Eating Well in Austin Without Breaking the Bank
Jean Luc's French Bistro705 Colorado, 494-0033
Lunch, Mon-Fri, 11:30am-2pm
Mon-Fri, Happy Hour begins at 4:30pm
Dinner, Mon-Thu, 5-10pm; Fri-Sat, 5-11pm
The evolution of Jean Luc's continues. The downtown restaurant, with its enviable location and faintly mysterious sub-street dining room, began as a rather modest bistro with an authentic and accomplished French heritage. It remains as adept and Gallic as ever, but the restaurant has slowly taken on a slightly more sophisticated feel and menu. While still remaining utterly approachable, there is the air of a special evening in the dining room these days. Prix-fixe options at Jean Luc's have likewise evolved. In earlier incarnations, a separate menu was available for prix-fixe diners. These days, however, the dinner is available Monday through Thursday and is taken from the menu; it's a good choice and a fair bargain in the process. There are two options available: a three-course meal for $35 or a four-course affair for $40. The three-course menu involves an appetizer or salad, an entrée, and a dessert. For five bucks more, you can have the appetizer plus a salad. The fairly remarkable thing is that the selections can come from any part of the menu. It is somewhat routine to limit the prix-fixe alternatives to the lower end of the menu (monetarily speaking, of course). But at Jean Luc's you have the run of the menu. Depending on how luxe you go, the savings could be substantial.
For starters, the appetizers range from the typical yet sumptuous cheese plate to the très French escargot in shell (which sometimes is the line in the sand concerning items people are willing to consume). The salad options reveal the very creativity that typifies French food and has converted former salad haters. For the purists, there is the ubiquitous (and delicious) Caesar. For more adventurous tastes, try the confit of duck and gizzard with toasted walnuts and sautéed mushrooms on little green beans with walnut oil vinaigrette, or the visually arresting shaved beets, orange, toasted walnuts, and red onions on romaine.
As far as the entrées are concerned, I have to go with the hard-to-obtain and impossible-to-resist hanger steak with pommes frites almost every time. It's Texan in its steak-and-potatoes simplicity and utterly cosmopolitan in its cut and execution. Other French standards make appearances, too: bouillabaisse, Salade Niçoise, rack of lamb. Each of these reveal respect for and proficiency with these emblematic staples.
Dessert options include crème brûlée and selections of sorbets and ice creams plus a variety of pastry options that vary on any given night. Give some thought to your selection here; you won't be disappointed with any one of them, but with such luscious temptations, you want to indulge in something you really want. Peruse the menu, judge the depth of the meal that interests you, and do the math. The prix-fixe could very well save you some dollars and get you down the stairs into the cozy room before the weekend.
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