9400-B Arboretum Blvd., 342-2642
Mon-Thu, 11am-2pm, 5:30-9:30pm; Fri, 11am-2pm, 5:30-10:30pm; Sat, 5:30-10:30pm; Sun, 11am-2pm, 5:30-9pm
When the owners of the popular Brio restaurant on West Sixth Street built a second location in the Arboretum area, they named the stuccoed faux Italian villa Brio Vista for the spectacular view of the hills to the west. It soon became apparent that their clientele preferred to dine while admiring that vista ("view" in Spanish), and the downtown location closed. Brio Vista has been a successful restaurant through more than one chef change, but now that both the kitchen and the general management are firmly in the hands of accomplished Austin chef Stewart Scruggs, Brio Vista has food, wine, and service that are as consistently impeccable as the view. Scruggs is a hometown boy who worked in local restaurants, attended cooking school at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, and returned home to found Zoot American Bistro with Bick and Erica Brown in 1991. Scruggs sold his share of the successful West Austin dining spot in 1996 with the intention of opening a place of his own. But despite two years of looking, Scruggs could not find just the right mix of ingredients for an independent venture. Then the Brio owners made him an offer he couldn't refuse: a position as executive chef and general manager.
Scruggs has been at the Brio helm for the better part of a year now, and his influence is obvious in all areas. The large, diverse wine list offers good choices in a price range from $18 to $165 per bottle and $4.50 to $14.50 by the glass. A compatible wine suggestion is listed with each item on the menu to assist patrons in pairing wine with food -- a smart, helpful idea which probably sells plenty of wine. Service is relaxed and friendly without being overly familiar, and the servers appear confident and knowledgeable about the food. Scruggs' seasonal menus reflect his interest in cooking with fresh, local ingredients as much as possible, and he's hired a staff member to forage for the best produce and foodstuffs available weekly from local growers and farmers' markets. The cuisine at Brio Vista reveals that chef Scruggs has continued to refine the subtle, sophisticated cooking style he began at Zoot. It's great to have him back on an Austin range.
I've had three delightful meals at Brio Vista since Scruggs took over, each one worthy of a return visit. Some friends invited me to join them there one fall Sunday as it's become their semi-regular brunch spot. We sipped juice and relaxed into the day, basking in the late morning sun streaming through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The a la carte brunch menu offers a little something for everyone: salads, egg dishes, French toast, a pasta, an overstuffed sandwich, and a gargantuan burger. One friend chose the best of several cosmopolitan entree salads: the Smoked Trout, Spinach, Grapefruit, and Stilton, dressed with a Truffled Vinaigrette ($8). The flaky smoked trout and sweet, tender spinach, complemented by the astringent grapefruit and gloriously buttery cheese, makes for an elegant melange of flavors and textures. From the egg dishes, two of us chose Poached Chesapeake Eggs on Crab Cakes with a Roasted Tomato Hollandaise ($9) and were thoroughly delighted with the selection. Once broken open, the softly poached eggs joined the delicately flavored hollandaise to voluptuously bathe every bite of the sweet crab cakes. Though we were fully sated by the salad and eggs, our investigatory duties dictated that we try another dish, so we chose the Challah French Toast with Bananas and Maple Syrup ($6). A bite or two each, drenched in the warm, distinctive syrup, vanquished any thought of dessert. After sampling several selections from pastry chef Mark Paul's dessert menu on other visits, I've come to the conclusion that we must have very different tastes. While there are some interesting ideas, nothing on the Brio Vista dessert menu totally captures my attention.
After the early spring hubbub of Valentine's, Mardi Gras, and SXSW, I finally had time to get back to Brio Vista for dinner. We were part of a spirited weekend full house with busy dining rooms and a party of some kind on the covered patio. For our vista that evening, lights sparkled on the rolling hills like sequins on an earthy colored velvet. The appetizer special was a Scallion Crepe with Duck Confit, Dried Fruit Chutney, and Balsamic Syrup ($9), and two of us couldn't resist it. The delicate crepes enveloped a rich, creamy filling punctuated with the flavorful chutney and balsamic syrup as a pleasant counterpoint. The Caesar Salad with Hickory Smoked Bacon and Aged Parmesan Cheese ($7) is a very credible version of the ever-popular staple, lovely hearts of romaine, crisp bits of salty bacon, and generous shavings of cheese in a mustardy dressing with thin, toasty croutons. Our entree selections that evening were the highlight of all my Brio Vista experiences to date. One of the dinner specials was a Veal Chop With a Red Wine Reduction ($30). The enormous chop arrived cooked to exquisite pink perfection, each morsel more tender than the last. The side dish was a terrific grain timbale made with quinoa or buckwheat, soaking up the tasty red wine sauce. Reviewing recent Brio menus, it's apparent chef Scruggs utilizes an assortment of starches and legumes, including rice, pasta, potatoes, quinoa, amaranth, orzo, and lentils, to add depth and variety to his repertoire. Hungry for beef that night, I chose a Grilled Tenderloin on Linguini with Asparagus and Pearl Onions in Tomato Broth ($23). A dainty moat of tomato broth with mild onions surrounded a large tangle of creamy pasta studded with pencil-thin asparagus spears. Two fork-tender pieces of medium-rare beef perched atop the pasta. When the meat was cut and the creamy pasta married with the tomato, each bite offered a beautifully balanced combination of flavors. This meal represented Stewart Scruggs at his very best. Simply impeccable.