The Vince Young Steakhouse and museum: At the Longhorn legend's new place downtown, there is no 'I' in 'team' (but there's plenty of meat)
The easy observation to make right now is that Vince Young should have plenty of time on his hands to run his Austin steakhouse. Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams saw to that last week when he let his tumultuous quarterback go after a season ended by insult and injury.
That would be relevant if the new Vince Young Steakhouse felt like it had much to do with Vince Young the man. It's an echo of him, celebrated in photos from Jan. 4, 2006, when he led the Horns to the national championship. A moment frozen in time with confetti snowfall. It's the Vince his fans want to keep forever, the heroic scrambler from Houston who bore Austin's freighted pride on his shoulders. Longhorn Vince. Not the mercurial Tennessee Vince who threw his shoulder pads into the stands in frustration.
So this is more than a steakhouse. It's a museum. And for a while, that's all it needs to be.
Vince Young Steakhouse opened in November as a venture by Young and two friends, the couple Phillip Brown and Laura McIngvale-Brown. He's the steakhouse's Austin-trained chef; she's the daughter of Houston furniture magnate Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale. She said the steakhouse idea came together because "Vince wanted to come back to Austin. He obviously loves the city. It's his second home."
For now, the people will go just to pay their respects, dressed as if they'd been yelling "Texas Fight" at the stadium an hour before. There's the older gent in the Longhorns windbreaker, the fanstruck couple in their best UT shirts, the family with the little girl wearing light-up shoes, the giant men with the wind-up gait of next-level athletes.
They'll go, even if they feel out of place among the harem-den curves of the serpentine leather booths and the gold-tone shimmer of chain-mail curtains. The bar glows with speakeasy luminescence against the dim interior. There's a private space called the 10 Room, with a football-shaped table. Techno music spills its buzzy torpor over the whole scene. The effect rides the stylistic razor that separates steakhouse from gentlemen's club.
All will be forgiven, especially in Young's time of trouble. But if VYS (as I'll call the business, to differentiate it from the player) is going to make a long-term impact in a downtown steakhouse scene that already counts Perry's, Ruth's Chris, Fleming's, III Forks and Sullivan's, it'll have to step up its game, starting with steak.
At any chophouse where a prime steak runs $30 to $50 without sides on an ungarnished white plate, it has to be perfect. In texture, marbling, quadrillage, seasoning and above all, cooking. Perfect. On one visit, a 22-ounce bone-in rib-eye ($42) hit those marks, including the proper medium-rare color: the cardinal red of a weeping USC Trojan. Lean and fat pulled together, neither one resorting to a gristled tug-of-war.
An eight-ounce filet ($30) mined that same tender vein, but it was cooked well past medium rare to the apologetic pink of medium and salted like a street pretzel, a brackish blast that extended to the pair of otherwise nicely seared and sweet scallops we added to the dish for a reasonable $10 upcharge.
The waiters didn't push the upcharge, but they all recommended side dishes, from Brussels sprouts ($6) or mac and cheese ($8) to an abundant spinach dish ($8) split between the lemony sautéed kind and the creamed variety in a thick white sauce that enriched rather than drowned the leaves. We liked the french fries at VYS, cut medium-thin and fried crisp with a dish of clams sautéed in a white wine sauce with tarragon and chunks of chorizo ($12). A late sub for mussels, the clams were cooked tender, with no closed shells in the bunch.
In general, our table service was thorough and polite, but not as formal as you might expect at a place where dinner easily runs $50 a head. The "Perfect 10" Wagyu strip steak from Texas, for example, will set you back that much all by itself. One waiter put us on track for an appetizer of four pro-level lamb chops ($14) seared rare with a whisper of rosemary and a crabcake ($14) that was blessedly free of filler, just semisweet chunks of crab, a sprinkle of microgreens and a web of jalapeño aioli. Those two dishes and a simple wedge salad ($8) of iceberg lettuce, chunky blue cheese dressing and thick cuts of crisp bacon wouldn't be out of place at any decent steakhouse.
The same can be said for a warm chocolate cake called Forever Young ($8) with vanilla bean ice cream. A gooey kid's dessert, really, but an indulgence easily forgiven, like hot bread pudding ($7) made with house-baked brioche, brown sugar custard and diced apples, although a scoop of crème fraîche ice cream was hard and chalky.
At VYS, I appreciate the thought behind a menu of entrees composed with starches and sides, from braised short ribs with grit cakes and greens ($25) to roasted chicken with mushroom risotto ($22), but my forays into that menu failed. Pan sauce mingled with runoff from beets in a vegetable medley to paint a messy tableau for slices of seared duck breast ($29) with chewy skin and a layer of unrendered fat. The skin side of a small piece of red snapper ($23) was cooked to a brown, crusty tile that left hard flesh halfway through the fillet. Lying across tawny slices of potato, the dish looked more like fish and chips.
Will you find Vince Young here? Maybe. His business partner said he'll show up as often as his schedule allows. In the meantime, enjoy him as a memory, as a commodity and as an autograph scrawled across a $790 bottle of Bordeaux, part of the "Vince Young Signature Collection" at VYS, the city's most elaborate souvenir and concession stand.
Vince Young Steakhouse
301 San Jacinto Blvd. 457-8325,
Hours:5 to 10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays. 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays.
Prices:Appetizers $12-$18. Salads and soups $8-$10. Steaks $30-$50. Sides $6-$8. Entrees $11-$29. Desserts $6-$8.
Payment:All major cards
Alcohol:Beer, wine and cocktails. The wine list carries 23 by the glass for $8-$15. By the bottle, there are nine sparklers ($32-$450), 35 whites ($28-$135) and more than 90 reds ($30-$350). And there's an 11-bottle list of Vince Young's favorite wines, ranging from a 2008 Siduri pinot noir for $150 to a 2006 Chateau Margaux Bordeaux for $1,125, with each bottle signed by Young. There are six Austin beers on draft ($5), and the football-themed cocktail roster ($8-$12) includes the In-Vince-able (tequila, citronage, agave, lime juice).
What the star ratings for fine dining mean: