My family and I went to Ft. Worth and Austin for four days of our Spring Break. Ashley and I had a date night one of the evenings, and we spent it out with two of our favorite friends. They took us to a restaurant called Neighborhood Services, and if you wish to read no further I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for great food, an extensive wine list, and very reasonable pricing.
They told us on the way to the place that it was a hidden treasure, and that it would be pretty difficult to spot on the street. They weren’t kidding. They had valet parking (only $5), which we took advantage of, and I walked right past the door, as my friend stopped me and showed me the actual door. From the outside, there was a wooden door with no identifying marks, a small light to the side of the door behind a piece of etched glass, with a small purposeful scratched pattern in the glass. It felt like we’d been invited to a special club. We opened it, intrigued, as this was no doubt a spectacular move in marketing to pique our interest.
We walked into a surprisingly small room, that seemed large due to high ceilings and a rather open layout. A bar to the left with seating for maybe 20 people, with standing area to the center and left, along with a hostess podium to the immediate right. Four for dinner please? The wait will be 30 minutes, but we didn’t care…because after all, we were in that special club! We walked over to the bar and seated my wife, as my friend’s girlfriend hadn’t yet arrived. It was loud inside, but in an alive way, more so than an annoying way. The boys had beers and the lady started with a Cosmopolitan. We had an Austin based micro-brew called Fireman’s #4, from Real Ale Brewing Company. This was, I’m sorry to say, not my favorite beer. It wasn’t bad at all, however. But hey, I’m from Eugene, Oregon, and my expectations are a bit higher than most.
Fifteen minutes went by and then girlfiriend shows up, and orders the first wine of the evening. She ordered a glass of North Willamette Valley Pinot Noir called North Valley, by Soter Vineyards. Shortly after some great conversation, we were seated in the back of the restaurant, near the door to the kitchen, which wasn’t annoying. They placed the tables just far enough away that it didn’t matter. There was a row of booths on the right all the way down, and then the other two thirds of the seating area was tables and chairs, comfortably laid out close to each other. Some two tops, some four tops, some family style. There were clear and wide walking aisles for the staff to maneuver about, which was very nice. I remember seeing a sign on my way out that said “Maximum Occupancy: 83″. With that little seating I’m sure that they had to turn tables to make an evening work for them financially.
We had a wonderful server, and I can’t speak for but the single experience, but it seemed like service was a priority at this establishment. Maybe that’s why “Services” is in the name? Their uniforms played into the marketing intrigue of the secret club, each server had a patch stitched to their white collared shirt. It looked like a family crest or shield, with a phoenix-like bird on it. They had white aprons that were long, almost to the floor. They looked well groomed, and upscale, but when they turned around, most of them were in jeans. So it was this upscale comfortable theme, which is sort of what a great fine dining experience is all about to me.
We ordered quite a bit of food. But first, I must comment on the design of the menu. It was perfect. It was clean, easy to read (except for a couple of abbreviations that must’ve been regional colloquialisms, so I just skipped them), and had several different ways that one could eat dinner. There were Starters, Greens, and Flatbreads for those that wanted to start light or stay light. Then, there were Nightly Plates, Daily Plates, and Mains. This allowed for specials on a rotating basis along with some regulars. Then, at the bottom, there were three categories, simply marked as “five”, “six”, and “seven”, which were kind of like tapas, or extras that could be ordered a la carte. This menu was cool. I’m a person that generally likes to:
- Read the entire menu, then
- Ask the server what the most popular dishes are, then
- make a decision
But this menu looked so good, I skipped number one and went straight for the popular dish of Seared Grouper, barely fried in a crisp bread shell, with a side of slow cooked wilted greens (a favorite food of mine lately), and a small dollop of house cole slaw. The slaw was fresh, with little sauce and was wonderful. The fish came with a side sauce based with lemon and capers. This was one of their lighter dishes. If you’re like me, you always have to go on the lighter side of any Texas based menu, just in case.
I was able to snag a few bites of someone’s leftover salmon, which was just OK. Again, I think that being from Oregon made it impossible to to really enjoy the salmon, so it wasn’t bad. I’m just snobby about some of the cuisine (and wine) in the Northwest. Speaking of wine, we had a bottle of the ’08 Soter Vineyards Pinot Noir, and it paired well with my Grouper and greens. The lemon and capers we’re light enough not to overpower the Pinot, which is something you have to be careful with when drinking Pinot Noir. It’s a complex wine, but lighter than Cab and Merlot, so thus not able to stand up to dishes rich in flavor.
It was a fun evening overall. I could pull more than one idea from these people, and install it down at our Club Room at the Market. But my favorite part of this place from a business perspective was the marketing trick that made me feel like I was part of a special club. I think our club members feel the same way about the LaVelle Wine Club.