January 08, 2005

Austin Notes: The Theme Restaurant, $50 Per Person

It claims to present a Northern Italian dining experience. The setting is a renovated barn with a gas hearth in the middle, and two special reservable tables high up in a loft. The tomato sauce is spicy hot because this is Texas. The traditional Tuscan soup is low–salt, and excessively herbed to make up for that. The veal is not young, it’s almost beef. The ice water is filtered, the water connoisseur at our table tells us impressively. The wine list is unimpeachable and the waiter, a design major, knows the terminology. All the dishes on the four–page bound and laminated menu are named in Italian, but nobody in the kitchen is Italian. The owners went on a whirlwind culinary tour of Italy after they opened the place, to bone up. The crème brulée (or whatever it’s called in Italian) looks and tastes exactly like Jello vanilla pudding. From a private banquet room comes the screeching laughter of Texas college girls and boys celebrating—I guess this is something you could really find in Italy if it were summer break. Only one man in the place is wearing a jacket, and he’s got white hair. Outside, the parking lot is filled with Volvos, Saabs, Lexi, and Cadillac/Lincoln/Mercedes SUVs, and the parking valets are hopping.