Wink - big disappointment
I guess Wink really shines on the tasting menu, but last night we ate there and almost nothing went right. We were seated immediately for our 7PM reservation....our server brought us an amuse bouche, promised to discuss wines pairings and the menu, and promptly disappeared for twenty minutes. Well, I guess we were the ones who disappeared, because we saw her attending to other tables and walking in and out of the kitchen...but she didn't seem to see us.
I finally flagged down the hostess and asked if we could please have some bread and a glass of wine. Another person came with the wine, and asked if we had any questions about the menu. I asked how the quail breasts were prepared, and she said "grilled." I pushed - "grilled over an open flame?" She hemmed and hawed but ultimately said yes, of course, isn't that what "grill" means?
Our server showed up at the table, gave us the spiel on local sourcing, and without asking if we were ready, said "I'll leave you to toast with your wine" and left again for another 7 minutes. When she returned, I placed the order: share the scallop app, duck for him, quail for me. She offered to bring each plate separately so we could share each one - nice touch. She popped back one more time to tell us that the duck would have a crispy skin and would be cooked to medium rare. We thought that sounded just fine.
Food: amuse bouche of rosewater and strawberry pannacotta, topped with a drizzle of 20 year old balsamic. It was fine, couldn't discern any rose aroma or flavor, so this really seemed like dessert.
Scallops - this dish was a mess. The scallops were overcooked, and so heavily salted that instead of having a beautifully caramelized seared surface, they had a weird heavy, salty crust. They were placed on top of some sauteed greens (can't remember what) & baby leeks, all of which had been cooked with bacon. Salt, salt, salt. The lemon-infused olive oil should have been a light counterpoint to the heaviness, but we found only the most scant droplet.
Quail breasts - well, they were pan-roasted, not grilled, but this was still the best dish of the night. Served on top of a very nice walnut risotto with baby brussels sprouts (hard in the middle) with a good cranberry demiglace. The flavors worked well together, but the quail tasted as if it had been seasoned with the same over-salty rub as the scallops. Flipping the skin off saved this dish.
Duck - the micro-kale was wonderful, the trumpet mushrooms were earthy and nice. The zinfandel vinaigrette was sour but servicable, but the duck itself was atrocious. It too seemed to have been given the exact same salt treatment as the quail and scallops, making the skin, which was indeed very crisp, a lip-wrinkling, unpleasant experience. The meat was raw. I mean duck-sashimi raw.
We hadn't talked to our original server since we placed the order, but I flagged her down to talk about the duck. She got defensive, said "that's how they cook it here," and just started grabbing plates and saying they would re-cook it... we tried to decline, but she wasn't really listening to us....just insisting that that is how she would rectify the situation. I felt like I was in an argument where i couldn't get a word in edgewise...like I was being bullied! I finally said "NO. We don't want anything else." She said "I'll bring out some dessert."
We waited, and waited, and finally I flagged down the hostess again and said "You know, we really don't WANT anything else, just the check please."
The server came out with the check, a little creme brulee (fine, nothing special) and said "we took the duck off the bill since it wasn't to your specifications." MY specifications? I hadn't specified anything - I had agreed to have it cooked medium rare. I'm telling you people - the duck was raw. She was gritting her teeth and said "I hope you come back."
But I don't think we will.
Wow, that sounds awful. Oversalting is a big no-no, and your any waiter behavior like that is pretty much inexcusable at a fine dining establishment. I don't blame you for not wanting to go back.
In Wink's defense, with one *very* recent exception (with a female waiter, I wonder if it is the same one?), I've always had terrific service Wink. I think the two male waiters, in particular, are great -- they are competent, friendly, and knowledgeable about food and wine. I'm starting to worry about Wink - several people have posted about negative experiences. Are they going downhill? Coasting on their reputation? Personally, I hope this is a temporary blip, but it is disturbing.
Saticoy, I'm sorry you had a Wink bummer. A lot of money to spend on a bad experience.
My problem with Wink mirrors yours: it can be the best meal in Austin, but about one out of every five or six visits will be absurdly sub-standard. I can't really recommend the place to out-of-towners due to this.
It makes me wonder. Do they have a regular chef who sometimes isn't there? Is his replacement completely half-assed?
The staff, as well, is erratic. I know several regular servers there who are turbo awesome. They even remember my name when I visit. But from time to time, you get a lame server who is apathetic, bordering on rude.
However, all that being said, I've had some of the most delicious dishes in Austin at Wink. I will no longer order their steaks (too many disappointments, perhaps my standards are too high), but on a good day, many of their other dishes can be downright amazing.
I haven't been to Wink simply because of all the negative reviews I hear. It's a shame when a meal that costs an arm and a leg is terrible. Lucky for them it's not a "pay what you think it's worth" place.
catarata and tom in austin - I know from reading the board that this place can rock, but like hooliganyouth, I can't recommend or patronize a high-end restaurant that can go this wrong...the rare night out is just too precious to play russian roulette!
I'm so sorry to hear about your experience. We had a lot of luck with the tasting menu, but based on other reviews anything BUT the tasting menu can equal to a pretty bad experience. As others said, it's a lot of moola to spent on a place that is so inconsistent.
