First Look: Modern Southwestern at Chavez in Austin

[Photographs: Melody Fury]

Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.

Shawn Cirkiel, the chef and owner of Austin's Parkside, Backspace, and Olive & June, launched his latest venture, Chavez, earlier this month. In an unusual turn of events, the restaurant is in the former TGI Friday's space in the downtown Radisson hotel, causing Austinites who've long disregarded the location to take note of the revamped poolside digs once again.

How did Cirkiel end up in there? A few years ago, the hotel approached the chef with a restaurant project in mind, granting him total creative freedom. Cirkiel teamed up with Michael Hsu's architecture firm, describing their vision for the space as "fresh, bright, very clean, and utilizing the great views to embrace our location." The view of the Congress Avenue Bridge (aka the Bat Bridge) from the expansive floor-to-ceiling windows during sunset is stunning against the red-walled, wood-paneled dining room. A polished bar with white plush seats overlooks the pool.

Cirkiel describes the menu as "food that makes sense for Austin," inspired by Texas and the Mexican border, with breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, in addition to an all-day bar menu and room service. The raw bar is a passion of Cirkiel's —"I very much like simple dressed fishes, ceviche, shrimp cocktail, oysters," he says. "It's a natural evolution from what we do at Parkside and Olive & June." The drink menu is still evolving, with a focus on Texas-centric ingredients, like Tito's vodka and a touch of smoke in the smoked cherry margarita.

Click the slideshow to check out Chavez's space and some of their dishes and drinks.

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