Mourning the death of fine dining has become such an annual media fixation there is little wonder left for the Lazarus-like miracle of its frequent rebirth. In Austin, however, a brand-new restaurant might finally seal that tomb for good.
With a lively clamor bleeding in from lobby bar Kalimotxo and flatware easily replenished from hidden drawers, Hestia is full of the sort of casual touches that make traditionalists gasp. It’s also finer dining than most of the restaurants stamped with that term.
Opened December 7 at 607 W. Third St., Ste. 105, Hestia continues the experimentation chefs Kevin Fink and Tavel Bristol-Joseph began at Rainey Street’s Emmer & Rye. The kitchen contains no gas or electric heat sources, instead relying on the open flame. In another innovation, the restaurant splits serving duties between a tag team of front-of-house and back-of-house staff.
Conventional servers make sure guests get settled in, taking the initial order for introductory bites and drinks and generally ensuring that the experience is free of hiccups. Chefs then hustle between stove and table, explaining the menu and running selections to guests.
That unique model gives the meal something the ossified world of fine dining often lacks — charm. Eschewing mannered decorum for true enthusiasm, the chefs bring the full sensory experience to the table in a way that tuxedoed waitstaff rarely does.
Fink’s savory menu demands that energy. Almost every dish offers surprise, from grilled potatoes shaved into tagliatelle-style ribbons to the broccoli plate that purees the flowers into painterly dots and saves the stalks for an unexpected foundation. Even Parker House rolls, a Boston hotel staple lionized by legendary cookbook author Fannie Farmer, delivers something unexpected in its glacier of butter made with mascarpone cheese.
Bristol-Joseph follows suit with stunning desserts that decenter Paris as the capital of pastry arts. Hestia's biggest hit will likely be the kakigori, a photogenic tower of matcha-powdered shaved ice that delightfully tumbles onto the table. Less showy, but as intriguingly flavored, is a roll of sweet potato cake dotted with wild flowers, plated like something the characters of Midsommar would have enjoyed had the movie taken a less disturbing turn.
No such tension exists in Baldridge Architects' interior. Though the initial renderings presented Hestia as a sort of goth cousin to Emmer, the space is cosmopolitan and sleek. An inky stain does frame the kitchen cut-out, making it glow like a black box stage.
Clanging pans and campfire smells may not have been what Auguste Escoffier had in mind when he modernized haute cuisine, but the quality of 21st century dining shouldn’t be judged by the standards of its predecessor. Blazing Hestia is a viking funeral to the idea that dining out should be about anything other than pleasure.