We've had one bad experience in the last couple of years. This said, if Wink was a MLB professional, Wink would bat a little over .900 year after year.
IN attempting to keep this positive, the primary things I like about Wink:
They allow outside bottles, and the corkage fee is reasonable.
The foie is very good; it is an experience (I add this because with the recent bad press foie has received, globally, many restaurants , nationally, are stearing away from this dish.)
Their use of organic, locally-grown produce/micros (I don't think they should necessarily "feature" or promote it, tableside, but it makes all the difference in the world.)
As a tangential aside, I thoroughly appreciate that most if not all of the staff are educated as high-income earners in other fields, but voluntarily choose FOH/BOH service/production because they truly love food and wine,; this also makes for intelligible, fun and witty banter.
I have a couple of suggestions.
Wink is not Wendy's; a restaurant of Wink's caliber comes with certain expectations and a certain institutional memory. Every restaurant has her off nights, and in the event that they do, communication is key. If one were to write "the two Mark's" with a review/evaluation not unlike the post opening this thread--an open a line of communication--you'll establish a relationship that will foster (in keeping with the metaphor above,) a MLB professional batting 1.000. And even if the experience is truly outstanding, exceeding expectations when you and you alone dine there, you fostered that relationship and earned it.
On the flip side, a "thank you" note every time you have a great experience will foster the same kind of relationship, by different means.
If you try this method, and still have mediocre or well-below average experiences, and insist on continuing to dine at Wink, every time you make a reservation tell them it is a special occasion and that you're driving in from South Dallas.
Anyone can say what they will about egalitarian service and production for everyone, everynight, but communication will ensure that you're not a mere table position, couvert.
In closing, really sorry you spent discretionary income on a poor experience.
Thanks for the positive notes - my review was most decidedly negative, reflecting the experience that I had. First time there, bad experience - with me they are batting zero. Although you obviously have more experience with this restaurant than I, I'm fairly clear on the difference between Wendy's and Wink, and your suggestions seems to place the blame with me for lack of communication. I attempted to communicate with our server to no avail, and I have in fact emailed the two chef owners - haven't heard anything back yet. FYI - I write happy emails too, when I have a delighful experience I want to share with those in charge - I guess that's what you mean by "thank you" notes - which to my mind is something you do when you are a true guest or have received a gift - not when you are paying $25.00 per plate.
I do not insist on dining at Wink ever again, but if I did insist, I most certainly would not tell them it is a special occasion - the obligatory dessert with candle thing is an experience I abhor, and if they require lies to provide decent service and well executed food...that is absurd. I have eaten all over the world in high end restaurants, solid middle-priced, holes in the wall and street carts (and have engaged in intelligible, fun and witty banter at many of them), and do not usually have to fabricate a story to ensure good food and service, whether eating foie gras with sauternes aspic in San Francisco or nieuwe herring at a stall in Amsterdam.
My own experience at Wink has been good about half the time. The duck dishes and the cheese plate have been of variable quality, and the desserts have always seemed to be an afterthought. On the other hand, on a good night, at least half the dishes have been delicious (duck confit, lamb, scallops).
My problem with the MLB metaphor above is that I'm not throwing a speedball by them, trying to make them look like a fool. A better analogy might be to asking them to field without making an error. A fielder with an error in 1 of every 10 games (or the range of 100% to 16% that others have experienced at Wink) would be sent down to the minors pretty soon. The restaurant decides what to put on the menu and when a dish is suitable to come to my table. Each dish is an opportunity to excel. Occasions where none of the dishes are well executed really aren't acceptable. The fact that everyone seems to have had at least one such occasion there moves it, as tom in austin has mentioned, out of the group of restaurants one can recommend to people who are only likely to be able to (or want to) try it once.
I can see how developing a relationship with a restaurant could engender treatement above and beyond the norm. If someone walking in off the street does not get delicious food, though, then that would not be a place a chowhound would want to visit. I have at times had good food (and treatment) at Wink as a non-regular, so I know it's possible, if not predictable.
With hundreds of restaurants still untried, I certainly won't be there frequently. Unfortuntately since any visit is a gamble, that argues against using it for special occasions, too.
I have eaten at Wink once and had a good meal but in my opinion not worth what was charged for it. Perhaps it was an off night. I would highly recommend their wine bar however. I have been there many times and found the owner manning the bar and provides great conversation and recommendations. I would suggest going there on a week night when they are not as busy and just ordering appetizers.
I’ve had one had one good meal at Wink and one very disappointing meal, respectively described in these threads:
Like tom in austin, Knoblauch, and others, I don't recommend Wink to out-of-towners. At those prices, who wants to gamble? A place that's often billed as "the best" restaurant in Austin shouldn't be regularly making the kinds of clumsy mistakes that saticoy describes.
