Friday, April 1, 2011

barley swine

The only critiques I heard about barley swine had more to do with the quantity of animal products on the menu than with the food itself.

And while I am falling deeper and deeper in love with carbs, I am my father's daughter, and, well, he owned a steak house and was raised in Argentina. Sweetbreads weren't some weird food that people in other parts of the world consumed; they were a regular feature in the asados of my childhood.

And barley swine might have served up some of the best sweet breads I've ever had. Even if they did cost $13 for two small pieces.

Sweetbreads with garlic puree, roasted brussel sprouts and braised bacon

The sweetbreads of my childhood, I confess, were not sourced from local farms nor were they served on fancy plates in an urban setting. I understand the need to charge $13.

Our meal began after a ridiculously short wait (about 10 minutes on a Saturday night; the hostess told us we'd gotten lucky) with the complimentary olives, one beer and one diet coke. Five small plates and $90 later, we were satisfied and impressed with this fun and trendy spot. Just not crazy about the price tag.

The lows: There were absolutely no lows for me during our visit. My husband would probably argue that the seating arrangement was a low. Tables of six forced parties of two to sit next to strangers; in his case, his right arm was up agains the wall and his left arm was up against a strange but cute blonde woman who wasn't his wife. More awkward for him than for me, I suspect.

The mediums: The jerk-rubbed pork belly came with grilled sweet potato and kale salad. Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite foods. They have so much potential for, well, sweetness. Grilling them seems to be one of the blandest possible ways to serve it. The pork belly itself was just fine. But at $12 for a modest-sized piece, I couldn't help but think of the mouth-watering hunk of pork belly we'd oven roasted from the farmer's market that set us back a mere $18 and fed us for two dinners and two amazing PBLTs the following day.

The medium-high: The scallop dish was lovely. Especially the parsnip puree with vanilla and saffron ... though my not-so-refined palate couldn't make out the saffron or vanilla, as hard as I tried. The leeks were equally subtle, but not bland. The scallops themselves? Just fine, cooked as they should be, but I love a really good crust or sear on a scallop. I wish they'd take that step for added caramelization.

The orgasmic: Braised short ribs, celery root, trumpet muschrooms and black truffle shavings. The picture does not do this plate justice. Every bite was perfection. It was among the most elevated forms of 'meat and potatoes' I've personally experienced.

Also among the orgasmic was that previously mentioned sweetbreads dish.

The kicker for us was the $90 price tag for five small plates, one beer and one diet coke. It was a wee overpriced for what we got. And yet ... when you look around the packed room, at the many bustling waitstaff and chefs in plain sight (thanks to a contemporary open kitchen style), and you think about the quality product you're being served, and the prime location in one of Austin's hippest neighborhoods ... the $90 made sense. It just doesn't make sense ... regularly. This will be a special-occasion spot in my book.

I'm looking forward to seeing how their menu changes this spring and beyond.

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