Restaurant Review: Le Politique
Austin’s newest Downtown French brasserie holds court
Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, Fri., Dec. 22, 2017
Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11am-3pm; Dinner: Sun.-Wed., 5-10pm & Thu.-Sat., 5-11pm; Brunch: Sat.-Sun., 10:30am-3pm; Patisserie: Mon.-Fri., 7am-4pm; Sat.-Sun., 7am-7pm
Everything at Le Politique, the new Downtown French brasserie concept from the New Waterloo hospitality group, is curated to the finest detail. The entire motif – from the wine list to the light fixtures to the pinky swear and king's X etched on custom dinner plates, cheese boards, and beer mats – alludes to Le Politique's rhetorical gesture to Austin's status (for better or worse) as a political capital. They also evoke the sense of promise – a promise made, a promise broken, a promise yet to be realized.
Le Politique oozes French sophistication before you even pass through the doors. The pink and blue brasserie-style chairs on the sidewalk-turned-wraparound patio outside the restaurant gesture broadly toward Paris. The interior space is bright with high ceilings, and the oysters and lobster claws on ice at the sleek raw bar serve as an enticing welcome committee. It's simply a gorgeous space, with lovely tile work and airy peach draperies from local architectural firm Clayton & Little. Even the Charlie Hebdo newspapers covering the windows of the not-yet-opened coffee shop were on-brand.
On our first visit, a 7:15 weekday dinner reservation, our table wasn't ready and we were invited to sit at the bar. We seized an opportunity to pick the brain of our bartender (who was won over by my companion's order of Fernet-Branca as an aperitif), and were finally seated half an hour later, very hungry and ready to dive into the formidable menu. Our server was attentive and informative, without being pushy, and he guided our wine selection from the all-French list and steered us toward a chic five-cheese plate with ossau iraty, tomme de crayeuse, a washed-rind cheese, a bleu, and another that got lost in the shuffle. The accompanying raisin pecan toast, though, was particularly memorable.
Eschewing the robust list of fruits de mer on iced display (the grand plateau deserves its own evening), we cast a wide net from the hors d'oeuvre and entrée sections. The escargot (prepared à la bourguignonne style, bathed in a sauce of garlic and parsley, each topped with a tiny puffed pastry) and steak tartare (rib eye hand-cut to offer a balanced ratio of fat to muscle, with a fresh, oozy yellow-orange yolk) were both excellent. The classic brasserie steak frites passed muster. But the moules frites, prepared with pricey bouchot mussels, stole the show. They are plump and creamy and arrive swimming in a pool of irresistibly fragrant white wine sauce. My dining companion threatened to drink it straight from the bowl when the shellfish and frites were spent.
Chef Derek Salkin, formerly of Per Se and the French Laundry, shows off his classical training with his signature dish, the poulet roti, and it doesn't disappoint. The crispy-skinned half-chicken rests atop braised lettuce, turnips, mushrooms, and peas and a sauce vin jaune, with a little cast-iron pot of creamy pommes aligot (cheesy mashed potatoes). It is breathtakingly delicious.
The dinner portions are large, but diners would do well to pace themselves and allow room for pastry chef Alyssa Hurlstone's desserts. The mille crêpe opéra, whose enticing, glossy ganache looked promising, was ultimately just okay. The tarte au citron showcased a not-too-tart lemon curd in a top-notch shortcrust pastry.
Our next visit was for brunch, which had a very different vibe than dinner. We were seated right away, our orders were taken relatively promptly, and the food was served almost immediately – a marked difference from our weeknight dinner service, which was so leisurely paced that it bordered on problematic.
The winning dish at brunch, hands-down, was the hash of the day – short rib and oxtail with brunoise potatoes and sweet potatoes. (Dinner specials du jour might be bœuf bourguignon or duck confit or sole with brown butter and capers.) A close second, the classic croque madame, was delicately flavored while also very rich, thanks to the buttery comté. The pain perdu was the weakest link, but the Calvados apple brandy syrup with poached apples that accompanied it was delightful.
The patisserie program has excellent word-of-mouth around town, and viennoiserie lovers shouldn't sleep on the croissants. Sadly, our reservation was so late in the service that they were sold out of chocolate and almond croissants (as well as the bostock), which I'd hoped to sample due to very strong opinions and loyalties when it comes to the latter pastry. Even so, the plain croissant was beautifully laminated and had a lovely, buttery bite. By the time this review goes to print, Le Politique will have opened the doors to its planned coffee shop, where folks can pop in for coffee and pastries any day of the week, without having to wait for weekend brunch service.
All in all, the food at Le Politique is high-quality and thoughtfully prepared. There were no tragedies or land mines on the menu, and even the less successful dishes were palatable. Still, with such classic dishes and meticulously presented style, there's something slightly off. Perhaps it's just that a French brasserie ought to veer more toward relaxed, intimate ambience, rather than loud and flashy and bright. I came away from both meals wondering whether Le Politique can ultimately deliver on the promise they're so dutifully aiming to fulfill.
Le Politique110 San Antonio St., 512/580-7651
Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11am-3pm; Midday: Daily, 3-5pm; Dinner: Sun.-Wed., 5-10pm & Thu.-Sat., 5-11pm; Brunch: Sat.-Sun., 10:30am-3pm; Patisserie: Daily, 7am-4pm