Restaurant Week review: Eleven Plates & Wine
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.02.11
It takes a strong will and a thick skin to peg your opening day to Austin Restaurant Week. Everything that can go wrong just might, and right in the middle of what amounts to an eight-day food festival.
But Mike and Kelly Swartz have been through Restaurant Week before with their two Austin Melting Pot locations, and the team with whom they started Eleven Plates and Wine has been through years of restaurant openings, closings and the range of potential disasters in-between. I’m making lunch at this second-floor aerie at Davenport Village sound like a gamble. For Eleven Plates, yes. For us, no, not at $15 for three courses. During Restaurant Week, Sunday brunch is $20 and a three-course ARW dinner is $25 or $35. It’s a rare chance to try a brand-new place at a friends-and-family discount without being friends or family.
Because no professional food writer reviews a place during opening week, I went more just to see Eleven Plates fully furnished, wallpapered and stocked. I’d seen it as a shell less than two weeks earlier, when I interviewed Mike Swartz and managers Randy Laboy and Ike Johnson and chef Kevin Dee. They talked about the number 11 — 11 dishes for lunch, brunch and dinner, 11 desserts, 11 wines by the glass in three categories. Swartz and Laboy are certified sommeliers, and Johnson managed Grapevine Market and ran the wine program at Max’s Wine Dive. When I showed up for the interview, Dee was in the kitchen making stock on a dry run with the new kitchen staff. I didn’t see how they could open in time.
But on a Tuesday just 13 days later, the space was filled with dark wood tables and tan leather-backed chairs, the wine racks were full and the patio with hillside views was lined with tables and a cushioned conversation pit. The lunch menu was different from the one posted at the ARW website (see the photo below), but the lunch service and food would have been at home in a restaurant up and running much longer than two days in the space you might remember as Thistle Cafe.
You should know two things about my visit. One is that Ike Johnson saw me when I arrived and said hello, so he knew I was in the restaurant for lunch. You should also know that as always, I paid for my own food and drink and accepted nothing extra. Our waitress paid appropriate attention to us, but it didn’t look like we were being treated any differently than the guests around us, including a table with a toddler working a smartphone like a pro.
A soup of cauliflower and Roquefort cheese flourished with the tastes of stock and mirepoix, subtleties the powerhouse main elements could have swallowed in clumsier hands. Ceviche with house-fried tortilla chips felt appropriate to the long view of rolling hills and wide-open skies with promising rain clouds in the distance. A resort, maybe, with more forgiving temperatures. A citrus-infused chop of shrimp, fish, tomatoes and onions lay on a bed of daikon radish, the kind that typically garnishes sashimi. Twirling the super-long translucent strands on a fork was a moment of dorky comic relief at our table.
You’d think after my full course of 50 Burgers, 50 Days that I’d be sick and tired of America’s favorite food. But there’s always room for another good burger, and Eleven Plates started with fresh beef that can take a medium-rare sear without a wrong bite, on an onion roll baked in-house. It was finished with fresh vegetables and good pickles and a handful of thin, light-brown fries. Side note: The “lto” on the menu is not OJ’s judge, but rather “lettuce, tomatoes, onions.”
A taste of Eleven Plates’ “upscale casual” approach came as a flatbread-style pizza layered with mozzarella, thick quarters of roasted tomato and herb pesto, with liberal dashes of queso blanco, a Mexican semisoft cheese with the personality of ricotta with a sturdier grain.
Kevin Dee has worked pastry, and he’ll be put to a daily test rolling out 11 desserts at Eleven Plates. Nothing fancy for this lunch, just a bar of firm whipped chocolate with a sturdy nut crunch across the top or a scoop of cinnamon ice cream with a rich butterfat density.
As it should be, my Restaurant Week lunch was a taste of what’s to come at Eleven Plates
Eleven Plates & Wine
3801 N. Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360), Suite C200 in Davenport Village. 328-0110, www.elevenplates.com. Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday. 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
Austin Restaurant Week pricing: $20 brunch with a cocktail and two courses, a three-course lunch for $15 and a three-course dinner for $25 or $35. 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 ARW restaurant list at www.restaurantweekaustin.com.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)