Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Odd Duck: First Peek

I have mourned the loss of Odd Duck Farm to Trailer ever since it closed two years ago. It was once one of my favorite examples of how restaurant-quality food could be produced in a teeny, tiny, mobile space. Sure, there was Barley Swine to fill in some of the void (the brick and mortar owned by Odd Duck's chef-owner, Bryce Gilmore), but it just wasn't the same.

So I was excited when Odd Duck itself rose from the ashes (an odd duck rising from the ashes doesn't produce quite the same imagery as a phoenix, but I digress). This incarnation of Odd Duck is, like its swine-y sister, also a brick and mortar. Given our relatively-chilly December, perhaps this is a good thing, as it allowed me to hurry right in to check it out.

The large kitchen is the heart and the centerpiece of this restaurant. I've been loving the open kitchen trend - as long as your party consists of no more than two people, you don't sacrifice conversation by sitting at the bar, but you gain an entire layer of entertainment. Watching the beautifully-orchestrated ballet at Odd Duck entranced me. Nobody in the kitchen seemed to talk. Nobody seemed the slightest bit flustered or in much of a hurry. Yet dish after dish seemed to magically appear from within.

Odd Duck Behind the Scenes
Behind the Scenes

I started with a Moscow Mule, a favorite cocktail of mine. Odd Duck's version has a nice bite, likely owing to the fact that the ginger beer they use is made in-house. My friend's Aunt Polly (Wahaka mezcal, elderflower, and ghost chili (!!)) also had a not-insubstantial kick to it. I enjoyed the fact that our drinks made our taste buds stand up and take notice, as if priming our palates for the meal to come.

Odd Duck Moscow Mule
Moscow Mule

The food got off to a bit of a slow start with the Turnip Salad. Not bad, but not special, either, and the bizarre presentation of this tiny, $8 salad crawling up the side of a metal mixing bowl just didn't do it for me. It looked for all the world like somebody had accidentally knocked the bowl over and then decided to serve it anyway.

Odd Duck Turnip Salad
Turnip Salad

Things started looking up when the Charred Broccoli ($8) arrived. The broccoli is surrounded by this amazing scrambled egg that's so soft and flavorful that it was reminiscent of hollandaise sauce. Shreds of sorrel and thin slices of apple rounded out the dish.

Odd Duck Charred Broccoli
Charred Broccoli

The Chicken Fried Chicken Egg ($9) was up next. Bryce Gilmore unquestionably knows how to cook an amazing egg, but honestly, I felt like the egg's perfection was marred just a smidgen by the thick chicken-fried coating. Creative, fun, and very Texas-y, but just give me that perfect egg, please, and skip the trip through the deep fryer (I will take a dollop of that hot sauce, though!)

Odd Duck Chicken Fried Chicken Egg
Chicken Fried Chicken Egg

Odd Duck Chicken Fried Chicken Egg
Runny yumminess (say that five times fast).

I ordered the kohlrabi soup ($7) solely on the rave recommendation of my friend Kristin over at Mad Betty, whose taste in food I trust immensely. She did not steer me wrong, though I thought the large chunks of very salty bacon were a teeeeeeeny bit ham-fisted (sorry) amongst the other comparatively-delicate flavors of the soup.

Odd Duck Kohlrabi Soup
Kohlrabi Soup

The textures and flavors at play in the Goat Rolled in Pasta ($12) were wonderful; this was definitely one of my favorites of the meal. The lovely mole sauce made this earthy and comforting dish the perfect plate for a chilly winter evening. 

Odd Duck Goat Pasta
Goat Rolled in Pasta

We finished with the sticky toffee pudding ($9), which was served nestled up against a round of St. Maure. I would never have thought to pair these two together, but the gentle stinkiness of the cheese added a note of intrigue to the sweet toffee pudding, veering the dessert away from any cloying tendencies it might otherwise have had. The shavings on top were pickled apple, which helped cut some of the richness of the other ingredients.

Odd Duck Sticky Toffee Pudding
Sticky Toffee Pudding

My first visit to Odd Duck definitely won't be my last; there were many other offerings on the menu that I wanted to try, but for which we unfortunately lacked stomach space. The atmosphere had a pleasant energy; the kitchen show and food were delightful; and service was attentive (maybe a hair too attentive; our waiter insisted on touching our backs every single time he came by, sometimes multiple times in one visit. We interpreted this as friendly, not flirtatious - yet if back-touching had been a drinking game, we would have been sloshed by the time we left). 

I still miss the Odd Duck of days gone by; I think this Odd Duck resembles Barley Swine more than it does Odd Duck Farm to Trailer. But it's a welcome addition to Austin's dining scene, nonetheless.

Odd Duck Restaurant
1201 South Lamar Boulevard
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 433-6521


Monday, December 2, 2013

Hidden Gem: Hanabi

It's a little bit of a crime that I have yet to blog about Hanabi. It's probably the restaurant I visit most frequently; my go-to for a reasonably-priced, relaxed, but always high-quality sushi fix.

I always visit Hanabi with my friend Liz, and we always order the matsu combo: 12 pieces of nigiri and two rolls (a salmon roll and a shrimp tempura roll) for $34.95. We invariably swap out at least one of the nigiri and at least one of the rolls. Never once have they balked or complained, and I don't think they've ever upcharged us for the changes, either, though I feel sure we have many times opted for choices that were more expensive than the ones that were supposed to come with the combo.

The service is about as good as any service I've ever had in a restaurant. Unfailingly accommodating. Attentive without being intrusive. Always pleasant and kind...even when we - and I'm embarrassed to admit that we do this with some frequency - linger past closing time, solving the world's problems over a carafe of hot sake.

And the sushi has always been, over many, many visits, incredibly fresh and generously cut and just plain delicious.

Hanabi Matsu Combo
$34.95 worth of sushi. Kind of ridiculous, isn't it?

Hanabi Matsu Combo 2

Did you see those beautiful little morsels to the right of the boat? That's monkfish liver, one of my favorite things in the universe. If you haven't tried it before, I highly recommend it - it's the paté of the ocean. It's the rare sushi restaurant in Austin that carries monkfish liver, but Hanabi consistently has it in stock.

Monkfish Liver at Hanabi
Tasty, tasty monkfish liver.

One of these days, I'm going to check out Hanabi's omakase. I have it on very good authority that it is outstanding.

So if you need a fix of excellent sushi (and come on, who doesn't?), head on over to Hanabi and discover your new favorite neighborhood sushi joint.

2525 W. Anderson Lane (on the Lamar side of Northcross Mall)
Austin, TX 78757
(512) 407-9000 


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