I also heartily agree with saticoy that it isn't the customer’s duty to engage in extended conflict resolution with the kitchen and restaurant staff when a meal is screwed up this badly. The customer’s a victim in a bad dining experience, not an aggressor—If the restaurant in question gets bad word of mouth as a result, that’s their problem. And the idea that one needs a connection or special (fabricated) reason to get consistently good chow totally misses the point. Chowhound.com exists so that regular folk can compare notes on where to get the best chow in town, period. No one should have to earn good chow; however, restaurants have to earn their customers, especially amongst us chowhounds. This is our website of resistance against the overblown hype created by industry PR hacks and, all too often, repeated unquestioningly by local food "critics."
I hate to hear about bad food happening to good people, saticoy, but thanks for sharing the details of your negative experience.
I've had only one meal at Wink, and it was very good. Having said that, I still wouldn't recommend it to out-of-towners because I don't think it is *that* good. Unless said out-of-towner was coming in from a town that has absolutely no restaurants of that ilk, and even then.
But that gets me thinking - based on what I read here, all of the nicer restaurants, the ones where you want to have an upscale kinda meal (for lack of a better description), don't seem to get much consensus on quality either. It's so common that somebody asks our fine board where to go for that "nice high-priced" meal, and yet we can't all wholeheartedly suggest one. Now I understand that chowhound ain't about reaching consensus, everybody has their own opinions & tastes, but still, I get the impression that all of the restaurants in that category tend to be just lukewarm on folks.
Lots of cities have at least one restaurant where most people can say with certainty that you're bound to have a great meal at that pricepoint. Maybe I'm focusing too much on the big cities, but is there a place where most everybody here would vote on with confidence ? Vespaio ? Driskill ? Aquarelle ? Hudson's ? What is it ?
I have been mulling this over - even when you read the SF board, there is rarely unanimity....I see people complaining about the French Laundry or Babbo as much as Austin 'hounds complain about any of the ones you mention. I have some relatives who are slaves to the Michelin guide...they liked Fonda San Miguel on their first visit, but at the end of their second said "Driskill and the 4 Seasons...that's all you got." I think the board consensus centers around Uchi... at least that would be my rec.
Also wanted to mention that I heard back from one of the chef/owners at Wink... a nice email and incentive to try again, and that kind of customer service is appreciated. Can anyone tell me about the wine bar? Is there a separate door? Do they have a separate menu?
I've been thinking about Nab’s question, too. A consensus only seems to have been reached on the quality of the burgers at Casino El Camino and the ‘cue at maybe 5 to 8 joints within an hour's drive of Austin.
Few of the supposedly "best all-around" or “fine dining” restaurants have lived up to my expectations, which are shaped, in part, by having lived and chowhounded in several other major cities in the U.S. and abroad. Even Uchi has its detractors. I still haven't been, since I prefer sashimi to rolls, but I recall that one recent visitor posted that dinner there probably wasn't worth it for those visiting from cities where great sushi is the norm (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/367854 ). Depending on where a poster is from, I would not recommend or only recommend with qualifications restaurants like Wink, Aquarelle, Fonda San Miguel, and all the Italian spots in town.
As Nab points out, consensus is not all that it’s cracked up to be. When I first moved to Austin, almost every poster touted Polvo’s as the best Tex-Mex in town. I immediately tried it out and just hated it. I tried again, with the same results. Other times, as saticoy points out, consensus just reflects some “official” published assessment of our restaurant scene. It’s as though people are afraid to disagree with what has been pronounced from on high. For these reasons, going through the board and just picking the places that get mentioned the most is usually not the best strategy.
By now I “know” a few posters well enough to guess when our tastes and expectations will be similar. So I’ll check out their favorites—which sometimes become new haunts of mine, too. Other times I find spots just by driving around and stopping when something appeals to me.
I like to focus on finding the best versions of specific dishes, rather than “the best” restaurants in Austin. And, of course, I enjoy discussing them here. Civil (ideally) differences of opinion are often quite illuminating.
MPH - I can guarantee you that we didn't have two awesome meals at Polvo's last night because it had been "pronounced from on high." Not sure what that means or what you don't like about it.
I don't like their chips, therefore, I don't eat from the salsa bar. Otherwise, everything that I have had has been good to outstanding with regard to flavor balance and complexity (or even simplicity).
Thanks for your reply. I’m glad you enjoyed your meals at Polvo’s. While I don’t like their chow, I know that many other ‘hounds do.
My comment above was that consensus on what’s best in town is often influenced by what’s published. That’s how conventional wisdom becomes conventional. I don’t mean that this happens every time; but, it can happen. I actually wasn’t talking about Polvo’s when I made this comment; rather, I was referring to “fine dining” restaurants like Wink, Aquarelle, etc.
I used Polvo’s as an example of how consensus is not all that it’s cracked up to be, at least in my experience. By now, other 'hounds have posted about less-than-stellar meals at Polvo's. In the summer of 2005, however, Polvo’s was only getting love on this board. When I tried it, I didn't like it. So, the fact that many ‘hounds agreed that Polvo’s was good didn't help me, personally, find delicious chow. (I did find what I considered great chow by going to places like Abarrotes Mexicanos, which unlike Polvo’s, was only mentioned here a few times.)
