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Travel / Restaurants

Austin Finds — a New French Restaurant Downtown and a Hill Country Hotel Retreat Deserve Attention

Your Getaway Guide

BY // 11.29.17

The afternoon sun’s rays bounced off the surface of the swimming pool and jumped into the windows of our room at the Sonesta Bee Cave, the hotel in Austin. We had departed Houston a little past noon earlier that day, looking forward to our time in the state capital and some good food and drink. Friday afternoon and evening stretched before us, with the promise of a relaxing interlude.

The newish hotel (which opened in 2015) is situated at the Hill Country Galleria Mall, a 20-minute (on days of light traffic) drive from downtown Austin. The interior scheme is sprinkled throughout with honey bee references — a piece of wall art resembles a honeycomb, hanging lights in the bar take their inspiration from an apiary — and the rooms’ color schemes encourage calm. No buzzing, frenetic hive is this.

We began our stay with glasses of Sancerre in the room. The plan was to enjoy cocktails in the bar in the early evening, perhaps catch the sunset over Hill Country, then make our way to dinner at Le Politique, a restaurant that opened this September. It takes its inspiration from brasseries in France, and since I love a good brasserie, I was eager to get to the table. But first, the Sonesta bar — which also houses the hotel’s restaurant — was waiting.

Dark wood, lots of windows, an ample patio overlooking Hill Country, and a cocktail list featuring bee-inspired libations: Meridian 98 is a comfortable, handsome, and ideal spot to spend a few hours with food, drink, and friends. Start with a BeeKeeper (Dripping Springs gin, Clement orange, pineapple juice, and Chambord) or an Apiary Apéritif (Tres Agaves Blanco tequila, mango juice, lime juice, jalapeño, Fresno, Bee Kind honey, salted rim). The first drink is bracing and light, the latter spicy and slightly decadent.

Savory menu items include Ahi tuna sliders, mini chili dogs made with venison, pulled pork nachos, and bacon mac hushpuppies.

The Sonesta Bee Cave’s lobby goes beyond the usual cookie-cutter comforts.

We sipped our cocktails and admired the rolling green hills above Austin; the sky was nearly wholly blue, devoid of clouds, and a warm breeze belied early November. Members of a wedding party drifted in the restaurant and gathered on the deck outdoors, their excitement obvious.

Holiday Gifting

  • Wayne Smith
  • Oscar De La Renta - Clutch
  • Cle Du Peau - Lip Gloss
  • Asher Gallery
  • Loeffler Randall - Shoes
  • Museum of Fine Arts Houston
  • Wayne Smith
  • Cle Du Peau - Nail Polish
  • Elaine Turner - GiGi Flats
  • Bond No 9 - Perfume
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Oscar De La Renta - Earrings
  • Bond No 9 - Candle
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Loeffler Randall - Clutch
  • Elaine Turner - Felicia Stole in Magenta
  • Cotton Club
  • Cotton Club

We ordered some sweet potato fries, which came crisp and hot. (My mayonnaise, for some reason, had to be retrieved from the first floor of the hotel, and once it arrived seemed to be Miracle Whip. Sonesta Bee Cave, I bet your cooks know how to make aioli, which would be excellent with the fries.) An hour or so enjoyed, our drinks gone, we thanked the bartender and readied for the drive downtown, and Le Politique.

Winding, hilly roads — a refreshing change from the flatness of Houston — led us down into the city, to a new building, the Northshore apartment complex, anchored by the restaurant on the ground floor. We parked the car in a public lot, and savored the five-minute walk to our destination, a stroll past full restaurants and bars, the people in them drinking, talking, and laughing.

Le Politique’s Easy Restaurant Charm

Le Politique is a clean and well-lighted place, airy and cheerful, and one glance at the raw bar — stacked with shrimp and oysters and clams and lobster — renewed my appetite. The hostess led us to our table, situated close by a wall of windows and other tables (a brasserie must have tables placed so — among other things, it allows one to eavesdrop if one so desires).

First, wine, and, in our case, rosé. The selections at Le Politique should suit most diners, and we chose a Campo Vecchio “Corse” and a Fabre — Corsica and Provence, respectively. The night was warm, and the wines eased us into the evening in a comforting manner.

The menu here — full of items one might expect to find on a brasserie card — includes roast chicken,  a hamburger, steak frites, and, of course, French onion soup. We started our meal with two Gallic wonders: gougères and escargots, the former warm and delicious and filled with Gruyère in a hearty manner, the latter, unfortunately, distinguished by an astringency (bitter parsley) that overwhelmed the escargots’ flavor.

We continued with shrimp from the raw bar, six crustaceans steamed ever so gently and served with cocktail sauces and lemon. Briny and delicate, they were refreshing between our appetizers and our main courses, the latter the stars of the meal.

Gigot de Mer and Boudin Blanc are what we ordered, and star they did, especially the sausage, a mainstay of French cuisine. My dining companion had originally decided on the gnocchi dish, but at the last minute changed his mind to the sausage, a decision that, once we tasted the dish, made both of us happy.

This boudin blanc was moist and earthy, and spoke of true culinary craftsmanship. Too often, sausages ordered in U.S.-based restaurants are dry, desiccated things, not much more than afterthoughts. Too bad, because when one is in France or Germany (among other countries), bratwurst and andouille and, yes, boudin blanc are worthy of the discriminating diner. At le Politique, yours will be served with caramelized quince, potato purée, watercress, and sauce Périgueux, a classic concoction including Madeira and black truffles.

The Gigot de Mer — which means “leg of lamb of the sea,” a wonderfully apt way to describe monkfish tail’s meatiness — comes to the table with red wine-braised cabbage and hazelnuts. The cook here was in fine form; it wasn’t overdone, and the fish retained its lobster-like consistency.

We paired a Picpoul de Pinet from Hugues Beaulieu with the main courses, on the list for $32. Fresh, bracing, with an admirable acidity/structure ratio, it was delicious with both the seafood and the sausage.

Dessert was a cheese plate, a decision I make more and more these days. Excellent for one’s digestion, friendly with wine, and satisfying in a way that sugar is not. We chose a selection of six cheeses, including chabrin (a semi-soft goat fromage) and Ossau-Iraty, a semi-firm cheese made from sheep’s milk.

Le Politique has a lot going for it, including professional service and a brasserie-like buzz. Put it on your list for Austin, and don’t overlook the boudin blanc.

The drive back to the hotel was a leisurely one, and the Bee Cave, situated on a rise above the main road, was waiting. We settled in for the evening, a day to relish behind us.

Sonesta Bee Cave: 12525 Bee Cave Parkway, Bee Cave, Texas; 512-483-5900; rooms from $160

Le Politique: 110 San Antonio St., Austin; 512-580-7651

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