[AUS] Weekend Splurge Eats
I'm terribly quick to turn my nose up at restaurants that turn their nose up - I don't really like my food stacked up in a pile, or on a plate that is in a shape I never learned the name for in geometry class. But every once in a while, if I happen to be at one of these places, I'll close my eyes, ignore the incessant inquiries of the waitstaff, the thumping club music overhead, and I'll experience pure deliciousness. The food can be pretty damn good sometimes.
The food was pretty damn good at Wink. I had a good feeling about it when I learned that their menu changes daily, based on local availability of ingredients. This is commendable on many levels, and a pretty good predictor of care taken in the kitchen.
My dining companion had the "seared venison with roasted salsify, chicories, baby shiitakes, and sauce robert", which was absolutely fantastic. Sure, the whole dish came together beautifully, but that piece of venison was of slamming quality to begin with. Very tender, very flavorful, and perfectly cooked. And I love sauce robert.
I had the "seared snapper and boar belly with braised endive, yukon potato puree and meyer lemon vinaigrette", which was another winner. They must've used a blow-torch on the fish because it had a cracker-like crust, yet was so delicate on the inside. A bit of the boar belly richness ontop of a piece of snapper, and you get a little of that crisp, and a little of that which melts in your mouth. Righteous.
We were walking around town when we past this place in the nauseating 2nd street district. What wasn't nauseating was the smell coming out of the vents of this restaurant, so we ducked in for lunch. Started with some mediocre bellinis, but some very nice bread w/ olive oil & balsamic.
I had a lentil soup, which was pretty good, but nothing spectacular. I make this soup often, yet I couldn't discern what was lacking in their version. Not bad by any means, but just kinda bland. Maybe salt would've lifted its spirits. My risotto with wild boar sausage and dried cranberries was quite tasty though -- rich & creamy, and didn't commit the usual sins that I too often see with risottos. I could've done without the cranberries, but whateves. The cannolis were hands down the worst I've ever had.
Finn & Porter
We were heading to see a show at the Velveeta Room, so we didn't veer too far away from that nabe, and hey, what the hell, might as well keep with the special occasions theme.
My beef tenderloin was served with foie gras, a cucumber-tomato relish, bacon-chive potatoes, and black truffles (tis the season). I was going to have sushi and eat light. The tenderloin was very delicate, and while the foie gras wasn't as good as I was expecting, I've never met a foie I didn't like. The icing on the cake was to be the cucum ... um, I mean black truffles, but unfortunately, they lacked the potency & perfume that I know. I flagged down the chef, who confessed they were domestic, and obtained at a much lower cost. All in all, I was still feeling pretty stupendously happy after the meal (and a couple of martinis, a glass of wine and a glass of port).
I'll def'y return to Wink in the next couple of months. I thought their food was outstanding, and I'm happy to know they work with local farms and gardens. Finn and Porter was good, but moreso because I was having fun on a special occasion with a special someone, and everybody was in good spirits. So yeah, it was worth it for that night, but I probably won't return unless under unusual circumstances (It was also significantly more expensive than Wink).
It was a fun eating weekend, but I'm again looking forward to chowing on some tacos, congee, kimchi and ... the homemade Lebanese-style kibbeh sitting in my fridge that my companion brought.
Wink is in a great location, and the dry cleaner next door is sooo Austin. Wink caters to the West 5th neighborhood hip-crowd and their "Whole Foods-ish" preferences.
Zoot caters to a 10-year older crowd (suburban) than that of Wink, and the menus reflect it. (Think in terms of patron age: Wink-30s, Zoot-40s, and Jeffrey's-50s).
Actually, Zoot really gained its reputation from the previous owner/chef John Maxwell and his cooking. In 2002, Maxwell sold Zoot back to Scruggs and Paul when he was hired to open the kitchen at the Mansion at Judge’s Hill.
Good get on the boar belly, that does sound interesting.
Wink and its sister restaurant Zoot are both owned by the cooking pair, Stewart Scruggs, a Culinary Institute of America grad, and Mark Paul, graduate of Peter Kump’s School for the Culinary Arts. Their food is OK. Good for Austin foodie wannabes, but normally not inventive.
Sadly, ala carte, both are way over priced for the ingredients and preparation offered; although, the Zoot five course Tasting menu at $55 is reasonable.
Zoot offers the better dining experience than that of Wink, as you will notice.
re: Kent Wang
Sadly, "inventive" and "delicious" rarely go together on Austin's "fine dining" scene. In fact, this issue inspired my first post here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/... .
I suggest that we chowhounds ignore "buzz," which is usually generated by local "critics" and restaurants' own publicity.
For anyone who's curious about whether Wink or Zoot is better (or if they're even good): Please try them both and then post about it here, with lots of details. That will help us all in our quests to find the really amazing chow.
This also has inspired me to post, long time reader, first time response. I've eaten at Zoot off and on for years and I think it is the best it ever been. I believe they have a new chef de cuisine and he is doing some great things. Interesting use and combinations of ingredients. I know that they try to use only local organic produce and change the menu almost daily when items are not available. Great vegetarian tasting menu as well and given some advanced notice they can prepare vegan dishes. It is well worth a try.
Have had 2 excellent meals at Wink. Servers each time were exceptionally knowledgeable about what-was-causing-what-taste and how it was prepared.
The only real flaw I've seen is that each time, their table water seemed to have a definite metallic taste. I'm used to ordering bottled water all the time when outside the US, but it seems weird to have to do it state-side at a great restaurant. I'd rather order an extra glass of wine.
A RO-filtration unit from Home Depot is ~$200. Not sure what it would be for a higher volume unit, but Wink really needs one.
Thanks for the detailed report. It was fun to read.
Next time you're in central Texas, I recommend that you splurge again—on San Antonio’s Le Rêve. I think you'll enjoy it.
I agree with what you wrote above about Wink's menu. Their real emphasis is on "the innovative use of the freshest ingredients" [quoted from their website], obtained from local sources whenever possible. As a fellow 'hound once pointed out to me, it's hard to do an entirely local-ingredient-driven menu throughout most of Texas. There's no need to hold that against Wink. For better or worse, they're really the only place in Austin doing this kind of ingredient-driven cooking.
I haven't had good luck there in the past, but the problems were due to execution issues rather than ingredient quality. Your post makes me want to try again very soon.
Boar belly sounds fantastic. Is it like bacon?
I don't really get the impression that Wink has much of a local, seasonal menu. The two times that I've been (months apart) I've seen the same tasting menu. I guess scallops never really go out of season. I've also had that venison dish before and it was pretty mediocre then.
If you're a fan of cannolis, my favorite is from Asti.
re: Kent Wang
Like uncured bacon (pork belly), and usually cut into thicker chunks, rather than thin strips.
I have no idea if Wink is falsely advertising or not, but based on what I had read about the place, they claim to source their ingredients locally. As far as repetition goes, their "daily" menu does show several repeats (or very similar) today as what was on the menu when I was there on Friday. Perhaps their defense is not so much as changing the menu daily, as it is obtaining fresh ingredients daily. They do say they fly their seafood in daily.