Austin’s Gràcia Restaurant and Wine Bar Celebrates the Flavors of the Mediterranean
Chef Jason Tallent showcases cuisines of Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Morocco at Rosedale restaurant
You know the drill: A new restaurant opens and everyone scrambles to check it out. They post on social, rave to friends, then forget about it when something else opens. It’s a familiar cycle in Austn, where new restaurants pop up like toadstools after a rainstorm. We’re spoiled with such a vibrant restaurant scene where you can eat some place different every day and never get bored.
But what about when the chase gets tiresome? When you just want a neighborhood place that feeds your stomach and your soul? Where you can be a regular and greeted by the staff — and perhaps the clientele — by name? That’s the niche that Mediterranean newcomer, Gràcia, hopes to fill.
Located in midtown’s Rosedale neighborhood, Gràcia has only been open a short time but already feels like it has been around awhile. Inspired by the popular Barri de Gràcia neighborhood in Barcelona, Gràcia offers a similar funky, friendly vibe. It’s a cozy sliver of a restaurant that accommodates just 50 diners. Formerly occupied by Fluff bakery, Gràcia is wedged within a low-slung strip mall, anchored on one end by its sibling Italian restaurant, Gusto, a neighborhood fixture for over a decade. Restaurateur Cameron Lockley owns both Gràcia and Gusto, and the two restaurants share some of the same staff and clientele, with servers and diners often greeting each other with casual familiarity.
Designer Robert Smith helped transform the narrow space into a warm and welcoming dining room using earthen and oceanic colors reminiscent of coastal Mediterranean cities like Barcelona and Tel Aviv. A snug bar runs along one wall, offering a handful of stools for sipping or dining. The other wall is lined with a wooden banquette, cushioned with hand-made textiles and pillows and framed by a sparkling mirror accented with original textile artwork. Breezy wicker chandeliers illuminate the intimate space with a soft glow. Outside, a small covered patio overlooks bustling Burnet Road.
Texas-born Chef Jason Tallent honed his culinary skills in San Francisco, where he worked at some of my favorite restaurants in my old stomping grounds like Globe, Boulevard, Hawthorne Lane, Jardiniere and Rose Pistola. He returned to Austin over a decade ago to helm the kitchens of 34th Street Café and Cipollina. Now at Gràcia, he showcases the Mediterranean flavors of Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Morocco with tapas-style dishes meant for sharing.
But before diving into the food, settle in with a well-crafted cocktail like the classic Vieux Carré made with locally-distilled Milam & Greene Port Cask Rye, Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Lustau red vermouth, Strega Italian liquor and Creole bitters. Or if you prefer wine, there’s a fabulous international selection, including a couple of my favorite Italian wines by the glass: a crisp Livon pinot grigio from Friuli and an elegant Grosjean Frères pinot noir from Valle d’Aosta. Pair your drink with a plate of creamy chickpea hummus dusted with za’atar spices and drizzled with Aleppo chili oil. It comes with homemade flatbread, but pay the additional supplement for the vegetable crudité, a garden-fresh seasonal selection that recently included watermelon radishes, purple carrots, sugar snap peas and cucumbers.
Other sharable nibbles include roasted baby eggplant seasoned with tahini, Aleppo chili oil, mint, lemon, black sesame seeds and za’atar spices. Served in its charred skin, the tender eggplant is scooped out onto warm grilled pita. There’s also Spanish inspired patatas bravas, crispy potato cubes sprinkled with fresh herbs and served with a bold Dijon-garlic aioli.
Gràcia’s menu favors seafood. The scallops are terrific: sweet jumbo dayboats caramelized to perfection and scented with a hint of truffle oil, served with a side of whipped potatoes. Other seafood specialties include oysters on the half shell, salmon tartare, grilled swordfish skewers, baked cod in a piquant tomato sauce and shrimp wrapped in Serrano ham. Tallent’s signature dish, calamari Bolognese, is a twist on the Italian classic and served atop tender homemade potato gnocchi. For non-seafood options, there’s grilled sirloin steak and also lamb chops glazed with an herbaceous Italian Salmoriglio sauce.
In keeping with Mediterranean tradition, desserts are light and refreshing. There’s gelato, sorbetto and chocolate budino pudding. But my favorite is the orange almond cake, a not-too- sweet confection bursting with citrus flavors and tamed with a sweet creamy yogurt sauce.
Although Gràcia’s cuisine is global, its heart is decidedly local. Even with its international influence, its core is a neighborhood spot where you can’t help but absorb its convivial vibe within its cozy quarters. Every neighborhood should have a place like Gràcia, where you can stop chasing the Next New Thing, relax and enjoy.