Chef Shawn Cirkiel feels extremely lucky to be opening his new restaurant, Chavez, in the Radisson Hotel & Suites this Saturday. In fact, he calls the location at the corner of East Cesar Chavez Street and South Congress Avenue “one of the great pieces of real estate in Austin.”
Chavez, a collaboration with design powerhouse FÖDA Studio and Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, has resulted in an vast modern space with an airy feel. The light-colored wood and white chairs found throughout the restaurant create a muted backdrop for eye-catching details like red tiles and blue fish tanks. The floor-to-ceiling window wraps around the west and south sides of the restaurant. And diners will indeed agree with Cirkiel about the fabulous location after watching a sunset over Town Lake and the Congress Avenue Bridge.
Diners will indeed agree with Cirkiel about the fabulous location after watching a sunset over Town Lake and the Congress Avenue Bridge.
Chavez is a bit of a departure for Cirkiel, who is best known for the bistro fare at Parkside and Italian-influenced cuisine at Olive & June and The Backspace. For Cirkiel, a native Texan, the Chavez concept is more personal. “Well, the concept is Southwestern,” he explains, “It’s based on what you would have eaten in Texas 100 years ago, things like beans, cornbread, tortillas and biscuits.”
Based on that description, the food is surprisingly light. There are several salads on the menu and many seafood options including salmon veracuz cooked with tomatoes, peppers, capers and olives, as well as grilled shrimp and herb crusted mahi mahi. There will be a sizable raw bar featuring ceviche, bass with avocado and lime, and two kinds of raw oysters. Those who prefer oysters in fried form can order appetizers such as the spicy oyster taquitos with avocado crema and slaw.
Tex-Mex favorites are available, but with a sophisticated touch (no gooey layers of melted cheese here!). Enchiladas in a spicy red sauce with a sprinkling of cotija cheese are available as a side dish. The "sopes de carnitas" are little masa cups filled with refried black beans and succulent pork. Cirkiel emphasizes the fresh ingredients, saying “Everything is homemade, and everything is made in-house,” including the tortillas and the dark sauce for the rich “lamb en mole.”
The best seats in the house, however, seem to be in the bar area. Besides wine and beer, there’s a large selection of unique cocktails in keeping with the Southwestern theme, including a horchata-based rum drink that's as delicious as it is rich.
We have no doubt that Chavez is likely to become the best spot in town to watch the bats take flight and soak up the sunset — while lounging on the brown and white cow print chairs and sipping on a sour cherry margarita, of course.