Restaurant Review: Qui (Austin, TX)

Chef Paul Qui won Top Chef season 9 and displayed a lot of creativity and generated a ton of praise from the judges.  He was previously chef at Uchiko in Austin, having worked with Chef Tyson Cole.  In June 2013 he opened his eponymous restaurant Qui, an alien spaceship of fine dining among the dive bars, beer gardens, live music clubs, and food trucks along E. 6th street in East Austin.

Qui does not take reservations, so I had about an hour wait on a Saturday evening for a seat overlooking Qui’s open kitchen.  There is a nice bar and outside seating area to wait, and one can also wander around the eclectic 6th street neighborhood.

The meal starts with an amuse consisting of a cheese foam on a nori cracker.  Food photographers take note: the cheese foam loses body quickly, so be ready.  Also, bring a fast lens or do some stacking, because the lighting is dim in this restaurant.

The Marcona Almond Gazpacho with Foie Gras was truly extraordinary, seriously may be the best thing I ever ate.  I have had foie a few times, and when it is served in large pieces I find it just a bit too much.  Here, they shaved slices of foie over the chilled soup, and the resulting thin shavings melt and combine with the gazpacho into a luxurious creaminess that was incredible.  There was crunch and flavor of the Marcona almonds, and sweetness from a few cubes of cherry gelee.  A really amazing dish.

I also had the chawanmushi, one of Chef Qui’s winning dishes from Top Chef.  This evening it was made with ham broth (instead of traditional dashi broth), and served with pieces of country ham, a seared filet of bass, seared hash brown, salsa verde, and topped with caviar.  There is a lot going on here texturally and flavor-wise, and it really works well together.

In the main course portion of the menu there is a Salt and Time section featuring butcher’s cuts for the day.  I had a pork sopreto, a pork steak served with mashed potatoes and house kimchi.  This was the only misfire of the day for me.  I didn’t finish, wanting to leave room for dessert.  The waiter noticed this and actually comped the dish, which was very generous.

The “Qui” Lime Pie is an avocado mouse, topped with key lime ice cream and sweet meringue, all on a crunch base.  This dessert was a real winner, with a great combination of flavors and textures.  The Cheddar Cheese Ice Cream Sandwich had cheese ice cream sandwiched by thin waffles, with shaved cheddar on top.  This was good and interesting,  but I favored the Qui Lime Pie among the two.

Chef Qui was there in the kitchen, mentoring his staff and working the line.  Qui is an ambitious endeavor and in my opinion quite impressive in the adventurousness and deliciousness of the menu, the great attention to detail, professionalism of the staff, design of the restaurant, and overall experience.  Highly recommended.

Link to Qui Restaurant website here.

Qui on Urbanspoon

East Side King Food Truck (Austin, TX)

Chef Paul Qui won Top Chef Season 9, producing really creative, visually appealing food.  However, the problem with all of these television food shows is that the viewer can’t taste the food!  Thus, my trek to Austin, TX.  Chef Qui was previously chef at Uchiko, an acclaimed Japanese restaurant in Austin, and in 2013 opened his own fine dining restaurant, Qui.  Before opening Qui, he also founded, along with Moto Utsonomiya, the East Side King food trucks, which has several locations in Austin.  After a late night arrival in Austin, I went straight to the ESK at the back of the Liberty Bar, located in a hip part of Austin on E. 6th St. and near Qui.  The relaxed beer garden at the Liberty Bar epitomized the really chill atmosphere in Austin.  Lots of hipsters, but they were friendly, enjoying good food and beer.  The menu has Asian influences with a few twists and is quite satisfying as a late night snack.

Thai Chicken Karaage – Deep-fried chicken thigh, sweet-spicy sauce, fresh basil, cilantro, mint, onion, jalapeño.  Delicious.  Link to recipe here.

Liberty Rice – Steamed jasmine rice, ginger, garlic oil, basil, cilantro, mint, onion, jalapeño

Poor Qui’s Buns – Roasted pork belly in steamed buns, hoisin sauce, cucumber kimchi, green onion.  Delicious, especially with the combination of tender roast pork and a slice of crackling skin.

Link to East Side King website here.

Coming soon: a visit to Qui as well as a couple of Austin’s (and the world’s?) top barbecue spots.

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