're going to do a table-side pour, the vessel from which you pour should be sized to the dish. You should not have left over soup in the container, and certainly not enough that you leave me wondering if that's going to be used for the next guest. Plus, if you're only going to show us two items (the puff pastry and lobster chunks), then it doesn't really make sense to do a table-side pour, does it? Maybe it was to keep the puff pastry from getting soggy, but if that was the case, then it was a failure - it was soggy and chewy. If the table-side pour was so we can admire the ingredients that would otherwise be hidden by the soup, then maybe we should be given a chance to admire it. Anyway, onto the food critique. The soup was pretty good overall, but a tad too sweet. Tina felt the sweetness was overpowering and had to stop after a few bites. I have a higher tolerance for sweet foods, so I didn't have a problem finishing the bisque, however, the sweetness was overpowering the other flavors leaving the lobster taste and the slight spiciness of chipotle chiles as subtle background. The puff pastry lent a little Parmesan flavor, but overall it was a throw away.
Hudson’s on the Bend - Chipotle Lobster Bisque

Smoked Duck Diablos - duck breast, jicama, jalapeno, figs in balsamic - all wrapped in apple wood bacon with a red chili glaze dipping sauce This was the biggest failure of the night. The bacon was chewy and overpowering. It took over the whole appetizer - no other flavor could be tasted beyond the bacon. I could also argue that the bacon was overcooked to the point of toughness. The only other ingredient that I could detect was the jicama due to the texture and the slight sweetness. I could see the jalapeno and the fig when I bit into the bacon roll, but could not taste it. Worst - there was no duck to be tasted. It might have been in there, but I certainly could not taste any, so why bother having it there at all? Duck should not have been the main ingredient highlighted by the menu - instead it should have been called Nearly Burnt Bacon Wrapped Around A Whole Bunch Of Stuff You Can't Taste Anyway. I love my bacon, and I especially like applewood smoked bacon. But, balance is important in food, and this dish was clearly out of balance.
Hudson’s on the Bend - Smoked Duck Diablos

Pecan grilled venison with chipotle beer blanc served with green chili mashed potatoes and a medley of summer vegetables We had asked for the venison to be cooked medium-rare and it came to us rare to blue rare. Not a problem, since we like our meats on the rarer side, but surprising that they couldn't hit the right temperature. The venison was tender but almost flavorless. Lucky for me, the waiter had poured some sauce (the chipotle beer blanc - a beurre blanc made with Shiner Bock beer) onto the venison at the table. I'm not sure why the sauce wasn't on the plate to begin with, but I guess the restaurant feels like having the waiter pour things on your plate is a mark of fine dining. Unfortunately, they didn't train the wait staff to be unobtrusive or knowledgeable about their dishes (when asked what was in certain dishes or how it was prepared - our waiter was clueless beyond what was written on the menu - he was willing to find out for us, but that's hardly a reason to celebrate). Even with the sauce, the venison was rather bland. A good sprinkling of salt would have helped. Maybe they should have salted the outside of the tiny roast instead of trying to do something with pecans so they could call it pecan grilled (I'm still not sure I tasted pecans and I don't know what they meant by "pecan grilled"). The best part of this dish was the mashed potatoes. The "medley of summer vegetables" was lightly cooked and underseasoned. The chive butter that I didn't use on the bread went well on the vegetables.
Hudson’s on the Bend - Pecan Grilled Venison

Snapper in a pecan crust with a lemon herb beurre blanc served in corn bread pudding and a medley of summer vegetables The pecan crust was very good. Perhaps, too good. It overpowered the fish (which was overcooked and dry, lacking all juiciness), so all we could taste was the salty, pecan crust. The worst part of all was the lemon herb beurre blanc which, of course, the waiter poured over the already overseasoned fish at the table. The beurre blanc was quite flavorful (much more than the sauce for the venison), but the fish was completely lost between the salty pecan crust and the strong sauce. Losing the main ingredient is a mistake (as is underseasoning and overseasoning) which a restaurant in the supposed caliber that Hudson's on the Bend is in should not be making. The corn bread pudding was tasty, but also quite salty when paired with the pecan crust. The "medley of summer vegetables" was the same as the ones on the venison plate.
Hudson’s on the Bend - Snapper in a pecan crust

Try as I might, I just couldn't find an angle to make this dish look pretty. (Speaking of ugly, there was a table next to us and I think someone got the Shiner Bock marinated rib eye and it really looked like a cow pie from where we sat.)
Hudson’s on the Bend - Snapper in a pecan crust

Warm spring berry flambé atop homemade vanilla bean ice cream When this dessert arrived, it was simply a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a martini glass. Then the waiter poured the warm blueberry and raspberry syrup onto the ice cream. I understand the need for the waiter to pour the liquid on at the last minute, since one is warm and the other cold and meltable. But four out of six dishes need the waiter to pour stuff at the table? That's like that friend of a friend we all have who thinks pronouncing everything with a faux French accent makes everything he says sound sophisticated and chic. I'm going to set a new rule, right here, right now. If 20%-33% of a tasting menu involves table-side pouring, that is acceptable (that's one pour in a 3-5 course meal or two pours in a 6-8 course). Any more and it's just ridiculous and you're trying too hard. There is an exception to the rule: If your food tastes amazing, you can present it any way you want. This dessert started off okay except for the fact that every time I tried to scoop some ice cream it would spin in the syrup due to the way the glass was shaped. Stabbing the ice cream ball in the middle was the only way to get any ice cream until the whole thing was softened and mostly melted. At that point, the syrup became super sweet and finishing the dessert pretty much shut down my appetite for the rest of the evening even though I wasn't even close to being content. Luckily, I had the other dessert before I finished off this one.
Hudson’s on the Bend - Warm Spring Berry Flambe atop Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

