The Austin Chronicle

The Take-Out

Restaurant interiors need a new look

By Brandon Watson, December 18, 2015, Food

Even when my idea of fine dining came with unlimited breadsticks, I knew what it should look like. There would be a sweep of grand curtains, like Philippe Starck's absurd Teatriz in Madrid, or maybe a few metal storks like Barbara Lazaroff's Chinois on Main. I had no conception of what the food at such places would taste like (I guessed really buttery), but the interiors were more tangible. Surrounded by the mauves and dusty roses of Nineties rural living, nothing was as intoxicating as opulence. The daydreams of one day sitting in those rooms helped me through high school.

Now that I spend much of my time in restaurants, few perhaps as famous as the ones I used to read about in Vogue, I am often underwhelmed. Don't get me wrong, there are some stunning interiors in this town, but the prevailing fantasy brings me back to where I started – in some fussified version of the country. Nothing quite holds more currency in Austin design as the farm, whether that farm is in Japan, France, or the Hill Country. There's only so much reclaimed wood one can see before everything looks like a hootenanny.

In many spaces, it makes sense. A glittery chandelier would seem out of place where diners chow down on rabbit and dumplings. But still, few places in town are willing to go luxe, even where the chef slings out Alba truffles like they are portobellos.

It seems to me that Austinites are collectively embarrassed by the wealth that created our restaurant scene. I suspect it was one of the reasons Jezebel – with its massive crystal chandeliers and Louis XVI-style chairs – finally failed. We want our boots a little scuffed. Yes, there are certainly problematic aspects of our restaurant scene, but the same money will be spent on a restaurant whether or not the finishings have any flash.

But still, that casualness is fine, even attractive, but the sameness does disservice to the chefs whose cuisine is urban and contemporary, and whose sensibilities are luxe. For most of us, such dining is an occasional indulgence. Occasionally, we can eat on white tablecloths and sit up straight. While I will never miss an opportunity to dine in Uchiko or Contigo or the cave at La Condesa, my senses are ready for another feast. Judging by a few of this year's interiors, I'd be willing to bet the farm that Austin is too.

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