Short of the Bend

The Travis Room at the Lakeway Inn

Lakeway Drive,
west off Hwy 620 S., 261-6600

Daily, 7am-2pm, 6-10pm

When the Chronicle food writers toured the lake area for a roundup of dining opportunities in the summer of 1997, they began their day with breakfast in the Travis Room. It appeared to be a perfectly respectable example of a resort hotel restaurant, one featuring a reliable mainstream menu that would appeal to Lakeway residents, business travelers, and vacationing families alike. The well-known resort is currently in the midst of a big expansion, and this summer the Lakeway management and some loyal fans of the restaurant began to promote the Travis Room as something more. Print ads started touting monthly Friday night seafood buffets and the Sunday brunch, while e-mail messages to the Chronicle declared that new chef Chris Tomboni had created a cuisine that would rival the nationally regarded fine-dining venue just up the road, Hudson's on the Bend. Though I'm loath to review restaurants by rating them against each other, I must admit that the comparison intrigued me and inspired me to see for myself.

The Travis Room at the Lakeway Inn

photograph by John Anderson

Our first excursion to the Travis Room got off to a rocky start when we missed an unlit sign on the dark streets of the village of Lakeway. After a little backtracking and a stop for directions, we finally arrived at the Lakeway Inn to find the pleasant dining room overlooking the lake almost deserted. The friendly staff welcomed us warmly and showed us to a table in the center of the room. Chef Tomboni's dinner menu is one of those world-fusion affairs where Southwestern ingredients meet Asian and Caribbean flavors, with a few Mediterranean touches for good measure. Prices range from $3.95 to $8.95 for soups, salads, and appetizers, and $15.95 to $25.95 for entrees. In deference to family dining, there is a Kid's Menu. The wine list offers several good choices in the $28 to $58 range, with some vintages that can be ordered by the half bottle and a few more available by the glass.

Dinner began with Lobster and Conch Chowder ($4.50), offering finely chopped bits of sweet lobster meat and chewy conch with small chunks of potato in a rich, flavorful seafood broth. The Crab Cakes With Tangerine Ginger Aioli ($5.95) didn't have much visual appeal, but the high ratio of crab meat and an interesting sauce worked in their favor. At this point, there was something of an intermission in our service, as the two remaining waiters went about setting up for breakfast and paid scant attention to our table. We were finally able to hail them for drink refills and a basket of bread, but it was another good while before our entrees appeared, even though we were the only table still ordering food. The youngster in our party chose a Hamburger ($3.25) from the Kid's Menu and was rewarded with a half-burger and very good fried potato wedges. The burger looked like the perfect answer to those dining situations in which parents pay full price for an adult-sized meal only to watch kids eat less than half of it. I suspect the other items on the Kid's Menu are of a similar size at very reasonable prices.

Sticking with seafood felt like a good idea in a restaurant overlooking the water, so I chose an entree of Saffron Risotto With Sea Scallops ($18.95). The delicate pan-seared scallops were tossed with artichoke hearts, forest mushrooms, and oven-roasted tomatoes in the moist, saffron-scented rice, which was made even creamier by the addition of a good dose of Parmigiano-Reggiano. On a scale of one-to-10 for the risottos I've encountered around Austin, this generous serving would rate a solid seven, maybe even an eight. A glass of Francis Coppola Bianco ($5.95) was a light complement to the rich rice dish. My hungry friend went for one of the three beef offerings on the menu, opting for Beef Tenderloin Stuffed With Sonoma Jack cheese and Shiitake Mushrooms ($24.50) with a wedge of Roasted Poblano Polenta. The tender, toothsome beef was cooked perfectly medium rare, but the side dish was a bland, spongy disappointment.

We began considering dessert and had plenty of time to discuss it because we were left to sit over dishes for another extended period. The staff was friendly and helpful when we got their attention, and dessert arrived pretty quickly thereafter. Our young companion had an Ice Cream Sundae ($4.95), a fairly standard rendition with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and squirt-bottle whipped topping. The dessert menu offers such delights as cheesecake, créme brulee, a white and dark chocolate brownie pie, and a key lime pie. After such a rich meal, we two adults chose to share a Tiramisu Roll With Toasted Hazelnuts and Mocha Chocolate Sauce ($4.95). The moist sponge cake was wrapped around a filling of mascarpone cheese and raspberries, which was marred by the unfortunate grit of undissolved granulated sugar and chopped nuts that tasted old and stale. Perhaps the volume of business isn't large enough at this point to support so many dessert choices.

Overall, our dinner experience at the Travis Room was very pleasant. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to vacationing families or business acquaintances attending a conference at the resort, but I find the comparison to the more creative Hudson's unwarranted. Based on both a lunch and a dinner there recently, I wouldn't go so far as to encourage people to drive the distance from Austin to Lakeway just for the food. If you're in the neighborhood, however, give it a shot and you'll find a restaurant that's on par with a good country club. By the way, if you're unfamiliar with the Lakeway area, be advised that the ubiquitous local deer population is out in full force after dark. You'll encounter them grazing on expensive home landscaping and award-winning golf fairways. Drive very carefully.

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