Located on the edge of the University of Texas campus and in building that looks very much like a part of the school itself, calling this restaurant a “hidden gem” is more literal than with other places.
Once found though, the search pays off with a cool and comfortable dining room, an excellent bar, and a well-executed menu that changes with the seasons.
The Carillon restaurant located in the AT&T Hotel & Conference Center has a history of accolades under its former chef but has been able to maintain a high standard since November when L.A. native Chef Dan Bressler came on board.
The restaurant calls its food “new American” but Chef Dan has a definite Texas-centric focus. With a proud Farm-to-table philosophy most of the menu items can be identified to specific Texas Hill country farms and Chef Dan brings in local farmers’ market finds for garnishes and additional flavors.
As you walk in, the Carillon has a long, attractive granite bar that usually has hotel guests enjoying cocktails and conversation from lively bartender Slavo. The bar menu has a few favored cocktails like the Honeydew and a retro Champagne cocktail but also features over 20 Scotches and a couple dozen different Gin and Bourbon labels.
A must-have at the Carillon is the charcuterie and cheese combination. Delivered on a large wooden board, it reads like mini map of rural Texas with cheeses from CKC Farms in Blanco, Eagle Mountain Farmhouse in Lipan and a wonderful goats’ milk cheese from Latte-Da Dairy in Flower Mound. Chef adds to this locally sourced country boar pâté little mounds of local honeycomb, local jams and even a house-made ramp kimchee. He rounds out the plate with a spicy prosciutto spread called nudja and fantastic slices of cured pork called Lomo Americano (the last two from farms in Iowa).
The full dinner menu is brief compared to virtual encyclopedias at other restaurants, but it covers a solid range of steak, lamb, pork and seafood. Starters include soup, various salads, and a few other good options like an excellent steak tartare and tender grilled octopus.
During the summer, the conference center slows a bit and the Carillon adds a $35 three course prix-fix meu. It includes a good selection of full menu favorites. ($10 supplement for some items)
On our last visit, our dinner started with a small amuse-bouche. At first it looked like a tiny dish of pain being a whole roasted chili pepper with a bit of sauce; but, unlike its Texas cousins, it turned out to be an amazing, sweet and mild shishito pepper perfectly complimented with a yuzu kosho aioli (a mixture of fermented peppers, salt, yuzu citrus zest and juice and mayonnaise).
Generally, the spicy (harissa) roasted Celeriac soup with lardons and croutons is a great option, but with the summer heat, salads were selected by most at the table.
One repeat stand-out is a beautiful heirloom tomato salad with a portion of burrata (mozzarella softened with additional cream and stracciatella). It is drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar, and topped with a chiffonade of basil and some toasted pine nuts.
Over the last several months I have had most of the entrees on the Carillon’s menu but tend to gravitate to the excellent seared Sea Bass or the grilled NY strip.
The seared Sea Bass was served on a bed of creamy sunchoke purée, roasted cauliflower and pieces of grapefruit with an additional drizzled of grapefruit gastrique. The fish was firm but very moist and was perfect with the earthy purée, bright citrus and the smokiness from the cauliflower. It paired beautifully with a 2013 Jean Vincent Sancerre.
The center cut New York strip (a restaurant favorite) was cooked tender via sous vide and then finished on the grill. It was served over creamed arugula with just a bit of fennel and paprika oil. Simple smashed, roasted potatoes finished out the dish. We paired it with a 2014 Danial Cohn Bellacosa Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was a bit fruit forward, but it went well with the nicely seasoned steak.
We all finished the evening with Sticky Toffee Pudding – a traditional English dessert that would remind you of a very moist brownie with a smooth toffee layer. It is served with a fig coulis and a small quenelle of vanilla ice cream. Despite the charcuterie and the generous courses, not a bite of the dessert was left on the plates.
Additionally, manager Susie and servers Masie and Chris G. have formal sommelier training and can help find great wine parings with dinner.
The restaurant serves nineteen wines by the glass and they cellar 130 different wines. The Carillon is ideal for business dinners and a great choice for a special occasion, but it truly is comfortable for just any night of the week.
Lastly, the complimentary underground parking – a rarity these days – makes dinner here just that much easier.
By Richard Arebalo
OTL Features Editor