A blustery, cold January night -- one of the few we've had in Austin this winter -- was the night that one of my best foodie friends and I ventured downtown. We were rather windblown when we arrived a bit past 5:30 pm at Chef David Bull's 2nd Bar + Kitchen in the Austonian building at 2nd and Congress. Since we were there for an early dinner, we had no problem getting a table, and were seated in a corner booth spot, facing the bar.
Studying the drink menu, I was reminded of a cocktail I had there once before for a social media tasting, a couple months after they opened. Gin and Jam -- Citadelle gin on the rocks with a spoonful of housemade raspberry jam. What's on the current menu is different -- Monopolowa Gin with a cranberry jam. I had never been a gin fan before that first gin and jam cocktail, and our server assured me that this version was equally good if not better with the Austrian Monopolowa. He turned out to be quite correct, as it was very smooth with a touch of sweet and tart from the jam.
We started with Bacon + Eggs, which is some very nicely crisped pork belly, a poached egg, frisee, a touch of orange (juice? zest? not sure what form it took), and a maple gastrique. It was really quite delicious. The pork belly had great texture, and I am starting to like eggs with runny yolks! The maple added just the small bit of sweetness needed for a contrast, and the orange addition did make it reminiscent of eating bacon, eggs and orange juice for breakfast. This is considered one of their Small Plates, and at $12, certainly worth it.
We were both excited about the charcuterie plate from the Snack portion of the menu, and got a chuckle out of the description "appropriate condiments." I realize in retrospect, we should have asked what was on the day's plate, as I expected there to be some cured meats, like a sausage or cured ham, but it was all pates and rillettes, so everything was fairly similar texturally. The offerings were all good, but again, a bit more variety would have been nice. From the back left: rabbit rillette with a Dijon-style mustard and chicken pate, and in the front, pork and beef pate, and pork rillette in the cup. The appropriate condiments were a grainy mustard and cornichons and pickled vegetables. I think the two rillettes were my favorites.
We split one large plate, the pappardelle with truffled ricotta, shaved fennel, roasted mushrooms, and added the veal meatballs. The meatballs were a disappointment in both size and taste. There were five very small meatballs, about and inch in diameter, and they were a bit dried out. Looking carefully now at the picture, I think they sat under the salamander broiler for too long. You can see how some of the cheese as well as some of the pasta got a toasted, and the small size of the meatballs suffered from the extra heat. The rest of the dish was good, a mild truffle flavor, and very wide ribbons of pasta; the fennel added an extra layer of flavor which complimented everything well. It was a good dish but not outstanding.
For dessert, we had the Lemon Curd Brulee with "jalapeno caramel and cornbread ice cream." I wonder if the menu description was totally accurate, because what was presented was a cornmeal tartlet with lemon curd, bruleed on top, with salted caramel, and a red jalapeno jam. I wouldn't say the ice cream was cornbready at all. The whole thing was tasty, but not as the menu would lead you to believe.
They also have "bites" on the dessert menu, and I was debating between chocolate brownie and pudding pops. I let the waiter talk me into the pudding pops, though I think I should have gone with my gut, and picked the brownie. The graham cracker crunch was lacking in the crunch part, so there wasn't enough textural contrast.
Apart from the hostess, the other staff we saw all looked a bit scruffy. Jeans and long sleeve t-shirts seem to be the norm there for waiter dress code, but some of them looked like they rolled out of bed from an upstairs apartment in the Austonian. I think we were both surprised by the casualness. 2nd B + K shares its kitchen with Congress, the upscale establishment with prix-fixe three or seven course menus. I have heard that Congress is sheer perfection, so I wonder if the kitchen gives that side of the house their extra attention. Nothing came up totally short in our meal, but I would say there's room for some improvements.