Restaurant Review: Launderette
Ortiz and Sawicki hit all the right notes
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., April 17, 2015
Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11am-2:30pm; Dinner: Sun.-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 5-11pm; Brunch: Sat.-Sun., 11am-2:30pm
Chef Rene Ortiz has no hesitation when it comes to bold seasoning, and his familiarity with the salt shaker might make a cardiologist faint. The Mediterranean-inspired and seasonally appropriate dishes that make up the menu at Launderette are definite proof of that. The snacks, grilled items, toasts, vegetable dishes, entrées, and desserts here reflect a conscious layering of flavor, whether those flavors are subtle or robust, savory or sweet. Launderette, the long-awaited Holly neighborhood bistro from culinary partners Ortiz and Laura Sawicki, opened mid-February, and crowds have been streaming in for Ortiz's big flavors and Sawicki's exemplary desserts ever since.
The reimagined washateria is dominated by a long, curved bar and an open kitchen. The bar offers a selection of custom cocktails and a well-curated list of local and national craft brews, along with an almost entirely European wine collection. Margaret Vera's interior design work is comfortable and inviting, with a front wall of windows and polished tables of local reclaimed wood on cast iron legs. In addition to the lovely rustic tables, the creative talents at Cerberus Fabrication & Design also made the benches that line the front porch. It's possible to dine on either the porch or a small patio on the west end of the building that's accented with a wood-burning chimenea and strategically placed blankets that have surely come in handy on nippy evenings.
Our first visit was a quick drive-by during South by Southwest when Launderette was serving "snacky bits" afternoons. Orders of blistered shishito peppers with an excellent, retro Green Goddess dipping sauce and some of Nonna's meatballs in rich Sunday gravy with slices of rustic grilled bread made a great first impression. Two recent early dinner visits confirmed that positive feeling. Our first group consisted of two meat eaters, one pescatarian, and a friend who has to eat strictly gluten-free. We all found plenty to enjoy. Our server was very knowledgeable about the menu and willing to make inquiries in the kitchen when we had specific questions about things such as the use of a dedicated fryer for breaded items.
We opted to share snacks, toasts, and vegetables for the table, with each of us choosing our own entrée. The house potato chips with a zippy pimento cheese sauce ($6) were a worthy starter, waking up our collective palate before the luxurious toasts ($9) arrived. The whipped ricotta toast offered charred Easy Tiger sourdough slathered with creamy ricotta topped with red grapes braised in verjus with honey. It was a revelation of flavor and texture contrasts; the soft, delicate cheese smoothing out the crisp, burnt crusts of bread, and barely cooked grapes yielding juice to meld with honey and the tang of verjus. The crab toast could just be the best thing I've tried at any visit to Launderette – a slice of Easy Tiger semolina bread spread with fennel aioli, topped with a voluptuous amount of sweet lump crab meat under a mantle of avocado slices, whisper thin radishes, and frilly, aromatic fennel fronds. Every bite will have you wanting more.
Vegetable treatments are an area where the Launderette kitchen really excels, so be sure to get several to share. I've made no secret of my dislike for brussels sprouts and my disdain for trendy greens like kale and chard, but the kitchen here had me eating them all in one dish or another and happy about it. The sticky brussels sprouts ($9) are cooked with an apple-bacon marmalade and served with almonds and chunks of fresh apple under a snowy cloud of grated pecorino cheese. Stir it all up for the full interplay of the tangy, acidic, sweet, and salty flavor elements popping in this dish and you won't be able to stop eating it. The cauliflower gratin ($9), on the other hand, is a study in richness and subtlety, the still-toothsome vegetable paired with melted Gruyère under a crown of toasted garlic crumbs. The only vegetable mishap I've encountered in three visits were some hearts of Romaine lettuce ($9) that were utterly overwhelmed by a far-too-assertive anchovy dressing. Our server noticed our displeasure and whisked them away with an offer of a replacement, and they disappeared from our bill, as well, so no harm done.
The two most impressive entrées of that first evening were the Brick Chicken ($18), with moist, tender pieces of chicken under a perfectly rendered crisp crust, nestled in a pool of silken sauce aligot and wilted chard. Order this and become a surefire member of the clean plate club. The showstopper that night was definitely the whole branzino ($28). The popular Mediterranean fish is seasoned with preserved lemons and fresh thyme, served under an avalanche of buttery blanched almond slices. If you're a fan of well-prepared seafood, this could be the saltiest fish dish you've ever loved.
No visit to Launderette would be complete without a sampling of Laura Sawicki's desserts, the list of which always includes a choice of seasonal ice creams and sorbets. The lemon curd tart ($9) offers a lovely spring portrait with the tart as a centerpiece among compressed strawberries, tiny pieces of rhubarb, dainty dollops of sweet pea purée, and a delicate basil ice cream. Another definite winner was the apple pie ($9), an individual flaky pastry filled with toothsome apple slices, sitting in a pool of salted butterscotch caramel, complemented by an understated sage ice cream. That night's gluten-free option was a Pistachio Rosewater Parfait ($9), which I'll admit sounded strange on paper, with a description that included grapefruit, fennel, candied pistachios, yogurt, and tahini. However, it turned out to be a subtle and sophisticated end to a boldly flavored meal, hitting just the right note. It's all about the balance, and these two chefs have found it.
Launderette2115 Holly, 512/382-1599
Sun.-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 5-11pm