Karen’s Pick: Red Ash
An Italian newcomer gets it right, right away.
by Karen Spezia
Photographs by Knoxy Knox
Few new restaurants dazzle from the get-go. Like awkward adolescents, most need a little time to develop, fumbling around until they hit their stride. But not Red Ash. In October, this Italian steakhouse threw open its doors, ready for prime time. Which is no surprise, considering its gold star team. In the kitchen is Executive Chef John Carver, a veteran of Austin’s beloved Eddie V’s, plus several New York and Atlanta institutions (like Veni Vidi Vici, where my husband celebrated a milestone birthday). Owners Larry Foles and Guy Villavaso founded Austin stalwarts Eddie V’s and Z’Tejas, to name a few. These guys know what they’re doing and have the track record to prove it.
Red Ash is their newest concept—and they’ve got another winner. As with prior projects, Red Ash strikes the perfect balance of high-quality food and enticing ambience. Located in downtown’s sleek new Colorado Tower, there’s palpable electricity buzzing throughout. Architect Jeff Stinnett and interior designer Janet Heinrich, also part of the Eddie V’s team, created a sexy urban warehouse filled with edgy concrete and steel, softened by vintage wood, leather upholstery and warm lighting. Graffiti by local artist Anne Ducote gives the plaster walls a pop of color and whimsy. The soaring two-story restaurant offers various seating areas, creating a sense of intimacy within the sweeping 4,400-square-foot space. Cozy leather booths surround an inviting bar, bistro tables line windows overlooking downtown, and an upstairs dining loft overlooks the open kitchen.
DON’T MISS THE ADDICTIVE HOT AND CRISPY COUNTRY ITALIAN BREAD, SLATHERED WITH OLIVE OIL, GARLIC AND HERBS. IF YOU AVOID GLUTEN, THIS IS THE TIME TO CHEAT.
The restaurant’s name comes from the red ash released from the restaurant’s massive centerpiece—a roaring wood-burning grill—which gives you a clue about what to order: grilled meat. But the starring entrée doesn’t diminish the rest of the menu: it’s all good here. Showcasing cuisine from the many regions of Italy, Red Ash also offers delicious appetizers, salads and pastas. For starters, don’t miss the addictive Hot & Crispy Country Italian Bread, slathered with olive oil, garlic and herbs. If you avoid gluten, this is the time to cheat. The beef carpaccio is a delightful mix of flavors and textures, drizzled with zippy horseradish crema and sprinkled with crunchy ciabatta breadcrumbs. Pastas—like pillowy potato gnocchi and a tender stuffed angnoletti—are homemade.
Now for the showstoppers from the grill. The beef comes from Chicago’s legendary Fred Linz and is offered in a variety of cuts. The aged bone-in double cut filet is a glorious hunk of meat, meant for sharing. There are also grilled seafood options, like wild snapper perched atop a succulent stew of roasted tomatoes, scallions and olives. Octopus is grilled, then tossed in an olive vinaigrette with smoky braised beans and arugula. Even veggies, like savory chunks of cauliflower, get charred.
For drinks, there’s a global wine list with lots of impressive labels, although I wish there were more value-priced options. The cocktail program is serious, but has fun with daily drink specials, like the outstanding Boulevardier one night. And, no surprise, the service is top-notch. At Red Ash, it’s a pleasure to dine in the hands of experts, knowing that you can sit back, relax and enjoy an exceptional evening.