Restaurant Review: Destination Dining Downtown

Austin is turning into quite a sophisticated bar town, and this one tops the list

Bar Congress

200 Congress, 512/827-2760,
Tue.-Sat., 5pm-11:30pm
Destination Dining Downtown
Photo by John Anderson

Bar Congress

200 Congress
Tuesday-Saturday, 5pm-12mid

Bar Congress brings together three of Austin's top restaurant people – chef David Bull, sommelier June Rodil, and mixologist Adam Bryan – and gives them an intimate and elegant stage to show off their many talents. Lucky us!

Bryan is one of our very finest mixologists. Where most bars focus on speed, Bryan makes each cocktail individually and with great care. His Walker Manhattan ($12) is a dazzling blend of Michter's US 1 Straight Rye and Vya red vermouth. The Vya is the secret ingredient, adding intense aromas you just don't get in the normal $5-a-bottle vermouth. Asked what the house specialty was, our attentive waitperson recommended the Preferred Lies ($13). Its bergamot aromas come from Earl Grey-infused bourbon and were set off by delightful foam made from Canton ginger liqueur.

Bar Congress also has an ingenious wine list. Rodil, a past winner of Texas' Best Sommelier Competition, has put together a brilliant Euro-centric wine list. We enjoyed the hazelnut aroma of the Simon Bize & Fils Les Cham­plains white Burgundy ($14) and a palate-cleansing Guasti Clemente Cortese dell'alto Monferrato ($12). The bargain of the wine list is the Domaine Notre Dame des Pallières Rasteau ($11), a bold red that's perfect for the meats on the menu.

The final part of Bar Congress's hat-trick is delicious food from the ever-inventive Bull. As usual, he finds the perfect balance of innovation and informality. We went gaga over the veal meatball slider ($8), which also had sweetbreads and a hint of arugula. Fans of potatoes will like the beef short rib croquettes with Gruyère fondue ($12), a bundle of crispy and creamy pleasure with a hint of beef flavor. We also tried two large plates. The Thumbelina carrot ravioli ($18) is a delicate bowl of pasta pillows with carrot puree and distinct lemongrass aromas. The best dish of the night was Bull's short rib "Pot Roast" ($24) with a soft poached egg, celery root, and a touch of mascarpone.

Austin is turning into quite a sophisticated bar town, and Bar Congress belongs right at the top of your list of new places to try.

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