Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review
The latest from former Jeffrey's Executive Chef David Garrido is this Mexican restaurant across from Austin Music Hall, and its budget-conscious menu touts tiny but pleasant selections
Reviewed by Katherine Gregor, Fri., Sept. 18, 2009
Sun. 11-9pm; Mon. 4-10pm; Tue-Thu. 11am-10pm; Fri.-Sat. 11am-11pm.
Happy Hour: Sun. 8-10pm; Mon. 4-6pm, 8-10pm; Tue.-Wed. 3-6pm, 8-10pm; Thu.-Fri. 3-6pm.
GARRIDO'S360 Nueces #10, 320-TACO (8226)
Sunday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-11pm Brunch Saturday-Sunday, starting at 9:30am Happy hour daily, 4-7pm
If you've been curious about why Austinites are moving into high-rise condos, a visit to Garrido's offers a pleasant way to sample the urban-lifestyle ambience. At once laid-back Austin and Downtown chic, the new Mexican restaurant is one of three small eateries on the ground floor of 360, the 44-story condo tower at Third and Nueces. It occupies a choice spot, across a cul-de-sac plaza from Austin Music Hall; best of all, the patio overlooks a long, verdant stretch of Shoal Creek. In the evenings, the street and sidewalk cafes out front are alive with strolling live-music patrons and well-dressed folks out for a night on the town.
That's not to say Garrido's patrons don't come for the food. Chef/owner David Garrido earned a national reputation as executive chef at Jeffrey's for many years, turning out inventive, white-tablecloth fare. He left in 2005, joining the Chuy's restaurant group to learn the business of running an affordable, eat-there-anytime restaurant worthy of his Jeffrey's stature. Garrido's, which opened in May, fulfills that promise.
One small-plates menu is offered all day, from early lunch (or weekend brunch) until the late, after-show crowd shuts the place down. It's somewhat limited; the same flavors reappear throughout the menu, but this no doubt is instrumental in holding the prices down. After trying a lunch, two dinners, and several happy hours, we learned that the best Garrido's meals are assembled from several courses, as with tapas. Portion sizes are small, which makes it easy to eat light, but if you don't, the cost can add up quickly. Budget-conscious diners can enjoy a delicious, satisfying meal by sticking with a taco plate, priced at just $7.50 to $10.75. For such a high-end dining experience Downtown, that's an exceptional value.
The chips ($1.50) are served in a tall iron basket, with a warm, cooked salsa that spoke too loudly of tomato paste for our preference – it was more like an enchilada sauce. Among the antojitos (starters), we also tried two quesadillas ($6.95 each); both proved delicious and toothsome on homemade corn tortillas. The vegetarian option was stuffed with mushrooms and decoratively dribbled with three sauces, which lent roasted-garlic and ancho-chile flavors. The roasted pork quesadilla was almost sinfully rich with asadero cheese and avocado, but was balanced by a piquant pineapple-habanero salsa. The lamb pops – small chops presented as finger food – were quite tasty, served with the same sauce as the mushroom quesadilla (although the bed of plain baby spinach begs rethinking).
All three bocaditos were outstanding. They're tiny, but order them anyway. Described as tostadas, each dish in fact consists of four single chips, artfully presented on a long white platter – small tastes to be savored. The shrimp ($6.50) is piled with a slaw, chipotle-horseradish aioli, and mango salsa. The pork melds the flavors of goat cheese, pepitas, and a chipotle agridulce. Longtime Jeffrey's patrons will recognize a reprise of David Garrido's signature appetizer there: oyster tostadas ($8) on yucca root chips, with a honey-habanero aioli. We also enjoyed two soups of the day, both of them delicious standouts.
The small 4-inch tacos on fresh corn tortillas can be ordered individually ($2.75 to $4.25) or as part of a two-taco plate, which comes with pureed black beans and green rice, both mildly seasoned. Choices include the crispy oysters, a mahi mahi BLT, pork carnitas with pickled onions, grilled chicken, a coffee-marinated ribeye with a zingy horseradish sauce, skirt steak with a radish/lime/habanero topping, and mushroom-cheese again. (Vegetarians may be nonplussed to find that combo their one option throughout the menu.) Each taco was made distinctive by unusual sauces and a sophisticated combination of flavors, textures, and colors. That held true for the taco al dia specials as well: a lobster taco ($10.50 for one) and a tasty halibut.
When we made the mistake of thinking an order of tostadas would fill us up on our first visit, we gladly compensated with dessert. The mango flan is a silky treat, but the tres leches cake proved disappointingly grainy. Every meal here could happily end with the Final Feliz ($2.50): two chocolate truffles in a pool of chocolate sauce with two tiny, addictive cookies.
Garrido's calm, sleek interior has an open design and high ceilings; it's nicely intimate, with perhaps 120 seats. While the front bar area is noisy when packed with pretty people (as it's been each of the nights we've visited), the dining area is conducive to good conversation. The soft leather chairs were comfortable throughout a multicourse meal. A beaded copper curtain partially screens the kitchen, which is fronted by a tall chef's table. The fellow running around in the baseball cap is Garrido himself; we'd prefer to see him in a chef's jacket and (more importantly) it would help if servers were in identifiable uniforms.
Now that the weather is cooler, the patio (with about as many tables as the interior dining area, some covered) is the place to be. Garrido's has capitalized wonderfully on its Shoal Creek setting to create a relaxed, Shady Grove feel. The happy-hour sunsets go perfectly with a house mojito or one of the many other cocktails and well-priced wines offered. Who says urban living has to be stressful?