Those who keep up with the foodie fanfare of this town are aware Chef Paul Qui's soon-to-open restaurant, Qui. With local support for the talented young chef dating back before his elevation to celebrity chef status as winner of Bravo's Top Chef and as a recipient of a heralded James Beard Award, Qui is the most anticipated restaurant opening, perhaps ever. Sure, we've had some excellent dining spots to warmly welcome to the Austin restaurant fold — Congress, Uchiko, Contigo, Foreign & Domestic and Sway, to name a few. But few have garnered such local and even national scrutiny as Chef Qui's new venture.
With all of the media hype the young chef has received, is it possible that people will except anything less than perfection? It's an unbelievable amount of pressure that puts butterflies in my own stomach.
Thankfully, Qui took his time in building a solid team of top restaurant professionals including June Rodil (formerly of Congress), Tim Dornan (formerly of Uchiko), Michael Simon (formerly of Chicago’s Graham Elliot and the Carriage House) and Jorge Hernandez (a former understudy of national chef icon Jose Andrés). (You can check out a few of Qui's other "Makers" in a recently produced Qui restaurant video.)
For the past few months, the team has spent countless hours prepping and refining menus and service practices, and over the past week, they've been putting their training to the test on friends and family in anticipation of officially opening their doors on Thursday, June 20. Last night they hosted a special media preview, and while it’s still too soon to offer up an official review, we’ve got a hunch that Paul Qui is on track for a great start.
The sleek new building designed by A Parallel Architecture has a sexy-yet-casual feel with a full wall of pocket window doors that slide over to open up onto the patio. Hand-painted wall art from notable Japanese comic artist, Peelander Yellow and special hand-crafted chef aprons are only a few of the details incorporated into the overall concept. The open kitchen and dining room inspire a bright, vibrant atmosphere with a large “L” shaped bar with available seating for diners to watch the kitchen action. (Ten of those seats will be reserved for the special ticketed seats, a process Qui will reveal once the place has been opened for a while.)
Qui was as high-spirited, friendly as ever, and clearly excited to show off his new digs. He gave us a broad sampling of the menu with a 11 courses that demonstrated his dazzling lexicon of ingredient combinations. Among the most memorable: Creamy garlic soup with a strawberry vinegar broth and a selection of petite vegetables; poached New Zealand salmon "butter" with Qui's spin on caviar accoutrement; a play on Mexican Street corn with morsels of sea urchin and brown butter, corn-nut and dried sea-urchin powder; dry-aged rib eye served a la plancha with a dollop tangy yuzu-koshu (a carry over from one of his Uchiko recipes); and a trio of desserts that included a sweet and savory cheddar cheese ice cream sandwich that still has us weak at the knees.
General manager June Rodil fluttered around the room with a variety of unique wines to pair with each dish while her expertly-trained staff gave a glimpse of their friendly, but precise service execution.
As many have come to expect from Qui’s work at Uchiko, his dishes are works of art — all the way down to the hand-made Keith Kreeger pottery. He is clearly comfortable letting his imagination shine with flavors as stunning as the visual presentation. The experience was playful, unexpected and thrilling.
To say the capable hands of Qui and his entire staff are ready for the real show may be jumping the gun. But our preview evening at this beautiful new place definitely gives us high hopes. Not only that Qui will live up to the über-hyped expectations people have laid out for him, but that his eager community of loyal Austin fans will welcome Qui, the restaurant, with open arms.