Eating Well in Austin Without Breaking the Bank


219 W. Fourth, 481-0219

Mon-Sat, 5-11pm

At Girasole, chef Christian Echterbille revives fussy food with Italian-inspired creations of gorgeous complexity. Quail stuffed with nutmeg-scented mousse on a pedestal of delicious savory flan, accompanied by a succulent round of foie gras, and capped with a crest of sliced, fanned apples; appetizers where vegetables twist around themselves in acrobatic contortions, and desserts that float to the table in chocolate gondolas -- these impossible sculptures seem almost too beautiful to eat. Yet at Girasole the presentation is matched in equal measure by a thoughtful marriage of flavors that attests to chef Echterbille's considerable experience in the kitchen. Girasole is the latest in an epidemic of new Austin eateries that are attempting to reinvent the all-but-lost art of continental fine dining for America's most recent wave of monied professionals. With an army of waitstaff and bussers to cater to every need, you won't need to use the same fork twice, refill your own glass of wine, or wipe your mouth with a napkin stained from the previous course. If you want it, they'll get it at Girasole -- from special orders to rare vintages of that premier cru Pommard.

Girasole turns out a rarefied cuisine that seasons its plates with luxuries such as foie gras and truffles as liberally as ketchup on a McDonald's cheeseburger. Gourmands will find it hard to choose between porcini-crusted monkfish in marsala sauce, foie gras- and truffle-studded scallops swimming in saffron velouté, and the truffle-scented veal chop with asparagus cream. However, two fixed-price menus in addition to their regular carte may make the choices a bit easier. Their Degustazione dello Chef Piccolo features four courses for $50. On the night we visited, dinner began with a lovely fluffy crab cake atop crisp mesclun flavored with horseradish aioli.

The next course showcased a dainty plate of seafood ravioli flecked red and green with purées of arugula and tomato. The centerpiece of the meal was an elegant elk chop -- butterflied and cooked to perfection -- served in a cipollina onion and grape sauce. A terrine of pistachio, vanilla, and chocolate gelati formed dessert. For those times when four courses are just not enough, Girasole has created a seven-course grand tasting menu. Although the $75 price tag may scare away those too heavily invested in the NASDAQ, consider the offerings: an appetizer, a salad course, a fish course, pasta, a main course, a cheese course, and finally a choice of dessert. Considering the exquisite quality of the cuisine at Girasole, there's no better prix-fixe bargain in town. Diners should be warned, though, that what arrives on the table may not always conform to what is described on the menu (an oversight that I feel implies a fundamental lack of respect for the customer. Among the more glaring non-conformities were the complete absence on the plate of a mushroom timbale described in the menu, and a flan that promised to be pumpkin but that materialized as a decidedly un-pumpkiney plain version). Although talented, the kitchen staff is still a bit untamed at this adolescent establishment. However, food lovers will agree that dinner at Girasole is a luxurious affair.

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