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Dining Out

Congress (Austin, Texas)

by Michael Chu
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Last night, we had the best meal we've eaten in Austin, Texas so far. This meal was better than that exceptional first meal at Uchi we had almost three years ago. The food was impeccably prepared and the level of execution was beyond anything we've experienced in Austin. Congress could easily be transplanted to any major city and still qualify as one of the best fine dining experiences in that region.

Congress has been open for less than a 45 days, so we've heard reports of differing execution levels and off nights. While our meal was exceptional, it remains to be seen if six months down the line Congress will still be performing at a world class level. I, for one, am glad I had the opportunity to eat there last night when everything was practically perfect and am eager to see what the future months will bring.

We arrived before our table was ready, so while waiting at the bar, we ordered the Burrata - Oxtail Marmalade - Buttered Brioche ($12) from the bar menu. The creamy mozzarella, sweet oxtail, and drops of fruity olive oil made an excellent appetizer which we lathered over the soft, fluffy bread.

Just as we finished out appetizer, our table was ready, so we followed the hostess to our table in the main dining room. We settled in and studied the menu - which is simple: seven course tasting menu for $125 ($175 with wine pairing) or three-course prix fixe for $65 per person (four to six choices for each course). Only two or three plates from the prix fixe menu were repeated on the tasting menu. We were intrigued by more dishes in the prix fixe menu, so we ordered six different items off of that and added the foie gras torchon.

Amuse bouche of parsnip custard topped with parmesan foam. The salty parmesan flavor blended with the velvety, subtle sweetness of parsnip. Wonderful. Tina said that it only took a bite of this to know that this meal was something different than what we've had in Austin and more like the fine dining in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York that we've had the opportunity to sample.

Bread. I think they like small breads here. I don't know what kind of bread it was, but it was good.

1st Course.

Wild Arugula - Artichoke Confit - Burrata - Red Grape Agro Dulce. The artichoke was cooked sous vide to produce firm but fully cooked artichoke hearts that were not diluted with water via steaming or boiling. The burrata (as in our appetizer at the bar) was refreshingly creamy and worked beautifully with the mild arugula, sweet grapes, and artichokes to form a perfect salad.

Beef Tartare - Fried Oysters - Black Truffle - Parmesan - Ciabatta Chips. A great garlicky preparation of steak tartare with sweet and crispy oysters. The ciabatta chips were flavorful, but a little too hard for my (currently) sensitive teeth (they were sliced incredibly thinly though).

2nd Course.

White Lobster Bisque - Fresno Tomato Jam - Lobster Ricotta Fritter. When I started this dish I tasted the bisque by itself first. The soup itself was excellent with full lobster flavor. However, once I mixed in the other components (which included the tomato jam which an incredible fruitiness, lobster pieces with just the right amount of chew, and a delicate fritter), I found that the original bisque paled in comparison to this excellent mixture.

Roasted Bone Marrow - Corn Custard - Apple Bacon Marmalade - Parsley Salad. The marrow bone was paired with a refreshing corn and parsley salad while the rich marrow itself was mellowed by the corn custard (served in the bone). The apple and bacon topping added an extra punch to the whole dish.


Foie Gras Torchon - Griddled Chestnut Brioche - Turnip - Minus 8. ($24) We added the foie gras to our three course meal at an extra charge. The chestnut powder encrusted foie gras was excellent - smooth, silky, and salty. I thought the turnip was a little out of place when I ate it with the foie gras on the brioche, but truly enjoyed bites of turnip between my bites of foie gras. Minus 8 is a sweet ice wine vinegar that worked decently with the rich foie gras. I personally prefer a larger quantity of sweet and tart material to pair with foie gras - like an ample quantity of quince jam or something similar. Still, the best foie gras preparation we've had in Austin.

3rd Course.

Veal Tenderloin and Cheek - Celery - Celery Root - Black Truffle. Both pieces of veal were amazingly tender and the cheeks were so full flavored that it was like beef heaven. Combining the veal with meat enhancing celery and truffles was well balanced and extremely pleasing (especially the white truffle oil aioli with brioche crumbles that topped with tenderloin piece).

Black Cod - Piperade - Serrano Ham - Basil Puree. This large serving of mild flavored cod cooked until perfectly tender and just flaking made a great "light" main. Combining the fish with the other components on the plate makes the dish excellent. After I ate most of my share, I took some notes, and, when I looked up, Tina had polished off the plate.

Grapefruit sorbet, grapefruit segments, and campari pop rocks. Strong grapefruit flavors with whimsical pop rocks.

Sweet potato beignets (topped with sugar and black pepper) and salted butter sorbet. This is one of the best desserts we've ever had. The beignets were perfect - light and fluffy with slight resistance that I associate with potato starches. The sorbet was strongly flavored and perfectly balanced in saltiness and sweetness. The best frozen dessert that I can remember having.

Chestnut panna cotta with cocoa nibs. A pleasant end to the excellent meal that oddly tasted more like pecans than of chestnut.

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Written by Michael Chu
Published on February 12, 2011 at 11:50 AM
1 comment:(Post a comment)

On February 24, 2011 at 02:03 PM, cjones (guest) said...
Subject: Congress review
Wow! I hadn't even heard of this restaurant yet! Thanks so much for the review. Your pictures are inspiring, can't wait to try it!

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