I hadn’t imagined I would write a caption so positive about the opening of Lonesome Dove. We have chefs who have been in the area for years and have awards and accolades enough to satisfy any interest I have in such. I also knew it would be expensive, which it is, and I don’t generally love spending a large amount of money on a meal. Sure, it was different, but who cares, right? Well, my cynical view was shut down from the moment I walked through the doors and I became more glowing as the night progressed.
I’ll diverge from my customary exploration of the chef behind the concept and encourage you, if interested, to check out the fine interview with Chef Tim Love in Blank Newspaper. They covered it well, so I’ll focus on my experience of the new restaurant, which opened last Friday night. It’s part of a deluge of openings we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks with Kaizen, Maple Hall and Cruze Farm Milk Bar opening already, and at least four additional openings that I know of in the next couple of weeks.
First, the building: the renovation is beautiful. From the repairs and restoration of the facade to the front doors, there isn’t a more attractive restaurant to approach in the city. Once inside, patrons of Patrick Sullivan’s will immediately notice changes. The bar has been removed from the first floor and the new bar sits on the opposite side of the room. This opens seating under the overhang, which I found to be very warm and cozy. As massive as the structure is, we felt as snug as we do in Bistro at the Bijou, one of our favorite spots.
I also explored the various floors and niches of the building, as I’ve done before, to see what had changed and how it looked. What I found was a simple, elegant refreshing of the previous space. The “penny bar” is now on the top floor and appears set for gatherings, banquets and events. The views from the top floor are lovely. Throughout the rambling building I found small enclaves and intimate hideaways perfect for quiet and intimate dining with Edison lighting setting the mood perfectly. I also found them largely empty, though I did have to remember it was Tuesday night and perhaps it isn’t intended to be packed on every floor. The first and second floors were mostly filled and the bar stayed busy, with a number of patrons choosing to eat there.
As to ambiance, we thought the lighting was perfect, with candles on each table and the restaurant darkening with the sunset. The music was also very good. I’d wondered about it after hearing online that contemporary country could be heard across the street. What we found was a very light touch on the volume which enabled us to converse comfortably. Also, and this was a relief given my taste, the music varied. I heard Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett, two Austin staples, alongside Erick Willis and The Trishas, both newer Texas artists. It was loud enough to hear, but not loud enough to intrude. Thankfully, there are no televisions in sight.
Before ordering we met our waiter, Claudio Barrientos and the sommelier, Curtis, whose last name, regrettably, I did not catch. Claudio very patiently walked us through a menu that, quite honestly, is like nothing I’ve ever encountered. Curtis, with equal patience, listened to the plans for each of our courses and suggested the Klinker Brick Syrah ($13) which was so good I had a couple of glasses. It paired perfectly with the meal, though I wish I’d listened and started with one wine and ended with that one, simply to have the experience of trying different wines. I thought I’d only drink one glass. Rookie mistake. You’ll find the full wine list here.
The menu, which you can find in full here, is a lot to take in for the uninitiated. The focus is on exotic meat, particularly game. Everything is made from scratch and fresh breads (we loved the sourdough) and vegetables also make an appearance, but it’s all about the meat. It covers the range (literally) from wild boar, pheasant and elk to crawfish, goat, duck and rabbit. The menu is arranged to be taken from a Wild Game Fettine, through a First Course, Second Course and Main Course. We took advantage of each (sharing plates), as well as dessert (see menu here). There is also an attractive cocktail menu, but we didn’t go there.
For our Wild Game Fettine, we chose the Wild Pig/Venison/Huckleberry dish ($12). Each of us liked it well enough. I’d eat it again, easily, but it didn’t excite either of us. For our first course we got a combination of two of the dishes listed. A smaller portion is provided if you choose to do it that way and we wanted to try as many different dishes as possible.
First course selections included the small portion of Pheasant Meatballs ($10) and the Elk-Foie Gras Sliders with blueberry jam ($14). The pheasant meatballs were good, though they didn’t taste that different from pork meatballs, but the Elk-Foie Gras is where we lost our minds. I’d eat a plate of that for my meal and be happy. It made me wish I’d ordered the Elk as a main course. This was where the meal really took off for us. The blueberry jam added a sweetness that set the mild wild game taste of the meat off just right.
For our second course (which is comprised of mostly salads), we enjoyed the butter lettuce with chili buttermilk, lardoons, goat cheese and pickled jalapenos ($9). The love we felt for the elk sliders continued through this beautiful dish. The lardoons (pieces of pork belly) by themselves were excellent as was the goat cheese paired with the jalapenos. Put it all together and the tastes were exceptional.
We elected not to share our main course. I selected the fideo with crawfish, chorizo and smoked paprika aioli ($24), while Urban Woman selected the blue corn crusted catfish with avocado salad and cilantro orange butter ($27). Each of the dishes were delightful and I suspect we’d each order the same if we returned tonight. The crust on the catfish gave the meat a different flavor than any we’d had and, while the soft shell crawfish were delicious and added a great texture to that dish, the pasta and pork would have been enough alone to make the dish a success.
We topped off the meal with a cup of coffee each (Vienna Coffee, $3.25) and we shared an ancho chile chocolate cake. In short, it was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. The rich, dark chocolate was perfect and the chile gave it an unexpected kick in the aftertaste. To pair it with quality coffee is a detail other local restaurants might want to note.
The level of low-key attentiveness to our experience exemplified by the staff could not have been better. We enjoyed our meal for more than two hours and never felt rushed. They anticipated our needs perfectly and we felt well-taken care of, though not smothered. The pacing of the meal was pitch perfect.
If you’ve followed along through the pricing, you can see it isn’t an inexpensive place to eat. While I felt the value justified the price, the price was still high. With tax and tip our bill nearly reached $200. We could have eaten less and saved some money – we ate too much. For a couple to hit under a hundred dollars would really take some care with selections, though Claudio made it clear that sharing and eating only an appetizer are perfectly acceptable choices. It must be said that a couple could also spend considerably more.
We’ll greatly anticipate our next visit. For our economic world, this will have to be a special occasion meal or we’ll have to go into it with a mindset of being careful. Still, for a grand evening of exotic and excellent food for our city, this is a hard one to beat. With the closure of the Orangery, this may be the new choice for a special night out.
The restaurant is open from 4:30 PM to 10:00 PM, Monday through Thursday and from 4:30 PM to 11:00 PM Friday and Saturday. Valet parking is offered, dress is casual and reservations are accepted via the website.