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What I Ate: March 10, 2010 (Driskill Grill)

Posted 10 March, 2010 at 11:30pm by Michael Chu
(Filed under: Food, What I Ate)

Lunch: Tina made crab salad sandwiches for lunch.
Crab Salad Sandwich

Dinner: We revisited The Driskill Grill (604 Brazos St, Austin, TX‎ - (512) 391-7162) tonight and boy has it changed since our last visit (when they were excellent). The meal started with our waiter, Jonathan, explaining the revamp of Driskill's menu. Apparently, they had evolved past the trendy tasting menu to let their evolved patrons take the evolutionary step of creating their own tasting menu. (Personally, I enjoy tasting menus that the Chef has put together - a good tasting menu will take my taste buds on a journey from light to heavy, acidic to creamy, sweet to savory and back to sweet… all the while getting a sense for what the Chef is culinarily interested in showing me.) Anyway, they believe this style of menu will allow visitors, who may not have the chance come back to taste something different, to order smaller versions of their entrees so more can be ordered (at prices around $20 each instead of $30). In addition, Jonathan explained, The Driskill has usually had customers that visit once or twice a year, but he hopes the menu will inspire customers to once or month or more. (Those two statements - "visitors won't have to repeat to taste the food" and "customers will come back more often" - seem to be almost opposing to me.) In any case, it all sounded like they hired a marketing consultant and then decided to say or do whatever the consultant told them to do. Problem is, the food has to be good enough for people to want to come and create their own tasting menu, and that is no longer the case.

Okay, now onto the food. We started with an amuse bouche of cured duck, microgreens, and apple-berry relish (at least that's what the woman who brought our food told us). It was kind of tacky - served on a plastic Asian spoon on a tea cup saucer. They do make porcelain spoons (that's what the Chinese did before plastic) and they do make appetizer plates… Anyway, it tasted like a chewy piece of meat (like a lightly smoked ham) on sweet apple sauce (or "grainy apricot jam" as Tina called it). I had a single microgreen, so the flavor was kind of lost.
The Driskill Grill - Amuse Bouche

Here's Tina's amuse - she was missing 1/3 of the ingredients - no microgreens at all.
The Driskill Grill - Amuse Bouche missing microgreen

Medjool Dates Bacon-Wrapped, Manchego Cheese, smoked Spanish Chorizo, Spicy Red Bell Pepper. It's just bacon wrapped around a date. At least you can taste both bacon AND date - but where was the manchego and the chorizo? If it was there, it was completely lost to both of us. The dish would have been better if the sauce was heavier or the microgreens more flavorful (perhaps spicy or herbaceous).
The Driskill Grill - Medjool Dates

Sous Vide Orangic Egg Frisée Salad, House Pancetta, Shaved Fennel, Pecorino, Texas Grapefruit Vinaigrette. This was one ugly presentation. On one side is a chewy and cold pancetta. On the other side is a pale nest of shaved fennel and frisee with a farm egg on it. The sous vide (which was pronounced "SUE VEE-DAY" by the woman who presented the dish) farm egg was fine - I'd estimate 62-63°C. The salad dressing was rather mild making the entire salad pretty bland.
The Driskill Grill - Sous Vide Orangic Egg
The Driskill Grill - Sous Vide Orangic Egg in Frisee
The Driskill Grill - House Pancetta

Lobster Risotto with Signature "Lobster Cappuccino". The rice wasn't chewy enough (I like risotto with a little chew) but the lobster meat in the risotto was overcooked resulting in a rubbery texture. There wasn't any complexity to the risotto and after a few bites neither of us wanted to eat more. I finished it since I need to eat to stay alive (what a thought when eating fine dining). The lobster bisque was quite good, but so hot that it mildly burned Tina's tongue. It would have been nice to be warned. I would have preferred it if it was served in a bowl and I could eat it with a spoon. The caviar was pretty decent and had a clean taste…
The Driskill Grill - Lobster Risotto with Signature

At this point I noticed my fork was either stained or burned. Classy.
The Driskill Grill - Stained Fork

Main courses are served funny now. Both of ours were served as if it was two smaller servings on one plate. We thought they did this because they knew we would share, but they said that's how it's presented. I think it's odd since after finishing one pile (a reasonable quantity for most fine dining dishes), you might feel piggish if you decided to eat the other pile.

