200 Lavaca St. 542-3660, TraceAustin.com 7.5 out of 10 Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday Brunch: 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Dinner: 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday. 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Small plates $10-$15. Entrees $16-$52. Desserts $9. The 10-point scale is an average of weighted scores for food, service, value, ambiance and overall dining experience, with 10 being the best.
Once you get past the idea that Trace is a Dallas-y interloper, you can come to appreciate what it brings to the table in Austin’s growing dining scene. bacon that glistens with maple syrup viscosity, the thick-cut pieces taking on the playful look and feel of a doggy chew-toy.
Hushpuppies ($15) the size of popovers overflow from a cone of metallic spires that would look at home at a Madonna concert (or on Madonna). Soft honeycombed breading inside nestles pinches of moist Blue Crab that tease more than satisfy. The same cones at lunch support a bounty of crunchy golden French fries that come with one of the best cheeseburgers in town — a fat, coarsegrind patty draped with tangy cheddar cheese, topped with crispy bacon (different than the sweet variety from brunch) and served on a rich, buttery brioche bun. The $16 price tag rings of room service, but the included fries are much better than a mint on the pillow.
Chef Ben Hightower, who arrived in Austin in 2010 and worked as executive sous chef at Uchiko, has roots in Louisiana, and his appreciation for seafood shows on a dinner menu that includes three fish dishes.
A firm, meaty cobia special ($26), pierced by firm bits of pickled radish, held up to the grill, which left impressive ebony char marks. The smokiness was balanced by the nutty sweetness of a sunchoke cream through which I dragged the crisp prosciutto chips.
Trace is an upscale restaurant located in the W Hotel in downtown Austin. Ben Hightower (top) serves as chef. A popular item on the dessert menu is the Lemon Budino (middle). One of Trace’s top meals is the Braised Lamb Shoulder, served with spiced peanut curry, couscous salad, mint and cilantro (bottom).