Restaurant Review: Luminaire

San Antonio’s Steve McHugh steps into the Austin dining spotlight

Luminaire's interior is small, bright, and airy (Photos by John Anderson)

In theatre, a luminaire is a floodlight fixture that delivers light evenly and efficiently, illuminating precisely what needs illuminating. In Austin, Luminaire is also the newest concept from lauded chef Steve McHugh, fittingly taking its mark next to the Stateside and Paramount theatres on the ground floor of the Hyatt Centric Congress Avenue hotel.

The restaurant is sleek and modern without being stuffy. The space is bright, high-ceilinged, and fairly small. A larger, elegant space occupies the second floor, complete with a living room-type area with plump leather couches in front of a fireplace, for overflow seating and private dining for large groups. Both walls of windows, north and west, have large roll-up doors that expand the space to al fresco on nice days. It is a relatively quiet place, even when busy, which I enjoyed.

McHugh is well known for his charcuterie thanks to his work at Cured, his restaurant in San Antonio's historic Pearl Brewery shopping and dining district. To that end, the charcuterie here, for the time being, is all done at Cured, then brought to Luminaire and ensconced in a glass cabinet called the Ham Bar where the meats continue aging.

Lamb, goat, veal, and pork Delgada chops

I sat for dinner on the patio on a beautiful spring night and ordered the smoked tomato tartare, a deliciously briny concoction of cold smoked Romas, cured egg yolk, capers, olive oil, and caviar, served with an airy, crunchy, grilled sourdough. McHugh and Executive Chef Greg Driver have leaned heavily into Spanish cuisine, and that means bread. You would be remiss to skip any of Luminaire's offerings with sourdough from Uwe Theis of Old World Foods, a German baker out of New Braunfels.

The Delgada chops, served per piece, are the ideal tapas for carnivores, roughly 4-ounce cuts of meat you'd usually have to order a much larger, more expensive portion of to enjoy. I had the veal and lamb, both served on towering pieces of herb focaccia, also from Theis, ladled with a silky au jus made from the chops' trimmings and jamon bones. Both cuts were thin, tender, and bone-in. I highly recommend trying at least one per person; the chops menu is the most thoughtful and delicious riff on tapas I've ever encountered in Austin.

The chops menu is the most thoughtful and delicious riff on tapas I’ve ever encountered in Austin.

For my entrée, I chose the gnocchi, served Parisian-style, made of a pâte à choux with smoked butter, Emmenthal cheese, flour, water, and egg. The delicate, soft dumplings are sautéed to a subtle, crisp crust on one side and served in a sobrasada Bolognese that doesn't soften the texture of the gnocchi, then topped with shaved Manchego. Sobrasada is a pork sausage from Spain's Balearic Islands; Luminaire's version is so good I had to try it twice.

To accompany my meal, I went with the pipeño from Lomas de Llahuen, an organic red from Chile's Itata Valley. It's light, slightly smoky, fruity, and dry, a workhorse wine. It went well with the acidity and smokiness of the tartare, stood up to the richness of the chops, and was a perfect complement to the gnocchi.

Smoked tomato tartare

Not much of a dessert guy, I wanted to try the Slippery Slope, a frozen coffee-and-rum cocktail. Instead, the server gently guided me toward a carajillo, a popular Spanish coffee cocktail, their version comprising espresso, Licor 43, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, and Calabrian chile pepper over crushed ice. It was fabulous, with a great cream head ensuring it was vigorously shaken and the espresso fresh, and guaranteed to keep you going just for a touch longer if you need to make a show or another engagement.

I came for lunch on a bitterly cold and wet afternoon, and started with the Luminaire Salad. While it was perfectly dressed with citrus vinaigrette and topped with creamy smoked paprika potatoes and an egg just the right side of hardboiled, I did find the mixed greens a touch tired. It's refreshing and substantial enough that one could walk away satisfied even without adding on a protein. I paired it with St. Elmo's Carl Kölsch, which played perfectly with the acidity in the pickled red onions, marinated green olives, and vinaigrette.

I followed it with a Wide Open, an open-faced sandwich with the sobrasada (in slab form this time), Majon cheese, and that wonderfully pillowlike crunchy grilled sourdough. The nutty, semisweet, and creamy Majon married an amazing bite layered above the boldly spiced sobrasada, all topped with bright, lightly dressed arugula. The sandwich is served with fries that are good, but the aioli, which I assume is spiked with paprika, is addicting.

Lunch service was attentive and cordial without being smothering, and even on a gruesomely slow day for the front of house, the staff missed no cues. Dinner was equally as smooth. I had a knowledgeable and attentive waitperson who was navigating a short-staffed floor but never missed a beat. Luminaire runs multiple services and menus, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus weekend brunch, a four-course prix fixe "pre-theatre menu," and a tapas hour. This is no small feat considering the quality of food they are putting out.

Thoughtfully thematic, smart, and functional, a personal light accompanies each table and seat at the respective bars. With multiple settings, the lights provide appropriate illumination and ambience. Locals can consider Luminaire as a luxurious staycation dining experience; for those visiting, it is a place that should be on your restaurant checklist as a beacon of legit Spanish-inspired food à la Central Texas.


721 Congress, 737/257-3211
6:30am-11pm daily

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Luminaire, Steve McHugh, Cured, Greg Driver, Uwe Theis, Old World Foods

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