Back in December of 2002 "amysuehere" posted her lunch experience at Ventana and we've had it on our list ever since. Last night four of us tried it for dinner. I'll give some of our thoughts on the individual items but to cut to the chase, overall it measured up to Academy's stated goal of a "fine dining experience".
Expecting lots of rain-related slow traffic three of us were surprised to arrive 30 minutes before our 6:30 reservations but while waiting for our fourth to arrive, the Host (all personnel are Academy students rotating through Ventana and the adjacent but less formal "Bleu River Grille") and our waitperson, a nice young lady from LA who had transferred to TCA and for whom we represented the first table she had ever waited, let us taste 3 different wines and we all agreed the Ballentine Zinfandel '99 @$27 suited us best. I hasten to add that the use of space throughout the Academy but especially in Ventana is quite handsome and the decor and a good Zin made our wait pleasant.
The range of appetizers, soups and salads was quite adequate but a special or two in each category gave us an even broader choice. We opted to share one appetizer - four large fresh oysters in cream sauce - and two salads, one a special - baby greens with pear and Roquefort - and one a regular offer - a Caesar. Of the six regular entrees we had three - duck breast, ahi tuna and trout - and I opted for one of two evening specials - pan roasted lamb chops. The lamb, cooked rare, was among the best I've ever had and the trout and tuna were rated similarly.
For dessert we shared a chocolate stout cake (a version of the "flourless" cake served many places and this one measured up well among the competition). But the star was a white chocolate cheesecake which was shared enviously.
In Wes Marshall's April, 2003 Austin Chronicle review of Ventana he correctly said that the Ventana experience required cutting the student staff a little slack while enjoying their enthusiasm and that captured our evening. The food and presentations were generally the equal of many other Austin choices with the same goal as the Academy sets for Ventana; the service was not but was rendered charmingly and sincerely and that makes up for a lot. All in all we considered it an alternative we will enjoy repeating ... soon.