Meet one of the newest residents at the 360 Condominiums
Reviewed by Wes Marshall, Fri., Nov. 21, 2008
mulberry360 Nueces, 320-0297
Dinner daily, 5-11pm;
Bar: Sunday-Thursday, 5pm-1am; Friday-Saturday, 5pm-2am;
Brunch: Saturday-Sunday, 10am-4pm
New Yorkers Michael Polombo and Lawrence Bondulich surprised New York critics by opening two very popular and acclaimed wine bars on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in a neighborhood that Village Voice reporter Elizabeth Stanek calls the "Grand Prix for the stroller set." Now they've re-created the successful concept in Downtown Austin, where their first venture is on the street level of the posh new 360 Condominiums.
mulberry has been getting a lot of cheery blog buzz, and it was certainly afire with delighted customers when we went on a Thursday evening. Manhattanites would feel comfortable with mulberry's shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and tiny footprint. The seats at the bar are the most spacious and get the most attentive customer service when the place is crowded, which is often. Parties of one or two should have no trouble finding a seat. Larger groups will either have to sit in a line or be willing to wait for one of the two tables – one of which is bar-stool height, the other regular chair height. During nice weather, the regular tables outdoors should help alleviate crowding.
mulberry's wine-by-the-glass menu is well-thought-out, including a delicious Château Roques Mauriac ($9 per glass), a white blend of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle from the Entre-Deux-Mers area of Bordeaux. Any bar with white Bordeaux by the glass is all right by me.
We ordered two appetizers. The cheese and meat trays offer 10 selections, and you can choose one for $6, three for $15, or five for $21. We chose a spicy Calabrese salami, a perfectly cured coppa, and a mild Caciotta cheese. All were tasty and skillfully presented. Although the serving sizes were small, the quality was top-drawer.
Our other appetizer – fegatini, crostini, vanilla Brandy raisins ($8) – was spoiled by an unappetizing, off flavor in the livers. We've had fegatini all over Central Italy (as pâté di fegatini). It's a catchall term for chicken liver pâté combined with whatever the house thinks will go well. mulberry's kitchen staff adds sage, brandy, and butter, so the added ingredients weren't at fault. Bloggers have been raving about mulberry's dish, so our problem was likely a single bad batch of livers. In any case, we sent the dish back, and the item was removed from our check.
mulberry offers about a dozen main courses. We chose glazed Berkshire pork chop, roasted potatoes, and spinach ($22), which featured a very sweet glaze atop a moist chop. Both the spinach and potatoes were cooked carefully and presented very nicely. We also had the meatballs, white wine, and lemon broth ($14), a huge serving of meatballs swimming in a delicious sauce. The dish was perfectly cooked and deliciously flavored, but the meatballs fell apart at the touch of a fork, the result of far too much breading in the mix.
With our main course, I ordered a bottle of Domaine des Côteaux des Travers Côtes du Rhône Villages Rasteau ($39), a rustic, flavorful Rhône wine. Unfortunately, it arrived at the table much too warm, as though it had been stored in or near the kitchen. mulberry is not the only Texas restaurant that serves its reds too warm. A few minutes in the ice bucket fixed the problem.
Dessert brought a lovely and rare Dutschke "the Muscat" from South Australia's Barossa Valley. Finding this wine has been substantially more difficult since Robert Parker gave it a score of 95, making the small serving understandable, even at $14 a glass.
Despite the kitchen problems and the competition from the many other Downtown Austin wine bars, we will be going back to mulberry. We loved the crowd, and the service was sparkling, smart, and timely. The problems with food are easily rectified, and I'm sure they'll be ironing those kinks out shortly.