Brownie sundae with chocolate hazelnut crunch ice cream and hot fudge sauce Also served in a martini glass, this was ill-suited for the vessel. The brownie, covered in the ice cream, was almost rock hard - so cutting through it with a spoon required one hand bracing the glass so it wouldn't tip over as more and more pressure was needed to break off a piece of the brownie. The hot fudge was very strong dark chocolate (it turned out it was made with cocoa powder and not chocolate - the lack of cocoa butter really hurt the flavor of the fudge leaving it tasting like all roasted cocoa and without a richness or well roundedness) and didn't match well with the much milder chocolate ice cream. Whole hazelnuts added a nice texture, but I think I would have preferred them smaller than whole. At least nothing was poured onto this dessert at the table.
Hudson’s on the Bend - Brownie Sundae

The restaurant is a bit odd in that the theme is sort of southwestern country home - wood paneling, paintings of cows, stuffed crows staring at us from a dead tree next to a fireplace filled with candles instead of wood - and yet everything about the place is really pretentious - extremely oversized menus, tasting menus that cost more than most Michelin 2-star restaurants in San Francisco, a waiter that brings you a straw on a cloth napkin (as if he didn't touch the straw to put it on the napkin in the first place). The service wasn't even that great - a good waiter should be able to pick up on the fact that something isn't going well with the dinner (and maybe ours did), but he certainly shouldn't be asking questions like "did you decide on a favorite" forcing Tina to say "not yet!" in order to keep me from saying "both displease us". He pretty much asked how much we liked everything for everything he served. It's very annoying, especially if the food isn't up to the level that we expect.
Hudson’s on the Bend - Crows

There are a bunch of little things that annoyed me about the meal - and I am holding them to a higher standing because of the prices they normally charge (of course, due to Austin Restaurant Week, the price was capped at $35 per person for the three course prix fixe menu) they should be executing and running the restaurant at those levels. When your seven course (including dessert and cheese) tasting menu costs $140 without wine, you better be providing a service that is equivalent to what you are charging. Ice tea comes in a tall glass with ice cubes made of ice tea (a nice touch), but drinking from the glass is difficult because the ice cubes get in the way. Using a straw doesn't work since the glass is taller than the straws they have. The whipped butter (as previously mentioned) came out cold, hard, and crumbly. Things like this just make me think that the restaurant isn't really thinking about what works best for each and every item they serve from beginning to end. That's essential in a fine dining establishment. Main ingredients were masked by minor ingredients, plates/glasses chosen for certain dishes worked poorly, half the menu items involved the waiter pouring stuff onto my plate or bowl (as if they went to a fancy restaurant and saw it done once with a soup dish and decided it was a good idea to do it for every course), and much of the food just didn't look appetizing. On top of all these little issues, the food wasn't that good. Hudson's on the Bend needs to go back to fundamentals and start preparing exceptional food in order to justify their price and reputation.

Lunch: We had to run several errands in the morning, and we found ourselves near HEB while heading home. We dropped in to grab some supplies and to get a bite to eat. I opted for the fried catfish with okra and corn. It was not good. I will not be doing that again.
HEB - Fried catfish, okra, corn

3 comments to What I Ate: September 16, 2009 (HEB, Hudson's on the Bend)

Rachel @ boots in the oven, September 17th, 2009 at 8:15 am:

  • My god, that Hudson's meal looks like they took a page out of cheesy hotel fine dining in somewhere like Wichita! In 1997! I'd heard the place was good, but you've convinced me otherwise. The constant tableside pouring looks hilarious - I 'd have trouble not laughing.

Michael Chu, September 17th, 2009 at 5:44 pm:

  • Just read that Mike Sutter from the Austin American-Statesman had a worse dinner at Hudson's on the Bend than I did. He didn't get his dessert before he had to go and this rib eye steak was so tough he couldn't eat it. Worse, he wasn't able to flag down his waiter until it was time to leave so the steak wasn't corrected. It's a GIANT fail when a diner leaves a restaurant hungry.

Aaron @ AustinEpicurean.com, September 17th, 2009 at 6:11 pm:

  • Wow, I am amazed that you had such a negative experience at Hudson's. We have had most to the dishes you mention (at one time or another) but have never had the same issues you seem to have had. Usually, the butter for the bread is soft, the lobster bisque is incredible (although I agree it is a bit lacking in lobster meat)and overall we have had numerous wonderful dinners there.

    I have to say I am disappointed. I always have such high expectations for Hudson's (which have always been met). I would suggest you give them a second try, but forward them your review first. :)