Okay, okay. Perhaps the title of this post is a little dramatic. So what. This is my blog, and I’ll be as dramatic as I want to be. But you’re reading, so maybe it worked.
A few nights ago, some friends and I tried out one of the most hyped restaurants to hit Austin — if not Texas — in years. The chef, Paul Qui, became well known after winning a recent season of Top Chef. Since his Top Chef win, there had been rumors of a restaurant launch in his hometown, which coincidentally is my town: Austin, Texas.
Perhaps the disappointment all started with our excitement. My friends are a fun, busy bunch, so when we could actually find a time when we were all in town, we were pretty stoked. Normally, we would have hit up one of our regulars: Uchi, Eddie V’s, Perla’s, Hopdoddy, etc. But this new restaurant had just opened and we just had to try it.
Let me preface this: I am no foodie. I enjoy a good meal. I enjoy to cook (most people would say I’m a pretty good chef). I enjoy trying various cuisines. So you can say that I’ve (a) eaten at a lot of different restaurants, and (b) (not to toot my own horn, but…) I’ve eaten at a lot of superb restaurants.
That’s why this meal was such a disappointment. It simply was not at all what it was cracked up to be. Period. Let me break it down:
Like any hyped restaurant, we expected a decent wait. Qui doesn’t take reservations (I can see the arguments for and against this), so we were quite happy to have a few drinks in the bar. After an hour, we checked on the status and the hostess was very gracious in explaining where we were in the queue and that it should be another 20 to 30 minutes. Fine, no problem. At hour number two, the hostess came up to us, apologized that several large parties were taking longer than usual, and took our drink order. She definitely earned points with us for proactively taking care of us. That definitely mitigated our feelings for an overly long wait. Coincidentally, a few minutes after she brought our drinks, our table was ready.
Austin has a pretty cool, hip culture going for it. As a result, we have a high-density ‘hipster’ population. As much as they don’t want to, some hipsters have to work, you know, so they can buy more skinny jeans, American Spirit cigarettes, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and cheap plastic sunglasses. Lucky for us, our waiter was the definition of a hipster. He had an unkept beard, skinny jeans, and a “you are really bothering me” attitude. When he ‘greeted’ our table, he asked if we had any questions about the menu. We did – what is the concept, exactly? Small, shared plates? Individual portions? His response: Ya, you know, it’s kinda whatever. His attitude really pissed me (and my friends) off.
Here’s another thing. After waiting for over two hours and being seated, I was in disbelief to see that a third of the restaurant wasn’t even full. Apparently the restaurant is going to try a ‘restaurant-in-a-restaurant’ concept soon. So there are about 10 tables (the rest of the restaurant has maybe 50 seats) that are just sitting there, empty. WTF? I mean, I know you are a new restaurant, but when you have people waiting this long, can’t you get one more server for this section and crank out some revenue? (Side note: I was watching the kitchen during our time at the restaurant and the staff didn’t look overly busy. They easily could have handled a few more tables. But hey, I’m not in the service industry, so what do I know?
If the wait hadn’t turned the mood, and you could look past the loser hipster, the food really turned the experience from meh to bad. The chef won Top Chef mostly due to his creative cuisine. We ordered about half the items on the menu. I’m not going to lie, when I first saw the menu, I was pretty disappointed. There wasn’t much that really drew my attention. As the food started coming out, I was in disbelief. A few of our dishes:
Some of the dishes actually had some good flavors. The mushrooms, while sparse, had a nice flavor. I just don’t get why you are only served three spoonfuls of the stuff. The rice that looked like dog food throw-up had probably the best flavor of the night. But again, it looked like something your dog does on the living room throw rug.
As previously mentioned, the hostess was excellent. I appreciate that the restaurant had the bright idea to empower front of the house staff to take care of the guests. She was super nice and is too good to be working in this mediocre restaurant.
I do appreciate the manager noticing we weren’t exactly enjoying our meal. He somehow sensed we weren’t too pleased — I don’t know, maybe it was that moment when the table next to us asked how a certain dish was and I gave them a big thumbs down — when he came over to ask if there was anything he could do for us.