Fed Man 55: Green Pastures (46)

Mike Sutter’s Top 55 Austin Restaurants
No. 46: Green Pastures
811 W. Live Oak St. 512-444-4747, www.greenpasturesrestaurant.com.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 09.07.12
UPDATE: Green Pastures has closed
With a Southern timeline stretching out like a plantation house lawn, Green Pastures seems like it should be haunted, visited by the ghosts of ladies who played the responsible matriarch all week but drank their fill of bourbon milk punch for Sunday brunch just like they do now. Those ghosts paint a portrait of Green Pastures in an unflatteringly limited frame as the place adult children take their even-more-adult parents.
There are two reasons for that, and one of them is that even the roasted chicken dish that provides safe haven for the unadventurous eater costs almost $35. The other is the dust-ruffled formality of a restaurant folded into an antique Victorian mansion, where service is a captain-headwaiter-attendant tag team and the sound is muffled by draperies, upholstered divans, carpeted staircases and proper table linens. Its quiet sitting rooms and whispery four-table coves suggest a lull between the wedding tempests that blow through the house often enough that the manager suggested calling ahead — especially during the summer wedding season — to make sure the restaurant hasn’t been fully booked for matrimony on any given night.
Even so, I included Green Pastures in my reconnaissance for the Fed Man 55 based on an Austin Restaurant Week dinner that included a tempura lobster tail, flatiron steak with beurre blanc and blue cheese and bread pudding with a bourbon sauce so strong they could have served it from a shot glass. It was better than boutique food, and I worried that the old gal was being passed over because she’s not as loud and showy as the latest chef-and-architect collaborations.
Another dinner at Green Pastures this week confirmed that the food warrants a place at the Fed Man 55 table, but it’s still hard to shake the feeling you’re at the wedding reception for a bride whose family owns the company you work for. That’s a fine ticket, but is it enough to bring you back on your own dime? Your answer will determine whether you think Green Pastures should be higher on this list. It would be, had the execution been better on a few key dishes. The lobster tail ($17) that was a perfect golden battered curl the first time was darker and oily this time, even spongy in places, the kind of frying that doesn’t support the higher aspirations of smart wasabi butter and a brisk slaw of carrots, jicama and black sesame. Unfortunately for a spiced spring rack of lamb ($39), the main spice was salt, a generous amount in both the rub and a sauce that for all its silky brown reduction just amplified the sodium stranglehold. And that’s too bad, because the plate was an artful composition of roasted carrots, parsnips and potatoes like rosemary cream puffs. For the lamb, there was generously cut and spiced mango chutney and a thick paste of herb-strong chimichurri and a toss of curried cashews for texture. The lamb itself was roasted a velveteen red, elegantly butchered with long bone handles and just enough fat to live the lush life. A life laid forfeit by a pillar of salt. Dramatic enough? The pain of potential not fully met.
The potential of chef Charles Bloemsma’s kitchen expressed itself in both the supple flatiron of the Restaurant Week plate and this week’s ribeye steak ($36), a chop so well trimmed and cooked that it married the butter-soft texture of tenderloin with the luxuriant ribboned fat of ribeye, augmented by sauteed mushrooms and a blanket of nutty gruyere cheese that for its banquet-hall monochromatic homogeneity truly added flavor and more rich texture to an already well-executed steak. More than a solo steak-on-a-plate, the dish came with sauteed green beans showered with pecan pixie dust and shredded carrots dripping with vanilla like a scented oil lamp. Taken with a bite of steak, those candy-shop carrots produced the kind of meat-as-manna stupor I’ve felt after foie gras at Uchi. An appetizer of quail wrapped in bacon ($14) dodged the sugar-bomb trap of that combination with smoky nuggets that let the dark-meat quality of the bird come through, empowered by a one-two sweet-and-savory finish of Shiner Bock Glaze and veal reduction.
The menu also folds in duck and wild game, Creole influenced seafood and the old-school formality of a tableside Caesar salad for two. There are high-dollar bottles of Pahlmeyer and Chappellet on the wine list for the bride’s family, but surprises like a Graff Family mourvedre in the $30s for you.
I follow Bloemsma on Twitter, and I’ve read about his effort to bring beehives to Green Pastures to augment the fruit trees on the grounds. For a man responsible for stocking a Sunday brunch spread with dozens of dishes ($36 with unlimited milk punch) to make time for bees speaks to a passion beyond rehearsal dinners.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s Fed Man 55: Austin’s Best Restaurants