Last night I had the pleasure of spending happy hour at El Arbol here in Austin, TX. Disclaimer: I was asked to review the restaurant and given a coupon for a happy hour appetizer. My opinions are 100% honest.
When the restaurant contacted me, I kept asking myself “Do they know that I study hispanic literature? Do they know I once lived in Argentina?!” The menu is full of food I used to eat while living in Argentina, from steak to gnocchi. And empanadas!! It was my personal goal in Argentina to eat empanadas at every restaurant that offered them on the menu (and I do believe I did). So Mary and I headed out, as she wanted to try the food and is now the unofficial co-photographer of An Epic Change!
The restaurant is beautiful. My pictures of the outside didn’t turn out well but still, they don’t do it justice. It feels very modern, yet still old-world. The namesake of the restaurant is a very old oak tree which is also what the restaurant is built around. It is a spectacular venue!
The staff were very welcoming and attentive. I think my water glass was refilled every few sips!! Our waiters were very nice and answered any question we had.
Since it was happy hour, there were great drink and appetizer specials. The prices of the restaurant reflect its quality, but don’t quite fit in with a graduate student’s budget. However, happy hour was VERY reasonable and I’d definitely go back for the full menu for a special occasion.
Mary and I started out with a round of mojitos — they were delicious.
We nibbled on the bread basket while waiting for the empanadas! How can you not like them? Meat, vegetables, and anything else imaginable baked inside pastry. I had the Empanada Cerdo (pulled pork, almonds, raisins) and Mary had the Empanada Carne Suave (sirloin and potatoes). They were very authentic, in my opinion, and tasted like many empanadas I ate in Argentina. And the chimichurri sauce was quite good.
Next up was our actual appetizer, the Bruschetta de Bife Ancho. You guys… I need to take a moment to myself before I can talk about this dish.
It was impeccable. Phenomenal. The ribeye was so rare it melted in my mouth like butter. The mushrooms were the perfect texture. The bread and the carmelized onions were buttery smooth. The aioli was creamy. Audible moans were heard by all waiters attending my table. Sonnets were composed. Birds sang. Rainbows shined.
It took Mary and I a few moments to compose ourselves. We literally had to stop talking to each other for a few seconds just to comprehend the food in our mouths. When food stops Mary and I from girl talk, you know it has to be good.
I mentioned how it would be cool to meet the chef but was too embarrassed to ask. Then Mary flagged down a waiter and asked and we were told he’d be right up to see us. I need to keep Mary around. Just as the waiter promised, the chef came right upstairs to talk to me. I was surprised he wasn’t actually South American, but a born and bred Texan, because his food was so incredibly legitimate. I told him that the food was impeccable and that I hadn’t had ribeye treated that way since I left Argentina (where I made a sizable dent in the cattle population). He stayed at the table and chatted for a few minutes, which was very nice of him, and I could do nothing but compliment his food. He’s doing something right — thank you for some wonderful food, Chad! I was also invited to go down into the kitchen and take a picture of their custom made 1700 lb. oak burning stove. Yes please.
I also spoke to the General Manager for a moment and he, too, was very welcoming. I made sure he knew how I felt about the dishes we tried and the restaurant because I was just very impressed all around.
For all those who live in Austin or are thinking of coming to Austin: go eat at El Arbol. It has a cozy yet upscale atmosphere, incredible food, and a great wine selection. Considering the restaurant probably didn’t realize I had lived in Argentina and consider myself well-versed in Argentine cuisine, I was really happy to find food similar to that which I feasted upon during my stint down in the Southern Hemisphere. I highly recommend El Arbol and plan to go back soon!