Former star Austin chef dazzles West Texas with destination restaurant
One of Austin's most promising chefs is embarking on a West Texas adventure. The Nicolett, a hotly anticipated fine-dining restaurant from chef Finn Walter, opens at 511 Broadway St. in downtown Lubbock in early November.
Walter, who was pastry chef and chef de partie at Napa Valley's The Restaurant at Meadowood when it famously earned three Michelin stars, is best known locally for his work at Olivia and Mettle.
For his first solo restaurant, however, the chef-owner returned to his hometown of Lubbock, and brought with him two more names familiar to Austin foodies: chef de cuisine David Whalen, formerly of Jeffrey’s, and pastry chef Michalia Dubose,who has worked at bakeries and restaurants across Austin, including Pitchfork Pretty. Dubose also trained under Walter while he was pastry chef at Mettle.
The Nicolett fuses West Texas regional cuisine with techniques Walter learned while working in Austin, Paris, Napa Valley, and Santa Fe. The goal is to create a high-end restaurant for Lubbockites — and a destination dining experience for the rest of Texas.
“A big part of creating this restaurant was identifying elements that have always been important to West Texas,” says Walter in a release. “This region has a long and rich history of artists and songwriters who approach their work as craftsmen. We want to honor that tradition in our approach to food, drink, and service.” (Editor's note: Walter is married to CultureMap's VP of Editorial, Arden Ward.)
To craft a menu that's "approachable and fun," The Nicolett looks to local ingredients as inspiration. Star dishes include a beef cheek “brisket,” served with black truffle, nuka pickles, and aligot potatoes; twice-baked sunchokes with béarnaise and hoja santa; and quail baked in brioche, presented tableside and served with barley risotto, juniper, and game jus.
Of course, considering Walter's career in Napa Valley, the wine menu has not been overlooked. Kim McPherson, a Lubbock-based winemaker and James Beard semifinalist, has been tapped to craft the restaurant's custom-labeled house wines. For the rest of the wine, beer, and cocktail list, The Nicolett places heavy emphasis on Texas makers, as well as France and California.
Complementing the restaurant's unique approach to cuisine is the location itself. Housed in a former residence in Lubbock's rapidly revitalizing downtown area, the restaurant combines classic West Texas elements — brick, cedar, leather — softened with stained glass, jasmine vines, succulents, and flowering aloe plants.
The cozy main dining room, once the central living quarters, is sectioned off by a custom-built limestone fireplace — an original feature of the residence — and offset by original cedar planks on the ceiling and exposed brick interior walls. The Nicolett features an expansive open-air courtyard and a greenhouse turned private dining room. Eventually, the property will also include an event space for rent.
It's in the courtyard where The Nicolett will welcome visitors for alfresco dining (with heaters) early next month. Dining is currently by reservation only, and the restaurant will open spots to email subscribers first. Prior to Thanksgiving, the restaurant will add limited indoor dining and make its events space available for reservations.