The world will soon get a taste of what happens when two of Texas’ best chefs combine their talents and minds.
Hai Hospitality’s Loro, a collaborative effort between Uchi co-founder chef Tyson Cole and Aaron Franklin will open to the public on April 4, and we have the first look at the menu from the Japanese smokehouse from the two James Beard Award winners.
The casual restaurant located at 2115 South Lamar Blvd. will feature a menu divided into snacks, starters, sandwiches, rice bowls, plates and sides, with smoked and grilled dishes heightened by Asian flavor profiles serving as a major centerpiece. The restaurant will open daily at 11 a.m., closing at 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. (See the full menu below.)
“The complex flavors of Southeast Asian food, ranging from the acidity in citrus, to heat from a variety of spices, to all the clean fresh flavors of the herbs, create a balance that is the perfect counterpoint to the richness of smoked meat,” Cole said.
The snacks and starters have a variety of Asian influences, including togarashi-dusted kettle corn served with brisket burnt ends, oak-grill snap peas with kimchi emulsion and siracha powder, a Vietnamese kale salad with yuzu vinaigrette, and chicken karrage with sweet Thai chili gastrique and Szechuan peppercorns.
People likely will be the most excited about the hallmark dish of the collaboration between Franklin and Cole, the smoked beef brisket. The beef is marinated in Vietnamese nuoc mam and Thai chili gastrique and finished with herbs and chili oil. It will be served only at dinner, though the brisket finds its way to a sandwich with papaya salad, Thai herbs and jalapeno aioli served at lunch.
“That dish is probably one of the most literal combinations of our styles,” Franklin said.
Other entrees include Malaysian chicken bo ssam served with lettuce wraps and curry dipping sauce, Thai green curry sausage (also available on a sandwich), char siu pork shoulder, oak-smoked salmon and smoked turkey breast (a Franklin secret weapon) served with apricot gastrique.
“Aaron rubs it with black pepper and we use Korean chilies,” Cole said. “It adds a colorful component to it but it also – Korean chilies have this great, kinda smoky quality. They’re not very spicy but they have like a little hint of spice and a lot of savory character.”
Coconut rice bowls with proteins like crispy Szechuan tofu and grilled Malaysian chicken, along with an assortment of sides such as Texas sweet corn with miso beurre blanc finished with shiso and edamame round out the menu from the kitchen will be helmed by chef de cuisine James Dumapit, an Uchi alumnus and one of the founding chefs of Old Thousand.
The restaurant, full of natural light, patio seating and open space, was designed by Michael Hsu Office of Architecture in collaboration with interior designer Craig Stanghetta of Ste. Marie Design and inspired by the historic dance halls of the Texas Hill Country. That casual feel is complemented by counter-service and table delivery. To-Go service will be available and encouraged, with a separate pick up area at the bar.
The truck donated profits to Comfort Cafe in Smithville, which supports the Serenity Star recovery center. My Name is Joe raised over $50,000 in 2017 and sent 100 percent of that to Serenity Star to fund the completion of their Women’s Center and their Family Center, according to Speer.
“We are happy to continue to work with Serenity Star and Comfort Cafe, not only with fundraising but with job placement as well,” Speer said. “With My Name is Joe, we have been able to employ several people in recovery and move them on to restaurants such as Holy Roller, Juniper, Bonhomie, etc.”
While the truck has shuttered for now, Speer, who got sober in 2014 and has since raised awareness also by running marathons and rappelling down buildings with chefs, says the work helping those in recovery continues.
“For us, this is our focus right now, being as impactful as we can be. Joe is absolutely still alive, we are just refocusing our efforts right now!”
One of the great relics of the Austin barbecue scene will live on. When Pat Mares announced last month she was closing Ruby’s BBQ, which she and her husband opened in 1988, people worried about the future of the brick pits that had been used to smoke meat for decades. Enter chef Demmerick Johnson.
One of the best hidden gems in the greater Austin metropolitan area apparently closed over the weekend. The Hollow, the amorphous farm-to-table bistro from chef Jacob Hilbert, ended its three year-run. The end of the restaurant, which I reviewed positively in 2016, was fittingly accompanied by a passionate, lengthy letter from the chef, one full of energy and romance and devoid of many grammatical strictures. I say “apparently closed” because a Facebook post makes it seem like the closure is not definite, and I say “fittingly” because in recent years, I (and l presume others in media) received several similar impassioned letters from the chef who opened the Georgetown restaurant with his wife, mother-in-law and father-in-law in 2013. Also, fittingly, the very long letter buried the lede: Hilbert says he has plans to open a farmhouse restaurant on the Jester King Brewery property with the brewery owners. But more on that in a minute.