As for what I don't like at Polvo’s, I posted a detailed review here: (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/92750 ). I have other posts that touch on the chow that I had on subsequent visits to Polvo's, which should be easy enough to pull up. Because I think there are better options in town, I don't plan to return.
My larger point was that the value of this board lies not in determining what’s popular with the largest number of ‘hounds but in reading the detailed opinions provided, trying new places, and then deciding for oneself what's good and what isn't. Some people love everything; some have different tastes than I do; some never try very many restaurants and always stick with the same few. In time, a chowhound figures out how his or her tastes match up with those of other posters.
Maybe you and I can agree to disagree about the quality of the chow at Polvo's? We’ll always have Don Luis in common. . .
I guess my question sorta stems from, what I perceive as, a lack of any real excitement about these haute-cuisine (I don't even know what that means, but I think it's the right term) restaurants. What first attracted me to this website (many moons ago), was the true excitement that was felt from reading people's tips on various places - upscale or downscale. Folks would write with such hyperbole (hey, I love hyperbole) and emotion about a place that I found myself chomping at the bit to run out to the place before I even finished reading the bloody post. I don't think I've seen any real level of excitement about any of these restaurants here in town. The closest, as you have pointed out saticoy, might be Uchi. Otherwise, an out-of-towner will ask us where to go for that haute-meal, and we say, "Ahh, yeah, <blank> is alright, and it's probably your best bet, but don't expect <blank> or <blank>." Etc.
I'm not terribly concerned about this, since I'm more likely to get manic about carnitas than I am about caviar. It's an interesting discussion for me though.
Btw, not sure if it has been answered for you, but Wink's winebar does indeed have a separate entrance, and it's its own little room in fact. If you're facing the building, to the right is the entrance to the main dining room, and to the left is the winebar.
As a total aside, I've been holding in this guilty thought for a few days now, and I'm reluctant to admit it, but I'm more than a little curious to try Lamberts. Despite all the funky flavourings, I would love it if this could be a regular place in my rotation where I could thump some good brews and enjoy some comforting grub at the bar. I don't know why, but I haven't been able to get it off my mind, so I thought I'd at least get it off my chest here. Thanks for the psychosocial support.
Nab, I'm totally stoked about lots of food around Austin.
For example, right now I'm vibing on Little Thailand, Tony's Southern Comfort, Enoteca/Vespaio, and Uchi. These places rock. Each of these places has at least one dish (often more) that I'm usually craving at any given time.
I would absolutely throw any out-of-towner who isn't a authentic-food-purist at Uchi and count on it to be the best sushi experience they've ever had. (MPH: the rolls are pretty much the worst thing there, fyi. They sometimes have fresh bluefin tuna cheek, which you can order sashimi. This place is awesome!) I've had sushi all over the west coast (including LA and SF), Vegas, and Hawaii. So far, Uchi is the best. Not the freshest fish. Not the most authentic. Just the best.
I'm sort of a food plebe. I don't require authentic cuisine to be happy; just delicious cuisine. I wouldn't be surprised if more elite tastes were constantly disappointed by Austin, since as far as authentic food goes, it doesn't have a lot to offer. To my prole tastes, there are lots of delicious places. Don't get confused that "lots" is the same as "enough", however!
re: tom in austin
Dude, yes you are totally stoked about lots of food 'round here, and I love that.
The praise you have sung for Uchi now and in the past, still echoes in my head. I have tried to stop in there on a couple of occasions, however, the place is so ridiculously slammed that it's just not fitting my mood of having a peaceful meal at the bar where I can focus on their nigiri/sashimi. My intention is to take a full tour of their sushi and I probably wouldn't be able to leave without having a bacon-steakie for dessert. Speaking of bacon-steakie, the other dilemma that arises when I consider going to Uchi is Yimay's sugggestion of going to Mushashino if one is interested in the fish. I just wish Uchi was a little more freakin' accessible, and not always a raging party in there. Perhaps I need to go there mid-week, or go for the senior citizen early-bird special time (ie. 4pm).
Nab, after my first visit to Uchi some time after 7 p.m. and the crowded hour-long wait, I've since returned to dine at the early hour of 5:30 on subsequent visits and have had no problem being seated almost immediately (though don't expect the same during SXSW; last night there was over an hour wait at that particular time). I generally don't care to dine so early, but in the case of special occasion dining (which is most definitely the character of my trips to Uchi), I'm willing to make certain concessions to insure that the meal indeed ends up being memorable.
The earlier hour at Uchi also allows you to avoid the din of conversation that is par-for-the-course at later hours. As a bonus, the hosts are generally fresh and pre-slam so you tend to get far more personal service. And my final selling point on this approach would be that from 5:30-6:30 there are a few specially-priced items from the menu, as well as reduced pricing on some of the sake, which won't make much of a difference if you spend an extended time on your meal (as do I), but may prompt you to try a couple of the regular dishes that you may have otherwise put off in favor of the daily creations.
Let us all know as soon as you have your virgin experience at Uchi. I'm always interested to see if people are as blown away as I was.
