Restaurant Week review: The Driskill Grill
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.04.11
Breathe in the musty splendor of the Driskill Hotel as your boots echo down the marble-floored lobby toward the oil portrait of Col. Jesse Lincoln Driskill, the cattleman who founded the hotel in 1886 to impress his friends the same way you might impress yours in 2011 with a high-dollar dinner at the Driskill Grill.
During Austin Restaurant Week’s final nights tonight and Wednesday, the Driskill experience is $35 for three courses. Among the main courses is a steak whose exotic provenance would make a Texas cattleman of the era wonder if we’d lost all sense of proportion: a Wagyu sirloin from Strube Rnach.
Sirloin is a sturdy cut of meat for the stout of jaw, but the cattle from Strube Ranch in northeast Texas spend their time in a hot tub watching Guy Fieri as they grow round in the middle. Or maybe they watch ESPN, because “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives” would terrify them as much as it does us, with all the beef and fist-bumping.
The Wagyu breed is famous for its marbling, which means delicate spiderwebs of fat even in the leaner cuts like sirloin. The Driskill played to that genetic advantage with a Bordelaise sauce flavored by foie gras. The result was the luscious texture and flavor of a more exalted cut. The steak played the lead in a dish composed like a Southern symphony, with sweetened black-eyed peas and a puree with the familiar taste but cutting-edge consistency of cornbread that had been reduced to its vapors and rendered as creamy as grits.
The three-course dinner was bookended by dishes that could have tag-teamed as dessert. A bisque of caramelized pear swirled with the sweet aroma of morning oatmeal if it were rendered into liquid velvet and poured tableside over a gathering of walnuts and blue cheese. Streaks of port wine painted a full picture: This is an after-dinner plate of cheese, nuts and fruit with a glass of port reimagined as a first course. The actual “dessert” dessert was a turret of cold honey-amaretto semi-freddo with dates and figs and crumbles of amaretto cookie, something lighter to round out two very rich courses.
Between those bookends was a Driskill experience the cattle barons might have appreciated, with team service by waiters in uniform who stood like sentinels ready to deploy from the front of the room. Little things like walnut wheat bread with sea-salt butter and gifts from the kitchen like an amuse bouche of pico with pineapple and something to soften the check: a bite of chocolate and a digestif of blood-orange liqueur. The dining room is hushed by dark carpet with gold Republic of Texas stars. Leather chairs and banquettes map out a decor that employs a rainbow of colors if the rainbow were all Roy and no Biv, a sepia palette for the tintype tableaux we call the Driskill. If only there were a photo booth.
The Driskill Grill
604 Brazos St. in the Driskill Hotel. 391-7059, www.driskillgrill.com.
Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
Austin Restaurant Week pricing: $35 for a three-course dinner. Restaurant Week runs through Wednesday (Oct. 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)