Just back from the Salty Sow. i used to live in the hood and have been eating at that location for 10 plus years. First the sublime J Mueller BBQ, then the uneven but often delightful Gringos, and then a very bad Italian restaurant, par for the course in Austin, and then the jolly and slightly less bad Red House. I feel bad giving Salty Sow a bad review, because everyone was super-nice, and the food was mostly competent, the renovation pretty in an Uptown Dallas way, but words fail me for how bland and depressing it was. There is now a nice-ish upscale restaurant on the East Side.
Things started off badly. We ordered the duck fried french fries which were ghastly and soggy and as far as I could tell had not been within a mile of any duck fat. The cold Bearnaise was good, but they were not really edible. Everything else was fine. I ordered the duck breast with an orange and cardamon sauce with oil-cured olives and boiled/steamed turnips - perfectly fine but very dull. My DC had the crispy chicken thighs with smashed fried potatoes, the latter, frankly, were the only non-depressing thing I ate. We were not brave enough for dessert. Prices were reasonable, $56 for 2 people including 3 glasses of wine, which were all fine, but none great. The price reflects that they sweetly comped the abysmal fries after I complained.
I am not an old time Austinite. I am not an Austinite at all. I danced a jig when the disgusting Katz's closed. I hope the equally vile Mother's is forced out of business soon. When it burned down, I thought God cares about cooking, but then his attention went elsewhere as it reopened. I love the city's culinary renaissance, but mildly yuppy without the guts even to be pretentious is not the way to go. At Salty Sow, I felt like I was eating at a respectable restaurant in the Airport Marriott in Minneapolis.
I wished that we had turned east earlier to East Side Showroom, which has the worst service ever, but tasty and interesting food, or even Braise, or even the short-lived Graze, or kept driving and turned left to the fabulous Foreign & Domestic or kept on boulevard du frontage till the Texas Land & Cattle which is a trashy but reliable pleasure. Truth to tell, I love excellent food, but prefer bad food to mediocre food, and while "mediocre" definitionally resists superlatives- the meal at Salty Sow tonight was the most mediocre meal of my life.
I suspect it will do well, but boycott it, bomb it, move the abomination to the culinary wasteland of Cedar Park. It is in a lovely spot that deserves way, way better. I wanted to like it, but I really kinda hated it: tasteful in the worst sense of the word and not tasty at all.
FWIW, I have had the duck fat fries on two different occasions and they were crispy both times. Also very delicious with just the 110 minute egg on top. I didn't even need to use the bearnaise. It's a shame they weren't up to snuff when you went. I agree about the smashed potatoes with the chicken neck gravy, they were one of my favorites. I also enjoyed the roasted beet salad with goat cheese and pistachio vinagrette, and I liked the salmon pastrami. To me, the star of the menu is the brussel sprouts which I thought were comparable to Uchiko's fantastic brussel sprouts. These ones are also flash fried and drizzled with a little agave nectar and meyer lemon juice and then tossed with golden raisins and pecorino romano. We ended up getting another order. The weakest dish we had was the chile rubbed tuna. To me that was dull, when I was expecting a flavor punch along with some nice rare ahi tuna, but that wasn't what happened.
Unfortunately, my limited experience at the Salty Sow was the same as the OP - several of the dishes were missteps, but there were a few hits. We didn't actually dine there, but instead had several drinks and a selection of small plates out on the patio, so take that into account when reading my review.
First, the service was outstanding! Friendly, knowledgeable and attentive without being overbearing. Way to go, front of the house!
There are plenty of poultry, fish and beef dishes. Given the name, I was surprised at how small a role pork actually plays on the menu. And the early buzz that this would feature dishes made from "snout to tail" was wrong. No organ meats, nothing more adventurous than pork belly or cheek.
The Turkey Leg entree looked fantastic, and was highly recommended by friends dining at another table.
Of our apps and small dishes:
The oyster boudin fritters were a highlight - fried balls of boudin with a mild chipotle dipping sauce, but could have used a little more oyster.
The roasted beets - a well executed dish, but one you can find all over town.
Crispy Brussel Sprout leaves - nice dish, with the flavor of the greens perfectly balanced by the sweetness of the raisins and the slight tang of the pecorino cheese.
I would get any of the above again.
The duck fat fries - no one at our table felt these were anything special, and the majority sat uneaten after the first few trial bites.
The Giant Lima Beans side and the Collard Greens side were both a little too bland and uninspired. You can get either of these veggies done much better across the street at Hoover's.
The Poached Salmon in a jar was just poorly conceived and was sent back after just a nibble.
