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June 18, 2007

Three Forks, 111 Lavaca

If you awoke at five this morning in a feverish sweat wondering why there weren't enough goddamn high-dollar steakhouses in downtown Austin, you can eat another handful of Tums and go back to sleep. From now on, when you can't squeeze your party into Sullivan's, Ruth's Chris, Fleming's, Eddie V's or Lambert's, you can call the only meat joint in a ten-block area not sporting a possessive proper name and indulge in opulent oil-baron decadence at Three Forks.

Whether or not Austin needs another purveyor of bank-breaking prime beef and over-oaked cabernets is really beside the point; Three Forks appears by all accounts to have been implanted into the earth directly from outer space (outer space being Dallas) and its pitch-perfect, humidor-like dimness gives one the distinct sense that a complex network of tunnels supplies the establishment with cattle and kitchen help that rarely see the light of day. Were it not for the lamentable intrusion of plasma televisions, a shadowy booth here would be the perfect place not just to plan but to execute your next murder.

On the topic of murder, Three Forks has its knives out for your expense account, so expect the same kind of tab you'd run up at any of the aforementioned joints, with another 10-15 percent thrown in for the Forks' particularly intense brand of service. In fact, any harm you could do an estranged business partner would be cleaned up so quickly and discreetly by the staff that a few well-greased palms might make this the perfect place to dispose of your latest problem.

Looking beyond the hyper-attentive staff and the forced but not-unenjoyable ambiance, Three Forks adds marginal twists to the super-premium steakhouse formula. Sides of surprisingly spicy cream corn and green onions and tomatoes are available with all the entreés, but starters like bacon-wrapped scallops and crab cakes receive merely competent executions. The steaks are very good – which they should be at $32 and up (and up, and up) – and cooked to temperature.

A special of beef medallions with andouille sausage and grilled prawns showed some creativity, with a heavy but not morbidly rich sauce and prawns that teetered on the wrong side of overcooked. The wine list is tilted predictably toward massive cabernets, merlots, Bordeaux and their ilk; we stuck in the relative (ha) bargain land of the southern hemisphere and clinched our teeth through an obsessively tight South African red blend to arrive at a perfect Argentine malbec.

With what appeared to be a genuinely heartbroken realization that we weren't going to top off our Saturnalian consumption with dessert, the staff offered up homemade Irish creams on the house; to me, they tasted slightly of Coco Lopez (the server confided, unsolicited, that the recipe was a closely-guarded secret, though none of us had asked), but the cocktail was a pleasant surprise.

Of course, such grace notes should be expected when you drop five or six bills for dinner, so I predict a rush of price increases and pointless flourishes as the downtown steak wars heat up. Three Forks' secret weapon may be the cheesy, pastoral-painted plates that the entreés arrive on; you've got to admire the cojones of plating up a forty-odd dollar dish on something that looks like a platter picked up at an estate sale in Midland.

Should you drop your hard-earned coin here? They don't appear to need yours, or mine for that matter, but they've carved out a reasonably entertaining niche: completely over-the-top conservatism. If you can put aside the cattle/oil riches theme-park aspect of the experience and you find comfort in precise, obsequiously attentive service, well, you're probably nodding quietly to the WSJ editorial page right now instead of reading this codswallop. Have your assistant make that reservation immediately. The rest of you should go to Hofbrau and save your money for binging on expensive scotch and esophagus surgery.

Recommended for high rollers

III Forks in Austin

Posted by brentbuford at 09:38 PM | Comments (0)