One of the most notable Austin openings so far this year, the French restaurant laV (think “la vie”) will finally debut after many months of construction delays and rescheduled city inspections. Slated for last fall, it will open for dinner this Thursday, March 6, barring a natural disaster. Happily, there is no ice, rain, or thundersleet in the weather forecast.
The menu will be Mediterranean, principally Provençal, with the occasional excursion into other cuisines. The executive chef is Allison Jenkins (a Texas native and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, who worked most recently at the Little Nell hotel in Aspen). Janina O’Leary, also a native Texan, formerly with Trace at the Austin W hotel, has come on as executive pastry chef. An extensive wine program is headed by laV managing partner and sommelier Vilma Mazaite (who worked at Bartolotta in Las Vegas and Babbo in New York). Darren Scott and Rania Zayyat round out the sommelier team. The restaurant’s owners are Houston investment banker and entrepreneur Ralph Eads and his wife Lisa.
The other day I took a guided tour of the building with Mazaite. Although the brick structure looks old—it resembles a rehabbed 1920’s warehouse—laV was actually built last year from the ground up. So while the kitchen and dining rooms are brand new, the deliberately drab exterior paint and an industrial façade keep the building from seeming pretentious and out of sync with its east side surroundings.
LaV’s interior design departs from the omnipresent faux-farmhouse look that has been in vogue for the last few years. Inside, it’s like stepping into a posh French restaurant from a previous and much grander, century. The bar and lounge (above) is lined with tufted taupe banquettes; heavy draperies, gracefully swagged, can be pulled to create more-intimate dining areas. High ceilings make the space seem larger, while exposed beams give a touch of industrial chic. A total of four dining areas will accommodate around 145 people. (Photographs by Buff Strickland, used by permission.)
Encompassing 1,200 labels, laV’s wine collection is housed in two areas, the tasting room (shown) and the wine cellar. Not literally below ground, the cellar is located in the center of the restaurant and can be reserved for private dinners for up to a dozen people. The list ranges in price from $40 to $2000 and up. Certain selections were hand-picked by owner Ralph Eads, a serious oenophile. For diners in possession of major plastic, historic vintages are available, among them a 1945 Latour and a 1961 Haut-Brion; also a rare 1996 Domaine Roumier Musigny Grand Cru.
Soothing landscape paintings by Atlanta-based artist Michael Dines, repeating the earth tones of the upholstery and walls, hang in the main dining room.
In the more-casual tasting room, clear glass globes have been fashioned into a chandelier intended to mimic the bubbles in a glass of champagne. The community tables in this area were built to resemble wine casks. They are topped with granite and have “chill bins” to keep white wines cool. The full menu will be available here and no reservations are required.
A cut-crystal chandelier is the centerpiece of the bar and lounge, which also holds a dramatic eight-foot-by-seventeen-foot painting of lavender fields. The artwork is by Michael Dines, who also did the landscapes elsewhere in the restaurant.
Just outside the front room are round stone tables that look out onto a fountain and a large French-inspired garden (under development) that which will ultimately supply some items for the kitchen and also be available for private events. Eventually the area may be used for live performances and summer movies.
The wine bar area is outfitted with bar stools covered in white mohair around a pewter-topped bar. They provide half of the theme that the restaurant’s main architect, Bobby McAlpine, called “Texas roadhouse meets a Paris night.”
The restaurant’s design was overseen by two firms, McAlpine Tankersley Architecture (with offices in New York and other cities) and McAlpine Booth & Ferrier Interiors (in Atlanta). The groups’ two principals, Bobby McAlpine and Susan Ferrier, were personally involved in the work, as well as project architect David Baker. McAlpine is the author of the 2010 book The Home Within Us. A second book, Art of the House, coauthored with Ferrier, is due out in April.
LaV will be open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday at 5 and for Sunday brunch from 11 to 2:30. The address is 1501 E. 7th (512-391-1888). Reservations will be required for the main dining room and wine cellar; other areas are first come, first served. Complimentary valet parking will be available. For more information, go to www.laVAustin.com. (Operations at the restaurant’s popular trailer, Say laV, have been suspended now that the restaurant is open.)