Austin, Texas, is on the up-and-up when it comes to delightful cuisine. Known more for our need to "keep Austin weird" and our support of live music, Austin hasn't always been on the forefront of the ultra hip and uber popular culinary scene. And although it is rumored that high-end food trucks hatched right here in the Capital city, until recently, Austin was treated like the red-headed, step-child of the foodie community. In a place where people are more comfortable in blue jeans and cowboy boots than tuxedos, opening a fine dining restaurant in the heart of one of the most laid back cities in America is either genius or career suicide.
Three years ago "Top 10 Food & Wine" chef David Bull set out to change the culinary community for good when he opened the casual, New American restaurant Second Bar + Kitchen and its fine dining counterpart, Congress Austin. Although a risky move some might say, today Congress is still ranked one of the best restaurants in Austin and throughout the United States. Each night Chef Bull and his staff delight with course after course of a dynamic and diverse menu.
I recently had the pleasure of dining at Congress to celebrate an important birthday. I must admit, this was my second time to dine at Congress; my first being New Year's Eve two years ago. What I experienced was something out of a royal playbook, each course better than the last, and each bite progressively more memorable.
With so many courses I lost count, a few highlights that sent my taste-buds souring and pleased my palate beyond my expectation. Our meal opened with Ora salmon belly with a hint of horseradish atop Silken tofu accompanied by Enoki mushrooms and complemented with soy salt. Several courses later we had salmon again but this time it was king salmon with two fried artichoke hearts covered in lemon juice, which when paired with saltiness of the artichoke was simple awe inspiring. And because you can't have a fine dining experience without a foie course, we were presented with a foie gras torchon with compressed apple, celery and raisin, sprinkled with peanuts and accompanied by foie gras brioche.
The desserts were just as exciting as the numerous savory courses thanks to Pastry Chef Erica Waksmunski. Dessert courses included a rum milk shake, lemon cakes and butterscotch pudding.
And a meal such as this is only as good as the wine it is presented with. With Wine Director Paula Rester (a Level II Certified Sommelier) at the helm, one can't help but wonder if Chef Bull hasn't assembled one of the finest culinary teams in Austin.
No matter your dining preference, if you love food, Congress Austin isn't to be missed. An exceptional dining experience from the friendly "hello" when you walk in the door to the final bite, Congress Austin puts this city on the map for culinary excellence. Whether you're celebrating a birthday or a promotion or you're looking for a great establishment for a romantic night out, Congress Austin serves up what is sure to be one of the most memorable meals in a city not known for fine dining experiences. And be sure to get the wine pairing, as you don't want to miss all that Congress Austin has to offer.
If you're more t-shirts and tacos than tuxedos and torchons, you'll probably want to stick to your local favorites, but if you're in the mood for something more memorable, Congress Austin is a must.