The Austin Chronicle

Restaurant Review

Reviewed by Claudia Alarcón, December 10, 2010, Food

Urban at the Westin

11301 Domain Dr., 490-1511
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11:30am-3pm; dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 5-10pm, and Friday-Saturday, 5-11pm; Sunday brunch: 11am-3pm; happy hour: Monday-Friday, 4-7pm

As someone who missed chef Mizael Sau­ce­do's cuisine when he left Bess Bistro, I was thrilled to hear of his appointment as general manager and executive chef at Urban at the Westin. The new eatery opened in March, offering upscale comfort American classics. The menu made an effort to include as many local ingredients as possible, which originally attracted me to the idea of dining at a hotel restaurant in the Domain. Saucedo's arrival sealed the deal. I'm happy to report that the chef has not skipped a beat, bringing his eco-friendly style and ethics with him. Despite a few kinks left to iron out, Urban is a worthwhile dining destination.

Shortly after Saucedo's arrival, we visited for dinner as he was rolling out a new menu, developed in concert with original Urban chef Bryce Murphree. In fact, the voluptuous sweet corn bisque ($7) is his recipe, a rich and velvety puree of fresh corn garnished with roasted-corn pico de gallo, with a pervasive brown-butter flavor. We followed with two starters with local accents: a grilled Lockhart quail with green tomato chowchow, creamy grits, and guajillo honey glaze ($11), and a Texas spinach salad with warm bacon vinaigrette, crisp lardons, fresh Parmesan cheese, and a sunny-side-up egg ($10). We were wowed by the prime rib of Berkshire pork ($23) glazed in caramelized soy sauce with sautéed apples, pearl onions, and wilted spinach. The salty-sweet-fatty combination was just dynamite, the meat cooked perfectly to medium on the rare side. The seared tuna ($24) served with fingerling potatoes, asparagus, tomatoes, olives, and truffle vinaigrette was a bit of a letdown, however. In essence a Niçoise salad, it was dominated by truffle flavor and lacked balanced acidity. I would have preferred a simple citrus vinaigrette, perhaps with a hint of chile (which Saucedo uses masterfully).

The extensive wine list is a bit California-centric, but changes are on the way, since Saucedo's goal is to offer better pairings for the food. For dessert we had an avocado tres leches cake so incredibly delicious that I asked for seconds – and I usually skip dessert.

Urban's lunch menu offers light fare: pizza, salads, sandwiches, and small entrées. The cornmeal-crusted fried green tomatoes filled with warm Gouda and piquillo peppers ($8) could make a light meal paired with a cup of soup. I was thankfully swayed by the sweet, oceany jumbo scallops ($14) sautéed in sage brown butter, served with a petit salad of hearts of palm, arugula, and white grapefruit segments. A glass of Hook and Ladder Gewürz­tra­miner was the perfect accompaniment with its citrusy, mineral palate. The weekday-afternoon "My 512" happy hour offers a great deal with appetizers, signature cocktails, and local beers at special prices. From the cocktail menu – in which each bartender is credited for their creations – I absolutely loved the Pear Prosecco, made with fresh pear and brown sugar house-made syrup topped with amaretto and Prosecco, garnished with a thin slice of pear spread with mascarpone cheese and roasted nuts. Bar nibbles include a beautifully presented tuna tartare ($5), minced and tossed with a sesame-Sriracha aioli, layered with finely diced yellow tomato and avocado; tailgate chicken tenders ($5), beer-battered and served with hot-sauce-laced ranch dressing; and a pure-meat-no-filling lump crab cake ($12) with avocado, micro-cilantro, and Dyna­mite sauce (another spicy mayo). The bar itself is elegant, ample, comfortable, and expertly tended.

Our visit for Sunday brunch didn't disappoint, either. The cute lox sliders ($3 each), honey-wheat minimuffins topped with smoked salmon, fried quail eggs, spinach, and citrus hollandaise, are like miniature eggs Benedict. The humongous Urbanburger ($12) is cooked to specified temperature and topped with barbecue sauce, onions, poblano peppers, and crimini mushrooms, served with salt-and-pepper fries. It left me in a meat coma, while my husband swore that the Big Biscuit ($12), topped with creamy scrambled eggs, duck confit, chorizo, and bacon gravy, could probably cure even the worst hangover. Add a bloody beer made with homemade mix, and you're good to go for an afternoon of football on the couch.

My only complaint about Urban is that service is not quite there yet. Though the young staff is polite and eager, they obviously need more training, especially when it comes to wine sales. For example, when a diner asks, "Is the Gewürztraminer dry or sweet?" the correct answer is, "Let me bring you a taste," instead of "I'm not a wine drinker." But given the recent changes, we can let that go for now, especially since we liked the food and ambience, and chef Saucedo is sure to guide the ship in the right direction.

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