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“Beautiful restaurant, but courses were hit or miss.”

Congress Restaurant
Ranked #747 of 3,754 Restaurants in Austin
Price range: $30 - $50
Cuisines: American, Contemporary
More restaurant details
Restaurant details
Dining options: Reservations
Dining style: Fine Dining
Cross street: Second Street
St. Helena, California
Level 6 Contributor
103 reviews
51 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 223 helpful votes
“Beautiful restaurant, but courses were hit or miss.”
Reviewed November 3, 2011

The restaurant setting is striking and modern, and its location is great if you're downtown. Some of the courses were good, while others were extremely lacking. The flavor profiles were acceptable, but the craftsmanship of putting together these dishes to make them taste outstanding was lacking. Overall, the preparation of the food was disappointing, while the wine selections were decent.

1. Lobster salad was completely overworked, too much acidity and not enough lobster.
2. Salmon crudo was a disaster. I'm not sure why you would take such a beautiful piece of belly and literally mash it up, removing all flavor and texture - it was a crime against salmon belly! Also, the crema was over-the-top, taking away from the already almost flavorless, smooshed salmon.
3. Lobster bisque - standard and tasty - the fritter was too big though for the bowl size.
4. Potato and chive gnocchi - dough overworked and undercooked. A classic mistake in the preparation of gnocchi, but I thought at this caliber, it would have been at least properly prepared.
5. Foie gras torchon - it would have been tasty had it been tempered properly before being served. It was cold and non-spreadable...instead of enjoying that wonderful mouthfeel you get from properly tempered foie gras, you were chewing on chunks of cold fat.
6. Ribeye loin - it was tasty, but needed more resting time before being served. The accompanying sauce tasted burnt.

  • Visited October 2011
    • Value
    • Atmosphere
    • Service
    • Food
5 Thank sleepyplants
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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81 reviews from our community

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Date | Rating
  • English first
  • Portuguese first
  • Spanish first
  • Any
English first
Austin, Texas
Level 3 Contributor
15 reviews
7 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 10 helpful votes
“Excellent. Expensive”
Reviewed October 30, 2011

I got a 200 dollar gift cert . I thought it would cover the majority of the bill for three people without wine. It was not even close. This is dining as entertainment. Not only the food is good, it is pretty . Excellent service. I'd go back anytime, if I get another gift certificate ;)

    • Value
    • Atmosphere
    • Service
    • Food
1 Thank e s
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Princeton, New Jersey
Level 2 Contributor
9 reviews
3 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 13 helpful votes
“Absolutely Delicious”
Reviewed October 12, 2011

We read about Congress as one of the best restaurants in the country in Bon Appetit so our recent trip to Austin had to include a stop here. We were not disappointed. There are two options on the menu -- a 7 course tasting menu and a three course tasting menu that allows you to select among 3 choices in each course. I was with two girlfriends and we each selected something different on the three course meal and there was not a single thing that fell below absolutely delicious. Some of the combinations were unusual -- scallops with a chocolate mint sauce -- but they worked! The restaurant is perfect for a business dinner or romantic meal or, like us, a quiet dinner with good friends. Our price fixe meal was about $130 pp with one drink and before tip. While we were there, the chef stopped by to check on our meal. A nice touch! I highly recommend this gem.

  • Visited October 2011
    • Value
    • Atmosphere
    • Service
    • Food
Thank CBNJ730
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Westport, Connecticut
Level 4 Contributor
25 reviews
7 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 63 helpful votes
Reviewed August 28, 2011

I know I am supposed to like the Opera, but I was raised in a town where we only had the "Opry."

Like Opera, Congress is an acquired taste. The restaurant tries to hard to be different and seems to be on a mission to bring "fine dining" with an edge to Austin.

Your impersonal experience begins when you try to make a reservation. Apparently, the folks at Congress do not want to speak to customers. Instead you get a recording that directs you to leave a message or go to a website. I left a message and did not get a return call confirming my reservation until the next day. At Congress, they do not want to talk with you. Instead, they want to lecture you.

