Eating at Jezebel is like having dinner over at your eccentric uncle’s place. You know, the brash one that can really cook but doesn’t give a crap about the “rules” and happens to have a predilection for erotic art. That’s pretty much chef-owner Parind Vora’s m.o.
You can tell he loves food but you get the sense that he may be a little ADHD. Ingredients that should probably never meet often find themselves snugly sharing a plate - with vastly varying results. Almost every dish sports bright streaks of mango and berry sauces. His menu proudly boasts such odd statements as “our wine list is purposely disorganized to encourage dialogue and discovery” and “it's all about the culinary kismet that can only happen through spontaneity.” Jezebel isn’t so much a restaurant as it is Vora’s own personal little experiment.
We started the evening by having our very French waiter explain that no one would bring us the check unless we asked and no one would take our order until we were ready and no one would interrupt us so just signal for any of the wait staff if we ever needed anything, anything at all. I felt a little like they were going to ask me to strap in and keep my hands inside the cart.
He went on to explain that we could order from the menu OR we could design our own prix fixe experience. Basically, he would interview us and then report back to the chef who would then channel our tastes into a personalized, off-menu, 3-course wonderland. At 75 bucks a pop though, we decided to try some of the classic offerings before jumping in whole-hog.
As we were planning our strategy, a nice hunk of sourdough showed up with a little side plate of oil and vinegar. Some herbaceous baked olives rounded out our fortifying pre-meal snack. With my hunger dulled, I got our waiter’s attention and attempted to order a bottle of Burgundy. Which they were out of. I pointed to my back up bottle. Nope, out of that one too. I guess they were serious about that “purposely disorganized” thing.
Undeterred, Mr. Waiter recommended a significantly pricier alternative. I grumpily agreed since I was really feeling the French pinot vibe. He returned with a lovely ’06 Old Vine Lequin-Colin from Chassagne-Montrachet. And an offer to comp our desserts. Grumpiness abated.
Moments later our first courses appeared- a voul au vents with chicken and smoked rabbit and a ‘ceasar’ with amberjack escabeche and goat cheese.
More delectability after the jump.
The voul au vents, basically a fancy pot pie, had a rich creamy texture from the velouté. The rabbit was moist which compensated for the overdone poultry and the crisp, buttery pastry square soaked up all the flavors nicely.
The salad may have been made by Dr. Moreau. The hearts of romaine were served intact, cut from the center of the lettuce. It looked nice but it meant that other than the very outside, none of the leaves were dressed. The tangy escabeche was presumably meant to replace the classic anchovy but the vinegar and fish flavors were disproportionately potent. As for the goat cheese and berry and mango sauces well, they certainly added, um, interest.
Our main courses arrived shortly after- one fish and one meat.
The fish dish was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in Austin. Sea bass and lobster served over creamy slow-cooked grits with a mango curry leaf sauce and a tiny pile of fresh arugula. Bizarre but amazing. Kitchen brain storming at its best. Each component was perfectly handled. The mango sauce had a slight sweetness to play up the seafood and the earthy, pungent curry leaf added depth and spice. The aromatic arugula brought a peppery crunch to the dish and the tiny cherry tomatoes provided just the right pop of acidity. (And don’t forget the berry and mango side-zippities of course.)
Beef ² as our other dish was cheekily known, was more of a mixed bag. The two cuts, a filet mignon and a hunk of braised shank were served with horseradish mashed potatoes, haricot vert, and a “salsa” of seasonal berries all topped with an excellent au poivre sauce.
The filet was non-descript and easily overshadowed by the appealing beef flavor of the tender, collagen-rich shank. The green beans and potatoes were well done and the fragrant green peppercorn sauce enhanced both the meat and sides.
The berries seemed to say, “Look at me! This dish was too plain and approachable so I piled a bunch of fruit on the side to make it extra crazy-fancy!” I love mixing sweet and savory and even meats and berries but in this case it was an unnecessary confusion that muddled an otherwise perfectly enjoyable presentation. (I did love those mango and berry side festivities though- any plate would be naked without them.)
If dessert hadn’t have been comped, I would have been annoyed. The bananas foster Jezebel was a bit of a mess. The strongly cardamom flavored caramel hardened into a tar-like mouth trap moments after arriving at our table. The presentation would have been at home in any corner diner and the one dish that the mango and berry syrups might have improved found them nowhere in sight. At least it was free.
The spiced chocolate truffles, while also sporting too much cardamom, were an improvement over the bananas. A pair of them appeared with our after-dinner coffees that had been oddly trucked in from the coffee shop next door. We asked and were told that Chef Parind didn’t want to disturb the dining environment with the whir of an espresso machine. Of course not.
Dinner here is a crap shoot. You might have the most delicious thing you’ve had in years; you might end up with a Franken-mess of fruit-sauced, pickled fish and a side of cheese. There’s really no telling. The up side is it won’t be boring and you’re almost guaranteed to have a good time. Is it worth the hefty price tag? I suppose it depends on just how flush with cash and adventurous you’re feeling. If it were up to me though, everyone should go at least once- you won’t find anything else like it in town and Jezebel is certainly doing it’s part to keep Austin weird.