I’d been hearing about the Carillon off and on since December, it seems, and almost exclusively via Twitter. We were fortunate enough to be invited to a media event to celebrate the restaurant’s official launch this past Friday. I will not lie to you. It was a little tough to find the restaurant which is tucked neatly into the shiny new AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, but after the food we sampled, I believe it’s well worth seeking out.
The Carillon is sort of swanky. The high ceilings, dramatic lighting, and arched construction feel very high end, a feeling that is strangely accented by the somewhat rustic chandeliers.
The executive chef, Josh Watkins, is responsible not only the Carillon, but also several other restaurants and various banquet and catering functions. It’s insane to believe that a person that busy can maintain quality, but we were repeatedly impressed by the diverse flavors and generally spot-on preparations of the perfect little bites coming out of the kitchen.
Our favorite dish of the evening was the Braised Beef Short Rib. This unassuming little chunk of meat went through a 24-hour braise at a relatively low temperature, and the result is incredibly tender. What I loved about the short rib was that it tasted beefy. There were accompaniments, to be sure – celeriac puree, apricot glaze, asparagus, black pepper gastrique – but they stood in the background, highlighting the main component of the dish rather than overpowering it.
We also very much enjoyed the Crisp Pork Belly with diablo glaze, Asian pear salad, and fried mint. Again, a reserved hand is shown in dressing the main component of the dish. The glaze added the tiniest bit of sweet heat to a perfectly prepared nugget of pork belly. The cool sweet crunch of the pear salad was a nice offset to the tender layers of meat and all but melting fat of the pork, and the mint leaf lent a crackly texture.
The truffle-laden spoonful of Beef Tartare was also very good. The aroma, thanks largely to the truffle, was heavenly. The flavors were deep and pleasant, though the beef itself may have been a bit muted by the other flavors. Sean and I are at an impasse over the little crouton served alongside. I thought that the crunch and structure were welcome additions to my bit of tender raw meat. Sean felt that it distracted from his enjoyment. Let it be said yet again – taste is subjective.
The Eggplant Caprese was an interesting little spoonful. Fried eggplant, fried cheese, and a sprightly tomato relish were all jammed on that one tiny little spoon. It was very tasty, but mostly the flavors I tasted were the breading and the relish. That said, the relish was so good that my tomato-hating spouse ate at least a couple spoonfuls.
The only dish we weren’t crazy about was the White Bean Soup. Its garnish of an oven dried grape and a dainty slice of smoked scallop was nice enough on its own, but when I tried to eat them with the soup, they were lost. And the soup itself was … acceptable. It was a little plain and in this case suffered mightily for its incredibly toothsome competition for tummy space.
All in all, an excellent showing. It’s a fine dining experience through and through. The interior is beautiful, the service and food are both perfectly executed, and Chef Watkins seems to have things under control. Highly recommend. (Note: Check the website for hours the restaurant is open to the public. At this time, weekday lunch is reserved for UT faculty and staff.)