The Bonneville's a Beaut
Exceptional New American cuisine craftsmanship
Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, Fri., Sept. 20, 2013
Sun.-Wed., 4:30-10pm; Thu.-Sat., 4:30-11pm; Sunday brunch, 10:30am-2:30pm
My first introduction to the cuisine of Jennifer Costello and Chris Hurley, the chef team of the Bonneville, was at the tasting tent of the Sunset Valley Farmers' Market. Word had traveled through the market like wildfire that one and all "... had better get over there to get some of those lamb meatballs!" The tiny plate of meatballs and seasonal vegetables was beautiful, but its looks didn't begin to compare to its flavor. The preparation was simplicity itself: ground lamb sautéed with tiny slices of asparagus, onion, peas, and red peppers. Every element was bold and compelling; it was hard to believe that the only seasonings were salt and pepper. The preparation skillfully brought out the attributes of each ingredient. With rare restraint, the chefs didn't overdo it. I knew these two chefs were going to be worth keeping an eye on.
After enjoying dinner, happy hour, and brunch at the Bonneville over a period of months, my initial assessment has been borne out: Costello and Hurley are executing New American cuisine with a precision and deftness that puts them right at the top of their profession.
Sunday brunch at the Bonneville is the place to start. The sunny, neutral-toned dining room looks out over Lady Bird Lake, and the menu is both focused and varied. You know the imaginary perfect brunch that you have always wanted to take your mother to? This is where to get it. The Pop-Over Eggs Benny ($13) takes the award for ingenuity. Eggs Benedict is too often rendered in a heavy iteration, on hard, difficult-to-slice English muffins, but the Bonneville serves tender slices of lean ham, sautéed spinach, and gently poached eggs on the airy halves of a house-made popover instead, making for a light and delightful dish. The bananas Foster french toast ($10), served with rum syrup and cinnamon Chantilly cream, is similarly a triumph both rich in flavor but sparing in heft, and the chipotle-lime chicken hash ($14) packs a wallop of breakfast protein, while invoking the marvelous sensations of a Mexican breakfast. The house-made breakfast pastries (all $4) show an inspired hand in the kitchen: Both the pecan sticky bun and cinnamon coffee cake with local honey butter display an amazingly fine crumb, and just the right amount of sweetness. If you enjoy a fresh popover, a plate of mini-popovers is another option.
Dinner, served seven nights a week, is a bit pricier. Costello and Hurley are very committed to local, seasonal sourcing, as their entire approach is based on bringing out the inherent flavors of superb ingredients. The IO Ranch lamb grilled pizza with eggplant purée, mint, lemon yogurt drizzle, and Manchego ($13) has been hugely popular, and one would have to look far and wide before discovering a pizza as innovative (or as representative of Central Texas summertime). The white pizza with pepperoncini and arugula ($12) is crisp and flavorful, with just the right amount of pickled peppers. By far the most memorable of the appetizers is the creamy bacon-and-egg ravioli ($11): whisper-thin sheets of pasta filled with rich egg yolk and bacon, swimming in brown butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Though I can't wait to see what changes the autumn brings to the Bonneville's menu, I wouldn't complain if this ravioli became a permanent fixture.
Seared diver scallops with crispy scallion rice cake and ruby red grapefruit nage ($24) is a lovely, if light, entrée, the bright citrus and mellow scallion classically complementing the tender scallops. The grilled hanger steak ($24), served with boulangère potatoes and charred tomato butter, was cooked to a perfect medium rare and made for a far more substantial meal, though the potatoes were more of an accent than a serving.
The strength of the Bonneville lies in the talent of the chefs and the expertise of the kitchen staff. It is a risky undertaking, because there is no deception being practiced here. If the ingredients aren't farm-fresh and of impressive quality, or if the preparation is precarious or hurried, there is nowhere to hide: The cuisine fails. As the Bonneville becomes more popular, there will undoubtedly be intense dinner rushes and brunch slams that will stretch their careful approach to the breaking point. Nevertheless, I have absolute confidence that they will be able to establish a permanent reputation for excellence. "The simpler the better," says Costello. "If your technique is solid, the ingredients can speak for themselves."