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Zoot! Shakedown Cruise

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Posted by johngl

It’s not often that you see these words emblazoned across the menu at a fine restaurant:

Welcome! Tonight will be our only practice service before we open on Monday.  We request that each person order at least 3 courses, including dessert and that each table avoid duplicating orders when possible.  Thank you.

But that is exactly how we were greeted at the Friends & Family Dinner offered Saturday evening at the new location of Zoot.  With our party of eight, we were certainly going to put them through their paces.

Seared Foie Gras with Poteet Strawberries, Almond Milk, Yogurt Sponge Cake and Mint Charcuterie (Duck Rillette, Chicken Liver Pâté, Pâté de Champagne) with Condiments
Seared Scallops on Semolina Gnocchi with Braised Pork Belly and Smoked Butter Duck Confit on Blue Cheese Grits with Dried Cherry Sauce

These were just some of the appetizers! (Hover over each pane for a description and click for a larger view. Come on! Do it! You know you want to!)

Zoot’s  new digs are located in Bee Cave, at 11715 Bee Cave Road (FM 2244), just down the street from the intersection at Hwy 71.   They have ample parking and the short walk to the front door helped us feel warm and welcome with the outdoor fireplace ablaze and a few candle lit tables nestled around it.  Inside, we were greeted by helpful staff and secured a table in the bar area.  While there, waiting for the rest of our party to arrive, I happened to catch the pair of Chef/Owners, Mark Paul and Stewart Scruggs behind the bar.  Both were serving up beer, wine, and full complement of smiles.

Chef Mark Paul (left) and Chef Stewart Scruggs (right) are all smiles

The pair, also co-owners of Wink, located in downtown Austin, come with some pretty impressive credentials.  Chef Paul has worked at La Cirque in New York and Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago and has been in Austin since 1995.  Chef Scruggs, a native of Austin, paid his dues at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York and Stephan Pyles in Dallas.  Their paths crossed here in Austin and they have never looked back.

Since I am always interested in where food is prepared as well as how it is prepared, Chef Paul kindly offered a couple of us a tour of the kitchen.  I am always amazed that a small group of people can crank out plate after plate of great food, hour after hour, in such tiny work spaces.

The kitchen in the new Zoot

I don’t think anyone even noticed that we had walked into the kitchen.  We were due to be seated at 7:30, and as you can see by the clock, time was getting short.  It was a full house tonight and these guys were about to get slammed.

In the relatively large seating area, I sensed an atmosphere of subdued elegance mixed with some 50s whimsy.  The walls remain bare and several of us discussed some decorating options.  Releasing my inner decorator, I suggested large black and white photos to compliment the carpeting.

subdued elegance and 50's whimsy

Thinking about it now, there is such a simplicity to clean walls, why mess with it?   Why cause the patron to look up when the Art is placed before them?

Braised Lamb Shank with White Beans, Rapini and Red Wine Olive Sauce Grilled NY Strip with Roasted Fingerlings, Cipollini Onions, Swiss Chard, and Grain Mustard Sauce
Smoked Pork Loin with Braised Red Cabbage, Peppercorn Demiglace, and Kholrabi/Grapefruit Salad Grilled Pacific Marlin on Cilantro Couscous with Cucumber Salad, Radish, and Harissa Aioli

Above are just a few of the tasty entrées that graced our tables.  These were followed up with some wonderful desserts (again, mouse over the pane for a description and click for a larger view).  I managed to sample a little of everything shown in these photos.

Blood Orange Sorbet with Chocolate Orange Biscotti Dark Chocolate Tart with Vanilla Hazelnut Caramel and Crème Fraîche
Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Citrus Compote and Vanilla Shortbread Red Wine Poached Pear with Pistachio Streusel and Blue Cheese Cream

So how was it?

I think I suffered palate overload.  Tasting and savoring, contemplating the goodness, with lots of nom nom nom noises emanating from myself and those around me.  In a word, it was an experience. I can honestly say that I have never participated in anything like this before.  Bad economy?  What bad economy?  We were eating (and drinking) like kings!

Yes, there were a few minor issues.  One item might be a little too salty, while another wasn’t seasoned quite enough.  A little too much sweetness here or too little acidity there.  However, much of this food was spot on: well balanced, great texture contrasts, and perfectly cooked.  People were passing stuff around, right and left, just to share the love.  Right out of the gate, Zoot is a winner.

We got there early and left late.  I offered my compliments to both chefs and was moving kinda slow as I headed toward the door. I took a last look over at the line cooks and chefs now sitting at a large round table, talking about the night and enjoying the peace and quiet. I couldn’t help thinking, yep, this is gonna be great.

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4 Responses to “Zoot! Shakedown Cruise”

  1. […] First Tweet Mar 12, 2009 natanyap Natanya Anderson Highly Influential Reading an early review of the new Zoot opening soon in Bee Caves: http://www.alcoholian.com/?p=2487 view retweet […]

  2. Chef Robert says:

    Everything looks good except that duck confit appetizer (or should that be “unappetizer?). That red cherry sauce looks like a mound of loose stool. BARF!

  3. Natanya says:

    Thanks for posting such a detailed review of your experience. I’ll confess that I’m pretty happy Zoot has moved out to Bee Caves, we need more fine dining options out in the NW area.I hope they update their website soon – it doesn’t yet confirm their opening date although based on your post I’m thinking it’s March 16. I’ll be looking forward to making my first reservation.

  4. woze says:

    oh, how exciting! i’m going to have to drag my man here for some trumped-up special occasion. the dessert quartet particularly made me slaver, as none of them seemed the overly sweet concoctions that so often weigh down restaurant dessert trays.

    i do admit that after reading tony bourdain’s *kitchen confidential*, the sight of a kitchen completely untouched by panic seems unnatural.

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