Hearty and Homegrown Hits at Vinaigrette Austin Make Us Want More

I'm going to venture out there and say that for the most part, people don't make plans to go out and eat salad with friends. Do you call up your buddies and say, "Hey y'all, let's get a salad tomorrow!" often? Likely not but maybe you will once you dive into the self-proclaimed "salad bistro" known as Vinaigrette. I first laid eyes on the restaurant's photo while going through a large event planning industry magazine which featured the unrivaled oak tree in the back patio as a stunning centerpoint for diners in Austin. The restaurant itself has roots in other locations, having begun in New Mexico (Santa Fe and Albuquerque), but more specifically, its beginnings boast homegrown sourcing paired with an attention to balanced dishes.

The menu has more than just salads (soups, sides, sandwiches, etc) but these entrée salads are nothing to push aside. Their ingredients are tossed with just the right amount of dressing (mostly vinaigrettes...hence the name) and can be accompanied by a variety of generous protein portions. Aside from the culinary execution, what makes the salad-centric dishes special is the ingredients' origin. 70% of the produce used in the New Mexico locations come from the owner's own 10-acre farm, and a farm in Bastrop hosts the produce for the Austin location; all of the restaurants attempt to minimize food waste by returning it to the farm to feed the animals and/or composting, depending on what it is. Not only would your dining at Vinaigrette fill up your own stomach but anything remaining would be repurposed to continue the farming cycle. All of that is just the bonus to the lovely atmosphere inside and outside the restaurant of course which is welcoming and friendly throughout.

When we arrived with our friends, there weren't as many diners in the late morning but it filled up quite quickly. Blame the good weather and the enticing menu, especially the beverages. We ended up choosing a colorful variety that made for refreshing sharing as we all wanted to taste each other's choices. There was the Earth Bite ($4.75 - golden beet, grapefruit bitters, soda, pineapple and lime), The Pepino ($4.25 - cucumber, lime juice, club soda, lightly sweetened), Ginger Turmeric Tonic ($4.50 - turmeric, ginger and carrot juice with lemon and seltzer), and Moscow Mule ($8 - ginger beer, vodka, fresh ginger and mint). Each one was thirst-quenching, sweetened seemingly only by the fruits' natural sugars. There were plenty of other options we didn't get to try so if you're wanting to drink a bit of each, make sure to bring a couple of friends with you!

Our friends' opted for some savory salad choices, one getting the Arugula Duck ($14.95 - duck confit tossed with baby arugula, creamy goat cheese, balsamic roasted pears, and hibiscus vinaigrette) and the other choosing the Tuna Salad Salad ($18.95 with seared tuna steak added, $11.95 without - baby greens with shaved carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and pickled fennel tossed in a Romesco dressing). The duck salad was extremely hearty as the heft of the duck confit combined smoothly with the goat cheese's creaminess and roasted pears' caramelization. As for the seared tuna steak, it was so tender that it came away with a gentle push from a fork and was a soft accompanying contrast to the crispness of fennel and carrots. Both were excellent choices.

We also added some protein to our own dishes, and when they arrived, we were surprised by just how generous the additions were. Duc's Apple Cheddar-Chop ($15.95 - grilled pork tenderloin over baby arugula, julienned green apples, pickled fennel and sharp cheddar, chopped and tossed in a ruby port vinaigrette) featured very moist pork tenderloin. Many places tend to err on their pork being dry and tough but somehow, Vinaigrette got their piece perfectly. Combined with the green apple tartness and pepperiness of arugula, the pork was a fantastic match.

I got ahold of their The Omega ($18.50 with cilantro lime shrimp added, $11.50 without - leafy greens chopped and tossed with sweet corn, diced bell pepper, tomato, avocado, red onion, cilantro and toasted pine nuts, dressed with blue cheese vinaigrette) which I happily took up on the suggestion of adding shrimp. I didn't expect near prawn-like shrimp that was quite large and meaty. They could have been seasoned more strongly but were still a great combination with the sweetness of the corn and bell peppers along with the creaminess of the avocado. The salad actually was quite thick once you mixed together both a blue cheese-based dressing with avocado that inevitably got mashed as I forked around the mix.

The portion sizes of these entree salads seemed nearly insurmountable when they arrived at the table but because of their make-up, it wasn't long before we had cleaned our plates. If you're hankering for a solid, healthful salad spot, Vinaigrette is located at 2201 College Ave, Austin, TX 78704 near SoCo. It's lively in design, hearty in dish, and vibrant in service. I'm thinking about the next time we'll go back already!

Photography by Duc Duong. More photos available on Facebook here.

Vinaigrette Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato