French Twist

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What makes a restaurant hit or miss in Austin? It is a mystery but the ones that are long-lasting share interesting décor, easy parking (not valet), menu reliability, friendly service and reasonable prices.

Let’s look at these points as they relate to Justine’s:
 Décor – Justine’s took an old bungalow and opened it up wide to have a cozy yet modern feel without loud tiles or too-cool-for -school fixtures –

“We’re old school with an edge … check it!” No, it is elegant simplicity.

Brilliantly, the same attention was paid in building a gorgeous functional bar– yes you can eat at the bar very comfortably – though they still need to add hooks under the bar for those pesky purses!

And the small fortune spent on the beautiful, oversized windows was a simple but hugely effective effort that allows the outside areas to beckon.

Let’s talk about the outside. The lovely manicured pea gravel filled with tables and a side-alley pétanque court lends itself to an instant trip outside of Austin, giving a European cast to the experience with no airfare or attitude.

No, Justine’s does not take reservations – but who cares? Do you want to arrive and look at empty tables being held for people who just want to check “been there done that” off their list, or find your own rhythm with Justine’s?

The owners are Pierre and Justine. Pierre is always present and guests (not customers – “guests”) are invited to share in their inviting home. That is the sense at Justine’s: You are returning to a great family friend’s home where you have past fond memories and more to come. The music playing is Pierre’s own. It is a perfect background to this venue.

I have dined on weekdays, weekends and prime time Thursday at 8 p.m. Admittedly, I was horrified by my dining companion’s suggestion of 8 p.m. on a Thursday night in Austin without a reservation at an incredibly busy restaurant.

So being the nervous Nellie, I arrived at 7:30. I was not worried about parking. The well-lit and well-painted parking spots on the street are plentiful and accessible. I placed our names on the list with the gracious hostess and visited with the many familiar faces in the bar and dining room. We were seated within 15 minutes of the rest of my party’s arrival.

So whatever time feels right for you to eat, arrive 30 minutes early, be relaxed, unwind and your patience will be rewarded in your food and experience.

The service at Justine’s is friendly, efficient and the kitchen is quick. But you don’t feel rushed, hurried or in the way. For such a busy place, you get water at the moment you sit and, more importantly, drinks as quickly as you can order them. Hmmm, many larger restaurants with more staff cannot seem to grasp this essential first step in making the guest feel welcome, recognized and cared for.

The big compliment on the service at Justine’s is that every server looks at you as they pass your table, regardless of whether it’s their table. And if you make eye contact, you are asked if you need anything. It’s simple, effective guest service, and it’s not happening in many high-dollar restaurants.

Now, the food. I have had the pleasure of trying everything on the menu. All of it is delicious, amazingly well-priced and spot-on with each visit. Kudos to the kitchen for taking a simple menu and mastering it. That is the secret. This is not a gourmand, intense, choreographed, intimidating experience. You will not be here for four hours. Justine’s feels familiar, even on your first visit.

The charcuterie plate goes beyond salami and olives with rillette and a mellow country paté. The cheese plate has equally interesting seasonal selections. The mussels and escargot are a great beginning as well. The entrees are well- balanced in choices: steak frites, salmon, pork chop.

The cutlery is elegant: Laguiole knives with entrees add a sophisticated touch, but your forks stay behind after course one. It is part of the casual aspect.

Simply delectable bistro desserts, particularly the crème brulee, sparkle. When the check is dropped on the table you check it twice to make sure nothing was left off, due to the very reasonable pricing. This definitely encourages return visits often and soon.

Justine’s is the go-to place for a meal you can count on. Each visit, any menu item tastes exactly the same. You crave it, think of it with great anticipation and, when you have it again, you get the same food flashback memory. And again, the feel. You want to take a date, a group of old friends, your parents, yourself. It feels good and you want to share it. So do so immediately.

Justine’s is open for dinner service only, Wednesday through Monday, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Closed Tuesdays.

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