Karen’s Pick: Lenoir
With charm, soul and talent, Lenoir remains one of the best bets for farm-to-table restaurants
By Karen Spezia
Photography by Hayden Spears
In 2012, I reviewed an upstart little restaurant called Lenoir. I liked it a lot. Back then, lots of buzz swirled around its young, married chef/owners who had the chutzpah to leave the Four Seasons and Dai Due to strike out on an ungentrified stretch of South First Street. But the couple was confident, young and talented. And successful.
Fast forward four years and I’m just as smitten with Lenoir as I was back then. Its interior is still a romantically funky mix of scrap wood, lace curtains and throwback lighting. Its wine program is still one of the most inventive around. And its delicious three course pre-fixed menu remains one of the best deals in town.
The outdoor menu is small but interesting, offering small bites, wines by the bottle, and beer and cider by the glass.
But that doesn’t mean chef/owners Todd Duplechan and Jessica Maher have remained stagnant. They’ve added an outdoor wine garden serving drinks and nibbles. And opened an adjacent kitchen supply store, Metier, which specializes in hard-to-find culinary treasures. They’ve even found time to expand their family to include a second child.
On a recent visit, we started in the wine garden, a hidden oasis canopied by trees and illuminated by candlelight. Heat lamps and Mexican saddle blankets were scattered about to ward off the crisp night air. The outdoor menu is small but interesting, offering small bites, wines by the bottle, and beer and cider by the glass. We opted for a bottle of refreshing, slightly fizzy Spanish Rezabal Txakolini rosé and an order of hot, crunchy cornmeal hush puppies filled with chopped oysters and pecans. Even my hush puppy-averse husband cleaned his plate.
Then we moved inside to Lenoir’s cozy bohemian chic dining room. The three-course pre-fixe menu evolves seasonally, and always surprises with its eclectic global flavors sourced from mostly Texas products. I began with a toothsome salad of miso-infused carrots, radishes and turnips atop of smear of creamy Greek labneh yogurt. My husband dug into deliciously tender ravioli, stuffed with Jamaican jerk-seasoned ricotta and topped with two gremolata sauces.
Next came redfish, poached in flavorful pork fat and served with African-spiced cauliflower, and followed by sliced lemongrass venison tucked inside a beet-red Indian dosa crepe. To round out the meal, we ordered Korean-spiced pork terrine surrounded in spiced broth, shallots and fennel kimchi. For dessert, a decadent brown butter sponge cake arrived with a dollop of homemade Camembert ice cream.
Like its menu, Lenoir rotates its wine selections frequently. Sommelier Chris Kelly, one of the most personable and knowledgeable in town, steered us towards fun and tasty pairings like a versatile white Telusiano Trebbiano and a unique Austrian red Moric Blaufränkisch. With dessert, we marveled at our glass of rich, complex French Ganevat Macvin.
In the four years since Lenoir opened, Austin has seen a flood of creative farm-to-table competitors. And while many are very good, few have the extraordinary charm, soul and flavors of Lenoir. It was one of the first and it’s still one of the best.
Read more from the Love Issue | February 2016