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Former Cafe 909 chef-owner to open neighborhood tavern

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com

Chef Mark Schmidt, who came to attention with his critically acclaimed Café 909 in Marble Falls, will open Blackbird and Henry later this month. The neighborhood tavern will be located at 3016 Guadalupe St. in the space formerly occupied by Another Broken Egg.

The menu will draw from Schmidt’s British upbringing, travels through Europe and North America, and will feature some dishes from Café 909, which made multiple appearances on former Statesman Dale Rice’s Top 10 restaurants lists. Blackbird and Henry will also offer oyster and raw bar selections and serve wine, local beers and cocktails on tap. (BlackbirdAndHenry.com)

The menu will draw from Schmidt’s British upbringing, travels through Europe and North America, and will feature some dishes from Café 909, which made multiple appearances on former Statesman Dale Rice’s Top 10 restaurants lists. Blackbird and Henry will also offer oyster and raw bar selections will feature wine, local beers and cocktails on tap. (BlackbirdAndHenry.com)

For a taste of what Schmidt does well, read Dale Rice’s 2006 review of Cafe 909 below (with a cameo by a young Bryce Gilmore):

Café 909 is less than 3 years old, but it’s already strikingly mature.

The small, upscale restaurant in Marble Falls recently added a sixth night (Monday). The staff is large enough now that co-owner and manager Shelly Schmidt has to compile a schedule, rather than just figuring out how she and husband-chef-co-owner Mark Schmidt can cover everything themselves. And now they’ve hired sous chef Bryce Gilmore, who can cover for the boss, as he did on a recent Saturday night when Mark Schmidt was cooking in

Aspen, Colo.

“We’re starting to feel like a real restaurant now,” Shelly Schmidt said.

For its customers, Café 909 has felt like a real restaurant since the day it opened in October 2003, bringing creative, artistic cuisine to Marble Falls and demonstrating that Central Texas’ Top 10 restaurants aren’t restricted to Austin.

A recent Saturday dinner emphasized that nothing has changed at Café 909.

The amuse bouche, the complimentary starter now offered by most of the top restaurants, was a small glass of chilled cantaloupe-sparkling wine soup garnished with vanilla oil and basil oil. It did exactly what it was supposed to do: deliver intriguing flavors that signaled what was ahead.

In a starter ($10) that seemed almost incongruous, Mark Schmidt combined roasted baby carrots, candy-striped beets, sliced kumquats, shaved fennel and horseradish. With its alternating sweet, sour and pungent notes, the dish was inspired and refreshing.

A second appetizer, sauté of veal sweetbreads ($13), had a barely crisp, fried exterior. They joined Sweet 100 tomatoes, foie gras, enoki mushrooms and crawfish tails in veal jus in a combination as rich as it was compelling.

For the main course, the duck breast ($26) was seared to medium rare, sliced and fanned over pearl onions, asparagus and duck livers with a topping of fig mostarda and a side of fried polenta. The aroma alone was so enticing it would be difficult to pass up that dish on a return visit.

Another entrée, the seared halibut ($27), reflected the years Mark Schmidt spent in Santa Fe, N.M. The fillet, heavily seasoned and crisp on top yet still flaky, rested on a bed of green chile posole that covered the bottom of a shallow bowl (and prompted me to ask for a spoon to enjoy the thick, zesty broth). The halibut was topped with guacamole, an unusual garnish that paired delightfully with the spicy posole.

The dessert menu included two sophisticated choices: the vanilla poached figs ($7) and the pistachio parfait ($7).The figs were paired with a blue cheese sabayon that was more of a heavy cream sauce than light, frothy sabayon. The strong cheese so dominated the figs that it turned the dessert into a savory finish to the meal. In a sense, it was closer to cheese plate than confection.

The frozen, cylindrical pistachio parfait ($7) was accented with crushed pistachios and a burnt honey caramel that offered just a hint of bitterness to offset the immense sweetness.

Service at Café 909 met thee same high standards diners have come to expect, along with well-articulated knowledge of the menu’s wide variety of ingredients and cooking styles.

That’s one more reason Café 909 should be a destination for more than Hill Country residents. All fine-dining aficionados in Central Texas should have this inviting spot on their must-visit lists.