Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review
Bee Cave begins to refine its palate
Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, Fri., Aug. 7, 2009
Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11am-3pm; Dinner: Sun.-Thu., 5:30-9pm; Fri.-Sat., 5:30-10pm; Sunday Brunch: 10:30am-3pm
ZOOT11715 Bee Caves Rd., 477-6535
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11am-3pm
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-9pm; Friday & Saturday, 5:30-10pm
Happy hour: Daily, 3-7pm
For many years, loyal customers and newcomers alike have been delighted by the quiet bistro atmosphere, eclectic cuisine, and superb service found at ZOOT. Owners Stewart Scruggs and Mark Paul decided to move the restaurant to a new location on Bee Caves Road earlier this year, leaving the Old West Austin cottage that housed them for almost two decades. The new, larger space, near the intersection of Bee Caves Road and Highway 71 West, provided the opportunity to add a bar and enough daytime parking to add lunch service. I'm happy to report that the changes don't undermine ZOOT's well-deserved status among Austin's favorite destinations for a superb dining experience.
The remodeled space, formerly occupied by Bee Cave Bistro, is a departure from the old-school vibe of the original, projecting instead a feeling of casual modernity. According to Scruggs, the idea was to make the atmosphere "less stuffy" and more comfortable and laid-back, while retaining an element of elegance. Lunch is served weekdays, with a menu consisting of soups, salads, sandwiches, and light entrées perfectly in tune with ZOOT's tradition of seasonality and freshness: chilled cucumber soup with dill and crème fraîche, stone-fruit salad with vanilla poppy-seed dressing, and the "3 napkin" cheeseburger with local greens, tomatoes, onions, and house-made pickles, for instance. The bar opens for happy hour at 3pm, serving a small menu of select lunch items and appetizers complemented by a well-stocked wine list and local microbrews on tap.
The dinner menu offers the option of ordering à la carte or choosing from two five-course tasting menus, with the Farmer's Menu being entirely vegetarian. Tasting menus are $55 or $85 with wine pairing. We decided to pick à la carte this time and started with the charcuterie plate ($10), a trio of homemade duck rillete, chicken-liver pâte, and pâté de campagne, accompanied by cornichons, shallot marmalade, whole-grain mustard, and crisp croutons. Everything was delicious, and the variety of textures kept our palates engaged. We followed with a plate of plump and juicy grilled shrimp ($14) with lightly sautéed fresh creamer peas tossed with crisp bacon strips, over a pool of carrot anglaise. The surprise in this dish came from a few slices of burdock root, which I had never had before. The consistency was firm, the flavor a combination of rhubarb-like tanginess with a hint of bitterness and artichoke earthiness. It offered a cool contrast to the natural sweetness of the carrot sauce and the shrimp.
A second course of soup and salad followed. The chilled smoked potato soup ($6), simple and rich with its garnish of chives, crème fraîche, and a whole strip of bacon (yay, more bacon!), was full of flavor and perfectly refreshing on a warm evening. The local heirloom tomato salad, lightly drizzled with parmesan emulsion and basil oil and garnished with cute fried potato cylinders, screamed summer with every bite. Choosing an entrée proved a bit difficult: Everything sounded so good. We settled for the comfort foods on the menu instead of more esoteric fare and were more than pleased with our choices. The roast chicken breast ($21) with a seasoned, crispy skin came atop a generous portion of creamy polenta with sautéed kale and a good dose of tarragon-flavored jus. Simple and clean, with a great combination of flavors and textures, this was our favorite dish of the evening. Not lagging far behind, the grilled N.Y. strip ($28) was perfectly cooked to medium rare, with just a wisp of chimichurri sauce underneath. A cornmeal-crusted fried green tomato slice and a side of summer succotash with creamer peas, fresh corn, green squash, and the tiniest, confetti-diced mirepoix gave the plate a backyard picnic appeal and a Southern touch. The portions were plentiful and satisfying without being obnoxiously huge.
We were about to pass on dessert, until we saw the menu. Choosing was almost as difficult as it was with the entrées, but I just had to try the goat cheese panna cotta ($8), which met all my expectations. Not too sweet, with the nice creaminess and tanginess of the goat cheese, the custard is served with a light, local honey sauce, blueberries, and an addictive pistachio shortbread. Even though some of the blueberries were less than fresh, the dessert as a whole was divine. Next time, we'll have to try the warm peach pie for two ($12) with brown-butter sauce and pink peppercorn ice cream, which sounded equally delicious.
The Bee Cave area is growing fast, but there are few dining options outside of "cookie-cutter" establishments. While ZOOT's move may have not pleased some Downtown dwellers, the new location is surely providing far Southwest Austin residents a fabulous dining alternative. It's our opinion the ZOOT experience is well worth the 20-minute drive from Central Austin.