Emmer & Rye

51 Rainey St. Austin, TX 78701(512) 366-5530 • Emmerandrye.com Emmer-and-Rye-2015-Austin-restaurant-grain-salad_142903

Born from a French Laundry graduate and found on many a Best of Austin list, Emmer and Rye makes you earn your experience before you even arrive, proving to be quite the trek from the heart of town, located on the far fringe of the booze district, which makes it especially fun to walk to, passing a Mardi Gras-esque scene to get to your grub. But as off-putting as the journey is getting there, the setting is really quite lovely. Somewhere between chic and quaint, the décor nails it with rustic details like an herb garden out front, mixed with more contemporary elements like clean white subway tiles contrasted against oiled bronze hardware.

As for service, I’d like to say that it was great, because they were definitely friendly and accommodating, but when it came to their recommendations they seemed a bit out of touch. Also, while the dim sum cart concept starts off charming, it quickly turns extremely annoying because they are constantly interrupting you every two minutes, making it impossible to carry a conversation. Someone needs a rethink methinks.

Worse still, the intrusive dim sum went a miserable 1 for 4, the worst dish being the lamb tartar with green cherry tomatoes and charred fennel oil. It sounds as good as it looked with it’s beautiful crescent-shaped presentation, but texturally it was very chewy and it didn’t boast the kind of flavor one would hope. For more impressive raw flesh, try the Bison tartar at Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. It rocks the wool off of Emmer & Rye’s. Then there were two completely unmemorable dishes in the middle and thankfully one resounding winner, which was not only the best dim sum of the night, but the best dish of the night. A green strawberry soup served in a meyer lemon sabayon. It might just be an ultimate for strawberry-kind.

As for things ordered off of the menu, I’ll work from high to low with the peak being the red fife spaghetti ‘Cacio E Pepe,’ made with Challerhocker cheese and chicory. Aptly referred to as an “adult mac & cheese,” it lives up to the description quite handily and deliciously.

After that I’d go with the soft polenta adorned with fermented mushrooms, fresh shiitake and mint marigold spuma (Italian soda). It’s definitely good, but I’m not sure if soft polenta is even capable of being bad.

I felt similarly about the burrata toast with straciatella, kale, mustard frill and black butter. A convoluted, self-indulgent chef’s (Kevin Fink) attempt to make something unique out of a dish that would’ve been every bit as good, if not better, had he just kept it simple.

So after a myriad of mediocrity I decided to skip dessert in favor of one last spoonful from the bowl of green strawberry soup. So good.

2 teeth

The Ultimate Croque Madame

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While the struggle for women’s equality has been slow going on the whole, I would like to point out two areas where things appear to be going quite swimmingly: chess and sandwiches.

Starting with chess, the Queen is hands down the best piece on the board. She can go wherever she wants, as far as she wants. And she’s worth nearly twice as many points as any other piece in the game. Whereas the king can only move one space in any direction, but only if that doesn’t put him in check. Lame.

So too is the croque monsieur when compared to a croquet madame. I mean sure, I love a ham and cheese as much as the next guy, but throw a fried egg on top and it’s like an edible ace of spades. But now that we know who wins in a head-to-head amongst croques, it begs the question, who wins amongst the madames? Or more ironically stated, who is the king of the madames?

 Craftbar – New York, NY

Sacrébleu! You need to stop whatever you are doing right now and roll your bones on over to Craftbar for this one. Yes, Tom Colicchio is the man behind the lady, serving up the most flawless madame since… I’m painting myself into a corner on this one, aren’t I? If I say my wife half of you will say “aww” and the other half will roll your eyes, my wife included. If I say Bo Derek, playing off the “10” thing, then I need to qualify that I am doing so only as a pop culture reference, because in terms of substance she was far from perfect. I could go Jolie or Elle McPherson who seem to have beauty and substance, but I am so far off topic right now it’s not even funny, so back to it.

What makes this croque rock is a perfect balance of textures. Too often I find inferior croques allow the oils from the gruyere and the ham to turn the bread to mush and there are few things in this world worse than a soggy croque. But due to the skillet cooking/serving vessel, Craft Bar manages to keep the bread nice and crunchy, so when you bite into it, those caramelized chunks of grilled bread break away, letting through a wave of gooey goodness from the egg yolk and the cheese. And just when you think you’ve hit cloud nine, apparently there’s a cloud ten, carrying with it the sweet, magical saltiness of the ham. It’s an absolute clinic on the values of simplicity and great ingredients. It’s also easily one of the best 10 sandwiches in New York City.