Modern Korean eatery carves out new culinary direction with superstar Austin chef
As Austin's food scene evolves, it increasingly takes on the ephemeral whims of fashion. Food trends buzz by in a hummingbird's flutter, leaving diners little time to savor the nuances of what has come before. So, it is refreshing when a restaurant allows its creative team space to evolve gently.
Oseyo has never been the most boisterous player in the arena. Its opening menu spoke to a particular immigrant experience; the interior design offered timelessness instead of Instagram flash. Its latest development, while exciting, is no mere stunt.
The addition of Laura Sawicki to the team as culinary director is indeed big news. She is one of Austin's most chronicled chefs, particularly for her work at Launderette. But Oseyo guests will likely be just as energized by a subtle culinary progression involving the entire restaurant team.
Mike Diaz, the executive chef since the restaurant's 2019 inception, is introducing new flavors that bridge the gap between his and owner Lynn Miller's heritage. The specials are conversations focusing on the commonalities between Mexican and Korean cuisine.
"The way we started off, we always wanted to have a base menu," Diaz explains. "For the last three, maybe four years, Lynn and I have developed a relationship where we shared our backgrounds."
"Our vision was always to have an opportunity to be more expressive with specials," Sawicki adds.
The end result is more subtle than, say, the mash-ups of a chef like Roy Choi. A honeycomb tripe posole gets some gusto from a kimchi-guajillo broth. Jalapeño and soju lend punch to PEI mussels. The banchan increasingly uses local produce for site-specific flavor.
Sawicki's new pastry program has followed suit. Though it incorporates her signature whimsical touch ("a little nostalgia and a little savoriness," as Sawicki sums it up), it broadens the chef's vocabulary through East Asian ingredients like the doenjang (an assertive fermented soybean paste) used in a fudgesicle.
Even the cocktail program has gotten into the act. Diaz says chimichurri from the kitchen flavors a smash, and agave spirits like sotol and mezcal have found a permanent home on the drink list. One of Texas' most beloved sippers, the michelada, incorporates soju, rice lager, and kimchi.
Both chefs credit Miller with creating an environment where the entire team has a chance to contribute. Sawicki cites the menu graphics created by staff and the artwork on the walls, made by Miller's husband.
"Lynn really has been instrumental in getting the best out of everybody, [due to] the flexibility and nourishment she gives individuals," Diaz commends.
"She runs her business through compassion, through trust," agrees Sawicki.
The restaurant has had the breathing room to develop organically over time — a rarity in the buzzy capital city. And it's only getting started. The patio and the Oso Room, the restaurant's private dining space, will soon be redesigned to add even more layers.
"The evolution of the restaurant happened because of the relationships and the closeness," Diaz says. "It wasn't planned."
One might even call it serendipity.