Rob Moshein - The Austin Wine Guy

Austin Texas: WHY are you people not eating at The Carillon?? Volnay Smackdown and Dinner with Paul in the 78705.

April 08, 2010

Paul and I wanted one really special dinner to host the Volnay smackdown. I came up with one place immediately.

The Carillon at ATT Center on UT Campus.

My friend and respected eater Mike Sutter, food writer at the American Statesman, gave a more than glowing thumbs up for dinner at the Carillon. I was intrigued. I went to the media event one afternoon a few months later, I was impressed.  Now, as is usual for everyone who actually LIVES in Austin full time, UT Campus is to be avoided by all means unless absolutely no alternative. Seriously, I live four blocks from campus, and except for the Carillon, I haven't set foot on campus for about a year and a half now since I went to the Blanton for an exhibit. The Carillon makes going on campus easy as possible. It's a hundred feet off MLK, and has valet parking out front.  If you want to avoid paying to park, just go into the parking garage downstairs and park under the south side of the building and the elevator lets you off right in front of the restaurant. They will gladly validate your parking ticket and presto! Free parking. About as painless and easy as being on campus gets these days.

The space is large but not overwhelming. The furnishings and ambiance are elegant and comfortable but not at all stuffy or pretentious. Easy to relax. The service, well the service is without a doubt the finest I have experience ANYWHERE, and is light years ahead of every other restaurant in town. Seriously. Not a flaw. The servers were friendly, but not overly so. Attentive, but not hovering. Just a quick look if we needed something and without hesitation it was provided with a smile. All was done with a genuine feeling. Nobody seemed to be "acting" the part. Seriously, from the busboy filling water glasses (and still or sparkling water without charge was an elegant touch) to the evening's Chef and Amanda the Manager, everyone was really pleasant and attentive.

A note here. I know Chef Josh Watkins from a previous media party at the Carillon. I love his ideas and passion for his food. I must admit to being a tad disappointed that he was off for Good Friday to work on his new house. Now everyone deserves a day off and I'm not griping that he took one. I understand totally. I just was concerned that in his absence the food might not be up to his par. I was wrong. The food was in more than capable hands with Chef Chris at the helm!

The food: AUSTIN, WHY ARE YOU NOT EATING THIS FOOD? All evening long, Paul and I kept looking around at the half empty restaurant and wondering why you people are not eating here.  This food was as good and perfect as any meal either of us have had in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Las Vegas or New York. Seriously. I'm not joking or puffing. I mean that statement. Take it to the bank. You are seriously missing out on the best meal in Austin. Seriously. It was a crime the restaurant was not packed like most places downtown at the same moment.

Hamachi Crudo, perfect squares of raw hamachi, with a light ponzu dressing, currants and hazelnuts was perfection. Now Paul quibbled about the hazlenuts on top for texture, he griped that they detracted from the experience of the rest of the dish. I felt they added nothing, but didn't detract. I loved the tiny touch of controlled heat, just enough to be there but in no way interfering with other flavors or the wine. Every single Austin Chef should taste this dish and learn from it. The dish was still a 9.5 out of 10 for Paul and 10 from me.


Blue Prawn Confit with Truffled Potato Terrine and braised leeks and tomato Vinaigrette. We split this main course as an appetizer. A home run out of the park all bases loaded! 100 points out of a possible 100 from both of us. The sweet, briny, delicious prawns lightly sauced with a rich creamy sauce must be eaten with a bite of the truffled potato to create a full experience of symphonic perfect flavors. Amazing actually. Everything just "parties" on the tongue;  the sweet, creamy, earthy, tomato acid, sumptuous flavors all in elegant harmony. We both agreed we could marry this food and make love to it all night long! 

Chef Chris brought us a tasting bite of the Crisp Pork Belly. It takes THREE DAYS to create this dish! Wow, and the love and care shows. Perfect Pork presented! Tender, rich, porky goodness in every bite, accented with the "Diablo" glaze and a crisp fried mint leaf. Very much comfort food taken to a better level. Yum. 

