Good Experience with the Tasting Menu at Wink
A review of Wink was the subject of my very first post to chowhound.com after moving to Austin in 2005. It wasn't a very remarkable experience, as you can see here:
I've been meaning to give it another try, based on what I read in posts by other local 'hounds (like Nab, Carter B, and tom in austin). When some colleagues and I dined at Wink recently, the place was full of tourists, businesspeople, UT faculty, couples on “serious” dates, and locals. Our group had a basically solid, well-executed series of courses from the tasting menu. [Note: I had ordered a la carte on my first visit]. The restaurant's atmosphere is sophisticated and adult, and the service is both extremely friendly and knowledgeable. I left feeling like I could understand what all the fuss is about.
The amuse bouche for the evening was a shot of parsnip soup with a kind of orange-reduction sauce drizzled on top. It was pretty good—and made use of seasonal parsnips. I don't care for Wink's ciabatta bread. It was served fresh out of the oven, but I find the crumb too soft and the flavor uninteresting.
The first course was a large, grilled dayboat scallop served on a fricassee of shiitake mushrooms, shredded cabbage, and edamame. I don't know why people use edamame in this kind of preparation, as they don't add much besides color. I wouldn't like lima beans in a fricassee with mushrooms and cabbage, either. The scallop itself, however, was perfectly grilled, with a crust of salt. It flirted on the edge of being too salty, but most of us thought it only “salty.” This was good—for one scallop. I would have been bored by this dish if there had been more of it. This course was paired with a nice Portuguese muscatel. I would have liked to drink more of it, but I needed to pace myself.
The second course was a lovely lamb dish served with garlic puree, roasted tomatoes, and rosemary oil. The super-hot pan seared a nice crust on the meat, leaving the rare interior rich and velvety. This course was simple, well-executed, and visually compelling. Roasting brought out a deeply sweet flavor in the hydroponic cherry tomatoes (this is usually a bad time of year to find good tomatoes). The garlic puree and the rosemary oil were both very mild. The lamb was paired with a 2004 Valentina Montepulciano.
The third course was duck confit served over roasted potatoes that tasted like they themselves had been roasted in duck fat and garlic, as they should be (like pommes sarladaises). The local potatoes they used were very flavorful Yukon Gold seed potatoes, which are available—only very early in the morning—at the Angel Valley stand at the farmer's market. The duck was also served with firm, fleshy, but mild Blue Foot mushrooms and sautéed chicory, with a madeira reduction drizzled on the plate. The confit had a good crisp exterior, but the interior wasn't as meltingly tender as it is in my ideal version of the dish. This course would also have benefited from a tangy flavor component, like a chicory salad with walnut vinaigrette instead of the sautéed greens. Still, the confit and potatoes were very satisfying. This was paired with a red (naturellement): a Vino Robles.
The fourth course was still more seared meat with a salty crust—this time, seared venison on a bed of quinoa with trompe l'oeil mushrooms, and roasted, caramelized onions, finished with a chile-Colorado reduction (if I'm not mistaken). The venison was tender, rare, and mild. The quinoa and mushrooms were well-cooked; the caramelized onions were sweet and savory. I was tired of seared-meat courses by this point, however. On the whole, the venison was okay, but it wasn't worth building up to with all the other courses. Served with a Trocadero Crianza, a Spanish red wine.
The fifth course consisted of four cheeses: a Vella 5-Year Jack, Humboldt Fog (a goat cheese), Rouge Valley Oregon blue, and a Mouco Colorouge. The last one was my favorite. Colorouge is a brie-like, soft, buttery, whole-milk, natural-rind cheese. The cheeses came with various accompaniments, of which the spicy pecans and honeycomb stood out. The entire course was much improved over my first visit, when all the cheeses were served ice-cold instead of at room temperature and two out of the four were blue cheeses. A nutty, unctuous Yalumba museum-reserve antique tawny port was served with the cheeses. I could have downed several glasses under other circumstances. It's lovely.
Wink's desserts, unfortunately, have not improved. I had the lemon-meringue pot that everyone raves about. The meringue was too soft and the filling was too sweet, not tart enough, to my palate. Though I didn't like it last time, I re-tasted a colleague's El Rey chocolate cake. Both sauce and cake still tasted like hot-fudge sauce made of bad cocoa powder. ER is not my favorite baking chocolate. (When will someone in town make a decadent chocolate dessert with a good ganache? When?!?) Someone ordered the crème brûlée and pronounced it more non-rich crème than was desired, without enough brûlée. Another friend had a raspberry-cranberry tart, which may have been a special, and thought the filling tangy and flavorful, though the crust did nothing to recommend itself. The espresso was a misstep.
To be honest, the food at Wink didn't change my life or re-define how I thought about the dishes served. I probably won't be back until the next work-related dinner. Some of the dishes I'd tried on my first visit are still underwhelming (like the scallops and the chocolate cake); other things (like the cheese course) have improved. As 'hounds know from my posts, I prefer tasting menus that don't revolve around dish after dish of seared meat. What's wrong with courses of oysters? fois gras? soup? salad? sorbet? Wink's tasting menu isn't nearly as flawed in this respect as the Driskill Grill's is. At the very least, however, a substitution for the venison would have been a better end to the meal at Wink.
Still, though I left slightly hungry (despite adding on a dessert to the five-course tasting menu) and spent a lot of money, overall I had a basically solid, well-executed meal and a pleasant experience. Thanks, chowhounds, for inspiring me to try Wink again.