Austin Restaurant Week is a semi-annual event which serves as a fundraiser for the Sustainable Food Center. It is a great opportunity for diners to enjoy prix fixe menus at participating restaurants while helping to improve community’s access to nutritious food. For this pair of Austin newcomers, it was a chance to try out an Austin classic in French cuisine, Aquarelle in the Warehouse District. Housed in a charming yellow historic cottage complete with vintage decor accents, Aquarelle’s dimly-lit, cozy, and romantic ambiance set the right mood for date night.
The Restaurant Week menu stayed conservative with entree choices between salmon, beef, and pasta. The rabbit terrine option for the first course was the most adventurous dish, so naturally we had to try it. But first, an amuse bouche in true Austin fashion, quinoa.
The flavorful bite exploded in the mouth, almost literally with the slight crunch of the quinoa bursting like tiny bubbles.
Still tasting the refreshing quinoa on our tongues, our first courses of Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Strudel and Rabbit Terrine arrived.
The golden flaky pastry encased perfectly roasted pieces of chicken full of herb flavor and diced zucchini and squash cooked just enough to be flavorful but still maintain a refreshing textural contrast to the soft chicken. Warm buffalo mozzarrella topped a thick slice of tomato, and the spicy arugula gave a lovely edge to this otherwise mild dish.
The rabbit terrine, though on the rough side texturally, had a great mild flavor enhanced by the drizzle of chili oil. The olive puree on the bottom of the terrine, however, overpowered the delicate flavors of the terrine. The same went for the inexplicable streak of whole grain mustard on the plate, which paired neither with the terrine nor the arugula salad and simply overpowered everything. Whether intentional or not, we did find the centered piece of carrot inside the terrine amusing, even if the humor seems a tad cruel.
Next up, entree plates of Beef Tenderloin and Roasted Butternut Squash.
The foie demiglace covered beef tenderloin was cooked to medium perfection, juicy and tender. There was a hint of earthiness (mushrooms?) in the sauce that helped balance the richness of the foie gras. Aside from the perfectly executed tenderloin and sauce, the rest of the plate caused confusion. The chicken liver mousse, when eaten together with the tenderloin, created an unpleasant sharp, minerally contrast with the otherwise luxuriously rich piece of beef. Thin zucchini slices were fried in a thick cornmeal batter that overwhelmed the delicate crunch of the vegetable slices. Perhaps a tempura batter would have been more successful in this application.
Though the various components of the roasted butternut squash entree were individually well executed, the combination of the flavors was not successful. First, when a dish is described on the menu as “Roasted Butternut Squash,” a diner would expect the squash to play a more substantial role on the plate instead of being merely a part of the topping. And while the rosemary cream sauce and al dente fettuccine noodles together created the most divine comfort food, when eaten with the sweeter butternut squash, brought out bitterness in the rosemary and created an unpleasant medicinal after taste. Underneath the butternut squash was sauteed spinach that had a slightly sour flavor which didn’t seem to belong on the plate at all, introducing more flavor confusion to an already muddled plate.
The Mixed Berry Timbale and Chocolate Milkshake desserts were, thankfully, more straightforward in their approach.
The timbale consisted of a custard-like mixed berry filling inside a thick crusted that reminded me of a dense angel food cake. The light chocolate milkshake wasn’t too sweet, but had unexpected small chunks of ice. The accompanying vanilla cookie sandwich filled with dark chocolate was fantastically springy and spongy at the same time.
I left Aquarelle confused. The kitchen is clearly capable of executing some great dishes (and components of those dishes), but is also failing at combining those components into a successful plate. I also felt that the plating was bit rustic for a fine dining restaurant, and at times there were simply things on my plate that didn’t belong (and the dish more enjoyable without them). But having been to restaurant week events in various cities across the country, I know that restaurant week meals are not the best representation of what an establishment is truly about. I sincerely hope that this Restaurant Week experience is an exception, and not the rule, for Aquarelle.
606 Rio Grande
Austin, TX 78707