Where to eat in December: Our recs include craft bars, authentic French and prixfixe picks
There's certainly no shortage of great restaurants to visit in town; in fact, there are so many amazing places (with new eateries popping up every week) that it can be hard to keep track of them all. This month, we begin a monthly series highlighting highly recommended restaurants worth a test drive, to help give you some guidance the next time you find yourself asking the question: "Where do you want to go out to eat?"
While new restaurants will certainly find their way into this monthly selection, it's only fair to give new restaurateurs, chefs and staff a few weeks to have a chance to get into a good rhythm before reviewing them as a suggested pick. So don't look to this list as a place for the latest kitchen to open its doors, but a selection of restaurants firing on all cylinders. New hot spots will appear, as will well-known and off-the-beaten path locales that deserve a visit.
Top picks for this month:
Since its opening last spring, Contigo has drawn a steady evening crowd, even in this summer’s record heat. With a chef-driven stable of cocktails from craft bar wizard Houston Eaves and a creative southern comfort-meets-contemporary menu weighted primarily with small plates from chef Andrew Wiseheart—the house-made pigs in a blanket, the gooey grilled cheese sandwich and the cast iron sautéed okra with jalapeño and walnuts are among my favorites—it’s easy to understand why. But now the swank east Austin locale offers weekend brunch with an equally tantalizing menu. Fresh baked pastries, house-cured bacon and ham and salted-caramel hot chocolate highlight the menu of side orders, but headliners such as perfectly-poached eggs benedict with citrus-y hollandaise and smoked ham over a fresh buttermilk biscuit and savory house-cured salmon with dill cream cheese and briny capers steal the show.
Don’t let it’s location as part of a conference center on the University of Texas campus fool you, this place is well worth a visit—especially if you’re looking for a special night out. Chef Josh Watkins continues to hit his stride with his seasonal menus. Right now you’ll find his take on a deconstructed Caesar salad, silky seared escolar with chanterelle mushrooms with a dab of tart blueberry puree as well as olive oil-poached beef tenderloin with cippolini onions and decadent duck-fried potatoes. But you don’t have to shell out for a bank-breaking bill. The Carillon offers a prix fixe menu with an option for three courses at $48, four courses at $60 and an optional wine pairing for $20. And a special bonus: for the month of December, the restaurant is offering a special Holiday Menu of three courses for $29 from 5:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. every evening. Happy Holidays, indeed!
Once a favorite Northwest Hills lunch and dinner spot boasting prized recipes for its hack chicken salad as well as a devilishy-dark rouxed sausage and duck gumbo, Mirabelle restaurant has recently changed hands and revamped as Bistrot Mirabelle with a fresh facelift and a decidedly French menu from skillful executive chef Clinton Bertrand. Though Austin is replete with a diversity of restaurants, it has lacked in an abundance of good, authentic French cuisine. Something Bertrand and restaurant owner Brian O’Neill intend to remedy. You’ll find simple classics like French onion soup and a basic butter lettuce salad with a perfect citrus-herb vinaigrette. You’ll also find French standards like trout meuniere and steak frites on the menu. Entrees are spot on in technique and flavor as are lunch fare sandwiches. (The savory merguez lamb sausage sandwich with crisp, salty fries piled on a fresh baguette is a must.) Fans of the hack salad and duck gumbo from Mirabelle's past will be happy to know the two recipes have been passed on and are still permanent fixtures on the menu. Desserts are divine. From rich chocolate tart sprinkled with crystals of sea salt to a crème brûlée that would make the French blush, your sweet tooth will not be disappointed.
Keeping with the French sentiment, Francophiles will also love Baguette et Chocolate. It's not really a new restaurant, and chances are, if you have a good nose for croissants that fall under the category of "the real deal," then you've probably already sniffed this place out. But B & C is worth the western trek out to Bee Caves for more than great pastries. Sandwiches, salads and crepes are delicious and tres authentique as well. I love the Cabri crêpe made with prosciutto, goat cheese and tomato in a buckwheat batter reminiscent of traditional crêpes in Brittany, but my favorite is the simple Parisien sandwich with brie, ham, tomato, cucumber and lettuce and and the addition of strong French mustard all on the absolute best baguette you'll find in the city. Be sure to nab a homemade macaron—not to be confused with macaroon—before you leave!