When I first booked my flight to Austin for SXSW I imagined I’d be eating a lot of BBQ and Tex-Mex, fine-dining really wasn’t on my radar. Luckily one of my coworkers suggested we check out Top Chef Winner Paul Qui’s restaurant Qui. I promptly pulled up the website and found myself immersed in a beautifully structured seven-course tasting menu with both carnivorous and vegetarian options. Upon our arrival to Qui, I was wowed at the rustic elegance of the whole restaurant from the wooden ceiling beams to the open air concept. The whole restaurant was a breath of fresh air into what could have been a stuffy fine-dining scene. I immediately noticed the incredible smells coming from the open kitchen where it was easy to see the chefs cooking and tasting food, making sure that everything that came out well seasoned and artistically plated.
After being seated and agonizing over both menu options, I made a very un-Stephanie like decision to try the vegetarian tasting menu. Having had a large amount of meat at La Barbeque earlier in the day, I was swayed by the meat-less option knowing I’d have one of the best chefs in the country cooking for me. So I said goodbye to the crudo, fried chicken and short ribs in exchange for some of the best fruits and veggies I’d ever tasted.
The first course consisted of caramelized onion jus, valdeon cheese, ciabatta, amontillado gelee, and thyme which to me seemed like Qui’s spin on French onion soup. It was certainly a sensory shock that the broth was served cold and I was also surprised at how delicate the broth was, later learning that 15 pounds of onions are used to produce just two quarts of jus.
The second dish of green onion crème fraiche, lettuce, Swiss chard, apple, and pine nut butter was absolutely delicious. The greens were so soft and tender, and the green onion and nut butter lent the right amount of richness to the dish. The crunchy pine nuts added great texture and the granny smith apple brought the perfect tartness to the dish along with a great display of the chefs’ knife skills.
Next was a dish of miso, brown butter, sunchoke, green curry, and smoked egg yolk. I haven’t had a lot of experience with sunchokes and was surprised at the meatiness of the vegetable and loved the depth of flavor and smokiness the egg yolk brought to the dish.
Half way through the meal came a unique dish that reminded me of a fish course made with charred scallion, braised, daikon, toasted sesame, black garlic, and seaweed. It visually looked just like scallops topped with bacon. Although it didn’t taste like scallops, I loved the buttery sauce in this dish and it was seasoned perfectly with little flakes of sea salt to give the dish a brininess that would normally come from your favorite ocean creature.
The next course was very mushroom heavy filled with trumpet royale, piopinni, maitake, beurre monte, yama imo, and balsam fir. I anticipated having this course be my least favorite because I’m not a huge mushroom fan, but I actually ended up loving the different ways they were all prepared and enjoyed the tangy broth they sat in.
This next course might have been my favorite. First the staff brought out Filipino peanut curry, kimchi, radish, cilantro, and koshihikari rice. Then after being placed at our table, puffed rice was poured onto of the dish, which caused the kernels to slowly soften as they soaked up the juices, the texture changing throughout eating the dish. I simply couldn’t get enough of this course!
Next was a secret course that we hadn’t seen on the menu, a broken rice porridge that was a little bit like a rice-heavy vegetable soup. This course was not my favorite, but I was lucky enough to try my friend’s carnivore option topped with pork which I liked very much.
Right before dessert we received an end-of-meal amuse bouche of a homemade Ritz cracker topped with whipped cheese, a perfect ending to the savory part of the meal. Chef Qui apparently loved Ritz crackers and cheese whiz when he was growing up and this was an ode to his favorite snack.
Lastly the dessert course, crema montada, carrot, apricot, spiced cake, and caramelized white chocolate. Made with squash, and topped with little meringue puffs it was hard to describe the many layers of flavor in this dessert. It tasted a little bit like coffee at times and at others a bit salty, but it’s definitely one of the best endings to a meal I’ve ever experienced. Qui certainly went out on a high note in my mind.
One thing I noticed about Qui was the amazing attention to detail in each of the dishes served, along with the service itself. It seemed like we had a different server for each course and they were all polite and descriptive. Our table had two people eating the vegetarian option and every course was given an amazing summary so everyone knew exactly what they were eating and what was in each dish. Up until the very end of our dining experience Qui wooed all of us, the hostess even hailed a cab for us as we exited the restaurant. I’d highly recommend Qui to anyone living and visiting Austin for both their impeccable service and well thought out, tasty menu.