Eating Well in Austin Without Breaking the Bank
Reviewed by Barbara Chisholm, Fri., March 2, 2001
Si Bon801 S. Lamar
Tue-Thu, 5:30-10:30pm; Fri-Sat, 5:30-11pm; Sun, 5:30-10pm
After recently experiencing a dinner sampling the prix-fixe options at this cozy South Austin restaurant, I was compelled to reread the recent review of Si Bon in the Chronicle. I had recalled that my colleague Wes Marshall, for whom I hold tremendous respect, had had wonderful experiences during his visits. That made the almost complete disaster that I had there all the more puzzling and shocking.
My companion and I arrived for our 8:15 reservation a couple of minutes early. The table wasn't quite ready, but our brief wait was made comfortable at the cozy bar, where I enjoyed a delicious martini prepared in an individually sized shaker. We were seated perhaps 15 minutes after the appointed time, hungry and expectant. Two dainty canapés were offered along with a choice of water (plebeian tap or tony mineral) upon seating. The Tasting Menu listed an appetizer of Maine lobster and potato gnocchi cake topped with prawns on a red pepper nage, a chilled tomato soup with avocado, entrée choices of grilled tuna on caponata or boar tenderloin, a Roquefort cheesecake for the cheese course, and a chocolate bread pudding for dessert. No price was listed for this selection. I opted for the fish; my friend decided on the boar. Then it was wait, wait, wait ... a full 15 minutes passed with various waiters, busboys, etc. bustling past our table which was situated in the middle of the dining room. Finally, I practically grabbed someone asking them to send a waiter over to take our order. Identifying himself as a busboy, he offered to relay our request.
At 9:15 our first course was delivered. I still don't know if it was our waiter who served us; the entire meal was delivered and bussed by a variety of people, none of whom seemed to be chiefly responsible for our table. We repeatedly had to request that our water glasses be refilled, I had to request clean cutlery for one course as they had already been employed, and I had to point out that I had no cutlery at all when the entrée was served. Someone (waiter? busboy? maitre d'?) attempted to clear my plate when I was still in the process of eating.
By the time we had finished with our entrées, we were almost alone in the once-crowded restaurant. We still had two more courses to go, but nonetheless centerpieces were struck, candles blown out, and a general cleanup began. Rarely have I been made to feel more like an intruder, and never has it cost so much. The price for this meal is $55, $75 with wine (two glasses). Staggering, indeed.
The meal itself, while almost completely an afterthought, was a mixed bag. The prawns were lovely, but any trace of Maine lobster in the potato cake was indiscernible. The soup was heavenly, the tuna was lovely if unspectacular. The boar was tough as leather, the accompanying sauce deep and tasty. The Roquefort cheesecake sounded better in theory than in execution; the result was faintly metallic, and the bread pudding was somewhat dry. We had been made to feel so unwelcome by the time dessert came (it was almost 11) that we hastily shared one serving. As a fitting finish to such astonishing treatment, the bill mistakenly included two drinks that were never ordered.
I am confounded that Si Bon managed to swing so dramatically from one lovely dining experience one night to such a catastrophe on another evening. I do know however, that for $55-$75 per meal, those odds are not good enough to take my chances again.
Sign up for the Chronicle Cooking newsletter
If you want to submit a recipe, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org