With so many new places opening here in Austin, it’s easy to get a little jaded. A few months ago, however, I was down at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market, and at the Chef Demo tent two white-coated chefs were working in easy rhythm, putting out beautiful little plates of lamb meatballs with spring vegetables.
“Go get some, it’s my lamb!” urged Jeff Ruyle of IO Ranch Lamb, so I went and got a tiny serving. The lamb meatballs were meaty and greaseless, and paired with asparagus and spring peas and onions, the dish really worked. When I asked one of the two chefs how the meatballs had been seasoned, he explained, “Just salt and pepper. The lamb was so good, it didn’t need anything else.”
That’s when I knew I was talking to an exceptional chef. Even now, most would still be unable to resist adding unnecessary seasoning. The chef I was speaking to was Chris Hurley, and the other chef he was working with is his wife, Jennifer Costello. Together they have opened The Bonneville (202 W. Cesar Chavez), a sleek, upscale little place just down from City Hall. When I was invited to a Media Night of cocktail and menu tasting, I wasn't about to pass it up. Typically at such events, there are certain things that “work” and others that fall short of the mark. Not so at the Bonneville; every menu item I tried (and yes, I did try them all – some several times) was perfectly cooked and memorable.
Every item drew heavily on local, seasonal flavors, such as the Heirloom Tomato Tartlets with Herbed WaterOak Farm Chevré and Purple Cherokee Tomatoes from Markley Family Farm. The simplicity of the flavors, ripe, sweet tomato with tart fresh cheese, were greatly enhanced by the airy puff pastry that served as a base. The Crispy Salt Cod Fritters with Lemon Aioli were a delightful mixture of smooth mashed potato and chunks of salt cod, piping hot, and the lemony aioli was a cool and velvety contrast.
The carrots for the Roasted Carrot, Fennel, and Orange Soup were grown by Johnson’s Backyard Garden. Topped with a few drops of Spicy Orange Chili Oil, this was a perfectly balanced concoction and one of the best roasted carrot soups I have ever tasted. The Apple Salad Cups with Bella Verde Bibb Lettuce, Grafton Cheddar, and Rio Grande Organics Spiced Pecans delivered a light, bright note of fresh apple and cheddar.
By far the most popular dish presented was one that is already going onto the summer menu: Grilled Pizza featuring IO Ranch Lamb, Spiced Eggplant Puree and Creamy Lemon Yogurt Drizzle. The blending of such Mediterranean flavors with the concept of a grilled pizza is perfect. Lamb, eggplant, and yogurt on a pizza is just original enough to intrigue, and sublime enough to entrance. Chefs Costello and Hurley really have put together a menu with an exact and unerring understanding of both ingredients and technique. It is going to be fun to watch them succeed.
202 W. Cesar Chavez, 512/428-4643
Monday-Wednesday, 4:30-10:00pm; Thursday-Saturday, 4:30-11:00pm; Sunday, 10:30am-10:00pm
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