Anecdotal evidence from local caterers indicates this really has been an austere Christmas season, with far fewer corporate, business, and private-party bookings all over town. That could explain why all the holiday restaurant openings are attracting so much attention – they're a good excuse to get dressed up and go out to enjoy food and drinks at bargain prices. Last week, Austin's glitterati attended the opening festivities at the stunning new W Hotel
and its restaurant, Trace
(200 Lavaca, 542-3660, www.traceaustin.com
). Breaking with their traditional model, the brand-conscious powers that be at Starwood Hotels chose not to partner with a high-profile-celebrity-chef restaurant for the Austin property. Instead, they've opted for a locally focused concept with an Austin-centric vibe, presenting what they describe as "conscious cuisine." The kitchen at Trace is under the direction of Executive Chef Paul Hargrove
, who will be ably assisted by official forager Valerie Broussard
, who formerly held the same post at the Barr Mansion. Broussard's job will be to develop relationships with area farmers, ranchers, fishermen, artisanal food producers, and distributors in order to stock the Trace larder with sustainable items that are "foraged, farmed, crafted, or hunted." "We define conscious cuisine as utilizing local resources to guide our menu, which is seasonally driven with selections chosen to create minimal impact on the environment," says Hargrove. The dining facilities include the main dining room, a private party room, the bar, and an outside dining area. Trace serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunches. It should be fascinating to see how well the kitchen delivers on its lofty opening goals.
Another new spot adhering to the locavore aesthetic is Barley Swine (2024 S. Lamar, 917-8425, www.barleyswine.com), the latest venture from second-generation Austin chef Bryce Gilmore, who also runs Odd Duck Farm to Trailer. As the quirky name implies, Gilmore's main focus at his new brick-and-mortar eatery will be locally raised pork and Austin craft-brewed beer. But his menu will also include other meats and fish, some nationally respected microbrews, and a small, mostly domestic wine list. Look for shared plates, communal dining tables, and Austin's first large bottle format beer service. The cozy, 35-seat space with rustic decor and an open kitchen will be open 5pm-midnight, Monday through Saturday, beginning Wednesday, Dec. 29. Gilmore has a special tasting menu planned for New Year's Eve.
Not all the new-restaurant excitement is happening in the Central city, however. The opening of a modern, casual restaurant designed to embrace Austinites' love of the outdoors was celebrated last week in far North Austin, as well. Zed's (501 Canyon Ridge Dr., 339-9337, www.zeds.bz) sits on three wooded acres with a pond and a hike-and-bike trail in the Tech Ridge development near Parmer Lane and I-35. The eatery boasts a Michael Hsu design, with scenic vistas, expansive all-weather decks, and a distinctive, indoor-outdoor water feature by Pape-Dawson Engineers. The Zed's menu offers cuisines of the American South and Southwest with a definite Austin flair. The restaurant serves lunch, dinner, and late-night fare with full bar service. Look for an acoustic music lineup sometime in 2011.