It’s a crisp early Autumn evening as you stroll through the neighborhood in no particular hurry, but eager to enjoy a good meal. You walk in and are instantly enveloped by a delicious aroma you recognize, yet can’t quite place. But it feels familiar. The place almost feels like home, but as you make your way through the entrance, you see strangers sitting in the dining room: laughing, eating, enjoying a glass of wine. “Welcome to Lenoir, thanks for joining us for dinner,” the hostess remarks with a smile as she leads you to your table.
Lenoir is a prix fixe restaurant nestled in the heart of the Bouldin Creek neighborhood on South 1st. Husband and wife owners Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher have managed to convert a small cottage just south of downtown into an establishment that fosters one of Austin’s most unique and delectable dining experiences. To put it simply, I had one of the best meals I’ve ever had within the cozy confines of Lenoir. I enjoyed a 5-star dining experience that focused on delivering exceptional food, with none of the fluff.
“This Feels Like Home”
Walking in immediately reminded me of the aromas I used to experience during Sunday dinners back home. Only this time, I wasn’t dealing with a chaotic family. Instead, my date and I were escorted to a cozy table in the back and handed a simple, yet elegant, menu.
As we took in the space, my date remarked, “This has a very Pinterest-y feel to it.” Despite probably being the first person to ever hear that word uttered out loud, I knew exactly what she meant. Aside from the extravagant chandelier that dominates the center of the space, Lenoir had a make-shift crafty feel to it. Understated, but it works perfectly. And while I haven’t seen it first-hand, I hear the ladies room is the best decorated in town.
Various Expressions of Delicious
Although I didn’t realize, my facial expressions as I experienced each of Lenoir’s dishes told the whole story. I usually started with a look of bewilderment, as I tried to discern each of the ingredients. Then my eyes got wider and wider as I took in the various flavors, and I usually ended with a deep breath as I contemplated the entirety of what I just put in my mouth (quickly followed by an expletive or two remarking on how unbelievable that bite just was).
Make sure whoever you bring to Lenoir likes to share. It doesn’t matter what it is, you’re going to want to try everything. You’ll start with four categories: Fields, Sea, Land, and Dream. Each category generally has three options to choose from, and that’s it. The menu changes every week, largely dependent on what is seasonal and available at the local farms. Todd and Mary go to painstaking lengths to try and keep everything local. They’ve been avid supporters for more favorable legislation for the urban farms in the Austin area.
My date was vegetarian, so she chose the three options from the Fields menu. The sweet potato agnolotti had a creamy marshmallowy base that has to be tasted to be believed. I went with two Land options and a Dream. The grilled quail in a blackberry soy sauce was the clear standout.
Then came dessert and, whew, this was just on another level. Pastry Chef Jessica Maher clearly loves what she is doing. There is no other way to explain the incredible combinations she puts in her desserts. On this night we shared an Imperial Stout chocolate cake, banana ice cream, and a pecan croquant. We guzzled all this down with a fantastic French red wine that was recommended by our waitress. Now wine ain’t my specialty (this is), but the bottle was a perfect complement to our wide range of food.
“I Want to See Your Reaction Again”
I have a feeling this phrase is uttered pretty regularly while dining at Lenoir. Never mind the fact that Todd and Jessica have been invited to the prestigious James Beard house in NYC to host a dinner. It doesn’t matter that they have been featured in Texas Monthly, have been selected among Bon Appetit’s top 50 new restaurants, or won the 2012 Austin Tastemaker award for best new restaurant.
These things don’t matter because Lenoir still doesn’t feel like an upscale, uptight place where it’s impossible to find a table, as would be expected given all the awards they’ve garnered. Lenoir has stripped away everything else with a hyper-intensive focus on the food, presented in an understated, yet elegant, dining room.
You go to Lenoir completely at the whim of Todd and Jessica, simply knowing you are in for an amazing dining experience. That’s what I did, and I feel comfortable saying that Lenoir is my new favorite restaurant in Austin.
What is your favorite “hidden gem” restaurant in Austin?
Cover photo via Flickr CC, courtesy of David Parmenter.