23 January 2016
I had headed back out after that voluminous BBQ lunch from La Barbecue — which turned out to be far later than planned… Had a busy afternoon but I also had an early dinner booking this Saturday night. Tonight’s destination is the newly re-opened Barley Swine, which moved across town and had just opened. I had planned this Austin weekend stay around this meal, so was looking forward to it!
Sadly they did not offer their tasting menu as of yet post-move, so tonight will have to be a la carte. Actually probably good, because of that heavy lunch. It wasn’t that busy at the chef’s counter but for some reason they put me right next to a group of 3 — when there were 8 other open seats. Why? This is so damn annoying, a bad start courtesy of the FoH…
I looked at the menu over a cocktail, which was not bad. I ordered and chilled out. Kitchen was busy and loud — the vocal staff reminded me of that terrible night at LA’s Bestia…not bode well? At least not as deafeningly bad as Nomad in Sydney… I understand need for communications in the kitchen and having a regimented system, but the excessive shoutiness is a part of the “experience” of so many “modern” open kitchens that I don’t enjoy. In any case, the first item came out, the pig skin noodles.
Well, I was curious on how they did this, but it’s basically the skin soubised and cut like noodles. Nice idea, but didn’t work. It was a sticky mess, especially when it was bathed in this acidic hot sauce and sprinkled with almonds. This didn’t work at all, and it was just sticking and breaking up on the utensils. The dumplings were good, but I left a bit of the “noodles” behind. Sadly, there are better things to make “noodles” with, and there are far better ways to cook pig skin.
I had switched to a white and it tasted a little funky…hmmm… Some of this I attribute to moving issues but still, it’s not like they were closed for a long time. I’m still open-minded. Then the next dish, the marinated egg.
Well, this was basically a poached egg that had a nice flavour from the marinade. However, even with the runny yolk, it did little for the sweet potato “nest” that had little flavour and was over-fried — basically a gum-slasher… I basically mopped up the yolk and picked off the hidden goat ham (meh) and this dish was history. Rather disappointed so far, but maybe I’m ordering badly…
At this point suddenly my stomach just went crunch. Ugh, what was it, the “noodles” or runny egg? The funky txakoli or something else? It was so sudden it’s hard to pin down, but I had to run for the bathroom and just yacked. I have never vomited like this before in mid-meal at a restaurant…there was something that just didn’t sit right. The acidic food (and wine) certainly didn’t help, but something triggered this…I can’t figure out what it was.
But I was a bit green going back to the counter as I see they brought out my final dish, the blackened octopus.
Nope. I took a bite and asked them to wrap it for me. I didn’t feel very good and I didn’t feel very confident about eating here right now. I just took the item, downed a cup of coffee, and headed out. The “free valet parking” is annoying but whatever.
I got back to my hotel, rested for a bit. Later in the evening I heated up this dish and had it. The octopus was not bad, but the seasoning was overwhelming for such a small-sized octopus. Perhaps on a thick one it would work. The fried rice wasn’t bad, but I’m glad I got rid of the rest of the stuff off the food.
I had been hoping Barley Swine would re-open when I planned on passing through Austin, but it turned out to be a disappointment. Even if I didn’t get sick (I’m not attibuting it to anything specific, btw, please don’t assume), the cooking was very meh and many of the flavours didn’t work for me. For me it feels, sadly, more of a fail on the chef front in designing these dishes than in the execution by the cooks.
Frankly these 2 dinners in Austin couldn’t come anywhere close to the 2 dinners in San Antonio at Southerleigh and especially at Cured. I’m starting to think Austin is way, way overrated and overhyped. I’m so done with Austin…
6555 Burnet Road, Suite 400
PS: The 2 dinners made such a bad impression on me I actually *skipped* dinner the next day, my final night in Austin. All I did was heat up the leftover BBQ from La Barbecue, which was still good. I am so, so done with eating in Austin… Next time I have to come back to the area for my project I will focus on the excellent and underrated San Antonio.