Fennel Seared Tasmanian Salmon Roasted Garlic Polenta, Kale, Wild Mushrooms, Chive Butter. The salmon was not overcooked, so that was good. I couldn't taste any fennel and overall it was bland unless the chive butter had covered it. Unfortunately, the one thing making it tasty was also too rich - everything was drenched in this butter. I did enjoy the grits/polenta and hedgehog mushrooms. What I wasn't sure about were the radishes. They were thinly sliced and served cold, but didn't seem to fit with the grits, salmon, mushrooms, and kale.
The Driskill Grill - Fennel Seared Tasmanian Salmon

Apple Braised Kurobuta Pork Belly Blue Cheese Barley "Risotto", Cider Braised Swiss Chard, Bordelaise. When I swapped plates with Tina after eating part of the salmon, I had a bite of one of her pork belly pieces. It was tough and chewy - almost to the point of jerky. I had to work at the stringy and seemingly unseasoned bite for a while. Tina said the other piece was fattier, so I moved on to that piece. It was mushy and mealy. I suspect the pork belly was overbraised resulting in the undesirable texture. It was also either not seasoned with salt or underseasoned. The barley was also very mild (not much blue cheese flavor) which might be good since the pork wasn't strong enough to counter anything with strong flavors. The chard was the best part of this dish. After my second or third bite of the pork belly, I actually became a little nauseous and passed the plate back to Tina. She commented that she felt the same way and we left the plate unfinished.
The Driskill Grill - Apple Braised Kurobuta Pork Belly

Ricotta-Sage Brûlée Toasted Walnut Crust. The woman who brought us this dish (same one that presented the pork belly as "boar" and the sous vide egg as "SUE-VEE-DAY egg") introduced it as a creme brulee - which it did not look like it was. When I inquired for more information, she went back to the kitchen and said it was a creme brulee but made with ricotta and sage instead of the traditional components. I was pretty confused at this point and after my first bite I thought it was the worst creme brulee ever - the texture was completely wrong. Then I realized what it was: a small grainy cheesecake brulee. It was a bit over salted. Typically salt is added to enhance the sweetness and flavors of the dessert, but in this case it was so assertive, that Tina commented it was more savory than the pork belly.
The Driskill Grill - Ricotta-Sage Brulee

Frozen Banana Soufflé Glace Valrhona Wafer, Chocolate Sauce. The banana souffle glace was actually quite good. It had a gentle banana flavor that we really enjoyed. The presentation could have been improved since it was a little disturbing to us to see a little chocolate turd on the other side of the plate.
The Driskill Grill - Frozen Banana Souffle

I think I'm done at this point - The Driskill's decline has happened rapidly since our last visit, and I sincerely hope that they figure things out. Austin doesn't have many historic fine dining establishments like The Driskill Grill and it would be nice if they returned to food quality that is worthy of the fine dining label.

5 comments to What I Ate: March 10, 2010 (Driskill Grill)

Nate @ House of Annie, March 11th, 2010 at 12:28 am:

  • Save for the amusing amuse, it looks like they were more focused on presentation rather than flavor. I wonder how many of the ingredients were local.

Stephen, March 11th, 2010 at 5:08 am:

  • I lived in Austin in the '80s and have travelled their quite frequently for business and, to me, the Driskill Grill goes through so many cycles from good to bad, that I stopped going there. I think you hit it on the head that they talked to a marketing consultant. The chocolate turd comment made me laugh out loud since that would be what I thought too.

Adz, March 11th, 2010 at 1:08 pm:

  • While the Driskill is a beautiful hotel, their dining experiences leave much to be desired. Last year I took some friends to 'high English tea' at Christmastime — they had no black tea on the menu and getting milk for my tea was a real chore.

    Love your review — and you are spot on about the marketing consultant!

mattie, March 13th, 2010 at 11:19 am:

  • We had a wonderful experience at the Drikill Grill, Chef Gelman and his team are have continued to elevate the food and their new concept is awesome. The Driskill is the place to go . What awesome food and for an unreal price. Chef Jonathan Gelman is one of the best in town, some of your comment above are a real joke. Keep it to yourself.

Stephen, March 13th, 2010 at 5:44 pm:

  • I really don't understand the statement "keep it to yourself." People are entitled to their opinions and its not like this blog is making anyone read this. I think it's ok for people to have different opinions of that food of the night, their overall experience and their thoughts of what was done well and what wasn't. The statement, "keep it to yourself" borders on a personal attack.