Twenty years. That’s how long it took me to overcome the existential fear and loathing that engulfed me the last time I ate at the Oasis, that irresistible magnet for sunset watching, margarita swilling, and binge flirting on Austin’s Lake Travis. I knew better, but somehow the view lulled me into thinking the food would be edible, even though it had seldom been in the past. What an idiot. So when I heard that the owners of the Oasis were going to expand the dining options, I was supremely indifferent. That is, until I heard that Robert Del Grande, the most famous chef in Houston, was involved. That got my full and undivided attention.
Soleil is the top tier of three restaurants at “Oasis, Texas,” as the work-in-progress dining-and-retail development is called. And Soleil is definitely the one where you would take a person you wanted to impress. (If you don’t give a flip, or if you’re already married, go to Uncle Billy’s for barbecue or the Oasis for burgers and snacks.) Let the impressing begin at the raw bar, with some half a dozen types of oysters, from Beausoleil to Gigamoto. From there, you might move over to a table on the deck (where the view is best) or the dining room (where a soothing palette of driftwood grays and blues is punctuated by a surreal array of turquoise-hued faux deer heads on one wall).
The impressing will definitely continue with an appetizer of marinated Gulf shrimp and crab with salty kalamata olives and Catalan guacamole. Sherry vinegar makes it “Catalan”—an interesting take on the Mexican dish—but the combo would be improved by less-clunky grilled bread. Most of the menu is Mediterranean, and nearly half is seafood, thanks to Del Grande’s collaboration with executive chef George Thomas (previously of Austin’s Kenichi and Paggi House). So you might as well go with the flow. I liked the rainbow trout with pine-nut brown butter (an agreeably updated amandine, even if the critter was farm-raised). And I adored the seared ahi tuna entrée; it’s a spectacular hunk of fish, nicely seasoned and cut on the diagonal to show off its ruby-red flesh. Along with it came Sicilian pesto (boosted by anchovy and sun-dried tomato) and mashed Tuscan beans, which made me think of an Italian-speaking cassoulet.
But despite the fine fish, my favorite dish was the New York steak (pictured), a good piece of meat elevated by spot-on accompaniments. The usual Roquefort shtick got updated with a creamy mound of Gorgonzola dolce, and bottled steak sauce was replaced by a brilliant homemade Mission fig sauce, dark, dusky, and savory-sweet. I usually don’t want anything on my steak, but this was irresistible.
I wish I could recommend the desserts, but they were, shall we say, under development when I visited, very early on. At that time, the lineup was seriously boring (turtle cheesecake, I’m not kidding). The tiramisu (sweet, fluffy, inoffensive) was the best of three sampled. But a better plan might be to skip dessert and linger over a postprandial drink like the Texas Sipper, with St-Germain elderflower liqueur and Tito’s vodka. If the seductive views and scrumptious food haven’t impressed your date yet, a trendy libation might just do the trick. Bar. 6550 Comanche Trail (512-266-0600). Open Sun–Thur 11:30–10, Fri & Sat 11:30–11. $$$ W+
Try this recipe at home for Mission Fig Sauce