Being new to Austin, and not having tried most of the "fine-dining" establishments here, I have to agree with Nab that to an outsider, it would appear that all of the likely candidates for reliable haute-cuisine have too many demerits to be considered "reliable". When I am considering my next dining destination, I am now nervous that I am as likely as not to be on the receiving end of a Saticoy-like dining experience (with a hefty price tag).
All that being said, my two fine-dining experiences thus far (Hudson's, http://www.chowhound.com/topics/365501 and Uchi, http://www.chowhound.com/topics/365427) have been very good ones. Maybe I'm not as picky as other 'Hounders, or maybe I got lucky. I also have to somewhat discount some of the rants on Chowhound as I beleieve there is a certain "ego" that some hounders feel they need to be critical, even when the meal was quite good. Just a sense I get sometimes...
In any case, I will probably avoid Wink at this point, and move on to Driskill, Vespaio etc...Hoipefully Wink will tunr it around, as conceptually it sounds very good.
I can't speak for others, but my goal is not merely "quite good", but rather "delicious". With regard to Wink, they've delivered on a preponderance of dishes about half the times I've been there. When it is good it is delicious, but as I said above, it's a gamble.
It is unusual anywhere, and particularly in Austin, to find deliciousness in every aspect of every meal. Because tastes and priorities vary, I value those posts that point out what is delicious and what didn't measure up (according to the poster's tastes). Such reviews can be useful even to people who have different criteria.
On the broader fine dining front, I've had the most consistently good chow at Jeffrey's and the Backstage Steakhouse. I've had good dishes at Vespaio, the Driskill Grill, and Hudson's on the Bend, but I have yet to have a meal that hit on all cylinders at those places. (My if-I'm-not-near-the-ocean-how-can-the-sushi-be-good bias has kept me out of the local sushi market, and thus Uchi, so I can't comment there.)
On the ego front, I guess I must be right up there, because I'm sometimes even tempted to comment on the posts of other 'hounds rather than just the chow, although I try to keep such urges to a minimum.
saticoy, I'm glad to hear they wrote you back. To answer your question about their wine bar, yes it does have a slightly different menu from the restaurant, but I *think* they will serve you the same items that they have in the restaurant. If you can order it, the one thing on the regular menu that I have always enjoyed is the foie gras. They manage to sear it perfectly and always pair it with interesting items (I've never had it the same way twice). It's wonderful.
The wine bar itself is very small and is full of loud trendy people (more so than the restaurant). It also makes me feel sort of claustrophobic.
If you're brave enough to try again, let us know how it goes.
My experiences with Wink have been mostly positive, but I have found that ordering from the salad and appetizer portions of the menu and sharing amongst a group leads to higher satisfaction dining experience. The only less than fantastic dishes I have ordered have been entree's that have been very good, but not deserving of the price point.
A few comments:
**Wink: the wine bar is separate and has an entirely different (and much cheaper) menu, but they'll let you order off the main restaurant menu if you'd prefer. Also, I'm pretty sure they still have half-price appetizers from 5-7pm weekdays, as does the relatively nearby Jeffrey's. I can forgive the occasional mishap for that kind of bargain. And FWIW, I've experienced fewer "off nights" at Wink than I have at, say, Hudson's.
**Polvo's: I eat there more often than anywhere else, since it's two blocks from my house, but it's my understanding that they buy chips in bulk from El Galindo, as do many other places in town. Btw I'm curious if anyone else here has heard the rumor that their (seriously potent) margaritas are made with Everclear instead of tequila.
**Uchi: my favorite Austin restaurant, but sushi on par with the best of the West and East Coasts? I'm afraid not. Btw I don't get why people go in to places like Uchi and Vespaio and come back complaining about the wait, as if it was a surprise of some sort. Can't you just going taking the inevitable wait as a given and plan on having some pre-dinner sake or wine?
Kirker, regarding your final comment about the wait -- if I'm going to Uchi with a date or a group of friends, then sure, I wouldn't mind kickin around over drinks for an hour or even two. But I often dine at sushi restaurants solo, at the bar, and find this to be a very peaceful & enjoyable way to enjoy the food. This is hard to do at Uchi, although I must also say that I haven't gone on a schoolnight (ie. Mon-Wed).
Also, on one attempt that I made to go to Uchi, I peeped my head in and couldn't even find a bloody place for a group of 2 to have pre-dinner drinks. It was slammed with a capital S.
I've come to terms with the fact that even if I am able to get in there, which sounds like will have to be real early, I'm not going to have a quiet peaceful meal. It's going to be me eating sushi at the sushi bar, in the midst of a full-on raging party.
I went to wink a last week, the food was good, very small portions and way over priced, but we did enjoy everything until the end of the meal when the server brought the check, he had hand written that there was a minimum gratuity of 18% and put the exact dollar amount, there where 5 of us, after we gave him the credit card he returned to us 2 receipts one to keep and one to sign they both had the dollar amount of the tip written out to the side.....
Maybe not the best topic to choose for my first post to this forum, but I cannot resist.
This thread reads like just about every discussion of Wink that I have ever participated in. The great mystery to me is why this place gets a pass so often.
My last visit to Wink (in both senses of the term "last") was a special dinner with several good friends and some thrilling wines that one only opens for special occasions such as ours for the evening.
