Austin Restaurant Week review: Fabi and Rosi

 
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 09.26.11
 
I’m not proud of my first write-up of Fabi and Rosi, the European style bistro started in 2009 by German-born chef Wolfgang Murber and his American wife, Cassie Williamson. My experience then was shaped primarily by bad service and a failing air conditioner, and I obsessed on that rather than escargot and schnitzel and roasted lamb dishes executed with good flavor, great care and solid value. The waiter treated my family like hell, and I was pissed and I didn’t have the wisdom to deal with it. At the very least, I should have taken a few deep breaths, made another visit and asked for a different waiter.
 
I say that because two years later, during Austin Restaurant Week no less, I had one of the best restaurant experiences since I started doing this professionally. To back up, there have been some dodgy Restaurant Week dinners, and I subscribe in large part to what one of my chef sources once told me: “Nobody has a good week during Restaurant Week.” Extra volume, more dishes, lower average checks, bargain-hunting clients who weigh value against gross weight. For an event designed to draw attention and new business, it’s almost too successful for its own good. This is the first of three ARW visits I’ve planned around town for the event’s first four-day stretch.
 
If there’s a better deal and better food at $25 for three courses than Fabi and Rosi executed Sunday night, we’re all in for a good time trying to find it. All by itself, a dish of lamb’s liver with fried shallots and apple puree suggested what lay ahead. I’m accustomed to liver in charcuterie presentations by now, and Murber’s been working charcuterie into his European snout-to-tail repertoire since he opened the restaurant. But this was the liver itself, neatly trimmed meat from Loncito’s Ranch sauteed with a brown sauce that teased flavors of the fall with cinnamon and spice. There’s a reason I don’t eat more liver; it’s usually like gnawing on re-bar, a big dose of fortified iron. This was tender, delicate, a perfect protein top-note to a layered dish, layered all the way down to a base of applesauce as dense as polenta.
 
To counter the liver’s opening gravitas, the table’s other three-course opener was a neat disc of grilled tomato, red pepper and chevre, a circle defined by thin slices of grilled zucchini with a freeway overpass of grilled rye bread. Just as the liver showed how Murber’s kitchen can dish the big flavors, the terrine showed a lighter touch, just as well conceived, with the vegetables and goat cheese finishing each other’s sentences.
 
We relied on Stella Artois lager ($4) to work with the richness of the liver and a glass of fruit-forward Cotes du Roussillon ($8) to complement the short rib to come. That dish — a short-rib sauerbraten with red cabbage and housemade spaetzle —had been trimmed of the fat that characterizes bigger and more leaden expressions of the dish. The result was something like a hybrid of roast and steak, with all the sinewy grain of short rib and the compact density of a strip. Resting on concentric circles of grained pasta and lightly cooked red cabbage, the dish was a chef’s notion of a humbler meat-and-two, with all humility pushed aside.
 
When a dish of ravioli came, we wondered at first where the rest of it was, because it was sized more like an appetizer. But here’s where that wisdom I talked about kicks in. You cannot judge the quality of a dish by its size. If that’s your only criterion, I can recommend a hundred places to fill you up. But you’ll miss the way a few thin slices of truffle can fire your taste synapses and force your eyes shut. This is the best way to appreciate truffles, against a background of handmade pasta in a buttery velouté, a sauce that draws its name from the French adjective meaning “velvety.” In that rich embrace, the earthen twang of the truffle comes through with eloquence rather than the cacophony you get from truffle oil. In that context, eight or so small ravioli are as expansive as a buffet.
 
By the dessert course, Fabi and Rosi felt like a celebration, with all that good food and a waitress with her roots somewhere in the Kingdom. There was bittersweet Belgian chocolate mousse with sails of chocolate ready to curl with the lightest touch. Or crack pie, a mixture of white and brown sugars and oats, like a confectioner’s cookie bar.
 
We toasted with Italian prosecco at $6 a glass, toasting the clear-eyed rediscovery of a restaurant that held charm and potential before, one that’s ready to transcend even the metrics of Restaurant Week to create a new surge of excitement.
 
Fabi and Rosi
509 Hearn St. 236-0642, www.fabiandrosi.com. Open for dinner at 5 p.m.
► Austin Restaurant Week pricing: $25 for a three-course dinner. Restaurant Week runs from Sept. 25-28 then again Oct. 2-5, with more than 50 places offering three-course dinners for $25-$35, with some ARW sites also doing lunch or brunch for $10-$15. Full list at www.restaurantweekaustin.com.
 
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)