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

Katz’s Delicatessen

205 E Houston St. New York, NY 10002(212) 254-2246 katzsdelicatessen.com

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Before this place became famous for Meg Ryan’s jubilant fake orgasm in When Harry Met Sally, people were having real orgasms over their infinitely more famous Pastrami on Rye (pictured), causing an awful lot of people to ask, “I’ll have what she’s having,” years ahead of the screenplay. But as shockingly good as the elephantine sandwiches are at this kosher deli, what many will find even more shocking is that there is nothing kosher about it. Katz’s is Romanian. Not kosher. Granted they do a damn fine job of copy-cat cuisine. So fine, in fact, that they best most of the places that call themselves the real deal. And the fact that Katz’s has been around so long (since 1888), makes its old school vibe all that more authentic, a lot like 2nd Avenue Deli used to be before they lost their lease and had to move. But that’s the charm of the place. I know some people call it touristy, but trust me, this place isn’t dressed like a movie set or some cheesy theme joint. It’s still wearing the same dusty clothes it’s been donning for over a century. And I, for one, love it for all its crustiness and crotchetiness.

Sure there are sexy newcomers hitting the scene like Mile End and Russ and Daughters, but there’s something you have to appreciate about a place that’s been around before friggin’ cars and still packing ’em in! We’re talking Gangs of New York guys were swinging by here after a morning brawl to grab a bite. That’s so fucking cool that you can keep your caviar cream cheese and your chocolate babka french toast, because I want a bite of history, piled high with more meat than any one human being should probably consume in a week, dipped in some spicy-ass deli mustard and served up on a blissful, pillowy rye. Then, wash that down with some corned beef, pickles and matzoh ball soup and I’m good to hibernate until Spring.

5 teeth

 

 

Gato

324 Lafayette St. New York, NY 10012(212) 334-6400gatonyc.com

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Being that he is a millionaire several times over, it’s not like Bobby Flay needs my approval, but after Mesa Grill closed down in New York and Bar Americain should’ve never opened, I thought he lost it. Spread too thin between Throwdown, Iron Chef and Beat Bobby Flay. Well, apparently he found it again. In spades. Gato is purrrfect!

The décor walks that line between cool and casual, inviting and elegant, topped with great energy and phenomenal service. Not a morsel of attitude from host, to bartender to waiter. And very spot on with the recommendations, lining up three Ultimates and not a single miss amongst six plates and two drinks.

So let’s kick it off with the booze and an interesting wintery twist on sangria. Called Sangree, it’s made with Gamay, which is a black wine grape similar to Beaujolais, rye, orgeat (orangeflower water) and nutmeg. The other was a simple ole glass of red, but it was excellent. Ya gotta love it when the by-the-glass selections aren’t a consolation prize.

And while we’re on the subject of love, the roasted octopus with bacon, oregano and tangerine vinaigrette was so delicious I wanted to curl up in its tentacles and declare myself its bitch. But, the scrambled eggs with almond romesco, boucheron cheese and tomato confit toast were equally deft at sweeping me off my feet. So, suffice it to say that things began with an Ultimate love triangle.

Fortunately for me though, things started to taper off a hair from Ultimates-ville, otherwise my head might’ve exploded from bliss overload, like the guy in the movie Scanners. So on the merely fantastic side was the charred beef with blue cheese and broccoli rabe followed by the paella, which was very different from most, due to the absence of seafood, chicken or sausage. But even though it was entirely void of the usual suspects, this vegetarian version still managed to please. Especially as a nice complement next to the charred beef.

Perhaps the greatest reco of the night came next, the walnut brown butter cake, something I would’ve never ordered otherwise, especially with things like the tart tatin in contention (pictured). But I’m so glad I listened (for once), because head-to-head, the walnut easily reigned supreme and would be an ultimate if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever had a walnut cake before, so it seems a bit unfair to crown it from a sampling of one. So TBD on that for now. What isn’t yet to be determined, however, is that Gato is the cat’s meow.

5 teeth