Two courses were excellent- but certainly not at the level of Mirabelle or Chez Nous at their best. Two were okay, and two were atrocious- major "Cooking 101" mistakes.
Service was indifferent- with a waiter removing dishes that had barely been touched and not seeming to care to know why noone was eating it.
I have thought long and hard and I think Wink gets a pass because of the atmosphere of the place. The packaging is very attractive and very appealing- I certainly feel its allure.
But there is no substance there- just the occasional excellent dish that feeds the desire of many to "want" to come back.
Wink has its fans, but I do not know any truly serious wine and food enthusiasts who consider it a great restaurant. And everyone I have ever met who likes it will quickly concede it has shortcomings that make me wonder why they would ever want to go back.
To address what someone said above about Wink "not being Wendy's"- that is a tempting trap to fall in to. But given the very small size of the restaurant and the small size of the staff, that is all the MORE reason there should be a far greater consistency of quality.
There is a long list of inexpensive to moderately priced restaurants in Austin that serve quite excellent and consistent food. Consistency is a basic necessity for any restaurant to be taken seriously. Wink does a nice job of selling a romantic vision that you never know when your next visit will be the "great one"- but that is just covering up for failing to meet a basic expectation of any restaurant in any price range.
Since you brought up Mirabelle and Chez Nous, I was wondering if you'd be willing to tell me what you like so much about those places? I'm a huge fan of Chez Nous -- an irrational fan, some might say -- and I think Mirabelle is pretty good. That being said, Wink's best dishes on Wink's best nights are (in my opinion) superior to either establishment's best fare. I won't argue that Wink isn't erratic; it is.
What were the dishes you had at Wink? Can you describe them? Be as verbose as you like! Chowhounds thrive on this sort of detail. Heck, it also helps me eat vicariously through all my fellow 'hounds!
re: tom in austin
At Wink, the two failures were as follows,
1. Potato leek soup with a "dollop" of duck fat. Came out cold and the duck fat was in an excessive amount. Plus the soup was loaded with course ground black pepper (white pepper in a tiny amount works best here.) I make a pretty good vichyssoise myself, and I far prefer that soup well-made to this new concept- but even so, this was an oversaturation of flavors. Chez Nous does this same thing and they pull it off because the base soup is subtley prepared and seasoned. The duck fat should be a minor element and it should not carry the dish. To have it be so dominant to cover what was an otherwise bland soup is the same sort of approach I expect from Macaroni Grill or any other low-grade chain restaurant.
Interestingly enough, we were eating in the wine bar and the waiter did not want to serve us the soup because he said it would get too cold on the 20 extra feet walk from the kitchen! He was right, but the reality is that when you serve a dish that is almost 50% pure animal fat- you better just serve it under an open flame because even the time it takes to eat it will leave it cooling and greasy in the bowl. Are you disgusted yet? I sure was just looking at that soup.
2. What was advertised as a NY Strip turned out to be about a 4 ounce piece of medium grade sirloin. I asked for rare and it came to the table well-done. No joke- there was no red in it at all! I have never had a piece of meat that badly deviant from the order, and it was dropped on the table and later retrieved barely eaten without a whisper. I had to let it go because I was with a lot of friends and it was not the time or place to raise a stink.
It is not possible to be an irrational fan of Chez Nous. When I was at UT in the late 1990s, I ate there almost every Friday for 2 years- a group of us met to do wine lunches. When I moved back to Houston to start work, I would visit Austin just to eat at Chez Nous. And since moving back in 2004, I go every chance I can (which is less often than I like.)
The beauty of Chez Nous for me is the simplicity of the food. Brilliant ingredients and a simple preparation. But with that simplicity comes the most challenging form of transparency- miss one step and the dish fails. But the dish never fails at Chez Nous. And the food always works for any occasion- be it lunch with a glass of water or dinner with a couple of bottles of great burgundy. Most of my best bottles of wine have been opened over a 2 hour lunch at Chez Nous with 2-3 other people. There is no better way to open your best.
As for Mirabelle, I think that is the best restaurant in the state right now and only Tony's in Houston back in its glory days of the 1980s could ever compare- though Tony's did far more complex and exotic dishes while Mirabelle's menu is more standard by comparison. Ordering off the menu at Mirabelle however is realiably outstanding, and if you ever do a custom menu there planned in advance- the food will blow your mind.
What I like about Mirabelle is I can go in there with a list of wines I plan to bring to a tasting dinner and just tell them to "go with it". Every time, the food is well matched to the occasion- even with the most impossible or esoteric of lists.
When it comes to wine-food pairing, I think Mirabelle is without equal.
I'm with you on the steak (they just don't do a good job with steak at Wink) and the soup sounds like a wartime atrocity. Thanks for the vivid descriptions.
I also agree with your opinions on Chez Nous. Always very satisfying.
In your opinion, is Mirabelle that much better than Castle Hill? I also like Castle Hill, I'm just saying that I wouldn't call it the best restaurant in the state, the city, or even a mile radius.
