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Feb 05 2006

My Crappy Dinner At The Capitol Brasserie


Linguine alla twistiana. Sauté in butter: onions, chunks of pancetta, mushrooms, the thing they call “broccolini,” garlic, and red bell pepper. Deglaze pan with whatever wine you intend to drink later. Add glugs of heavy cream and a couple of squirts of sundried tomato paste from a tube. Thin the sauce, if you must, with chicken stock. Dump this over the kind of linguine that comes in egg noodle nests. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and, if this sort of thing moves you, grated parmesan.

I wish I had eaten this exquisite linguine last night instead of the exceedingly mediocre dish of cassoulet I was served at the bipolar Capitol Brasserie. For $22, I’d expected something a bit more rarefied than a greasy, semi-incinerated duck leg protruding from a crock of bland, incomprehensible mush. Poor Austin! Yes, we are miles from France, but have our standards of duck-leg decency plummeted so far?

Yes. Yes they have. Our server not only felt compelled to explain “cassoulet” to me, Twisty Faster, as though it were some exotic delicacy from the golden depths of Atlantis and I was a Neanderthal from the Missouri boot-heel, she also described it, the miserable little prevaricator, as “delicious.”

I should mention that Stingray, who’d ordered an alternate anatine dish– a basic confit– tolerated her duck leg fairly well, although the discovery of its having been served on a bed of wilted frisée was quite a nasty jar for both of us.

The indignities that Stingray and I suffered at the Capitol Brasserie were in fact many and varied. Right off the bat there was no valet parking, which in downtown Austin is a crappy thing to do to a starving spinster aunt and her nurse, for it means driving to a distant lot and having to bandy words with a sketchy parking dude, senselessly wasting valuable feedbag time.

When at last we washed ashore, exhausted from our arduous journey, we were summarily ignored in the vestibule by the hostess, who was on the phone, although how she could carry on a conversation over the rocket-launch-caliber rumbling of my stomach I’ll never know.

Oh, and let me just tell you about our table! We were given a highly crappy table in the middle of the saloon, which room aspired– successfully, I am sorry to say– to an airport bar aesthetic, ca. 1990. It was located directly beneath an air conditioning vent and mere inches from a booth where one of the line cooks was entertaining his wife and screaming two-year-old between jaunts to the kitchen. And this table, she was like unto a large boulder jutting from the middle of a swift stream polluted with cheap perfume; a ceaseless deluge of subsequent patrons, all of whom tappity-tapped in crappy little high-heeled shoes, and none of whom were able to resist staring in astonishment at my bald head, flowed around and about it throughout the duration of our conspicuous residency.

“You’re right!” I’d tell them, eager to validate their concerns, “I’m bald!”

But wait. There’s more. The ambient room temperature swung at 15 minute intervals between 40 below and 85 above, necessitating the sort of constant fidgeting with outerwear I find inconsistent with the concept of being inside. We had to beg for silverware with each course. Some psychotic employee kept dimming and un-dimming the lights, creating a sort of disco-nausea effect. And naturally we were forced to endure the lonely anguish of post-dessert abandonment by our server.

Which dessert, by the way — a lemon tart with ginger crust — tasted exactly like sardines.

Of course, there was a creepy guy leering at us from the bar, so the natural order was preserved.

37 comments

  1. Nebris

    The Sizzlerisque steak and fries on their website looks like it’s being served on the men’s room floor.

    ~M~

  2. Christopher

    I have never been to a restaurant with valet parking, which, now that I think about it, is fine, since I have never owned a car.

    Upscale dining is a mystery to me.

  3. SneakySnu

    Jesus. Reminds me of a restaurant in Toronto, where the wait between courses is anywhere between 40 minutes to an hour. Adding insult to injury, they serve nouvelle cuisine-sized portions of things like risotto,which should always be served in abundance.

    Your linguine look delicious, though I am puzzled by the addition of red pepper.

    You might enjoy the broccolini this way also: boil them until tender with quartered potatoes (of the yukon gold variety). Drain. Chop Italian sausage and saute in olive oil. Add the broccolini and potatoes, and some spicy red pepper flakes, if you like. Saute 5-10 minutes, then chow down. Recipe comes from the Puglia region of Italy.