The letters from Hilbert over the past few years would sometimes explain a temporary closure or a wholesale menu change. They could be filled with abstruse ramblings or poignant vulnerability, but at their heart they showed the soul of a creative person struggling to come to terms with his gift and his place in the world (and specifically his place in Georgetown).
The letter that came last week detailed Hilbert’s formative years as a promising baseball prospect and the heartbreak that came with a career-ending injury, along with the manner and style in which he aborted graduate school, leaving behind the pursuit of a career as a therapist to follow his love for food. Like good food memoirs, the letter waxes rhapsodically, with the eventual chef describing his departure from academia thusly: “I became drunk in vats of menudo and posole, my thoughts were irrational, my studies lost in the steam of simmering pots, and I quit.”
Of his pursuit of culinary bliss, Hilbert writes sweetly about his late mother, ominously about his life-threatening drug problems of the past, achingly about Little League baseball and wistfully about Allen Ginsberg. He saved his most heartfelt words for his wife, Lynda.
“Lynda believed in me when she should not have, she loved me when I did not deserve it. She did not give up. She did not give up through lies, infidelity, grotesque dedication to my lost craft, absent fatherhood, narcissistic rants. I took her to hell, and she stood among the perils of tectonic consequence. I did not ask her to be stoic, but she was, and I am now just a slight reward for her suffering, the miracle being that I may just be enough for her, as I am, without dazzling plates or articles extrapolating my character, without my be anything to anyone other than her. She is a hand that reaches out in the breathing light of day.”
But, then, this …
“When I first met with Jeffrey & Michael from Jester King there had been much talking prior, however the question or the statement had not been made. I said ‘I know this is crazy, but I want to make one of the best restaurants in the world.’ Without so much as a hesitation and in harmony the response was, ‘we want that too.’
“So this letter begins a story, a story that asks a question. How do you build one of the greatest restaurants in the world? I suppose we’ll find out together.
“This year the farmhouse will open, a more casual accessible restaurant built on the cuisine of nomads and ancient peoples, there will be fire and spit roasting and vegetables cooked in mud. We will muddle sauces in ancient ways and walk the land looking for tomorrow, we will bake bread and we will preserve things. The goal is to have the restaurant completely self-sustained, growing all of the produce, milking the cows and goats, making the cheese, hanging the charcuterie. Over the next two to three years we will be building accum. The restaurant that will change everything about the cooks working there, about the service and will make every effort to be great, even if it fails.”
Dramatic, intense, romantic and vague … sounds like Hilbert won’t be changing too much in his new setting.
Reached for comment, Jester King founder Jeff Stuffings confirmed that the group is collaborating with Hilbert on a restaurant on the property in Southwest Austin.
“We’ve had a great relationship with chef Hilbert over the last five years though beer dinners and events, and we’re really excited to have the chance to work with him directly,” Stuffings said. “For now, we’re focused on a more casual, family-friendly restaurant, which we seek to open this year. In the future, we’d like to open a smaller, more focused restaurant that’s an extension of our nascent farm. The latter would have a multi-year timeline.”
Chef Sam Hellman-Mass, a founding partner of Barley Swine and Odd Duck, will open modern Mexican restaurant Suerteat 1800 E. Sixth St. on Thursday.
The restaurant helmed by executive chef Fermín Núñez will feature a selection of tlacoyos, tacos and tostadas made with house-made masa dishes using heirloom Central Texas corn. As with the two restaurants he helped build, Hellman-Mass will source locally, using seasonal ingredients from local farmers. Check out the complete menu on the restaurant’s website.
“We are so excited to join the East Austin community. Over the past few years I have really fallen in love with Mexican flavors and the quest for perfect masa. So far the search has led me to New York, San Francisco, Mexico City, Oaxaca, the Yucatan and more,” Hellman-Mass said last summer when the restaurant was announced. “I’m not sure only one perfect tortilla exists, but I am certain that our team is going to make some delicious food inspired by our travels. We can’t wait to share a bit of our journey and welcome everyone into our place.”
Suerte will be open for dinner from 5 p.m. daily, closing at 10 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday and 11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.