Our last night in Austin we decided to give the live music scene a whirl and try out a much touted tapas restaurant downtown. Malaga was the perfect quirky end meal to our Austin experience. This popular eatery has the same lively, hip vibe as the rest of the town.
We arrived at the restaurant and valeted the car. I highly rec this since parking is sparse near the restaurant. We were greeted with a happy mix of laughter and excited voices as we opened the door. Malaga was hosting the monthly Neighborhood Association Meeting in the back. People were mingling and having a good time; I commented to my husband that we needed to be a part of whatever neighborhood would plan a get together that was obviously so much fun. We were shown to our seats speedily by the hostess. Throughout the meal, she was invaluable. She was friendly, quick and knowledgeable. We ordered a glass of house-made Sangria to try and dove into the menu. The Sangria was only alright. It was definitely homemade, but lacked pop. It needed some lime juice and maybe some club soda, something to brighten the flavor. Luckily, we had arrived on 25% off bottle night for wine, so it was an easy switch.
As we were waiting for our server, who had still not made it to our table, I got a chance to look a little more closely at the decor. The light fixtures really caught my eye. They were all different and eclectic in design and material. The ceilings were those ceilings that I love with the old, varied tile. The art work was an interesting mix of old and new, much like Austin.
Our server finally arrived, and I ordered the Brancott Sauvignon Blanc. A great value at $32 plus we got the 25% discount since we ordered a bottle. I’m diggin’ on the New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs lately; they are so crisp and refreshing and given that it was over 100 degrees in Austin at night this week, it was a nice quencher. We also placed our tapas order at the same time. It is always hard to figure out how many to order. You don’t want to get too many and get full too early, but sometimes the plates can be rather small. We settled on 5. We ordered: the seared tuna served atop green apple slices with horseradish cream, fried goat cheese with sweet onion marmalade, smoked paprika rubbed lamb with a curry aioli, Moorish spiced pork bites, and the smoked duck breast flatbreads. The variety on the menu was rich and held promise for a scrumptious dinner. We were not disappointed.
The food arrived quickly on multi-tiered serving dishes. It was quite beautiful in presentation. All the china was white which was nice against the brightly colored dining room decor. The tuna was a nice start. the crunch of the apple slices was a good textural juxtaposition with the horseradish cream. I did think it lacked some acid, but other than that, it was refreshing. The lamb was slightly tough and a little chewy, but still well seasoned and decent. I had not held much hope for the pork bites. My husband insisted on them and I compromised, but they actually were pretty good. The seasoning was delightful and different than anything else we ordered. They had the distinct scent of North African food and were a wonderful accompaniment to our other choices. I have had fried goat cheese in many instantiations and love it every time. This particular goat cheese was a little heavy on the drizzled honey but the sweet onion marmalade was stellar. It had the pungency of onions with the depth of sweetness that can only come from caramelization. It was the perfect counterpoint to the goat cheese. The star of the meal though, was the duck flatbread. Sometimes I feel like a one trick pony always extolling the virtues of duck, but this was outrageously good. The flatbread had a nice crisp to it, the blue cheese was just beginning to get melty, the figs and caramelized onions were sensuously soft and redolent with the flavor of late summer harvest, and the duck- it was perfectly cooked and laced with a port wine reduction. It was by far the best thing at that table. All of the portions were large for tapas and we were quite sated by the end of dinner, but of course there was still dessert to be had!
We decided we would only go the distance with dessert if it was made on premises, otherwise we were heading for the cupcake food truck. The waiter assured us that everything was made in house including flan and tres leches cake. I love a good tres leches and my husband would kill for well prepared flan. We also indulged in a bottle of Prosecco promising not to finish it. Most restaurants will cork and wrap your unfinished bottles for you. Malaga is one of those establishments.
As we were waiting for desserts, music started floating in from outside. The bands had begun playing on 6th street and the sound was permeating the front windows of the restaurant. The desserts arrived looking homemade, but not necessarily tasty. The flan had not been removed from its cooking vessel so it did not have the luxurious caramel flowing down the sides and the tres leches looked really wet. I know tres leches has lots of liquid added to it, but this was dissolving on the plate because it was so wet. The texture was grainy and it was not enjoyable. We dug our spoons into the flan only to discover that it was pretty badly burnt. The caramel was so acrid that it was inedible. Both were served with dollops of what tasted like Cool Whip. Not a high point of the evening. The Prosecco, on the other hand, was extremely tasty. It was not overly sweet and had a delicate floral nose. It was a high point.
By the time we were ready to pay and go, our server had completely abandoned us and taken over the bar. Luckily, the hostess sent us a new server and we were able to wrap up our left over wine bottles and pay. the prices were really reasonable given the portions and the wine was a great deal with the discount. On the whole, the meal was wonderful. Tips for future visits: No dessert and Be deliberate about getting a good server. Malaga was a great send-off for our Austin experience and will be on the table for dinner next time we venture to The Lonestar State.