  4. Cass

    Its true, the airport bar/restaurant probably reached its aesthetic nadir by the early 90′s. I can remember, though, having a hamburger under a Calder mobile at Love Field (Dallas) many years ago, and feeling my surroundings were the ultimate in cosmopolitan sophistication. There were leering guys there too, but it was worse, as I was about 6 at the time.

    BTW- if you need a make-up session with your stomach, Twisty, allow me to recommend the Buenos Aires Cafe on S. 1st.

  5. JRoth

    Wow! Now that is one shitty meal. So does this make you miss your former journalistic vocation? I can’t help but note that your response to this crappy meal is much wordier than your paeans to preferred tacos of various origin. Perhaps if you used your gifts for good, rather than evil?

    Nah. Fuck it. Blame away, whether patriarchy or overblown restaurantarchy.

  6. Twisty

    SneakySnu: don’t like red bell pepper? Don’t add one.

    I add it largely for color, but also because I get nostalgic from the way it tastes with the pancetta. Something from my childhood, I think, possibly a stuffed pepper dish my mom used to make in the 70s.

  7. marsha

    I heart Twisty! And I’m making the pasta this weekend.

  8. Chris Clarke

    Of course, there was a creepy guy leering at us from the bar, so the natural order was preserved.

    Did you get the beers I sent over?

  9. virgotex

    Aside from all that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

  10. Twisty

    You will laugh, Virgotex, when I confess that I intend to return to the Capitol Brasserie to eat a $10 hamburger. Just to see.

  11. Lorenzo

    Twisty,

    My condolonces on the shitty dining experience.

    The pasta sounds good! Though, I think the pasta is called tagliatelle rather than linguine. AFAIK tagliatelle are the only long pasta that comes in the nests…though the sauce would be good with short pasta as well. I might make that one and pair it with rigatoni!

    SneakySu,

    Jesus. Reminds me of a restaurant in Toronto, where the wait between courses is anywhere between 40 minutes to an hour. Adding insult to injury, they serve nouvelle cuisine-sized portions of things like risotto,which should always be served in abundance.

    You gotta tell me which place, as I’m a Torontonian. That way I can avoid it like the plague!

  12. Violet Socks

    You can take the Twisty out of the restaurant critic, but you can’t take the restaurant critic out of the Twisty.

    Has Stingray gotten an apartment or is she still your live-in bodyguard?

  13. ae

    “You’re right!” I’d tell them, eager to validate their concerns, “I’m bald!”

    I’m sorry, but I laughed for 10 minutes over this validating of their concerns. Though I wouldn’t wish it on the delicate Twisty sensibilities, a bad restaurant review is always cheering from this side of the firing zone!

  14. Twisty

    Sorry Lorenzo; I am sometimes wrong about which poet said what about love being like a red red nose, but I am seldom mistaken when it comes to dinner. Tagliatelle noodles are long and often nested, as you correctly point out, but they are fat. Linguine is skinny. Besides, it said “linguine” right on the package.

  15. fayrene

    I actually dined at the Capitol Brasserie on Saturday night. There was a valet station next door at Sullivan’s. Of course, it does no good to valet the car if at the end of the evening you are required to stand outside in the cold for 15 minutes with every other poor sucker and wait for them to find your car from behind the dumpster.

    Anyway, the frites are excellent. Escargot was tasty enough, as was the steak au poivre. The trout was pretty good. Our service was “eh,” especially towards the end of the evening. Ruins the good-meal buzz, and fast.

  16. Twisty

    Did you see me, Fayrene? I was the bald one yelling at passersby!

  17. ampyx901

    I just checked out the Capitol Brasserie’s website through your link and was revolted by the image of beef and fries. It’s bad enough living in a Red State without being reminded that my fellow citizens are beating on their bibles and downing lots of red meat. Yuck.

  18. Twisty

    I accidentally deleted this charming take-her-down-a-peg comment as spam, and republish it now so you can all enjoy precisely the sort of hate mail I used to get when I was an alt-weekly restaurant critic.

