Tatum's Tonight

Tuesdays at Threadgill's Upstairs
6416 N. Lamar (in the back), 451-5440
Doors open at 7pm, dinner served
at 7:30pm

$25 prix fixe

If someone had told me two months ago that I would be making reservations for a prix fixe dinner to be prepared by an award-winning chef at Threadgill's, I would never have believed it. However, that's exactly what happened on a mid-March Tuesday when some friends and I reserved a table in the upstairs banquet hall for a dinner prepared by chef Raymond Tatum. Threadgill's owner Eddie Wilson recently invited Tatum to hang out a banner once a week and develop some dinner menus putting a more upscale spin on the Southern and Southwestern comfort foods for which Threadgill's is already famous. The new concept is called "Tatum's Tonight" and offers soup, salad, an entrée, dessert, tea, and coffee for $25. Seating is limited to 40 people. Well-received entrées will show up as occasional dinner specials at both Threadgill's restaurants after debuting at Tatum's.

For Tatum, this new challenge means eschewing the Asian influences that were evident in his cooking at Jeffrey's, 612 West, and Brio the past few years and returning to his own Southern roots. The second night of the series, the menu included a smoked white bean soup with roasted poblano, chilled asparagus, and jicama salad with a chipotle-cilantro vinaigrette, red chile pork roast with chayote squash and Pozole with tomatillo sauce, and pecan pie with Jack Daniels sauce. The subtly smoky soup accented with a zing of poblano purée made a comforting opening to the meal, the perfect foil for the last tingle of winter chill in the air. Pencil-thin asparagus and crisply sweet jicama matchsticks were arranged in a haystack over tender mixed greens dressed in a pleasantly warm, astringent vinaigrette. Moist, fork-tender slices of pork roast were complemented by a thin, delicate red chile sauce and humble hominy became a hearty peasant pozole cooked with tangy tomatillo. Sweet puddles of whiskey-scented sauce were the perfect grown-up counterpart to hefty slices of pecan pie in a buttery crust, though a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream could have helped cut the sweetness a little.

Tatum's menu was well-conceived, featuring an interesting mix of flavors. The subtlety and sophistication of his touch gave star treatment to homey Southern staples like white beans, pork roast, hominy, and pecan pie. In the coming weeks, Tatum will add a second entrée and side dish selection to the menus and he plans to try his hand at some homemade ice creams for dessert. A small wine list is being developed to complement the Tatum dinners. (I never expected to write "wine list" and Threadgill's in the same review, but here it is.) The Threadgill's Upstairs Banquet room is a fascinating space in which to dine with ample opportunity between courses to view Eddie Wilson's display of antiques.

When it was announced that chef Tatum was no longer at Brio, Threadgill's was probably not where his legion of fans expected him to turn up next. But Eddie Wilson appreciates an expertly prepared meal as much as the next man and should be congratulated for creating a venue for one of Austin's favorite chefs. Neither member of the unlikely pair has any idea where the Tatum's Tonight experiment will ultimately lead. While he labors in the Threadgill's upstairs banquet kitchen, Tatum is contemplating a cookbook of his many signature recipes and a restaurant of his own. -- Virginia B. Wood

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