It’s no wonder Zagat recently included Congress among it’s “Top Service Restaurants” and the newly appointed Paula Rester filling the shoes as wine director/sommelier could not be a better fit. I had a chance to sit down with Rester to catch up on her passion for wine, studies along the way, and her well-deserved promotion at Congress, one of Austin’s premiere, and few, five-star dining establishments.
Wearing a simple, yet stylish garb of denim and a colorful blouse and hip shades, Rester is as humble as they get and for anyone to have bragging rights it should be her. She explained being a sommelier is a humble position. “At the end of the day, it’s the service industry. It can’t be about you. You must listen to what the guest wants and do your best to provide it,” says Rester.
She quietly slipped into the role as wine director at Congress as June Rodil left to become part of Paul Qui’s (of Top Chef fame) growing empire of restaurants. You may not have heard much buzz about Rester, but for years I’d spot her around town diligently working to gain viticulture knowledge. She hung with the city’s best smelling, swirling and tasting. A native Texan, she studied Theater Arts at the University of Texas. She has been in numerous commercials, films and has done voiceover work. Her studies were not all for naught; she compares a night at Congress to acting. “It reflects what I do every night, put on a show,” she says.
Rester isn’t only putting on a show, she genuinely wanted to be the very best she could be and her “ah-ha” moment hit her nearly 15 years ago while serving tables at Asti, a longtime-running, Italian restaurant in the Hyde park neighborhood. Wine, especially Italian wines, which happen to be her favorite, were a big part of the job. “To work in fine dining, product knowledge is key,” she says. So began her interest in the study of wine. She self-educated and started reading wine magazines and purchased wine for her home, which she had not done before. She came from a humble background whose introduction to wine was Reunite Lambrusco. From there, she continued her dining career and worked for only the best with names like Steven Pyles, Lambert’s, Uchi, and Four Seasons on her resume.
Rester was managing the dining room at Uchi during the time Executive Chef Tyson Cole was competing on Iron Chef. She explained it was an exciting time to work there. During the same time Rester hired June Rodil as wine director. She describes Rodil as a “rock star.” The two were study partners and Rodil excelled, from there she accepted the wine director position at the newly established, fine-dining restaurant, Congress housed in the tony, high-rise condominium project, The Austonian.
Rester continued her studies and was contacted by Devon Broglie, Master Sommelier and Whole Foods Market Southwest Regional Executive Coordinator of Purchasing. He saw something in her and graciously extended his time (which was sparse) to guide her through the steps to earn her Court of Master Sommeliers Certification. Rester recognizes the Austin, Texas wine community as being “incredible generous with their time and resources.” She is truly appreciative of Broglie’s assistance.
Not long after, Rodil called Rester and asked if she wanted to come play with her at Congress and Rester took the role of commis sommelier, an assistant sommelier, and server. This was no easy task; the wine list at Congress consists of 500 labels. A day, or should I say night, at Congress seems, to the diner, to be a choreographed show. The lighting, the music, the mood, the setting, the way the service staff seems to dance through the dining room, is all very whimsical. Rester agreed, it is very choreographed, every member of the staff knows what’s going on at each table allowing for a seamless, service experience for the guest. Under Rester’s command the team is vigilant to each of the guests’ needs. It’s no wonder she’s known as Eagle Eye Rester.
After Rodil left Congress, Rester was asked to fill her role. This was a well-deserved promotion. Rester is busy putting her mark on that 500 bottle list. Expect to see small production labels not found elsewhere, she loves the story of the winemakers and finds these small production and also large format bottles fascinating and particularly good. As mentioned before, she is in love with Italy and has done her homework on Italian wines. She told us to watch for wines from Sicily, women winemakers are turning out beauties. Perfect for warm-weather sipping, she also is fond of Rosé wines, especially those from Southern France. Other wines to watch for are those from Hungary, which she describes as “modern and approachable.”
Rester always wanted to work for the best. Now she’s doing things a little differently, “I’m taking a look at myself to become the best I can be.” It’s no wonder Congress continues to receive accolades from the press. With newly appointed wine director, Eagle Eye Rester, leading the team, expect to see many more.