    From Robert:

    I just stumbled onto this website and I can’t remember ever encountering a whinier bunch of misery lovers. Is this all in the name of parody? One can hope. You’ve successfully captured the essence of the curmudgeon, but overdosed on smug. The hostess was on the telephone? Somebody brought a child to a restaurant? You had to park your car? People wore shoes? The horror, the horror. Perhaps you would be better-suited cramming your cacophonous stomach at home with a feedbag of your “original” linguine recipe.

  19. thebewilderness

    Robert Dearie,
    May I suggest you stumble on out? There is a high level of conceptualization goin’ on here, what with the food and the patriarchy blaming and all. It’s bound to be too much for you. Stumble on over to LGF, I’m sure you’ll be more comfortable.

  20. Twisty

    Thinking my fellow townsfolk might beneift from a heads-up on the duck-leg situation at this newish restaurant, I posted this review on the AustinBloggers metasite; hence non-patriarchy-blaming Robert, who, like all white men under thirty (how do I know? I just do) who are threatened by my sheer gastronomic awesomness, attempts to KO me with Sarcasm.

  21. Lorenzo

    Twisty,

    Wierd! I only made the comment because I’d never seen linguine done in the style you mention (i.e. egg based and in nests) and I’ve seen a lot of pasta. Wow. Now you’ve cursed me into looking for this kind of pasta! LOL

  22. CafeSiren

    Twisty, this picture of your linguini has been haunting my brain for a couple of days now, as I mull over how to de-porkify it without just leaving a plate of veg. Happily, I hit on replacing the pancetta with a small amount of salmon, and replacing the sun-dried tomato with lemon zest & pepper. Same veg (plus a shallot); same cream. Made said dish tonight, and am happy to report that it is both pretty and delicious.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  23. Twisty

    CafeSiren, this would be spectacular with salmon. A brilliant plan. I’ll try it myself next time.

  24. Wine Wench

    Heavens! If you were as obnoxious in the restuarant as you are on the page, i don’t blame your waiter for abandoning you after dessert. And next time, if you can’t deal with walking a few blocks to go get waited on hand and foot, order in. Save everybody a lot of grief.
    Thank you!

  25. Twisty

    Ah, a server in da house! Y’all are always so touchy whenever a customer dares to criticize your crappy restaurant.

    I worked in the industry for over a decade, and I know all too well the disdain that servers have for the idiot customers. It’s a good thing most customers don’t know about that, or they’d all stay home and you’d have to get a job pole dancing at the Landing Strip to finance your Jager habit.

  26. SS

    I had lunch and dinner at this place, it was good. Sorry you are such a profound food snob.

  27. Twisty

    Yet I’m happy for you, since you will be able to saunter merrily through life consuming mediocre food without noticing. Oh, to have your primitive palate!

  28. andy sasser

    Ouch. I’m the chef at Capitol Brasserie and for shits and grins googled the restaurant and came up with this brutal but funny critique of my work. And as it’s the first truly negative response I’ve gotten, I wanted to respond. What’s interesting is that on a Saturday when we did 350 covers, i actually remember your table because I was the line cook entertaining my wife and “screaming” baby. I remember looking at your table as your entrees arrived and thinking “ahh gourmands, cassoulet and duck confit, cool.” because belive it or not, those are two of our most well recieved plates. Not so well recieved at your table, however, and the table you sat at really is the worst in the house, and I know how once a night starts out poorly at a restaurant it can really snowball into a situation where its almost funny how bad things get, and all that, but come on! let somebody know! how about “excuse me, im not crazy about this table” or “waitress this dish is fucking gross, bring me a nicoise salad” or any comment at all. i asked the manager and the waitress about your table and both said there were no complaints, all smiles etc. which kills me because apparently things were not okay, the food was not “fine” or whatever you said. just a suggestion and obviously you’re free to post whatever you like, but it sucks that you had such a shitty time when i feel like these things could have been corrected so easily. hope to see you again…..try the cheese and charcuterie combo. andy sasser

  29. darkymac

    Now this is more like it.
    I enjoy a good “get the food critic” exchange.
    And don’t eateries just hate it when they haven’t sussed that they’re serving one.

