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Sneak Peek at LaV's Menu

By Megan Giller
January 14, 2014

Highly anticipated modern French restaurant LaV is inching closer to the finish line over in East Austin, most recently with their acquisition of a Wood Stone bistro oven. Recently, chef Allison Jenkins and her sous chef Rick Menzen traveled to the Wood Stone headquarters in Seattle to learn how to fire and cure the oven as well as test out some recipe concepts, from roasted chicken (a cornerstone of their menu) to braised veal, sandwiches and pizza. We chatted with Jenkins to get the lowdown on what the remarkable oven can do (hint at how awesome it is: Jeffrey’s has one) as well as what their menu will look like. The restaurant doesn’t have an opening date just yet, but their menu looks so good that we can almost taste it.

Zagat: Tell us about the oven. It looks really tiny.

Allison Jenkins: It’s 3 ft. by 3 ft., and we have about 9 sq. ft. on the deck. Woodstone makes ovens up to 30 sq. ft. on the interior, but it was a last-minute addition, something I’d always wanted to work with. We squeezed it in. The idea of going to the factory was to see exactly what we could produce, the range of items that would come out and be able to juggle. I was blown away by what we can do with the oven. They cooked for us for about five hours and gave us instructions on how to cook. We did a lot of the work ourselves, but it’s not the exact recipes we will make at the restaurant.

For example, roasted chicken is one of our featured items on the menu, and it’s a longer fire time, 30 minutes to an hour. We experimented with salt-roasted fish, seafood appetizers, veggies and even pizza on Sunday for brunch, if I can swing it. We’re developing our own bread that we bake in the morning, which will be simple and rustic.

Zagat: How does the oven differ from a pizza oven like the one at Bufalina?

AJ: One of the reasons I went with this oven is that it’s built in the U.S. It is produced 90% in the factory, and the dome and the floor are each cast in one piece. The oven at Bufalina is a brick oven, which means there is fluctuation and inconsistencies. This is more user-friendly and is designed to give a consistent product. We can put gas in it if we want, or we can operate it using strictly wood, or I can combine. I can show a newer cook how to use it using partially gas. Also, pizza ovens operate higher than what we try to do. Bufalina runs at 800 degrees, and we run at 575 to 650 in our oven. We need some longer cooking times than a 90-second pizza. We don’t want to incinerate everything. We want to control it more. That was part of the training, how to not overfire your oven and crack it the day you get it. We also wanted to be able to get parts here in the U.S. if there were any issues.

Zagat: What else is in the kitchen?

AJ: It’s full of fun, nice toys to play with. We have a really nice J&R wood-burning grill. It’s a showpiece. It has a 20-in. crankwheel on the side, which gives you a lot of control to sear or cook slowly. We’re using pecan wood out of the grill and oak in the oven. Oak won’t give a lot of flavor, but I like the smoke and smell and flavor that pecan gives to fish.

Zagat: What will the opening menu look like?

AJ: We don’t know all the details yet, but we have the basic structure. There will be cold and hot apps, pastas and six entrees. It’s a nice mix of lighter items and heavier items. I get frustrated when I go out to eat and everything is heavy and I can only try one thing. The menu is designed to encourage sharing and give people an opportunity to taste little things and not have their palate overwhelmed. But if you want a big gut-busting meal you can do that too. We’ll have larger entrees and portion sizes (fish, steak, larger pieces of meat). That structure won’t change much. Also a lot of sides, because the entrees won’t be super composed. We’ll also have a bar menu with smaller portions, like half a chicken, a smaller steak, a cheese plate, a charcuterie plate, just different options in case you don’t want a formal menu. You’ll be able to order off the full menu at the bar too.

  • Oven-Roasted Citrus Olives

    "I really liked this dish. It was a mix of warm marinated olives with citrus zest and Cipollini onions fired in the oven. I would definitely like to do that on our bar menu - give people something to snack on while they have a glass of wine. I wouldn’t have thought about that before."

  • Roasted Chicken

    "Our roasted chicken is going to be completely locally sourced. We’re working with Dewberry Hill Farm and Vital Farms. We salt it 24 hours in advance, put a little bit of thyme sprigs under the skin, roast it at a high heat for an hour. It’s a simple preparation. People maybe are intimidated by a roast chicken, but I’m taking the mystery out of it. Just having a good product and using a little bit of salt, you can do a lot, whether that’s at home or in a fancy-schmancy oven. It will be served for two people with a white-wine pan sauce and roasted crispy potatoes."

  • Sandwiches

    "They made this simple ciabatta-style sandwich bread: one dough recipe that you could make a pita, flatbread, pizza or sandwich bread from. To see that versatility was awesome. We haven’t finalized everything for our bread service. We’re definitely making our own brioche, possibly doing a rotating selection for service and then a rustic sourdough of some sort. We’ll buy our baguettes.

    "This sandwich was made with that awesome ciabatta-style sandwich bread, which took five minutes to cook. There was a little bit of broccoli rabe, sausage and mozzarella cheese. Our goal is to do sandwiches like that for lunch, brunch or even as a bar item."

  • Salt-Roasted Fish

    "I didn’t imagine we’d be able to do salt-roasted fish in the oven. That was cool. I’ve done salt-roasted fish before. You mix the salt with water and egg white until it’s the texture of wet sand. Anything roasted whole on the bone is going to have a superior flavor. The one we made in Seattle was about 4 lbs., which we would do for a special menu. On our daily menu, the fish is served with simple preserved-lemon-and-olive relish with a fennel confit. We’re keeping it light."

  • Pizza

    "They made us pizzas with flavorings I hadn’t done before, like this one, which had scallops and a whole egg right in the center. You could take the edge of the pizza and dip it in the egg yolk as a sauce. Our pizza won’t be standard flavors, but we might do mushroom-sausage and use housemade cheeses like chevre and ricotta as well as whatever produce is around this season."

  • Braise 

    "We did an overnight braise in the oven by letting the coals die down a little bit. We used a pork shoulder with smashed redskin potatoes and some raw grapes for texture. We are going to have a braise of some sort if we can manage to open while it’s cool out. No idea about the protein, but probably with lamb or veal shank."

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