Have you tried Le Reve in San Antonio?
re: tom in austin
I have only been to Castle Hill a couple of times and it is a great place. I think Mirabelle just took a step further really. But to be fair I have never had a custom menu at Castle Hill- so I have not been able to make that comparison.
"Best in the state" is certainly a subjective term, and I should note that in making that assertion I am not only thinking about the food but the incredible knowledge in that place about the interaction of food and wine- and how to prepare a proper menu for a given wine dinner. They have a gift for that which I have not experienced elsewhere.
One other thing I really like about Mirabelle is that you just can just drop by for a casual and inexpensive lunch and have a salad or sandwich like you would anywhere else- but at Mirabelle it will just be better in so many little ways, be it their dressings or the little dumplings or empanadas that come with. And for less than $10 on most dishes at that- same as you would pay to have lunch at a chain restaurant.
Have not tried Le Reve- San Antonio is one city I do not visit very often. No reason for that other than I do not have family there, just a few friends- and they all want to come party in Austin when we visit together :)
Elpaniaro, with all due respect, are you kidding me?? Or, how's your cousin Michael Vilim at Mirabelle?
I do agree that Michael has and continues to be one of Austin's best wine advocates and does have a super fair priced and interesting wine list. I do agree that Mirabelle executes well with a fairly broad based menu and offers large portion sizes. But "the best in Texas"?? Oh my !! Fried Brie certainly has its place but I think by default eliminates any top restaurant in Texas discussion. Humongo salad entrees with double digit lists of ingrediants clearly appeal to the masses (i.e., aren't they pretty darned close to Castle Hill salads) (yes I know Michael's ex owns and runs C.H.).
Anyway, again, Mirabelle does a lot of things very well but I couldn't disagree stronger about the best in Texas award.
I do admit to being a huge Wink fan. I think the talent in that miniscule sized kitchen is huge, the passion for purveyors and food is huge, and the front of the house is the best and most knowledgable in Austin.
I think just to name 3 others in Texas that are doing amazing things with food; Le Reve in San Antonio is fantastic; Uchi in our fair city has totally created a new category of what a Japanese restaurant can be; and York Street in Dallas should be on every foodie's list to try.
I am not Michael Vilim's cousin- I just happen to be a fan of the restaurant.
And I think my posts made it clear that my ranking of Mirabelle at tops in the state has to do with the custom menus they create to match wine dinners- of which I have attended or hosted a great number since moving back to Austin.
If you admit to being a "huge Wink fan", that says a lot about you- and puts you in the extreme minority when it comes to the people in this town I would call serious about food and wine.
And FWIW- I happen to like the fried brie at Mirabelle. It is not exactly an original dish, but they do a good job with it. Not every night has to be about DRC or Lafite with the latest cutting edge dish out there. Most of the time just plain awesome and reliable food is all that is required.
And to automatically eliminate a restaurant from being considered best over one dish is just silly. I need not even comment on that.
And if you honestly intend to claim that Wink provides reliable food, then I will just have to laugh.
As for Uchi- not bad I will admit. But still far below the sushi I can get in Banff, Lima or Caracas. Mirabelle is not that far below its peers in major food cities and custom menus do compete with the best.
To say Uchi is creating a new category of what a Japanese restaurant can be in Austin is like, to borrow the words of Emerson Charles Winchester of M.A.S.H., talking about the greatest ballerina in Galveston.
Y'all need to relax and get over to El Zunzal....order the Guacamole[estillo Mexicano or Salvadorena if you like boiled eggs in your Guac...it's good]Grab a quart of Regia,a couple Pupusa Queso,some carnitas and eat some serious FOOD.They don't worry about wine pairings or serving some micro portion this and that.It's about the food after all.Right?
Whoa - Uchi, IMHO, is pretty special. It transcends just plain sushi, and to me is just about the only destination restaurant in Austin. I think the sushi there is on a par with what I have grew up with in SF, and what I have had in LA, and various places throughout Japan. I never necessarily thought of Banff as a sushi destination, but if Uchi's sushi is FAR below it, I will look into a sushi themed trip to the Canadian Rockies! Uchi is unique, Japanese at its core, and I think to say Tyson Cole is creating a new category of Japanese restaurant is accurate.
But Wink....feh. I went back to the wine bar and had another terrible experience that I'm too defeated to even go into. Never again.
The bias you display about Uchi is common, and in my opinion it is unjustified. I'll have to admit off the bat that I've never had sushi in Banff, Lima, or Caracas, and thus yield that all three may be superior. I've also never been to Japan, London, Salt Lake City*, nor have I been to any sushi restaurant east of the Mississippi.
And while I don't think "sushi dining pedigree" is important, I find myself always having to whip mine out when responding to biased sushi diners (since they invariably start with "Uchi is great for Austin, but can't compare to [insert city or region here]). I have had sushi on multiple islands of Hawaii, as well as in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Oakland, up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, Los Angeles and surronding environs, Las Vegas, Denver, St. Louis, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. In many cities, I've dined in the places that the chowacracy (local, abroad, or both) would deign to be best in town or region -- sometimes even the world, if such a choice was available. I've also been to the unsung and unheralded, the mediocre and bad, the fusion/neo and the traditional. Simply put, I like sushi and I eat it where I live and when I travel.
