Thus far on our little culinary trek through Austin, fine dining establishments have not been very high on our list of priorities. Not that we have anything against them, we just generally find ourselves more interested in the new neighborhood pub, or a new trailer or food truck. This week's review takes us to Soleil, an Italian-themed restaurant with a French name. And, in case you had not already guessed, it certainly qualifies as a fine dining establishment. Located on the cliffs above Lake Travis, Soleil offers some of the most spectacular views in Austin in addition to their fantastic food.
Another great thing about Soleil is that they are part of the same family of restaurants as Uncle Billy's. In fact, Uncle Billy's has a location above Soleil, which means some of Brian Peters' fresh brewed beer is always on tap.
We started things out with an Axe Handle IPA to drink, and an order of fried calamari. The IPA was fantastic. Nice and bitter, and with a pleasant amount of citrus flavor from the hops. The calamari was tentacled perfection. Calamari is often served with just the tentacles, but in this case there were no tentacles and all squid steak. The chewy nature of squid can make it a very tricky protein to work with — if it's not cooked either very quickly or for a very long time it will become rubbery and unappetizing. This calamari was done perfectly. The breading was nice and crunchy and the interior was very tender. The appetizer was served with marinara and a fantastic garlic aioli for dipping.
The first main dish we had was the grilled scallops. I don't happen to have a lot of experience with scallops, but these were easily the best example that I've had yet. The scallops had a nice char and color, a sweet flavor, and a hint of smoke from the fire. The texture was buttery and warm the whole way through (the last time I had scallops they were cold in the middle and slightly tough. We will never review that restaurant). The scallops came served with a very delectable sweet pea emulsion, a small summer salad, and candied fennel. The fennel was so wonderful that it almost could have been the star of the dish if not for those perfect scallops.
Next up was the flattened chicken breast. I know what you're thinking, "You went to a place like Soleil and got the chicken breast? Really?" Really. And we have no regrets about it. The dish was spot on. Chicken breast is notoriously easy to ruin and overcook — that was not an issue here. It was tender and juicy all the way through. The plate was served with coppa and provolone on top. How do you make a perfect chicken breast better? Simple, add some cured pork to it then add a little cheese on top of that. It came with fingerling potatoes and fried sage. This is a chicken dish worth giving a try.
After a little deliberation we decided to close our meal with dessert. We chose the turtle cheesecake. The fact is I'm usually a pretty easy audience for cheesecake, but this one ranks among the best that I've had. The cream of the crop typically have the following qualities: a firm, yet silky texture, a little sweet but not cloyingly so, rich but not overpowering, and the toppings or marbling perhaps (chocolate and caramel in this case) should know their place. They are there to provide a nice accent but not to be a main player.
All in all it was a great experience. The food was stellar and the service was top notch. Our official AFJ rating — 5 well-deserved Lone Star points.