Haddington's. You may not know about them yet but trust me you are going to want to. Thanks to our friends Cat and Paula at Crave Communications we were able you attend the media opening of this new gem in downtown Austin. Upon arriving we were escorted through the warmly lit restaurant to the Fox Tavern. Yes, I said tavern. Haddington's describes themselves as an "American tavern with rustic cuisine, caringly prepared cocktails and thoughtfully selected wines and beers." This is the perfect description for this tavern, as they provide all the oldest foods in all the newest ways.
This restaurant is the latest creation from restaurateur Michael Polombo who also owns Mulberry, another Austin downtown hot spot. He created this restaurant to pay homage to his grandfather who captained a ship named The Haddington. Using this inspiration and time he spent traveling in Europe he set out to create a traditional old world American tavern that served traditional food in very new and creative ways. The menu that was served to us was a wonderful sampling of some of my favorite old world foods with things like pâté, homemade sausages, and even fois gras. Executive chef Zach Northcutt spent several weeks in Britain creating a perfecting this menu and the polish and effort showed in every delicious morsel that we could get our hands on.
And now for the food – Our night started out with Duck liver mousse with golden raisins. Personally, I love everything about ducks inside and out and all the more so when they are served on crostini. The mousse was smooth but still had a pleasant texture and was complemented perfectly by the sweetness of the raisin sauce. All the Junkies agreed at this point that we were in for one of the best nights of our culinary lives. The next bite that we found was the rabbit rillette with whiskey cherries. Traditionally speaking a rillette is meat cooked in seasoned fat and made into a paste and then served cold. This rillette was not served cold and was amazingly delicious. It had a pleasantly light flavor of rabbit and herbs which was rounded out by the tartness of the cherries and the slight bite from the whiskey. By this point we were commenting on how we could not get enough of the food and were drawing straws as to who would tackle the next waitress and steal all the crostini for ourselves.
Luckily for the staff, Paula came by and offered to order us her favorite appetizer, the Toast Pots. Now I would just like to say, if there were ever world peace talks on which the fate of mankind hung, I hope that they serve this beforehand. This quartet represents charcuterie at its best. From left to right we have a pork rillette, a black truffle egg custard with raw yolk, a duck liver mousse, and a white bean and garlic paste. All of these "pots" are amazingly delicious in very different ways.
The one that surprised me most was the white bean and garlic because most times when you have garlic as a main flavor in a dip like this it usually has a spicy super garlicky flavor. But this was completely the opposite. Instead of being spicy and just slapping you across the face with garlicky goodness, the garlic actually had a sweet and mellow note to it that perfectly rounded out the flavors provided by the white bean.
Now if I had to choose a favorite, and it would be a hard task indeed, I would have to say that I loved the duck liver mousse. The dark gelatin on top was wonderfully sweet and enticed the flavor of the mousse to come out to new heights while still standing out as a flavor of its own. This created a mingling of two flavors, the more mellow and deep flavors from the mousse and the bright sweetness of the gelatin that danced wonderfully on the tongue.
Last, but certainly not least, is the Black Truffle egg custard. When the appetizer first arrived and we saw that there was a raw egg yolk and the platter all of us got just a little giddy. Maybe it was just the wonderful drinks, maybe it was all the incredible food, but seeing this made our eyes sparkle just a little brighter. I was closest to the platter so I reached for the spreading knives first. Much like a surgeon making his first incision the gently, even tentatively, pierced the bright yellow yolk allowing its golden contents to flow out covering the custard. When spreading this wonderful mixture on the toast my immediate instinct was to shove as much of it as I could into my expectant mouth but sadly this was not the case as I decided to follow customary manners and serve the others in my group. When David took the first bite and experienced what I would taste momentarily I understood the look on his face.
Let me preface this part by saying that I do not enjoy the taste of truffles. Now I know, you are all saying, "Alex, aren't truffles magic wrapped in a mushroom? Aren't these the things that chefs buy in the back cellars of their kitchens for $1,000.00/lb from men wearing dark trench coats with brief cases handcuffed to their arms?" and I would reply "The one and the same." You see, I love all sorts of earthy flavors. I love stinky French cheese, the kind that smells like socks and seems to melt all by itself as if it's constantly in a state of decay, but when it comes to truffles I have never been a fan. But this, this black truffle and egg yolk paradise is a whole new ball game. The earthiness was controlled and used to create a wonderful warm flavor in the mouth that is rich and decadent. We all couldn't help but smile and let out a sigh of delight and euphoria upon eating this.
After the food, there is one more ingredient that made this night perfectly outstanding. The man pictured here to the right, Bill Norris. First off, don't call him a mixologist, Bill is a bartender. A really good bartender. Bill's drinks are as creative as the food we dined on and every bit as polished and perfect. But coming from him this is no surprise. For two years running Bill has been named in the Austin Chronicle's readers poll for the best mixologist (don't tell him I called him a mixologist) and has earned the title of Texas regional champion in the 2008 Cocktail World Cup. He was also a member of the second-place team in the 2008 Cocktail World Cup Final in New Zealand and a finalist in the United States Bartender's Guild National Cocktail Competition. Not knowing any of this at the time, I asked Bill which of his cocktails he recommended off of the menu because all of them sounded amazingly fantastic and completely different from what I have ever seen on a normal cocktail menu. Bills response was, "It's like trying to pick my favorite child." After perusing the menu a little more, I decided to start my evening off with a "Duck Fat Sazerac".
If the name doesn't intrigue you and make you want to try it, the ingredients definitely will. This drink is made from Peychaud's bitters, absinthe rinse, and the surprise ingredient duck fat infused rye. That's right ladies and gentlemen it has duck fat. This drink is amazing because for having rye and absinthe in the drink it does not have a strong kick to it or an overwhelming black licorice quality. It's perfectly balanced and being served cold just makes it that much more smooth.
Not wanting to stop my explorations of the libations I decided to go for something a bit lighter and order the Moscow Mule. This refreshingly effervescent drink is comprised of Vodka and their own house made ginger beer (by the way Bill also makes his own Tonic, awesome gin and tonics). The vodka adds a good amount of kick but what really shines is the ginger. This brightly flavored drink is refreshing and perfect for drinking on warm afternoons on their patio.
The last drink that I chose was the Smoking Jacket. Although it wasn't the first drink that I chose, it was definitely the first to catch my eye. Although it kind of looks like a cappuccino it's actually a mixture of anejo rum, amaretto, scotch, nutmeg, and one whole egg. As unknowing as it was, I had saved the best for last. The amaretto and nutmeg blend together to give this drink a warm kind of Christmassy feel while the egg gives the drink a smooth texture with a nice light foamy head. The Smoking Jacket was the perfect way to end our evening at Haddingtons. I
know that I have made Haddingtons out to be the perfect restaurant, with nothing but glowing reviews and heavy handed compliments, but it deserves it. I have been to Haddingtons a few times now and each time is better than the last. The food and drink are amazing; everything is well polished and fresh. This restaurant is a jewel in Austin's culinary crown and is something that should be experienced often. If you haven't eaten their yet, do yourself a favor and stop by for happy hour and give it a try.