This is one of the best parts of my job. I spent evenings during the holiday weekend checking out an established restaurant with interesting new offerings and two poised new eateries generating lots of talk. 34th Street Cafe (1005. W. 34th, 371-3400) is once again open for dinner, and we applaud their efforts. The pleasant cafe space that serves the bustling lunch crowd so well converts beautifully to a comfortable dinner house in the evenings. The night we visited, owner Eddie Bernal and chef D.J. Quintanilla were serving diners while sous-chef Scott Dishman kept the kitchen humming. The menu offers a fusion of American, Asian, Mexican, and Mediterranean flavors. The popular thin-crust Tuscan-style pizzas are here, along with some salads, pastas, and enchiladas. Entrées are priced in the range of $12.95 to $17.95 and the very affordable wine list offers several selections for $5.95 per glass or $22 per bottle.
We happened to be among the first paying customers at the chic new Italian bistro La Traviata (314 Congress, 479-8131) and were very impressed with the flavor, presentation, and price of chef/owner Marion Gilchrist's simple, fresh seasonal menu offerings. A salad of sweet ruby beets, tangy arugula, and warm, salty ricotta salata was a taste and texture revelation as were the seared scallops on a bed of cannellini beans with fresh spinach and bread crumbs. Seating at the long, polished bar makes Traviata a good bet for grabbing a good, quick lunch or convivial dinner. It's is a winner in the making.
The buzz about Austin's newest French restaurant, Aquarelle (606 Rio Grande, 479-8117), was already strong before I made it there, and they've only been open a couple of weeks! What an elegant little jewel this restaurant is with pale yellow walls, gleaming hardwood floors, imported French china and flatware, and tasteful decor. Owners Terry Foreman and Robert Brady explained that Aquarelle is the realization of an eight-year-old dream. Now that the renovation of the two attached turn-of-the-century houses is complete and their longtime friend, chef Jacques Richard, has arrived from France, all the components are finally in place. The restaurant has a finely finished look to it while the professional service and lovely plate presentations belie its youth. There are both a la carte and prix-fixe menus and a very satisfying array of desserts. Expect delightful French haute cuisine served at a leisurely, European dining pace.
Speaking of French cuisine, Austin's three premiere French dining establishments all have special menus planned for the observation of Bastille Day, Friday, July 14. Chez Nous (501 Neches, 473-2413), will present a list from the a la carte menu packed with an array of special dishes dear to the palates of their loyal clientele. At Jean-Luc's French Bistro (705 Colorado, 494-0033), the $27.95 prix-fixe menu offers choices of three salads, entrées, and desserts, and reservations are necessary. Meanwhile, in keeping with the casual, outdoor spirit of the summer holiday, Aquarelle has chosen to serve light, haute pique-nique fare such as country-style pâté, baguettes, meats, and cheeses in their bar area only. Allons, mes amis!
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