with classic Austin tastes: old favorites, new reviews
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., July 12, 2002
Emilia's600 E. Third, 469-9722
Monday-Thursday 6-10pm, bar 5pm-midnight;
Friday-Saturday 6-11pm, bar 5pm-1am
After a thorough consideration of Emilia's last year, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that I was doomed to suffer from a case of unrequited love where the marvelous restaurant was concerned. The exorbitant prices and small portions of award-winning chef Will Packwood's sophisticated menu items simply put the restaurant far beyond my financial reach. Packwood's abrupt departure from the restaurant was very hot dish on the local culinary gossip circuit when it happened earlier this year, but I was far more interested in what would happen at Emilia's after Packwood moved on. Would new General Manager/Sommelier Anthony Garcia and new Executive Chef Chris Lanier find a formula whereby they could maintain the original high standards of quality, while at the same time making the restaurant accessible enough to stay in business? After a couple of recent visits to Emilia's, I'm pleased to report the answer appears to be yes.
Working together, old friends Garcia and Lanier have made several subtle changes. The new Carriage House Bar menu features a selection of appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, cheeses, and charcuterie, all under $10. The Tasting Room wine list offers 35 vintages by the glass: well-chosen sparklers, whites, reds, dessert wines, and ports, ranging in price from $6-$45 per glass, making this list much more approachable than the high-priced original. Now it's possible to enjoy an Emilia's dining experience in their lovely, comfortable bar area and go home feeling as though you got good value for your dollar. Things are somewhat different with the main menu, as well. Lanier has pared down the menu by an item or two, lowered the prices a little, and increased the size of his portions. Don't get me wrong: No one will need to ask for takeout containers at the end of an Emilia's meal, but you're not likely to leave hungry anymore, either.
At the special Mother's Day brunch, my guest and I were delighted with an authentic salad niçoise, an elegant eggs Benedict, and a scrumptious poached lobster hash, and didn't find the $40 price tag unreasonable. The highlight of that brunch meal, however, was the mouth-watering assortment of breakfast pastries created by new pastry chef Elise Fineberg. Munching on the perfect little tea breads, muffins, scones, and palmiers, I knew a return visit to sample her dessert offerings would soon be in order. What I discovered when I returned was a well planned and professionally executed dessert menu, with each detail finished, each flavor component balanced. This young woman is very, very good. I was especially smitten by a velvety thimble of vanilla bean panna cotta ($8) nested in a pool of roasted strawberries, paired with crisp chocolate shortbreads, and a mint chocolate chip bombe ($8) complemented by a cherry sorbet and a Bing cherry compote. These days, dining at Emilia's is much more within the realm of possibility. Whatever you do, be sure to have dessert.