In all that Austin's food scene has to offer, from its wide array of places to get too comfortable in comfort food to the limitless combinations of what can be fit into a tortilla, it seems that less overt are selections for tasting and experiencing European culture and cuisine. Certainly there are the kings and queens (Justine's, Fabi + Rosi, and Chez Nous, to name a few) but not every occasion calls for that caliber of service or financial commitment, for that matter.
Residing amongst a handful of other chic restaurants on East 11th street, Blue Dahlia Bistro is a seemingly flawless replication of a cafe one might come across in Europe. First intrigued by its swaying blue sign, we enter what is a quaint space that is toned with rustic walls, which are a shade lighter than terra cotta in color, and slip into a line that is stretched to the door. Our timing proves to be not so poor after all, though, as we are able to catch the tail end of a charming solo performance by an elderly woman on her accordion. Swaying from side to side, she leads the eyes to wander to a nearby wooden rack hoisting freshly baked bread and its accompanying basket of baguettes. It's beginning to feel like France.
While seating accommodations for larger parties are sprinkled throughout the inside dining area, most of the restaurants offerings begin to seem best fit for two. While we wait for our server, who was awarded a kind buffer of "being busy" from the hostess, a few other showings of the restaurant's personality become evident, such as the widely shallow coffee mugs and each table's complete spread of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar and wooden grinders for fresh black pepper.
Though in fact rather busy, our server does not appear flustered or off-balance on initial contact nor while covering specials and taking drink orders. A calm server, no matter the internal chaos, is often the gateway to a pleasantly paced meal. While set up primarily as a host of a la carte offerings, the menu also includes larger meat and cheese boards (as suggested options for two). After much debate we opt for one of the specials, a Veggie Frittata ($9.50), as well as the Belgian Waffles ($6.95) and a bowl of fruit ($5).
Despite the consistent turning of tables, our spread of food arrives all together and relatively quickly. While passing the initial presentation test, the waffles become increasingly enticing as scents of vanilla are pronounced so to nearly induce an onslaught of saliva. Texturally, the waffles are airy and crispy without leaning toward dry or stiff. Though flavorful enough to require not more than a sliver of fruit, a touch of maple syrup goes a long way in producing a sweet, but balanced array of flavors. Furthermore, the notes of maple and vanilla pair quite well with the coffee, which carries a rich density and notes of cherry on the finish.
To combat our sweet selection, the veggie frittata delivers a rather assertive saltiness, which could be accredited to the liberal usage of feta cheese. Also scattered throughout are bits of spinach and grilled leeks. The frittata itself is well layered with a consistency that is firm and doesn't crumble at the drive of a fork like some do. Furthermore, a plain pile of greens soon becomes useful in adding a crispness which helps cut some of the richness and provide textural balance to the dish. Accompanying the frittata is a ramekin filled with pesto, which pairs well with the feta and late blooming leeks. Regarding the leeks, only at the conclusion of the frittata do they announce themselves, which is a disappointment. If dispersed properly throughout, their rich caramelization could have truly taken the dish to the next level.
Though not entirely necessary in sufficing our appetites, the bowl of fruit (a concoction of mangos, melons and berries) offers up a bright melody of flavors and serves well as a palate cleanser.
On not so busy of a day (if such a thing exists for Blue Dahlia), go sit out on the patio that's lush and shaded by an overhead trellis or take a little extra time exploring the Water Closets (now that's art). With much regard to the level of volume and service, this particular afternoon delivered a charming brunch with enough incentive to return.
(Items ordered: Coffee, Fruit Bowl, Belgian Waffles, Veggie Frittata)
Rating: 8 & 1/2 Baguettes (out of Ten)
1115 E. 11th Street, Austin, Texas 78702