Uchi is superior to every single one of these restaurants. Not in fish quality (which is absolutely great, but not the best I've had), but in skilled design and preparation. If your thing is traditional or authentic, it will not do it for you. But as far as fusion and next-wave sushi go, it is so far without a peer. At least as far as I can tell.
In my opinion, those who snipe at Uchi by claiming it is (as you very eloquently and humorously put it) "the greatest ballerina in Galveston", demonstrate a prejudice who's motivation I cannot quite put my finger on.
re: tom in austin
Again, no true offense with your love of Mirabelle. Again, I admire very much Michael's restaurant and his interesting and more than fairly priced wine list. I'll have to check out the special wine/food dinners. And, I've dined there a number of times and enjoy it but it just never has done anything for me to even remotely start talking about it "not being that far below its peers in major food cities". Again, no disrespect, we're gonna just have to agree to disagree on this one as I can't go there with you on this one at all. Clearly you travel, as do I. Oh well.
My comment regarding Uchi was not meant to compare it to Japanese restaurants around the world, but rather, in the context of your "Best Restaurants in Texas". I've been to Tojo's in Vancouver and sitting at the sushi bar and letting Chef Tojo simply bring out dish after dish is a meal I will never forget. However, I think Uchi is spectacular and has created a new dining experience in Japanese (ok maybe Japanese fusion) in Austin and in Texas which ties into my earlier post in response to yours. Uchi and Tyson also have and continue to receive positive press nationally. I think its because of the food. You're certainly free to believe they have a great publicist.
As for Wink - clearly I admit there are those that don't share my opinion. But there are a lot of folks that do. Here's an idea, let's create a "foodie quiz" and arbitrarily pass it out one Wed night and one Sat night at both Wink and Mirabelle to 10 different tables and see who wins! My bias is almost always tilted toward chef owned restaurants which are smaller in size where the food from purveyor to table is truly thoughtful and honest. I don't necessarily need cutting edge (although I will say a meal at Charlie Trotter's back in the early 90's was unlike anything experienced since; and a meal at WD-50 in NY about 4 yrs ago as much fun in dining as one could have with the combinations, plating and flavors.
I'm also not one to let a chef rest on their past laurels. One of the finest meals I've had in Austin over the past 27 years was at Emilia's a month BEFORE Will Packwood was chosen by F&W as a best new chef. However, I couldn't have been more disappointed in "7" and I desperately want to like/love Cibo but after 3 visits now I'd still pick Vespaio hands down.
And Scrumptious Chef: Totally agree you don't need a 3 hour meal every night to dine right. Head over to Sam's BBQ and get a sliced brisket sandwhich and you know what I'm talking about. Or, head down S. 1st to Torchy's Taco's for a green chili pork taco that's a wonder.
Finally, I like Fried Brie as much as the next guy also. Elpaninaro: To quote the great Ty Webb, "A flute without holes is not a flute. A donut without a hole is a Danish."
Quote from boshtx "My comment regarding Uchi was not meant to compare it to Japanese restaurants around the world, but rather, in the context of your "Best Restaurants in Texas"."
This is where my objection lay- in what I saw as an incorrect analogy comparing Uchi to best in class worldwide versus comparing Mirabelle.
Uchi is certainly a place I have enjoyed very much the couple of times I have been there.
And to go down the path we have is tricky since really we are arguing about Porsche versus Ferrari in a sense- and I fear my comments are not expressing the fact that I think we are talking about nuances within a list that is already cream of the crop.
I am merely contending that for that very precise art of matching wines with incredible food, Mirabelle is off the charts when it comes to a custom menu. I have never in my life found a place that could do this for me so consistently- and with such a wide array of wines, many of them eclectic and off the wall.
Uchi is doing great things, but I have just not yet seen that extra dimension I get from Mirabelle. But again, this is like comparing a test score of 96 with a test score of 99- both are incredibly good scores, and there is always room for personal taste, evolution and on/off nights.
As for food in general- there is a time and place for everything. I love Korea House, I like Taco Shack (bean, potato, cheese and guacamole breakfast tacos- yum!) and all other kinds of things. I eat at Free-Bird's once a week.
So I will just tone it down for now. The Wink saga was, as I predicted in my first post, not the best way for me to get started here...
So, this is the skeletal truth.
I arranged for the most phenomenal dining experience, that I was led to believe could be had in Austin, with Wink, even despited my own reservations with the name of the restaurant and the locale's suspect scene. I took this on as a culinary exploration with someone dear to me from a place with a smorgasbord of options. This was sadly the only mistake i made for this visit.
I must be fair. The host/hostess always can define the way I experience an evening with an establishment, and she did a fine job. More than fine, she almost forgave everything that transpired afterward with her attitude and posture. She was phenomenal, and should be a further defining factor in the way that anyone's interaction could be had with the establishment.
The waitress was more than late, she was humorless and jaded. She treated us as if we were cheap and uncultured, which struck me as odd on multiple intervals.