The house cocktails were also uneven.
The Salty Sow'r is a whiskey sour made with tamarind - well balanced and delicious, a real winner.
The curly tail or twisted tail or something like that is mescal, blood orange, Serrano peppers and a touch of cilantro. The serranos were too hot for a few at my table, but I was addicted to this drink. Wonderful - I will return to Salty Sow for this drink alone.
There was also a drink made with fruit juice with flowers and blueberries frozen in the ice cube whose name escapes me. Poorly executed, it was too sweet and tasted more like a cheap vodka shot you might find served in a test tube at a sixth street disco.
Another drink with cucumber and herbs was overwhelmed by an over the top presentation. After finishing the drink, the glass was literally a third of the way full of chunks of cucumber and green leaves. We joked that it should have been listed a salad instead of a cocktail.
Bottom line, Salty Sow has promise, but they also have a lot of work to do. I'll give them some time and another chance, but it will be hard not to drive right past them and down the street to Contigo.
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I'm wondering about this line,
" but prefer bad food to mediocre food,"
Is that solely because it makes for a better story?
After hungry's report I was hesitant to try this place on an out of town faculty candidate for UT, but took the leap (since it was a reimbursed business dinner). I was pleasantly surprised. After this visit I'm fan enough to go thru the menu again with excitement. That said, I am disappointed that the restaurant's namesake isn't matched by the menu. Where's the friggin' pork? They had pork steak and pork belly on the menu, I think that's it. I thought we were going to get innovative head to tail preparations? Ah well, that aside, I quite enjoyed my food.
Cheese and charcuterie plate - good soda type bread, warm and buttered. local ingredients included a citrus / herbed divine chèvre, a great blue cheese, very good in house cured smoked / brown sugar salmon, prosciutto, and salami. all good, small portions. better for two than three. I think it was $12
Lamb belly schnitzel - LOVELY. the breading and prep were spot on from my memories of very good german fare out in DC. The meat was melt in your mouth and a good balance meat to fat (I'd say about 70:30). This was a standout and for $8 was a generous split for three men. I'm craving it.
Brussel Sprouts - best in town among standouts at La Condessa and Uchiko. The secret here is they peel them down to individual leaves, season (slightly sweet and savory), and roast.
Cauliflower - some type of gratin, and I make much better at home. forgettable.
Pork blade steak - marinated (maple / soy maybe?) 1/3 inch thick half a plate sized steak, grilled to a perfect and tender / juicy medium. Very good. $16
Bone in petite beef fillet - our guest had this and he loved it. It looked to have a deep red port or wine reduction over it and topped with good looking criminis. He devoured it and remarked it was cooked exactly medium rare and one of the best steaks he's ever had. We didn't taste it. $18.
We didn't do any starches or the "in a jar" offerings, and did overhear the table next to us gushing over the boudin / oyster fritters. They look to be about the size of a chicken egg, two per order, I think around $6. The entrees do not come with a veg, so you need to order a 4$ side if you want some meat pairings. When I return with the lady we'll get two veggies and split them.
Hungry - you must've had a bad night. They were firing all cylinders last Thursday. Very friendly staff, the spiked mohawk sportin' manager came over to greet us and the server said the brussel sprout / pork steak combo was his favorite. I can see why. It did take around 15 min. though to get our two scoops of ice cream for dessert. That's a little nuts. But good conversation and makers mark took right on care of that.
Followup visit: A few misses on Saturday - I know, Bourdain says the best nights to evaluate a kitchen's stones are mid week, not Saturday. The lady's titos / cran cocktail was made with warm cran and was room temp. That started her first impression off poorly. Apparently they were all excited that it was a birthday reservation on the phone - no mention at the table. We loved the beef carpaccio. The boudin fritters were more like fried rice balls with bits of sausage and a single oyster inside. I wasn't blown away, but they were fun. I'd chop up the oyster and sausage and make them a larger presence and throw some herbs at the party. The brussels were again great. The golden raisins make 'em. Pork belly was nicely charred but even for pork belly was too fat for me. 80% fat. Maybe I'm getting away from straight up pork fat as a fad-ish entree as good as a few bites can be. Her crispy chicken thighs were solidly carmelized, flavorful, and moist, but we often cook just as good or better thighs at home. And the smashed potatoes are a bit of a deceptive letdown - pressed golden fingerlings just aren't as fun as good ol' mashed potatoes and gravy. They don't hold enough gravy. I did like the gravy, the lady said it was a touch too neckboney (i disagreed).