The children's story in German read over a speaker in the bathroom is a metaphor for dining at Congress. I do not speak German so I did not understand the fable and there is much I do not understand about Congress.

The drive to be different knows no bounds. It begins with the placement of silverware face down and continues throughout the meal.

The menu is confusing. One side features three categories. The other is a tasting menu of several courses. Every ingredient is listed which makes for too much information or not enough. True, there is a shopping list of ingredients, but there is nothing about preparation.

If you like a gift from the chef that features flavored foam then Congress might be for you. What is it with foam these days? In the 1990's it was pine nuts in everything, now chefs want to serve you foam. For me, foam brings to mind Mr. Bubble and bathing my kids, not fine dining.

All of this silliness might be fine if the food was wonderful. It is not.

Oysters are pounded thin and dry and the preparation makes them devoid of flavor.

The quail was also dry and lacking in taste.

The ribeye was so salty it was almost inedible and when serving folks two very small strips of steak medium rare, spare them the end pieces.

The bread was inedible. It was hard, dry, and had no taste. Perhaps its purpose was to clear my palette for the next course, but my mouth did not resonate with any flavor other than salt and by the third course, my small piece of compacted sawdust that doubled as a dinner roll was gone and I was relieved that no one ever offered me another.

We skipped dessert. Congress is the sort of place that just might serve you anchovies and ice cream for effect and try to make you think there must be something wrong with you for failing to appreciate the ingenuity in the daring combination.

Expect to pay about $300 for dinner for two with a good bottle of wine. Perhaps that is why credit card receipts are printed in a font so small that you need a magnifying glass to see them. If you cannot read the sticker, there is less sticker shock.

The service was knowledgeable and attentive but lacked warmth or any sense of humor. Watching the staff was a little like watching an opera where the performers seem pained to hit the high notes. The bus staff is exceptional and have been schooled not to allow your water glass to slip below a certain mark under penalty of death. Crumbing the table, is done with bravado as if to scold you for making a small mess.

Good restaurants make you feel welcome and comfortable and reward your patronage with great food. Congress tries too hard to be elusive like an attractive woman who plays hard to get only to find the experience was not worth the effort. Dining at Congress requires some real effort to comprehend and appreciate the cuisine. And, maybe that is the mission-- to bring elegant dining with an edge to folks who love BBQ and Mexican food. The thing is that Hudson's on The Bend and Jeffrey's have been bringing great well prepared food to Austin diners for years without trying to make them feel like hillbillies.

Congress reminds me of the scene in the movie "Pretty Woman" when Juila Roberts' character goes shopping on Rodeo Drive only to be mistreated by condescending shop girls. Richard Gere's character shows up and the attitude changes immediately when he tells the shop girls, "we are going to need a lot of sucking up." This just might be good advice for the folks at Congress. Less condescending and patronizing silliness and more great cooking. Stop trying too hard to push the boundaries and concentrate on preparing good food well within accepted boundaries.

Did I mention that Congress has business cards which are small and square in shape. Makes perfect sense now, doesn't it?

My advice if you are thinking about dining at Congress.... go change out of your designer duds and slip on your favorite pair of jeans and drive out to Rudy's and have the "fatty" brisket. You will not find a spoonful of flavored foam anywhere at Rudy's and you will save youself about $260 and leave with a full stomach and a smile on your face knowing you just had some great food preapared by people who respect you.

  • Visited August 2011
    • Value
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7 Thank Gutreaction
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Coppell, Texas
Level 6 Contributor
167 reviews
126 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 43 helpful votes
“Fantastic and world class”
Reviewed August 26, 2011

This is one of the best meals of my life. The evening was perfect. The cocktails were original and balanced, the food divine and the wine a delicious bargain. I can't praise this place enough. We travel regularly domestically (NYC, Chicago, DC, San Francisco) and internationally (Chile, Peru, UK, Spain, etc) and this is a destination restaurant and bar.

  • Visited August 2011
    • Value
    • Atmosphere
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1 Thank Wanda75019
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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