Luminaire Serves Seasonal Texas Fare from Six-Time James Beard-Nominated Chef Steve McHugh
The San Antonio-based luminary sets up shop in downtown's Hyatt Centric hotel to offer creative plates and one of Austin's best charcuterie boards
The timing was perfect for my first visit to Luminaire. I’d just come off a detoxifying three-day cleanse and was hungry for some bold and flavorful food…and a cocktail. Luminaire had just what I craved. This stylish restaurant in downtown’s new Hyatt Centric hotel offered a bounty of tasty dishes and drinks that revived my palate and boosted my spirits.
Luminaire is the latest entry in a spate of top-notch new hotel dining destinations, joining the ranks of Lutie’s at the Commodore Perry, Diner Bar at the Thompson, Nido at the Loren and Arlo Grey at The LINE, to name just a few. Although Luminaire is smack-dab in the middle of Austin, its roots originate in San Antonio, where Chef Steve McHugh has been lighting up that dining scene for the past decade.
His acclaimed restaurant, Cured, is the crown jewel of San Antonio’s historic Pearl entertainment complex and has received six James Beard nominations. More recently, he added Landrace to his portfolio, a marvelous restaurant in the museum district’s trendy Thompson Hotel. Prior to San Antonio, McHugh honed his craft in New Orleans at John Besh’s acclaimed fine dining mecca, August.
Although McHugh has given Luminaire a distinctive Austin identity, he brought along a few San Antonio favorites, including staff like Chef de Cuisine Emilion Baez, Sous Chef Ben Avada and Director of Operations Robert Rodriquez. Much of his team has worked with him for years and are like family — and some are family, like his wife, Sylvia, who collaborates with him on all his projects. Yet locals play key roles, too, including Austin native and Executive Chef Greg Driver who has spent his career cooking in hometown kitchens like Westwood Country Club, and the Driskill, Radisson and Hilton Canopy hotels.
Another element borrowed from San Antonio is Cured’s eponymous charcuterie, which brought McHugh national attention. For starters at Luminaire, settle in with a drink and a Dinner Board, McHugh’s calling card that overflows with meats, cheeses, garnishes and crackers. Currently made in-house at Cured in San Antonio, the rotating selection of a half-dozen meats often includes a sweet 24-month Jamón, a zesty Cecina, and my favorite, the smoked chorizo de Leon. Cheeses might include a classic Manchego and a creamy Miticaña de Cabra, which my normally cheese-averse husband gobbled up, rind and all. There are proper accoutrements like almonds, caperberries, grapes and marinated olives, plus two types of crackers, including whisper-thin savory parchment crackers. The platter is a work of art and so generous that it could suffice as a light meal, but keep going because the rest of the menu is well worth exploring.
Next, dive into one of Luminaire’s creative appetizers. The Smoked Tomato Tartare is a combined riff on French steak tartare and humble Spanish tomato bread, pan con tomate. Minced smoked tomatoes are mixed with herbs and capers, then topped with an egg yolk and caviar, perfect for scooping onto grilled bread. Another intriguing starter is the compressed melon, bite-size cubes sprinkled with flecks of cotija cheese and honeycomb, then gilded with a single anchovy. These luminescent jewels are playfully reminiscent of nigiri sushi.
For entrees, I was transported simultaneously to the Deep South and Mexico with the Shrimp & Hominy. Blackened shrimp were simmered in a piquant stew of tomatoes, chipotle adobo and diced smoked tasso ham, then served on velvety whipped hominy. Bold, spicy and smoky, this dish awakened all my senses. Delgada chops are another tasty choice. This special cut is thinner than traditional chops and griddled quickly, then served atop grilled bread and surrounded by a pool of savory jus. Diners can mix and match from a variety of meats, including beef, pork, lamb and boar. For pasta lovers, there is gnocchi tossed with a bolognese sauce made with Spanish sobrasada sausage.
The beverage program at Luminaire is as thoughtful as the food. Be sure to check out some of the specialty cocktails inspired by the adjacent Paramount and Stateside theaters, like the smoky Curtain Call or the refreshing Show Must Go On. The wine list claims to focus on New World wines, but I also found plenty of Old World gems by the glass, like a Spanish Verdejo, an Italian Grecco di Tufo and a French Burgundy.
Being a hotel restaurant, Luminaire serves throughout the day. At breakfast and lunch, it offers a modified version of its dazzling charcuterie board. And empanadas are a scrumptious breakfast-only treat, stuffed with a variety of fillings like chorizo and potato, chicken and idiazabal cheese, and roasted red pepper and goat cheese.
Open since February 1, Luminaire occupies the entire ground floor of the Hyatt Centric, a 31-story, 246-room hotel located on the bustling corner of Congress and Eighth. Its name pays homage to the adjacent Paramount and Stateside theaters, meaning “the person who would shine the spotlight on stage.” Luminaire has created its own culinary stage that highlights its dramatic downtown location: floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the urban scene and garage-style glass doors allow for indoor/outdoor dining. It’s a gorgeous space that captures the sophistication and energy of today’s Austin — plus a hint of neighboring San Antonio. It’s a delicious, delightful production that’s well worth attending.