The braised Short Ribs. Slow and low taken to an extreme 19 hours, the delicate cubes of beef on celery root puree and painted with delicate Black Pepper Gastrique. Tender, so tender, you almost don't need the knife. Pure rich beef flavor with a sumptuous delicate moist mouth feel. Again, comfort food, taken up a couple of notches to become an experience and not just a meal. 

This was more than enough to eat. Neither of us wanted dessert or even coffee; merely content to finish the Burgundy (see below) and chat with the nice lady at the next table who thought we were food critics! Yes, this being Austin, it was easy to start chatting with the next table and the atmosphere is not so stuffy as some might believe as this proved. 

Ok the really beauty part. The bill. $38 each for the meal. Let me repeat, thirty eight dollars per person for this amazing meal. Austin, listen up here. $38 won't even buy you just a piece of steak at Ruths Chris, Roaring Fork, IIIForks or Sullivan's. $38 "might" buy just an entree at any of the crowded downtown spots. This meal was stupid cheap for the food, service and entire experience. 

If you consider yourself a local "Foodie" and have NOT eaten dinner at The Carillon, I will personally hunt you down and demand you surrender your Foodie card. Austin has a sad history of not supporting the worthy and praising the mediocre. Do not squander this opportunity people. Austin FINALLY has a restaurant that would draw acclaim in any city in this great nation of ours. The Carillon. You heard it from me. Now go there. NOW.

The Wines:
Paul was most proud of one bottle he sent ahead, insisting that it was just for me. J.M. Boillot Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 1996! I was staggered when I saw the bottle. Corton! Woo HOO!. Paul said "Bring a backup white just in case". We did, just to humor him. The waiter carefully opened the wine, and with much anticipation I took the glass. Not much nose. Hmmmm.....The wine was, well, not there. Something up front, and a weird carmel flavored finish with a gaping flavor hole where the Corton should be in between. Oh no. It died in shipping?? We put it aside, opened the back up. It never revived. It was worse the next day. I mourned the loss.
The backup: Puligny Montrachet "Les Referts" Etienne Sauzet 1996. AHHHHH, much better. Lovely green crisp nose with a slight warm spice tone. Lovely layers of apple, spice, acidity and the signature touch of flab on the mid palate for Puligny that disappeared instantly with the food. Particularly nice with the Prawns! Ahhhh, Puligny was on of the first white Burgundys I had back at Cambridge some thirty years ago and I still love it. That elegant contrast of huge complex flavors that never get heavy on the palate.  

The smackdown:
1995 Volnay Premiere Cru "Les Champans". In the white trunks: De Monthille, in the red trunks d'Angerville. This was a heavyweight battle indeed ladies and gentlemen. Not for the faint of heart. Each contender is a serious, earnest and honest fighter, well trained after years of experience. They bring their A game to the battle. Both demonstrate the basic arts of a fine nose, floral and berry with a touch of forest floor and smoke. Both are dense, well muscled fighters. Elegant and strong, yet amazingly light on their feet. Flavors of black and red berry, more smoke mushrooms, but each dances with their signature style. D'Angerville is a more exuberant dancer, showing flashier fruits and a tad more expression. De Monthille is all about control and tightness of expression. De Monthille vibrates on a very tight frequency indeed, the flavors more tightly compacted, wound up and a bit more work to detect. The battle continued on through the beef ribs and took the place of dessert. They went the distance, until we had finished both bottles (well we shared a glass of each with Amanda the GM, who took some more to share with the staff)
The verdict.  I judged D'Angerville the victor by points. There was no knockdown. While I felt the De Monthille would be better in five more years, I had to judge the performance by what I saw in the glass that night. Paul disagreed and voted the De Monthille the victor. He just loves wound up, high vibrating wines of complex intensity.  I prefer the slightly more supple and approachable. So it was a tie. OK, I'm fudging a little. Amanda liked the De Monthille also so Paul claimed victory.
I say the real winners were those of us who had the unique and special opportunity to drink two world class wines side by side, and see what is the true art of the winemaker when given the exact same product to work with.

THANK YOU PAUL! Thank you d'Angerville and De Monthille! Thank you Carillon! What a smackdown. What a dinner! What an evening!


Rob Moshein
Austin Wine Guy.

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