Over the past two years, the Austin culinary scene has experienced an awakening, and all of that new energy can't help but be attributed to the restaurants, bars and food trucks and trailers that are opening nearly every day of the week.
Before 2012 comes to a close, several new Austin restaurants are joining the ranks with anticipated grand openings. What's even more exciting is that many of these new spots are being pioneered by chefs and restaurateurs who have already found a devoted following in the Austin — and national — culinary scene. Here are five restaurants Austinites are eager to sample and savor this fall season.
Sway is undoubtedly the most exciting restaurant opening of the fall season, if not the entire year. This modern Thai restaurant has been in the works for a while and stems from the team that brought Austin La Condesa. Rene Ortiz, executive chef of La Condesa and Sway, previously worked in Australia and was exposed to a myriad of delicious Thai foods, ingredients and flavors, which aided him in creating Sway's modern Thai cuisine.
Laura Sawicki, pastry chef of Sway and La Condesa, on the other hand, admits this is the first time she'll be working with Thai-centric desserts on a menu.
"It’s easy to admit that Rene sets the bar pretty high, so I had my work cut out for me," Sawicki says. "Thailand, its food, its cities and its culture are full of vibrancy. Bright colors and bold flavors – that’s what inspired me. Traditional Thai desserts are all about texture. I explored these elements and translated them into a way that, while rooted in tradition, is more of an interpretation. I created a menu, that while in the spirit of a totally different cuisine, still illustrates my signature and individual aesthetic."
Sawicki reveals that many of the Sway desserts are ice cream- or sorbet-based and utilize ingredients like pandanus leaves, condensed milk, Thai tea, tapioca, palm sugar, sticky rice, miso, lychee, galangal, herbs and fruits.
Sway's opening date and final menu have yet to be released.
In 2010, as the Austin restaurant scene was picking up noticeable steam, Restaurant Jezebel caught fire and was forced to close. After two-and-a-half years, Parind Vora, owner and chef of Restaurant Jezebel, has caused quite the excitement with his announcement that Restaurant Jezebel, along with Bar Mirabeau, will open this fall.
"When the fire happened, it absolutely broke my heart because we were having the best year we had ever had," Vora says. "Even while it was closed, Jezebel was always evolving because I've been evolving and changing these past two years."
So how is Restaurant Jezebel going to be different? "We're only offering the prix-fixe menu and jackets will be required," Vora says. The Jezebel chef acknowledges that he caused a tiny bit of controversy by announcing he's requiring jackets in his 32-seat restaurant, but says that he stands by his decision.
"For me, it's not a uniform for our guests. It's something that creates a fine dining experience for everyone in the restaurant," he says. The prix-fixe menu will be adaptable, with each diner identifying their favorite flavors, proteins and spices, which Vora will use in creating different dishes.
Restaurant Jezebel opens on Halloween night.
Bridget Dunlap is known as the Queen of Rainey Street, but she is about to enter into a whole new arena with Mettle, her first restaurant project. In conceptualizing Mettle's menu, Dunlap's business partner Daniel Brooks sought out the talented Andrew Francisco, former chef de cuisine of Olivia, who describes Mettle as an East Austin bistro.
"I've been doing a lot of research on French bistros, but we aren't strictly doing French food here. We just really want to draw inspiration from that style and variety of restaurant," Francisco says. "There is a lot of Mexican influence, local influence from farms around us and then my take on cuisine, which includes Southeast Asian, French, Italian and contemporary American cuisine."
Dishes to look forward to include beef tongue tacos, vegan chicharon, local fish, double cheeseburger with cured pork fat and steak sauce, and fried chicken, which Francisco emphasizes will be quite different from Olivia's famed fried bird.
"We're confiting it in duck fat and frying it with gluten-free breading," he says. "The thing about our fried chicken is that it's completely different from Olivia's. I don't want anyone to say, 'He left Olivia and this is the first thing he does here?'"
After Mettle is open and running strong, Francisco tells CultureMap that the Mettle team plans to move forward with a Thai food trailer called Thaitanium (to be featured at Dunlap's Container Bar on Rainey Street) and a raw bar that serves ceviche and sushi among other raw foods.
Mettle is scheduled to open in November.
After closing Rather Sweet Bakery in 2011, Rebecca Rather, also known as The Pastry Queen, is back in commission with a new Fredericksburg restaurant and bakery called The Pink Pig. "After Rather Sweet closed, I needed a year to decompress and think about my next move," she says.
"I’ve always been known for my pink pig shortbread cookies and I had a dearly-loved pet pig named Priscilla for many years... I knew almost immediately when this space came available that I wanted to call it The Pink Pig."
The Pink Pig is housed in a chic, rustic 100-year-old train depot and will feature Southern, Mexican and Texas cuisines with a focus on local, sustainable ingredients and flavors. Some dishes to look forward to on the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus include fried oyster nachos, peanut butter & jelly cake, mac ‘n cheese relleno, bacon and cheddar scones, seasonal desserts, pink pig shortbread cookies, and wines and cheeses.
The Pink Pig is having a soft opening on Nov. 7, with a grand opening after Thanksgiving.
If you're a fan of Perla's Seafood & Oyster Bar, then there's a high chance you'll immediately adore Clark's Oyster Bar, which recently opened on West Sixth Street. Famed Austin restaurateur Larry McGuire has crafted a seafood-centric restaurant that he calls "a little brother" to Perla's, one of his most successful restaurant projects to date.
The menu offers an assortment of oyster specialties, cold bar dishes and seafood offerings.
Clark's is open seven days a week, starting at 11:30 a.m. on weekdays, 11 a.m. on weekends.