Restaurant Review: Braise

Braise is a charming place to get an impressive meal for $30 per person


2121 E. Sixth, 512/478-8700,
Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11am-2pm; Dinner: Mon.-Thu., 6-10:30pm; Fri.-Sat., 6-11pm
Photo by John Anderson

2121 E. Sixth, 478-8700
Monday-Thursday, 6-10:30pm; Friday-Saturday, 6-11pm

Braise is located in the midst of several blocks of burgeoning East Austin development, mostly balconied condominiums that sport a handful of businesses at street level. The space it occupies, former home to Bossa Nova Coffeehouse, is part of the new modern development. The immediate impression is definitely upscale, with shining white tabletops, sparkling glassware, functioning air conditioning, and an alert waitstaff.

In fact, ambience is one of Braise's strong suits. The walls are hung with big, fanciful paintings by Cuban artist Luis Abreux. The music suits the artwork, mainly light French and Brazilian jazz played at a reasonable volume. Taken as a whole, the effect is playful and relaxed.

The third eatery created by chef Parind Vora of Jezebel, Braise was planned as a bistro with midrange pricing. So, although the tabletops are white, they are topped with white paper, not linen. And other than the prices, there is little else to set Braise apart from a fine-dining establishment: The glassware is gorgeous, the rolls served with dinner are made in-house and served fresh from the oven with superior butter, each table is adorned with a tasteful lighted candle, and the tableware is of the rectangular, white variety that advantageously shows off the cuisine.

For those who have been missing Jezebel since the July fire, Vora designed the menu at Braise, and many of his favorite elements are present, though admittedly in fewer daring combinations: Escargot with garlic butter and fresh thyme ($7.95), baked hearts of palm in roasted red-pepper-herb pesto ($8.95), and mussels in saffron-infused marinara broth ($11.95) are among the appetizers. Although foie gras is conspicuously absent, herb-roasted chicken with white-wine reduction and nearly all crabmeat crab cakes are both in evidence.

The execution of the menu is done by Chris Kirby, a Johnson & Wales University-educated chef who made his name in Las Vegas at the restaurant Alex in the Wynn casino hotel. Kirby oversees the day-to-day operations at Braise, getting up early to do the purchasing and manning the kitchen every night. Kirby also creates the daily specials, augmenting the standard menu with seasonal offerings.

The appetizers I sampled were all executed skillfully, with the standout being the black bass tartare on garlic croutons with candied pecans, arugula, and pickled mushroom salad ($13.95) – one of Kirby's contributions. The generous serving of bass was marvelously fresh, and the light dressing binding the fish to the croutons managed to not obscure the bass' delicate flavor. The mussels in saffron-infused marinara broth were plentiful and properly cooked, and the broth was aromatic, but compared to the tartare, it was somewhat pedestrian. The seasonal cheese plate ($14.95) was a favorite, with tastes of Gruyère, Gouda, Brazos Valley Pepper Jack, and Montasio, served with drizzles of raspberry coulis.

In the entrée department, Braise employs an innovation that I am deeply enthused about: All of the selections are available in full or half portions. A three-course meal of the half portions enables you to enjoy all three courses without being uncomfortably stuffed or wasting food. It also keeps the meal affordable, adding to Braise's appeal as a date destination. Also, because Braise will not have a liquor license for some time, guests are invited to enjoy a free glass of wine with dinner or bring their own wine for a nominal corkage fee.

The Niman Ranch osso bucco over garlic mashed potatoes with sauce au poivre ($12.95, half; $17.95, full) is likely the most popular dish, and deservedly so: The grass-fed beef is well-marbled and skillfully braised, bringing out its powerful flavor, and the garlic mashed potatoes are a fitting accompaniment. The spicy Cajun blackened black bass over creamy grits with house-smoked tomato-sweet-corn beurre blanc ($11.95, half; $17.95, full) is the kind of dish that made Vora famous: Crispy and spicy on the outside, the square of bass is meltingly tender inside, and the creamy grits are a perfect foil. This is the one dish I regretted not ordering the full portion of – the flavors worked so beautifully together. The crab cake over chopped romaine with tomatoes, capers, and red onions dressed with horseradish aioli ($10.95, half; $16.95, full) is remarkable mainly for the crab cake itself: There is just enough binder used to get large pieces of lump crab to barely hold together – no skimping on crab whatsoever. The salad base was not particularly inspired, though the capers were a nice touch.

Braise could use help in the dessert arena. The menu includes only three desserts, and the choices are rather boring: buttermilk pie, chocolate mousse, and chocolate-chip bread pudding à la mode. The dark-chocolate-coffee-bean mousse ($8.95) is rich and complex, although pricey and, oddly, a little salty. The traditional buttermilk pie ($6.95) is made in-house with a nice, crisp crust; strangely, it was served reheated with coconut whipped cream. Naturally, the additional heating made the custard pie hard and rubbery and caused the whipped cream to melt instantly. And in the pursuit of greater simplicity, the only beverage choices with dessert are milk (hot or cold) and French press Casa Brasil coffee (caffeinated only; full pot, $3.95). While the French press coffee is economical and a refreshing change, I found the lack of a decaf coffee and the absence of any sort of tea more frustrating than daring. Nevertheless, Braise remains a charming place to get an impressive meal for $30 per person: Not bad!

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Braise, Parind Vora, Jezebel, Chris Kirby, Niman Ranch, meltingly tender, cheese plate, Las Vegas, Luis Abreux, affordable, half-order

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