    I flogged food to tables. There is no respect for punters, full stop. And not much for floggers from chefs either.

    ::brings bowl of macadamias to the desk and settles in for the show::

  30. darkymac

    You other eatery owners in Austin should be very grateful that Twisty has both the guts and the honesty to take steps to make herself a more publicly known critic around town – via your local metablog.
    I’ve know some few cringeing critics who wouldn’t get a table at the Matthew Talbot* if they let their anonymity drop.

    *Sydney’s homeless men’s dining hall

  31. Twisty

    O Andy Sasser, I am so pleased to hear from you! Let me say that, during the 4 glamorous years that I was a paid restaurant critic, I have never had such a civilized response from a chef! Once, when I called bullshit on the rubbery calamari at a popular joint run by some Mafioso types, I got death threats. And the hate mail pretty much went downhill from there.

    It’s my habit–an unconscious holdover from my criticking days, I guess–when visiting a restaurant for the first time, to just let things roll and see how it all comes out in the wash without any customer prompting. If this had been a print review for an actual paper that was footing the bill, I would have made at least two subsequent and more aggressive visits, totaling a lunch, a weeknight, and a weekend night. I would have ordered different stuff, and brought different people, made sure I got seated in different areas, and quizzed the servers for dirt on the owners. I would have taken notes. I would have sent back a steak. I would have stolen a menu. I would have asked for crayons to draw on the butcher paper. I would have noted that the busser was on his A-game with the water refills, and that the bread was hot and of an appealing character. I would have inspected the johns. I would have complained about the Caesar salad, not because it was of inferior flavor, but because I’m just tired in general of this senseless trend toward giant heads of lettuce on fingerprinty plates that require dissection with knives. I would have found something pleasant to say about at least one dish. Et cetera.

    The final review, in other words, would have revealed a more complete picture of the restaurant.

    But when we went out to dinner last weekend, we were just going out to dinner. I had no plans to review your restaurant, or even to write a blog post about it. That idea did not strike me until the next day. In fact, at the time of our visit, when each little thing was happening one by one, it hadn’t yet added up to that larger, unsatisfying whole that would later congeal into the notion that maybe the general dining experience wasn’t all it might have been. Which is why, If Stingray and I appeared to be having a good time, it’s because we werehaving a good time; when you hang out with your pals, and they are pals of reasonably good character and adequate personal hygiene habits, a good time just happens, despite whatever may be going on with the duck.

    Which duck, I reiterate, wasn’t, like, horrible or anything. It was just kind of expensive and dull. And Stingray rather liked her confit. But dude–and I say this with all possible good will–something was seriously funky with that lemon tart.

    But I’m still comin’ back. I want one of those ten-dollar blue cheese burgers! I hear your fries are really good.

    By the way, it may please you to know that hardly any Austin foodies read this blog, and the ones who do universally believe I have my head up my ass.

  32. darkymac

    Oh shit and derision.
    A reasonable conclusion. That’s no fun.

    This being my only chance for a visit lately, I busied myself in the front bar while I was waiting, and checked out a few of the booths too.
    Whew, what a busy establishment Twisty runs and still such a good crowd of punters.

  33. Chris Clarke

    I am totally eating there when I’m in Austin based on Andy’s comment alone.

  34. Food Lover

    I love Capitol Brasserie…have had 4 excellent meals there to date. Try the wonderful brunch!

  35. Kim

    I had the same crappy dish at Capitol Brasserie. I felt as if I was biting into a salt block. On top of the horrible meal we had even worse service. My friend asked for a take home bag. The waitress took away her meal and threw it away rather than packing it up. When my friend asked about her food the waitress said sorry. Sorry? What about the rest of her meal? And of course she was charged full price.

    The others in my group ordered the Prix Fix menu. they were charged full price for each individual item rather than being charged for the Prix Fix.

    I much prefer Chez Nous. The service is out of this world and the food is something to brag about.

  36. Twisty

    Well, Kim, on the upside, you didn’t have any horrible food to take home.

  37. Seltzer

    HA! You got served!

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