When I think of Fairmont Hotels, it’s always of their first property in San Francisco. Though they are a large modern hotel chain today, their first hotel was built in 1907 in the prestigious and storied Nob Hill neighborhood.
The Fairmont was conceived and built as a “grand hotel” in the classic European fashion. The exterior is an Italianate design in gray granite with heavier embellishment on the lower floors and lighter classic lines on the higher floors. The large, three-story lobby has a forest of honey-colored marble columns topped with gold Corinthian capitals and is filled with tree-sized potted palms.
As a kid in the 1980s, I still remember the facade and lobby of the Fairmont being used as the fictional “St Gregory” in the popular television show ‘Hotel.’
Fast forward a bit over a century, and you have a gleaming thirty-seven story tower of silver glass in the heart of Austin Texas. At 1,400,000 square feet, the Austin property is now the second largest in the Fairmont chain. The lobby, like its predecessor, is a vast swath of white marble, but now features expansive walls of glass and a lot of color in natural stone, with accents in blues and greens.
Revue and Garrison were designed to resemble a film set with spaces looking like a Japanese street restaurant, a French patisserie, an Italian restaurant, and an open seafood shop at the center. At the far end of the space, inside a period looking porched house is the dinner restaurant Garrison.
A few weeks ago, I had a wonderful brunch at Revue – there were, by design, choices from around the world plus a few locally inspired favorites like a Chilaquiles, delicious scrambled eggs with pieces of corn tortilla, green chilies, onions, and herbs. In tapas-like fashion, the brunch selection includes several “small plate” options like the “ATX Benny,” Fried chicken and waffles (fresh from the bakery), and excellent Smoked Brisket Tacos. The main buffet itself features a great variety of smoked meats, eggs, potatoes and again a terrific selection of fresh pastries and bread.
A few days later, I went for dinner at Garrison. The columned porch façade led to a high-ceilinged room resembling a sound stage complete with spotlighting in pinks and purple.
The menu at Garrison is not extensive, only about twenty-two items in all, but the selections are wonderfully varied and beautifully executed.
We started with three appetizers, two from the Garrison menu, but added a dozen Wellfleet Oysters from seafood bar at Revue.
There is a playful quality to much of what Chef Jason Purcell does at Garrison, small unexpected touches that elevate a fresh, simple item to something really special. The Foie Gras Mousse with strawberry sofrito (think salsa) comes with beautiful tiny cubes of Garrison Brothers whiskey gelée. The Cold Smoked Dungeness Crab was accented with a variety of citrus supremes making each bite different from the last.
The star of the appetizers was the Wellfleet oysters, but only by virtue of being some of the cleanest, freshest oysters, I have ever had. They came simply, on ice, with a small portion of mignonette sauce and were just incredible.
As a little something between our courses we couldn’t help but order the “tater tots” – this version being crisply fried cubes of potato with soft gruyere cheese and generously topped with shaved black truffles! It was intoxicating.
For our main, we selected a large perfectly roasted, bone-in Beef Shank with a spicy almond molé sauce (traditionally, made with fruit, chili pepper, nuts and spices like black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, and chocolate). The roast was served with a selection of small dishes (banchan) similar to those served with Korean food; kimchee and some pickled vegetables. Lastly, there were delicious small cakes of toasted maize. The whole was accompanied with a flavorful brazing liquid, and bordelaise sauce brought tableside in a small copper sauce pot. The dish was ornately decorated with microgreens, edible flowers and herbs and Garrison’s manager Alex poured the sauce tableside with an elegant flair.
The beef was so tender that it was difficult to serve with a fork alone; together with the various accompaniments, it seemed each bite was a different experience.
To accompany our meal, we had selected a Chateau La Clotte – Grand Cru Classé – 2012 Saint-Émilion, but the surprises continued with a small palate cleanser.
Manager Alex brought a book to our table. Inside the carved-out edition of Escoffier was a small hip flask containing a cocktail made with vodka, infused with the traditional mirepoix ingredients of onion, carrot, and celery. The drink, served in tiny silver goblets with a gold wash, was starting to make the evening feel like we were going through the looking glass (but definitely in a good way).
Our desserts again started with a surprise as the dessert menu itself was presented in the form of origami. We chose a banana flavored soufflé served with a vanilla crème anglaise and a small ball of cherry sorbet – deconstructed banana split! The first dessert was followed by a complex and delicious baked meringue with honey, citrus zest, and bourbon ash. Lastly came an equally complex strawberry semifreddo with a thyme olive oil cake, passion fruit curd, strawberry dust, and macerated strawberries.
Each dessert, in turn, displayed the playfulness and creativity that was woven throughout the whole evening.
The Fairmont Austin is a thoroughly modern hotel, but the ability to delight guests with amazing food, wine, and wonderfully attentive service is a nod to the days when hotel restaurants were saved for the most special of events.
OTL Features Editor