Thursday, October 3, 2013

qui

It's no surprise that I am a Top Chef fan, as we have dined at many of the cheftestant's restaurants before.  Hence, it was clear that I had to eat at Chef Paul Qui's newly opened restaurant while we were in Austin, TX.  qui  has been open just over 3 months now and only accepts walk-ins. We researched ahead of time and learned wait times range from 1 hour and 45 minutes on a Wednesday to 3 hours on Friday and Saturday.  But luck was on our side this Thursday night, as we were able to be seated right away.

I was expecting a lot from this James Beard Award winner who wanted this restaurant to showcase his creativity and inspiration from worldwide travels.  In an interview with Zagat, Chef Qui stated; "I'm not limiting my seasonality to how local the product is. That philosophy spans across not just food but wines and spirits. And with cocktails we're not just focusing on the seasonality of the ingredients or the mixer but more like when the spirits are allocated. Like there's a gin season, different rums, different bourbons, that kind of stuff… The order is quality of ingredient, locality, seasonality and then down the line."

The building houses a 50-seat main dining room and a 10-seat tasting room. The Japanese graffiti artist, Peelander-Yellow, painted the walls of qui in neutral shades to "enhance the abundance of light let in by the sliding glass wall panels and skylights, maintaining an airy and welcoming environment."  We had the best seat in the house, at a table right next to the window.  In fact, Chef Paul himself came by and asked if he could open the large sliding glass doors.  It was such a nice night out that we didn't mind at all.  Once the "wall" was removed, I felt transported and the ambience only got better.

The entire menu feels playful, but the plating is very clean allowing the ingredients to speak for themselves.  We were presented an amuse buche of Vermont cheddar crackers with cheese foam, on one of the handmade plates that Qui features as an artful vessel.  It was a simple starter to play on "cheese and crackers."

We chose several dishes to share and started with the Wild Yellowtail Sashimi.  It was cut thicker than I am used to, but the fish was still incredibly buttery and the bright yuzu ponzu, green onion, and green tea oil added a punch of flavor.  Next, we shared a beautiful plate of Baby Octopus with ume, watermelon, shiso, and yukari.  The octopus was barely cooked, yet had a touch of char on the legs.  The watermelon had intense flavor and paired well with the shiso leaves.  We were definitely off to a great start.  Last of the lighter dishes we shared a vegetarian friendly dish of Matsutake mushrooms with pine nut soubisse, kale, daikon, and a butter broth. It was okay, but my thoughts were still lingering with the octopus dish.

For the heavier dishes we shared Pasta Curry Style with curry dashi, basil, mint, cilantro, okra, squash, and thai eggplant.  The curry had a kick and the noodles were cooked just right.  I enjoyed all the bites of various vegetables and this was a lovely Fall themed dish.  We also shared Eggplant with basil seed, squash, yogurt, and pickled charred onion.  Keith was especially taken aback by the presentation of a whole eggplant.  I cut into the tender flesh and it was smoky and went well with the onion, making another great dish for vegetarians.  At this point, Keith was needing some meat so he ordered the Skirt Steak.  It was cooked medium-rare with an Asian-inspired chimichurri sauce.

For dessert,  I had my eye on an unusual item - the Cheddar Cheese Ice Cream Sandwich.  I read it was inspired by a waffle-maker Qui brought from home and a joke gone delicious.  The cheddar was subtle in the ice cream, but was accentuated by the shreds of cheese on top.  It was a fun close and full circle to our meal.

It is clear, in spite of the fame, Chef Paul is the same friendly, self-effacing guy he was during the eight years he ascended the ladder at modern Japanese restaurants Uchi and Uchiko. We had a great meal and overall experience - I think this restaurant will rank as one of the best I've ate at this year in the U.S.

Total Rating: 4.6
Food: 5, Price: 4, Service: 4.5, Ambience: 4, Accessibility: 4
What Micky Eats...

What I ate:
Wild Yellowtail Sashimi
yuzu ponzu, green onion, green tea oil 

Baby Octopus
ume, watermelon, shiso, yukari

Matsutake
pine nut soubisse, kale, daikon, butter broth

Pasta Curry Style
curry dashi, basil, mint, cilantro, okra, squash, thai eggplant

Eggplant
basil seed, squash, yogurt, pickled charred onion

Cheddar Cheese Ice Cream Sandwich
crispy waffles, goat milk cajeta, peanut praline, aged cheddar ice cream

Plus Keith ate:
Skirt Steak

Qui on Urbanspoon

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