Restaurant Review: 1417 French Bistro

Timeless, comfy French cuisine takes hold in the heart of Bouldin

Get buttered up at brunch with a flaky croissant (Photos by John Anderson)

Austin is a city of palimpsests, and 1417 S. First is a good example. Twenty years ago, it was Cheap Price Cigarettes. Before that, it was the Austin Food Market. In 2012, that building – vacant, derelict, and just a blur on Google Maps – was rehabbed into the upscale Thai concept Sway.

Sway's sleek spaces and meditative lighting lent the sense of having been transported to a more exotic, rarefied place, where the food was spicier and the people far wealthier than any of its previous inhabitants. That location closed during the pandemic and 1417 Bistro opened in its place in 2021. (Owner Allison Welsh and chef Kyle Mulligan subsequently rebranded the restaurant as 1417 French Bistro in summer 2022, in homage to the beloved Downtown French mainstay Chez Nous, which shut its doors in June of 2021.) On our first visit to 1417, I couldn't help but notice the traces of Sway – namely, the swirly Thai characters engraved on the heavy door handle that ushers visitors into a cozy, welcoming space that feels more like an elegant living room than a restaurant dining room.

Keep it classy (and classic) with 1417's chic cocktails

Indeed, the interior of 1417 S. First belies any of its previous iterations. It's homey and eclectic, from the mismatched vintage dishware to the wall of glass-paned doors that separate the main dining room from a smaller, more intimate space. The tables and chairs could have been scooped up from a sidewalk cafe in Paris.

The dinner menu at 1417 is classically French in nature. We started with cocktails: a cucumber gimlet for me and the French margarita for my spouse. My gimlet was chic and tart, the Empress gin and St-Germain dancing together amid a backdrop of aromatics. My spouse, a recent convert to mezcal, enjoyed his citrusy margarita so much he ordered a second midway through the meal.

We loved the blue cheese beignets, which were tender and flavorful without being overpowered by the pungency of blue cheese. Our entrées were also a hit across the board. The bouillabaisse featured scallops, shrimp, mussels, and white fish swimming in a rich, succulent tomato broth. The $25 steak frites special (available on Monday nights) was a fantastic value: The fillet, about a 4-ounce portion, was buttery-tender and rubbed with a peppery crust. It melted in the mouth – total perfection. The moules frites bathed in a silky, spicy curry broth; both the mussels and frites were perfectly cooked, and there wasn't a bad mussel in the batch. The frites were served on the side, an attention to detail that was appreciated because they didn't get soaked in broth without the diner's consent.

Steak frites

An unabashed chocoholic, I had to try the chocolate mousse. It was served in a tall, artful swirl in a cute little dish, drizzled with salted caramel and studded with three house-made potato chips, both of which added salt and crunchy texture. Utterly decadent, et je ne regrette rien.

When we returned for brunch a few weeks after our initial visit, Mulligan had departed from 1417, and so had the pastry and bread chefs, so I was curious about the subtle changes to the menu. We started with a croissant to share, which was perfectly laminated, crisp on the outside and melty-soft on the inside. A promising start.

For our mains, my spouse opted for the simplicity of the classic French omelette, while I chose the croque monsieur, a new addition to the menu. The omelette was extremely simple, folded and topped with a sprinkling of chopped chives. However, it was a bit overcooked, lacking the soft-scrambled center; I also wished that it had been cooked (heck, even topped) with some fines herbes to boost the flavor quotient a bit. It was served with a large, simply dressed salade verte; this would be a good dish for someone seeking a light, relatively healthful entrée.

On the flip side, my croque monsieur was not nearly as decadent as I would have preferred. The slices of bread were very thick, which makes sense if you're going to load it up with a lot of butter and cheese and béchamel. But this fancy ham and cheese was an almond mom's idea of the classic dish, with parsimonious portions of all the gooey, fatty, salty components that necessitate sturdy slabs of sourdough. The result was a dry and joyless interpretation of an indulgent sometimes-food.

I revisited the chocolate mousse for dessert because I'd loved it so much at dinner. In place of the perfect marriage of salty and sweet was a dish of white and dark chocolate mousse topped with white and dark chocolate pearls. It wasn't bad, but the previous version was better.

Apart from a miscommunication at brunch that resulted in us waiting for more than 10 minutes to be greeted by our server, we received friendly and informative service on both our visits, and the space is inclusive in terms of accessibility. I would enthusiastically recommend 1417 French Bistro to anyone looking for a special occasion meal, a date night, or even just a comfy dinner. My recommendation for brunch is a little more reserved. On the whole, though, 1417 manages to be welcoming, relaxed, and confident without having to resort to showboating or jumping onto the latest culinary bandwagon. I am hopeful – optimistic, even – that the forces of change won't be erasing or writing over this delightful restaurant anytime soon.

1417 French Bistro

1417 S. First, 512/551-2430
Mon.-Thu., 4-10pm; Fri., 11:30am-4pm & 5-11pm; Sat., 10am-11pm; Sun., 10am-10pm

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1417 French Bistro, brunch, dinner, Allison Welsh, Kyle Mulligan

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