Of all the comments you hear when you “do” food for a living, you hear nothing with greater regularity than “I wish I could just start with dessert.” This is a silly idea, usually. But at Eleven Plates & Wine in Austin, with peach seasons in full swing in Texas and across the South, this just might be the time to load up on this dessert first and worry about taking prisoners later. Exec chef Joe Anguiano might even let you, if you ask him real nice.
How you choose to begin your meal, of course, doesn’t tell you what to drink with it. Inspired by the “& Wine” in this place’s name, there’s a host of choices worth making. On a recent visit, we sampled several cocktails and then several wines, all with various dishes that came our way – and they all worked. Though more of a wine drinker than a cocktail guy, I was impressed by Eleven Plates’ homage to the Papa Doble that Hemingway used to imbibe at the Floridita in Havana.
It was a hot day when I turned up on Chef Joe’s doorstep at Eleven Plates, but then again, what isn’t a hot day this time of year? So I was particularly drawn to his refreshing Mexixan spin on traditional American shrimp cocktail. The shrimp showed up with many tastes and textures provided by cucumber, jicama, jalapeno, heirloom cherry tomatoes, along with a lush avocado espuma.
Everybody needs to offer a diver scallop dish these days, and what Chef Joe comes up with is a winner. Sure, as usual, the scallops are pan-seared (not too much) and basking in their own natural sweetness. Far more creative – and yes, far more satisfying - is what the chef chooses to array around his scallops, most importanty the delightfully different sweetness of grilled corn, with extra accents supplied by Spanish chorizo, corn nut dust and citrus aïoli.
At lunch time there are several nifty sandwiches, including an excellent burger and the thing I most want to sample next time: the natural chicken curry sandwich on a pretzel role. This day, however, it was Vietnamese banh mi time, this one with crispy pork belly and an amazing assault of pickled carrots, cucumber, mint, oven dried tomato,cilantro and jalapeño aiöli. As I say, you can start with dessert at Eleven Plates, especially as long as peaches are in season. But thanks to Chef Joe, there are a lot more than eleven things on the menu you’ll want to try.