Going beyond the interior design and clientele
Reviewed by Wes Marshall, Fri., Dec. 1, 2006
305 W. Sixth, 457-0300
Monday-Friday, 11:30am-2am; Saturday-Sunday, 5pm-2amwww.thebelmontaustin.com
The big buzz on the Belmont has been the interior design. Everyone who has been there many of whom are successful young professionals is talking about its retro 1950s Palm Springs lounge look. The place is gorgeous, both inside, with its plush leather horseshoe-shaped booths, and outside, with its inviting upstairs patio bar and stylish patrons.
The owners at the Belmont have lavished a lot of attention on their bar with both fancy drinks and classics served to exacting standards. Their signature drink is the Belmontini ($9), a combo of Grey Goose vodka, fresh pineapple juice, and Martini and Rossi Asti Spumante. Between the sweetness of the sparkling Asti Spumante and the pineapple juice, this is strictly a drink for sugar lovers, but given the owner's experience with bars (the Red Fez, Betsy's Bar, and Hi-Lo), my guess is they know their audience, and they will sell a lot of Belmontinis. I'm more of a classic drink guy, and their Classic Martini ($9) made with Bombay Sapphire and just the amount of vermouth I asked for came out cold and delicious. Ditto for a straight-up Manhattan ($9), expertly made with Maker's Mark bourbon (no rye whiskey available) and served quickly so the drink was still icy.
We tried the restaurant twice. Both times, the service was on par with Aquarelle or Vespaio, i.e., perfect. Waitstaff was informative, courteous, friendly, and cooperative. Our needs were met with seemingly clairvoyant accuracy and speed.
On our first night for food, we started with Cornmeal Fried Calamari ($8), a delicious, carefully cooked version with succulent squid and two tasty sauces: a tomato-basil dip and a lemon-herb aioli. The Caesar Salad ($5) was heavily dressed with a normal dressing and light on the croutons but fresh and crisp. Our Grilled Filet of Beef ($25) was cooked as ordered and came with whipped potatoes and asparagus. The winner for the night was the Honey Chipotle Glazed Pork Chop ($16), served with mashed sweet potatoes. The pork chop was big, juicy, and perfectly cooked to order. For dessert, the Warm Apple Crisp ($5) was just as advertised: warm and crispy with the right amount of tart vs. sweet and topped with Amy's Mexican Vanilla ice cream. We pronounced the night a rousing success.
We went back a few weeks later, and the apathetic and unhelpful valet service created a bad impression. The Belmont has no parking, so you are stuck using the valet. We waited with outraged Sixth Street drivers furiously honking because we had no place to pull in and no valets in sight. When the valet finally arrived, he said they were busy and asked if I could park my own car. He walked alongside my car to a place where I parked; then he asked me for $6.
Once inside, it was clear the word had gotten out about the Belmont. The bar was shoulder-to-shoulder, the outside was full, and the restaurant was bustling. We still had a table within five minutes, where we met our server, Curtis, who again was just perfect. He helped guide us through choices, had our drinks to us while still fresh, and was always there the second we needed anything. Noticing my wife's black outfit, he thoughtfully offered a black napkin. He knew when to chat and when to glide by searching for something he could make better.
The wine list at the Belmont is short but wisely selected and priced down at the Mirabelle level. We picked the Belle Glos Clarke and Telephone Vineyard Pinot Noir, a luscious big-boned wine that generally runs about $41 in the stores, making the $51 price tag a bargain.
We started dinner with Crab Cakes ($12) which were mostly lump meat crab and just slightly undercooked but still tasty and fresh. We also again ordered the calamari, but this time it seemed to be made from the sliced pieces of large squid steaks instead of baby squid. Worse, they had been cooked to a thick rubber-band consistency. The final blow was the aioli, which had broken and was just a liquid and overly acidic to boot.
For our main courses, we selected Chef Ben's Famous Spit Roasted Half Chicken ($14), which was succulent but way oversalted. We also had the fish of the day ($26), scallops in a caper-and-butter sauce. The scallops were nice-sized, somewhat overdone, but with a nice crust. Unfortunately, the sauce tasted as though it was mostly the juice from a bottle of capers vinegar and salt. For dessert, we tried the Molten Chocolate Cake ($5), a perfectly made and delicious version of the classic dish.
Final verdict: excellent bar, world-class service, but the kitchen needs a little attention.