What you need to know about: Bess Bistro
Bess Bistro has quickly become a staple on West Sixth scattered among high-rise offices and some favorite local shops. This eclectic mix of architecture makes the charm and coziness of Bess’s basement dining feel even more special. As you walk down the short flight of stairs, you quickly feel as though you are stepping back in time.
Rooted in bistro dining with a Southern twist, new Chef Roman Murphy has been given culinary license to add some international flair to the menu while relying heavily on local purveyors to satisfy Austin’s growing farm to table cooking. “We started as a French-inspired bistro with a touch of New Orleans and a sprinkling of Southern influences,” says Justin Raiford, culinary director of Bess Bistro. “However, it was hard to always have all those influences in every menu and for Bess to stay cohesive.” New restaurants open every day and Raiford felt the need to stay current with the city’s changing tastes. “Austin diners are educated. They know about food products. They expect to be impressed with details ranging from smart flavor pairings to subtle nuances,” says Raiford.
We first met Chef Raiford back in 2009 while serving as evening chef de cuisine at 34th Street Cafe. Raif, as friends call him, has amassed a diverse culinary palate inspired by trips across the states and around the world including Asia and the Middle East. This out graduate of the Texas Culinary Academy was an early adopter of incorporating hormone-free meats and local organic vegetables.
Our team was invited to enjoy a meal and an opportunity to visit with Raif. And although I dropped my camera on the way in, the evening was salvaged by a private booth, delicious craft cocktails, super dishes and some smart phone photos. Our dinner party comprised of six adventurous diners, one of which is vegetarian. With zero vegetarian options on the “mains” menu, I was afraid our friend would be relegated to a dinner comprised of their “morsels” and “mouthfuls” sections. Thankfully, our server quickly noted the kitchen is able and willing to accommodate different food choices and restrictions and a mushroom risotto magically appeared.
Starting with fresh baked cornbread and breads, our group enjoyed the lightly fried artichokes with crispy spinach which was easily shared as it is a generous portion. Highlights from the mains were the massive wagyu beef burger accompanied by fragrant truffle frites, pan roasted snapper and braised short ribs.
As a native New Orleanian, I was a bit skeptical of the Bess’ Beignets as very few places can make those square fluffy delights outside of Cafe du Monde. But Bess does pull it off quite well. You won’t find sauces served with the original recipe, but if they were to try them with the vanilla anglaise and toffee sauce, they might change their mind.
We will be back…and will get some better photos…but enjoy these for now.