Chef Derek Salkin imparts modern twists of familiar French dishes at a chic yet unstuffy brasserie in the heart of downtown Austin.
Let’s see if any of these restaurants ring a bell: Per se. Jean Georges. French Laundry. That’s where chef Derek Salkin cut his teeth before opening Austin’s chic new brasserie, Le Politique, this past fall.
Serving lunch and dinner, chef Salkin’s menu is based on his topnotch training and first culinary love: classic French cooking. “Dishes are based on my experience—a decade of cooking under very respected French-cuisine authorities,” he says. As for the restaurant’s name, it’s a nod to the city’s political roots and French history (France flew the second of Texas’ six flags, after all). Whether you’re sipping bubbles at a sidewalk bistro table or lounging in the airy dining room, meals should start with the bread service, a branch of warm loaves served with salty butter. A dozen oysters—try North Carolina’s sweet Hatteras Salts or briny Olde Salts from Salkin’s native Virginia—is a perfect opener for dishes such as the charcuterie board (the chicken liver mousse, which has the consistency of a thick whipped cream, is ethereal) or garlicky escargot served on mini pillows of pastry. The steak, beautifully grilled and topped with a pad of herbed butter, is an easy antidote to menu decision fatigue, while the poulet roti, a roasted half-chicken served with peas, mushrooms and braised lettuce in a rich sauce vin jaune quickly warms up a cold January night. Le Politique’s downtown location also makes it an ideal spot for lunch: You can power hour through the salade nicoise, topped with tuna confit and white anchovies, or linger Mad Men-style with sidecars, shrimp cocktail and lobster served with a tarragon aioli. Then there’s the superb wine list. Bottles such as the Perrot-Minot and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche “pair well with the food and aren’t something you see on every list in the city,” says General Manager Chris Dufau. (His staff is attentive and on-point, one of a handful of hints that you’re actually in the Seaholm District, not the 1er arrondissement.)
Austin-based Clayton & Little Architects brought the brasserie to life with City of Light-inspired design elements. The top-to-bottom overhaul transformed what was essentially a 9,000-square-foot box and concrete outdoor space into a series of dining rooms that range from playful to streamlined and elegant. Topiary-flanked doors open up to a long marble raw bar where lobster tails mingle with the Northwest and mid-Atlantic oysters, flown in daily, on ice. Bartenders shake or stir whiskey sours and French 75s at a handsome wood bar, and a large patio with blue and white woven bistro chairs beckons on warm days. In the main dining room, custom art deco light fixtures hang from tin-pressed ceilings, and antique-style mirrors adorn the otherwise crispwhite walls. By day, diners can watch pedestrians round the corner of San Antonio and Second streets out of the panoramic windows; waiters draw pale-pink linen curtains in the evening, creating an atmosphere of exclusivity. Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, it’s worth glancing at the dessert menu for the fromages—served with local honey and mission fig jam—which pair well with lemony madeleines. But it’s the decadent Paris-Brest, a pastry filled with hazelnut ice cream and drizzled with dark chocolate, that inspired a clink of our etched dessert wine glasses, as well as a nal “à votre santé.”