Wednesday, February 5, 2014
The wait is over—Shawn Cirkiel’s new restaurant chavez is now open. One of Austin’s most innovative chefs—and the talent behind parkside, the city’s first gastropub—has created yet another it spot. Housed in the recently renovated downtown Radisson Hotel on Lady Bird Lake, chavez is a fusion of Texas, the Southwest, and Mexico mixed in with the vibe of Austin.
For Cirkiel, who was raised in Austin, the venture is a natural fit. “It is all the flavors and food that we like to eat and cook with that we grew up with,” said Cirkiel. “For us, being from Texas, it’s a mixture of chiles, beans, rice, grilled meats, grilled fish, homemade tortillas, and tamales,” he explained. “It goes back to the blending of cultures—and for us, that’s who we are.”
That mixing of cultures provided the foundation for the design of chavez, which overlooks Lady Bird Lake. For more than a year, Cirkiel collaborated with branding guru Jett Butler, the creative director and founder of FÖDA Studio, and architects Michael Hsu and Jay Colombo, of Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, on the project. The open and modern space, which features clean lines and floor-to-ceiling windows to showcase the view of the lake, is also warm and inviting. A combination of materials—wood, steel, tile, and glass—create a tactile experience.
The attention to detail is evidenced in everything from the creative light fixtures made to evoke the letter “C” to the Texas pecan woods used throughout chavez. The entryway includes a backlit foyer etched with a pattern using the letters from the restaurant’s name—a nod to Cesar Chavez Street, where the restaurant is located; a play on “llavez,” which means “keys” in Spanish; as well as a reference to Cirkiel’s menu. Each letter is stacked in different ways, reminiscent of Mesoamerican culture. Although chavez incorporates multicultural aspects, it is ultimately Austin. “The space is a definition of what it is—the location, the emotion of it,” said Cirkiel.
The menu is built around shareable plates and sides. Cirkiel sources meats, fish, and produce from local purveyors and combines them with the flavors he grew up with to create true Texas fare. Breakfast features everything from local milled griddle cakes with wildflower honey and fresh fruit ($9) to chicken-fried steak with farm eggs, crispy potatoes, and white gravy ($12). Lunch offerings include grilled quail en mole ($11), salmon veracruz ($16), raw bar nibbles such as vegan ceviche with chayote, cauliflower, beet, and orange ($8), and an assortment of tortas such as tofu with black beans and avocado, onion, lettuce, and cheese ($10) and pork carnitas with pickled red onion, avocado, tomato, cilantro aioli, and cotija ($12). Dinner features everything from hamachi with “horchata,” orange, and cascabel ($11) from the raw bar and sides such as lard tamal with peanut mole ($8) to appetizers such as oyster taquitos with avocado crema, slaw, and habenaro ($9) and entrées such as herb crusted mahi mahi with salsa negra ($22). Desserts, such as a corn churro that flirts with tropical fruit ($10) and café con leche ($10), are made in-house by executive pastry director Steven Cak. Cirkiel has put together a talented team, including general manager Justin Jordan, to attend to every detail.
An über-selective wine menu and de rigueur hand-crafted cocktails such as smoked cherry margarita (Milagro Reposado, cherry, habanero, and lime); congress (Tito’s vodka with hibiscus, lemon, and cava); and michelelada (Pearl Snap pilsner with kale Mary mix, lime, and salt) add to the festive ambience.
Cirkiel also provides food service for the hotel, including poolside noshes, room service, banquets, and events. “We get to play with a lot of different things,” said Cirkiel.
Chavez, located in the Radisson Hotel & Suites at 111 Cesar Chavez, is open Sun-Thurs, 6:30am to 10pm, Fri-Sat, 6:30am-11pm, bar open late. For more information, go to chavez-austin.com.
The Radisson Hotel & Suites, owned by Austin real estate company Forestar Group Inc., is located at 111 Cesar Chavez St. in downtown Austin.