#FoodieFriday: Sophisticated, Down-to-Earth Dining at TRACE

by Haven Lindsey on December 13, 2019 in Food+Drink, Austin,
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Sophisticated, but not snooty. Eloquent, but not pretentious.

TRACE, located in the W Austin hotel in the heart of downtown Austin, serves an eclectic menu of local, farm-to-market provisions keeping sustainable, renewable foods front and center.

Tim Crittenden, the restaurant’s new Chef de Cuisine, has already begun to make his culinary impression. The menu can be described as contemporary American; however, each dish has an added touch of thoughtfulness which makes for a meal filled with ‘ah ha’ moments.

A seasonal specialty, the pumpkin soup is creamy and topped with roasted pumpkin seeds. Photo Tory Jones

Austin is a friendly city and we’re fortunate that most of our dining experiences involve gracious and gregarious wait staff. Yet at TRACE, the staff has an enthusiasm that, after meeting the chef, quite possibly trickles down from his enthusiasm for serving fresh food using creative approaches. Your meal will not be boring or mundane at TRACE, whether you opt for the sleek, modern indoor seating or the al fresco tables positioned under the trees with illuminated globes hanging from the branches.

Smoked Beet Tartare: A creative twist on the popular beef version, this small plate will surprise, delight, and be gone before you know it. Photo Tory Jones

If you’ve ever wanted to try a wine paring – this is a great place to take that step. The staff works together to pair wine with the various small and large plates – it would be difficult to do a better job. The chef has rolled out a new autumn-winter menu that, appropriately, begins with a pumpkin soup. While it was a staff favorite, the soup could use a bit more pumpkin and a little less cream as it was difficult to pick up the pure pumpkin flavor.

Each dish improved on the one before. A smoked beet tartare was, frankly, fabulous in its complex simplicity and one that I would order again and again. Chef Crittenden has quickly embraced the Texas affinity for smoking foods but perhaps no other dish of the evening spoke to his creativity more than the smoked duck.

TRACE’s Smoked Duck with Spetzle Mac & Cheese is the seasonal pièce de résistance. The time spent searching for the quality of duck to meet the chef’s standards and preparing it just so, result in a game bird that is tender and tasty served with a dumpling version of everyone’s fav, mac and cheese. Photo Tory Jones

A meat that can often taste oily is rendered so juicy and full of flavor we were compelled to ask what his secret was. The native of Virginia, who was quick to share in true Texas fashion that he got here as soon as he could, explained that he slowly brazed the meat in Waco’s own Dr. Pepper. The meat is then cold-roasted and pan-seared to perfection. The dollops of cranberry barbecue sauce were a great accompaniment and served with a spetzle mac and cheese, small dumplings that completed the dish.

TRACE is open seven nights a week for dinner and brunch from 10:30 – 3:00 on weekends. The bar offers a wide range of cocktails, has an expansive wine list, and almost as many Texas-brewed beers on the menu as all other ‘regular’ beers combined. The menu focuses on small and large plates that are ideal for sharing. TRACE does a great job of providing a quiet and sophisticated ambiance with downhome friendly service – just be sure to arrive hungry and find a way to make room for dessert – you’ll have plenty of ‘ah ha’ moments in store.

TRACE Austin, 200 Lavaca Street, Austin, TX 78701

Cover photo courtesy TRACE

Haven Lindsey resides in Austin, Texas. She is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience writing on topics including healthcare, addiction, public policy, education, travel, food and human interest stories.