Tapas style dining, and small plate sharing alike, has had a rippling effect on cuisine over the past few years. Less frequent are the days of your 'American size' entrees, large soup or salad, and dessert. Rather, the featuring of small plates with delicate flavors and surgical precision for presentation has become more than a trend, it's practically the norm.
Launderette, as the name may hint, is a converted laundromat on Austin's east side, where the art of share plates and chic decor is firing hot. The menu, while dynamic 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 specialities. Inviting and diverse, the menu allows one to taste a myriad of flavors while not being too pretentious for the more elementary eaters; other options include a burger or ribs.
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 cherry, spices, and had mild 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, as each bulb boasted a crispy shell with a 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 item, it boasting an aioli recipe straight from the very bar in Sicily where the dish was born, I naturally felt compelled to put this version to the test. The pairing potential with my Nebbiolo and aroma alone were enticing as the dish was brought to us. However, in the first few bites, I felt admittedly overwhelmed by the potency of the dish's cornichon-caper vinaigrette. Initial flavors of lemon, black pepper, capers and the cornichon (a pickled cucumber) were too strong for any trace of the beef to assert itself. Strengths of the dish were a bed of celery leaves and crispy shallots (appearing as mini onion-rings), which offered texture to compliment the thinly shaved beef. Coupled with the overwhelming effect of the vinaigrette, I discovered diced jalapeno scattered throughout; a confusing combination which left an unpleasant and lingering heat once the dish was finished.
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; all strong signs of an experienced server and a 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.
Unexpectedly, in only a few moments, we were brought the dish. Its neat presentation and the scent of charred meat clouded my judgement for a moment. Sure, chicken dishes can be prepared as partially cooked for speed and accuracy purposes, but this dish appeared to have been merely warmed before being delivered. Furthermore, the described 'moderate spice' turned out to be an all-out fire fight with our taste buds. An overwhelming sensation of spice, coupled with a strong saltiness from the meat, left me disappointed and unsatisfied. While certain stages of the dish were better than others; the middle portion being tolerable, it became increasingly difficult to convince myself that we made the right choice. Moreover, the dish seemed to be one that we could have ordered just about anywhere.
Additionally, I found more jalapenos accompanying the chicken thighs. Three out of three dishes featured traces of these peppers. Was this mere coincidence? With all of the 'innovation' behind this restaurant such redundancy showed more of a lack of originality than anything, particularly with dishes that may not need the extra spice.
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 tied well with my espresso (which was neatly presented on a shiny platter). While the dessert price was unlisted, the Ambrosia was savory and offered a feeling of completion for the meal.
All said and done, the meal totaled $100, which 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.
(Items ordered - Sticky Brussels Sprouts, Beef Carpaccio, Chicken Thighs, Ambrosia, Espresso)
Rating - 6 and a half jalapenos (out of ten)
Launderette - 2115 Holly St, Austin, TX 78702