For all of the culinary advances we have witnessed in Austin, Texas, there are still no Michelin-starred restaurants in the Lone Star State or its capital.
Yet there now exists an option for avant-garde foodies: a visit to the similarly-named Austin sister restaurant of the Michelin-starred PastaBar in Los Angeles.
Austin, Texas is known for its barbecue and Tex-Mex primarily, but its foodie scene has been on the rise over the past decade.
Despite this fact, we still do not have the high-end Italian restaurants enjoyed by cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
When I heard about Pasta|Bar, I thought that maybe the wait was over for world-class pasta, and I got excited when I checked out Pasta|Bar Austin's website and found the following text:
Our mission has always been to create and prepare 'from scratch' cooking, and nowhere is that better exemplified than in the preparation of fresh pasta, inspired by the flavors of Texas and the culinary techniques of Italy. Join us, as we take you yet again on an exciting dinner adventure. This is Pasta|Bar.
On a mission to find the best restaurant in Austin and also to eat superior pasta in my hometown, I decided to give Pasta|Bar Austin a try.
Pasta|Bar offers three seatings per evening in timed, two hour sessions: 5:00pm, 7:15pm and 9:30pm.
Reservations are released on the first of the month at 12pm for the following month's availability.
When I booked two weeks in advance, the only time slots available were at 5 and 9:30, and I selected the early time slot.
You can make your Pasta|Bar reservations via Tock here.
A $25 deposit to make the reservation will be charged for each patron, the amount of which is deducted from your final bill.
Pasta|Bar Austin is located a few blocks east of I-35 on the busy East 6th Street. Metered street parking is available immediately in front and in the vicinity of the restaurant (if you are lucky to find it).
The actual location of the restaurant is challenging to find.
There is no signage for Pasta|Bar, only the number of the street address. In fact, their sign is empty. Obviously this is on purpose, although for what purpose I am not exactly clear.
Guests are encouraged to arrive 15-20 minutes before their scheduled reservation time for an alcoholic or non-alcoholic free “tipple” in the sumptuous Pasta|Bar Austin lounge.
At precisely 5pm, the six guests are escorted from the lounge into the dining area, a U-shaped counter table adjacent to the kitchen where five chefs and two waitstaff welcome you to your culinary adventure.
The room is dark except for lights on the kitchen area so you can see your food being prepared, and the musical playlist leans heavily on Texas country stars such as Robert Earl Keen.
Your seating is assigned in advance, and Pasta|Bar welcomes you with a trio of amuse bouche and a special message from the chefs at your selected spot.
Head Chef Jeremy greeted us and informed the six diners that we would be enjoying eleven courses for a price of $195. Optional wine pairings are an additional $145 per person or $225 per person for the reserve pairing.
The eleven dishes over 120 minutes (the three seatings per evening are timed in two hour sessions, 5:00pm, 7:15pm and 9:30pm) averages to approx. ten minutes per dish; however, I never felt that the meal was rushed until the end of our allotted time, when we were asked nicely to vacate the dining area so that the next diners could enter.
Pasta|Bar's seasonal menu changes every ten weeks or so, and the menu card provided informs you of the treats you are about to sample over the next two hours.
As the courses are prepared, the chefs explain each dish that is served.
Our meal began with a trio of hors d'oeuvres followed by Pasta|Bar’s famous sourdough bread, and we were told to save some bread to dip into the many sauces coming with our meal.
The bread was paired with an oyster fried in A5 Wagyu Beef Fat over greens, marinated tomatoes, and a balsamic reduction.
While I am not a huge oyster fan, I enjoyed the dish until I found a hair in my food - NOT A GOOD START to my meal.
Chef Jeremy was apologetic (and they did give us some free items as a result), and overall the staff was incredibly friendly and helpful.
The oyster was followed by a crudo with dragon fruit, mango and other tropical fruits which reminded me of my favorite ceviche meal ever in Lima, Peru.
The fourth course on the menu was an agnolotti with celeriac and truffle and a delectable hint of fresh dill.
On Fall menus, agnolotti with butternut squash is a staple, so it was refreshing to taste this handmade pasta with another root vegetable like celeriac.
Next up was cavatelli with sweet corn, chimichurri and manchego cheese all buried under a bubbling warm foam.
The gnocchi course with flambe' bone marrow and fried parsley took the meal to the next level.
Here is a video of one of the chefs with the blowtorch and the bone melting the marrow into the six pasta dishes.
As far as entertainment goes, it was as good as it gets in terms of performance dining, and the taste was so decadent.
This was the ultimate comfort food. Delicious pasta covered with freshly melted bone marrow. WOW.
After a full hour of ingesting six very diverse courses into my mouth, I finally was loosening up culinarily and getting ready for the main events.
Next came the proteins.
The fish course was an Alaskan halibut paired with crowder pears, caramelized chicken sauce and okra.
The caramelized chicken sauce was divine, and I asked the chef how it is prepared. He relayed that they make a stock from roasted chickens and then reduce that stock down several times after adding fish bones and a fresh mirepoix.
The end result is the most flavorful brown sauce or gravy you have EVER TASTED.
The Mezzaluna course was chicken roulade with Texas peaches and hatch chiles.
The chicken had a nice spice because of the chiles, and the peaches added some citrus flavor to the pasta as a succulent complient.
The Trofie course - beef - was a single slice of Texas Wagyu with acorn flour pasta, wild mushrooms, a cauliflower puree and Madeira truffle sauce.
The local steak was phenomenal, and I really enjoyed the dish.
Furthermore, I was excited that the final savory dish echoed the same flavor note - the cauliflower puree - as our amuse bouche, which brought back a delicious memory from the beginning of the meal.
However, as we prepared for dessert, I realized that with a name like Pasta|Bar there are certain expectations from your customers.
For instance - and I don't think this is a stretch - that pasta would be the most delicious dish of the decadent meal. Not the meat. Not the fish. Not the dessert. Yes, the pasta.
Is that so much to ask???
Finally, we were treated to two dessert courses: a Meyer lemon and malted milk granita as a palate cleanser and Cioccolato with strawberries, white chocolate marquis and pink peppercorn meringue which reminded me of a deconstructed strawberry shortcake.
As a final reminder of our dining experience, we were given homemade sugar cookies with instructions to "eat these later on tonight."
After we received the cookies, we were politely asked to leave the dining area, which was fine with me since my hamstrings were killing me after sitting at the high-top counter stools for two hours.
Like the Greek legend Icarus who flew too close to the sun and failed, Pasta|Bar Austin aims high and ultimately misses its lofty target.
In its favor, the menu is incredibly inventive and many of the dishes are truly spectacular. Furthermore, I am happy that Austin now offers intimate group dining experiences such as Pasta|Bar.
However, the price for two people including tax and tip (without any alcohol) is over $500, which means that Pasta|Bar Austin needs to be held to the highest standards.
Finding a hair in my food early on in the meal does not bode well, and the supper club vibe is not enough to save Pasta|Bar when you spend this kind of money on a meal.
I think Pasta|Bar Austin needs more than its creative dishes, group dining concept and LA restaurant’s Michelin star to truly provide a transcendent dining experience that justifies its jaw-dropping price.
That being said, if you are a foodie and have an important client to entertain or are looking for a special occasion restaurant while in Austin, Texas, Pasta|Bar Austin will certainly provide an unique, luxury experience that keeps you guessing.
If you are interested on my reviews of actual Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo, check out my article here.