James Beard Award semifinalists: Launderette and executive pastry chef Laura Sawicki

Chefs Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki of Launderette. (Credit: Laura Carroll)

Chefs Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki of Launderette. (Credit: Laura Carroll)

“The Houston-born chef who helped open wildly popular La Condesa and Sway following an early career in New York and London has an undeniable culinary vision. But he also sees his role as a creator of culture and facilitator of social energy. Artists, patrons of the arts, service industry veterans and the hipnoscenti have packed the airy space with hungry excitement since opening week.

You don’t usually show up at a friend’s dinner party expecting a clear explanation of the menu’s theme. People generally cook what they like to eat and hope you feel the same. That personalized principle appears to guide Ortiz and pastry chef and partner Laura Sawicki’s menus at Launderette.”

That is what I wrote, in part, about chef Rene Ortiz’s East Austin restaurant Launderette when I reviewed it last June. I dug the place enough to give it an 8.5/10 at the time. The James Beard Foundation apparently digs it, too, today naming the spirited and nostalgic upmarket diner a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant in the country.

The restaurant from Ortiz and his culinary partner, Laura Sawicki, opened in March of last year and quickly became a fixture on the east side. Sawicki was also named a semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry chef, her second such honor. She was nominated in 2013 while at La Condesa, which she helped open.

Sawicki blends cleverness with technique for wonderful desserts at Launderette (see her play on Girl Scout’s Samoas. I wrote the following in my 2015 review:

Sawicki made a name for herself as one of the city’s best pastry chefs during her time at La Condesa and Sway, and it is great for her to once again have a permanent venue for her creativity. She hybridizes a few ideas with a fluffy and flaky take on apple pie ($9) laced with angular cuts of cheddar cheese on a plate made sticky with salted beer caramel. It’s at once an apples-and-cheese plate and a caramelized apple, and the unexpected sage ice cream on top is proof that nobody in town bests her in the ice cream game.

Sawicki exhibited more ice cream brilliance with the candied ginger ice cream on her English sticky toffee pudding ($9) and the cool, herbal blast of basil ice cream on a lemon curd tart ringed by compressed strawberries on a dish that glowed like an early afternoon at an Italian beach.

Completing the idea of dinner as a celebration, Sawicki’s dessert menu includes bite-size birthday cake ice cream sandwiches that taste like Mexican sheet cake ice cream wedged between soft layers of cookie dough.

For the full list of semifinalists, click here. The finalists will be announced on March 15.

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