January 18, 2016
Launderette, as the name might imply, is a converted laundromat on Austin's east side, where the art of share plates and chic decor are instrumental to its identity. The menu, while diverse in its offerings, is relatively straight forward, offering an introduction of 'snacky bites' and 'toasts' before giving way to heartier course options on the wood grill and other specialties.
The decor, in cohesion with the menu, is trendy and welcoming. An L-shaped bar is the focal point of an otherwise open dining space, while a partially visible kitchen and sea blue flooring are other noteworthy aesthetics. Since I'm sure you're wondering, there was no lingering smell of old socks. As the weather allowed, my eating partner and I elected for outdoor seating on the patio, which featured sleek wooden benches and overhead heaters (for those frigid Austin winter nights).
Our server, a cordial and soft spoken young lady, provided suggestive navigation of the menu before taking our drink order. We contemplated the large spread over a pair of wine glasses; I chose a Nebbiolo (Damilano Langhe Marghe, Italy 2013 - $13), while my partner had a Cotes Du Rhone (Pierre Arnadieu, Roulepierre, France 2012 - $11). On the softer side, the Nebbiolo had a pleasantly floral nose, while the palate offered expressions of cherries and spice, and well integrated tannins.
The wine served a worthy companion to our first food choice; Sticky Brussels Sprouts ($9), which came served as a heaping mound and dusted with pecorino cheese. Sticky they were, the sprouts were dressed with an apple-bacon marmalade and also featured crushed almonds and diced jalapeno. Hints of fish sauce lingered throughout, which kept the marmalade unique and complimentary to the crispy vegetables. Also impressive was the execution of the brussels sprouts; most every bulb boasted a crispy shell but soft and chewy inside.
We fought over the last of the brussels while awaiting our Beef Carpaccio ($16). Having once worked at a restaurant that served this classic dish - that version utilizing an aioli recipe straight from the very bar in Sicily where the dish was born - I naturally felt compelled to put this one to the test. However, in the first few bites, I felt admittedly overwhelmed by the potency of the dish's cornichon-caper vinaigrette. Bright acid from the lemon doubled over into the capers and the cornichon (a pickled cucumber), yet the delicacy of beef failed to assert itself. Strengths of the dish were the celery leaves and crispy shallots (appearing as mini onion-rings), which offered texture to compliment the soft, thin beef shavings. To take extremes to the extreme, we discovered diced jalapeno scattered throughout. Though notes of pepper and spice found in Rhone wines can be friendly to spicy dishes, the dominating nature of the peppers made it difficult to navigate and enjoy some of the intricacies of the dish, and the wine for that matter.
While the close proximity of our seating offered an intimate setting, it consequently put our server to the test when it came to her menu spiel. Mild overlap did occur, but she was quick enough on her feet with questions and kept the suggestions different between tables - signs of both an experienced server and one trustworthy menu. In moments of indecision on our final course (between the Bucatini, Aleppo Prawns, and Brick Chicken), she steered us with confidence to the Chicken Thighs ($16). A caution of spice, but we were sold.
In a few moments the dish was brought out; its neat presentation and rising scents of charred meat briefly clouded my judgement. Sure, chicken dishes can be partially cooked ahead of time for speed and accuracy purposes, but this dish seemed to have been merely warmed up. Furthermore, the described 'moderate spice' turned out to be an all-out fire fight with delicate taste buds. An overwhelming sensation of spice, coupled with a strong saltiness from the meat, left the dish to be highly unsatisfying. Even worse, more jalapenos were found.
That makes three out of three dishes that featured some trace of these hot peppers. Was this mere coincidence? With all of the 'innovation' behind this concept, does such redundancy show more of a lack of originality, and perhaps laziness, than anything else? Curious, nonetheless.
With the dessert options neatly presented on half menus, it seemed necessary to both cleanse the palate and provide an opportunity for redemption. Our choice, Ambrosia, featured a pistachio semifreddo, candied grapefruit, whipped mascarpone, and tangerine sorbet. With a simple host of ingredients and clean presentation, the dish offered a light fare and worked well with an espresso shot that was brought out on a shiny platter (bonus points).
All said and done, the meal totaled $100, but this did not quite seem reasonable for the experience. Yet, considering the high points of the meal, and conversations nearby which touted Launderette as one of Austin's finest, it seems fair to chalk up the inaccuracies and certain redundancies as a fluke. Adequately sized portions and the depth of this menu help to conclude that Launderette is still deserving of a second spin cycle.
Ate - Sticky Brussels Sprouts, Beef Carpaccio, Chicken Thighs, Ambrosia
Drank - Pierre Arnadieu (Rhone), Damilano Langhe Marghe (Nebbiolo), Espresso
Launderette - 2115 Holly St, Austin, TX 78702
Rating - 3 jalapenos