I wanted to try out this restaurant knowing almost nothing about it aside from what I saw on the online menu. While the menu contains staples such as a steak dish and a scallop dish, the reason I was going was due to the appearance of rarely seen items such as the pork jowl and smelt.
Occupying the site of the former Karibu Ethiopian restaurant on East 7th, there was a nice sized parking lot when we arrived on a Saturday evening.
The inside has been transformed in to a gastropub with long bar, dim lighting, and plenty of seating inside and out.
We decided to get 4 dishes, the grilled radicchio, the blistered green beans, the pork jowl, and the fried smelt.
The server was very friendly and attentive and informed us that that would be a lot of food, which I didn't expect considering the affordable price point of each dish (vegetables were all under $10 and meats were all under $18).
Deciding not to over order, we went with just the green beans, the pork jowl, and the smelt. We ask that the dishes come out whenever they are ready as I like to eat stuff at their peak of readiness and have no need for food coming out together.
$8 The green beans come out first. It is a dinnerplate sized portion (I was expecting half of what actually came out) of blistered green beans mixed with a whole grain mustard, candied pecan, fried leeks, faro, and mint leaves. The beans are fried but with very little oilyness and the flavor is supremely complex. There is a wide range of textures as well. It is a very tasty and fun dish. Has become my favorite green been dish in Austin.
$10 Fried Smelt. The smelt are expertly fried with a very light coating and the smelt flesh is still sweet. It sits on a bed of pinto beans mixed with a jalapeno cream ( Mexican green sauce). The play between the jalapeno cream and the slightly sweet smelt flesh is great and my wife ate this up even though she normally doesn't eat fried foods.
$16.5 Pork Jowl. The pork jowl was served in chunks in a bi bim bap type format along with rice, pickled cucumbers, pickled onion, grilled avocado, some microgreens, and egg yolk with a spicy sauce that is reminicent of gochujang but not exactly. The jowl resembles well cooked pork belly with a porcine richness, fattiness, tenderness, and a slight smoky flavor. Pork jowl to belly is like guanciale to pancetta. The egg yolk was very fresh and rich and I enjoyed the non traditional addition of the grilled avocado. More importantly, the rice was very fluffy and had a great texture and moisture level.
Me and my wife were stuffed after 3 dishes and I had gone in expecting to have to order 5 to fill up. Together with a mini bottle of champagne that was enough for 2 glasses, the bill came out to be a very affordable $43 before tip.
It was only after I dined that I found out the owner and Chef were the GM and Chef at the long closed Al Arbol, what was then one of my favorites.
I feel that before The Hightower opened, I have not found such a great mix of value and expert cooking since Lenoir.
I am truly excited for this restaurant and look forward to trying the other items on the menu very soon.
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