POINT THE FIRST: Shanah Tovah! Happy New Year! May everyone be inscribed in the book of life and 'appiness and many, many wonderful things.
POINT THE SECOND: We like brunch. It involves eggs, usually lots of them, and is really the only meal where it's not only acceptable, but even appropriate, to start drinking before noon.
Over fourth of July weekend we made a very quick trip to Austin. We packed in an awful lot of seeing people and running errands and taking care of things. On Sunday, after a raucous party the night before, we met up with our best neighbor ever, Clare. She's been keeping an eye on the house and the car and our things for what we thought might be as much as two months but is now inching towards 6. Jeez is she great people.
The three of us ended up at La Condesa, run by chef René Ortiz of New York's La Esquina. Logan and I had been there soon after the restaurant opened, when we turned our noses up at charging for salsa and at serving $12 ceviches in downmarket parfait glasses (and didn't know that an egg white is a totally traditional addition to a pisco sour). But that was well over a year ago and it was way past time for a revisit.
I am so glad we went.
The restaurant is still totally beautiful, and when it's light you can even SEE all the decorations. Novel. The presence of the sun also makes these pictures WAY better than the ones from our last visit. Ah, what a difference lighting brings.
Just like the previous weekend at Publican, we immediately began our collection of drinking receptacles. Coffee was served with a small, crumbly cookie, which seemed more like an accompaniment for an after dinner cuppa joe.
We of course had to get one of La Condesa's famous drinks to go with our coffee. When we're traveling, we call the combo of booze and caffeine the Cooper speedball - gets you ready for all-day-long museums and is much less lethal than the more traditional speedball.
These are breakfast margaritas, according to the menu, with orange marmalade. They were strong and a bit sweet, which probably shouldn't have been a surprise given the marmalade.
We also ordered the chips and salsa you have to pay for (I think it's like $4?) and I totally take back what I said about charging for salsa. If the salsas are this awesome and there are multiple ones, you have my permission to ask for my money. Smoky chipotle, tart tomatillo, creamy verde - each one was delicious, and we each had our own favorites.
Also, the chips were good. Not stale, not crumbly. Good.
Because we were hungry and had brought along the lovely Clare (who also acted as a third stomach - yay for getting to try lots of things!) we demanded apps forthwith.
(Eggy Eggness and more pretty food after the jump.)
Cangrejo tostada, with lump crab meat, green mango, citrus, and chives:
Fresh, light, with nice citrusy acids playing up the crab rather than deadening it. Aced the textural contrast with the crunchy tostada niblets. I love that they're bite-size streetfoody, but I'd also take a full plate-sized tostada if Chef Ortiz, you know, were to give me one.
A special, Ensalada de Granja (texas local): zucchini, chioggia beet, charred peach, purple carrot, green garlic aioli, lamb's quarter, ramp vinaigrette, five-minute egg, grilled housemade foccacia (yes, that long list is taken directly off the menu):
I love a serious plate of vegetables. This dish was all about the textures, too - the crispness of thinly sliced raw roots, the soft chew of the greens, the smooth creaminess of the aioli. A terrific salad, and I'm all about the idea of local sourcing.
It's brunch, there are three courses on the table already, and only one half of one egg? I feel such an imbalance in the world.
No worries, because out come the entrees!
Clare's Chile Quilles (more popularly known as chilaquiles), ensalada verde, queso mexicano, queso fresco.
Clare kindly shared a couple bites of this tasty mess with us. It was just the right spice level, the cheese wasn't overpowering, and the crunchy chips turned nicely soft where they were covered with the salsa verde and runny eggs. Very comfortable, and a great brunch dish.
Logan's Huevos Chilangos, with house-made wild boar chorizo, poached eggs, arugula, quinoa croquette, and avocado salsa:
This was my least favorite of the three giant honking egg dishes we ordered. The flavors were pleasant, but everything together was just sort of mushy. I did especially like the quinoa croquette, which reminded me of Logan's famed risotto cakes, and the mild avocado salsa was very good as well.
And lastly, my Huevos y Carne Asada, with wood-grilled skirt steak, poached eggs, chipotle mayo, and a poblano gratin.
Oh yeah, and a salad, which wasn't mentioned on the menu, but was a welcome addition with all this meat and egg and cheesy goodness. The poblano gratin particularly stood out in its tastiness, the layers of poblano carefully arranged and topped with delicately browned cheese, and the chipotle mayo was lighter than I'd feared. And the steak, of course, was very nice, all woodsmoke and chimichurri.
I have to revise my opinion of La Condesa based on this visit. It's a seriously swell restaurant with attention to detail and fun dishes you won't find elsewhere in Austin, which after all is a town with a ton of Mexican restaurants. I'd definitely recommend the place and even advise people not to get their knickers in a twist about the charge for salsa.
However, I'm still not sold on their drinks. We even ordered another round to double check on them.
I'm wondering if the bartender that morning was measuring or just freepouring, because the drinks were all a bit sweet for my taste and my second drink, which contained chartreuse, had an overpowering amount of it.
But I'd still go back for the food. And maybe I'd even keep trying the drinks.
All thanks and love to Clare for keeping an eye on our place in our absence!
La Condesa is located at 400a W. 2nd Street in Austin. 512.499.0300.
Please send us good vibes - Logan and I are off to Florida for the weekend to help my Dad and aunt go through my grandparents' apartment. I anticipate lots of tears and some good stories and hope very much to be able to hold everything together so I can be helpful over the next few days.