What do you think about when you think of French cuisine?
Snails? Small plates of rich food that leave you craving more? Hard-to-pronounce and hard-to-approach dishes that mystify more than delight? A side of butter with your wine?
Le Politique (“The Politician”) in downtown Austin offers an approachable, enjoyable, reasonably affordable chance to enjoy fine French cuisine. According to the website, Le Politique is “both a nod to Austin’s roots as a capital city and an homage to Texas and French politicians,” with inspiration drawn specifically from Count Dubois de Saligny, a French diplomat said to have been a rabble-rouser in 19th century Texas, which explains plates with a variety of fun symbols, like shaking hands or crossed fingers. Today’s vibe is a combination of hipster and lobbyist, very appropriate to the setting.
The food and wine menus are relatively extensive, along with a smaller specialty cocktail and beer menu. Wanting to experience the best Le Politique has to offer, we left our fate in the hands of our server, Brian, who was excited to create a unique culinary adventure for us. I highly recommend this method, although I suggest saving up your calories for a couple of days and bringing a second stomach. He and the chef conferred to present us with a little bit of everything the menu has to offer, along with appropriate wine pairings.
But before any of that, we were presented with some of the most delicious butter and rolls. While we tried to resist, we absolutely could not, and devoured every single one of the crusty, warm sourdough with soft butter. Had we known the feast yet to come, we might have found the will to resist, but probably not.
Our first course was a selection from the raw bar, which is pretty much my favorite place on earth. This is an area where Le Politique absolutely excels. Our selection of oysters was outstanding, including selections from the Gulf Coast, North Carolina and Cape Cod. The sherry sauce accompanying them was also excellent for dipping bread. The shrimp was a revelation, reminding me that they can be delicious and flavorful, rather than the ubiquitous bland, rubbery ones. They were so good they needed no help, but the trio of tarragon aioli, remoulade and cocktail sauce were excellent, and enhanced rather than overcame the flavor. Our suggested wine pairing was a bubbly cabernet franc, an excellent choice at $13/glass.
Next up was oeufs mimosa—which are fancy deviled eggs, a charcuterie plate, and a selection of cheeses. The eggs were fine, although a little bland, and suffered by comparison to all of the other really excellent offerings. The smoked trout caviar was pretty to look at, but didn’t add much in the way of flavor.
The charcuterie was delicious, and offered a seemingly endless variety of combinations with spreads, sauces and meats. The mousse pate and duck rillettes were the favorites here. The p’tit basque (semi-firm) and délice de Bourgogne cheeses were outstanding. And the breads which accompanied this course were ridiculously good. A patisserie is coming soon, and if they sell nothing but the breads we tried this evening, that would be more than sufficient to recommend it.
Our wine pairing was the Domaine Philippe Girard pinot noir for $14; a perfect accompaniment for the savory selections.
If our meal had ended there, we would have left satisfied and quite full. However, our culinary adventure was far from over. Our main course was served with a delightful Grenache blend ($11), another excellent accompaniment.
First up—the gnocchi, which were dense in texture, rich in flavor. Counterbalancing nicely were the mussels marinière-style, served with French fries and aioli. The mussels were excellent, and although the fries were a nice complement to the mussels, they were nothing special. Both the aioli and ketchup were house-made and excellent.
The real star of the entrée course was the boudin blanc (white sausage), which is not something I would ever have chosen for myself. The flavor and texture were fabulous, and this was easily my favorite dish of the night.
At this point in our meal we were well beyond any reasonable capacity to even consider dessert. However, Brian showed us no mercy, bringing us a selection of nearly every item on the menu. The madeleines were baked to order and warm, but were the weakest of the bunch (although they made a nice breakfast the next day). The “baba” au rhum is, as the name implies, a rum-soaked cake with the surprising addition of passionfruit Chantilly, which is a delicate flavor easily missed in all the fuss (but a very nice touch). The chocolate sorbet was a less-sweet dark chocolate, very refreshing. Our favorite, however, was the Paris-Brest, a delectable combination of airy pastry, nuts, hazelnut ice cream and chocolate sauce.
Our culinary adventure spanned three hours and about a week’s worth of calories. While not every dish hit it completely out of the park, most were excellent, as was the experience. The service was delightful, and we enjoyed discussing the finer points of our meal, and food in general, with our server. He was clearly enthusiastic about the cuisine, and we enjoyed the tour he put together for us.
If the full immersion experience seems like too much, it’s hard to recommend a better meal than one that includes the chilled shrimp, a selection of cheese, boudin blanc, and Paris-Brest for dessert.
But if you have the time and the calories to spare, this is a great way to spend the evening. As the website proclaims, “Vive les pigs!”