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[Austin] Wink


munchcake
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My boyfriend and I recently moved to Austin from Montreal, and, as he is a chef and I am mildly obsessed with food, we've been trying to scout out local restaurants to enjoy. Tonight we dined at Wink, a small market-based restaurant on Lamar, because of stellar recommendations from locals and critics. I'll give a run down of what we ate, but the best way to describe the overall experience is total disappointment.

To get a better sense of the restaurant we decided to order a tasting menu. I'm not used to reading descriptions of dishes on a tasting menu. In fact I prefer to be surprised. However, in this case, I'm glad we got to see it. First of all, there was nothing on the menu that varied in any way from what was offered a la carte: mussels followed by sweetbreads followed by duck confit followed by NY strip followed by a cheese course. We were told that we could make any substitutions, but that the duck would be replaced by ono because "the duck doesn't work in tasting portions." So why put it on at all? We decided that the menu as stated was a little protein-centric and substituted a "beet, asparagus, mache and goat cheese-creme salad" for the mussles, which, under normal circumstances would have been a wise choice.

Beet Salad:

I love beet salad. However, for an establishment that prides itself on specialty produce, red beets are a little bit unimpressive. More importantly, the mache and asparagus lacked any dressing or seasoning and there was no goat cheese creme to be found. An interesting addition to the salad was a quarter teaspoon of raw israeli couscous. I'm pretty sure it had less to do with adding texture to the dish than with an oversight in the kitchen.

Sweetbreads:

These were outstanding. Crispy, delicious sweetbreads, perfectly seasoned, atop grilled king oyster mushrooms, some sort of green (oversalted) and fabulous beluga lentils. The lentils were beautiful, and the acidic butter sauce underneath complemented the sweetbreads perfectly. An excellent dish. I wish I could remember the greens because they provided a welcome crunch. My only complaint is that asparagus was repeated as a garnish.

Ono:

This might have been the worst dish we were served. Our waitress described the fish as "melt in your mouth." Unfortunately for us, this couldn't have been farther from the truth. The fish was incredibly dry, and the rest of the dish was oversalted. Not only that, but a clear theme began to emerge: protein atop "exotic" (amaranth) greens atop "exotic" (black trumpet) mushrooms. Also, there was a totally superfluous balsamic drizzle around the plate, made runny by the fact that my greens were not drained before plating. The trumpet mushrooms did provide a nice textural contrast, however.

NY strip:

Our steak was cooked perfectly to order (medium rare) and served with a yummy mustard compound butter. The butter was definitely a good idea because strip tends to be lean and lacks flavor. The steak was also paired with greens and mushrooms, as well as salsify. It was fine, but by the end of the meal, I was a little bit tired of the seared meat, mushroom and green formula.

Cheese course:

We were served a cheese course with 4 extremely small servings of different cheeses: brie, spanish drunken goat, mimolette, and a roquefort. These were accompanied by melba toast, a sprinkling of apple slices, flavorless miniature kiwis and raspberries. Also, there were some candied nuts which may have been the worst I've ever had. They tasted as if they had been coated in egg white and plain white sugar. The brie was unlike any I'd ever tasted: acidic, chalky. The spanish goat's cheese was delicious. Mimolette, the hard orange cheese doesn't belong on a cheese plate. The roquefort was fine, but mostly rind.

Wine:

On a positive note, I found the wine list well-priced, interesting, and appropriate to the food. Rather than opting for the suggested pairings ($30 pp) to go along with the tasting menu, we opted to split a delicious bottle of Gewurztraminer ($35) and take a glass of cotes du rhone with the beef course. Both wines were excellent. At $12.25 for two very generous pours, the red was a bargain.

All in all, the meal was underwhelming with a few high notes (sweetbreads and wine) and some very low lows. The tab came out to around $230 including tax and tip. Our waitress was very nice and it was great to be accomodated with regards to changing a course in the tasting menu. It was a convivial atmosphere, but the food (which should be the main attraction) was enough of a detraction that I doubt we'll return.

What have been your experiences? Am I too quick to write them off? Any input (as well as other restaurant suggestions) would be much appreciated.

Lauren

edited for clarity and grammar

Edited by munchcake (log)
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Bummer.

I must say that I've never been all that impressed with Wink, although my experience has been better than yours. Hope your next outing goes better.

Is BF here in Austin to work?

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Jaymes -

Yes, BF is here to work, but I don't think he's sure where yet. We've been in Montreal and New York for the last 4 years, and are just getting to know the Austin food scene. Do you know of any restaurants that are particularly interesting? Do you know whether there's any truth to the rumor that there will be a Nobu outpost opening up?

I feel a little bit bad about being so negative about our experience at wink, but it really was disappointing, especially because of so many positive published reviews. Do you find that, in general, the local food press (Dale Rice in particular) is pretty generous?

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Dale Rices reviews are generally worthless.

Humor an old Austin hippie who's currently stranded in Dallas: for which outlet does Mr. Rice scribble?

Theabroma

PS: Nobu is slated for an early 2005 opening here in Dallas at the Crescent Court. I am wondering what the fuss is about. I look forward to finding out. To date, high end chains, are, well, chains. The difference between Armani Couture and A/X. I prefer work in and support the independents. But that's just me.

T

Edited by theabroma (log)

Sharon Peters aka "theabroma"

The lunatics have overtaken the asylum

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Theabroma -

He writes for the Statesman. (statesman.com) He's very positive about the majority of his dining experiences.

As for Nobu, I'm only curious about its opening in Austin, because it seems a little inappropriate for the market, especially one that likes to support local chefs and farmers. I hope it's just a rumor, because an ultra high-end Japanese restaurant with an absentee chef doesn't really feel like something Austin needs. But maybe I'm wrong.

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My boyfriend and I recently moved to Austin from Montreal, and, as he is a chef and I am mildly obsessed with food, we've been trying to scout out local restaurants to enjoy.  Tonight we dined at Wink, a small market-based restaurant on Lamar, because of stellar recommendations from locals and critics.  I'll give a run down of what we ate, but the best way to describe the overall experience is total disappointment.

All in all, the meal was underwhelming with a few high notes (sweetbreads and wine) and some very low lows.  The tab came out to around $230 including tax and tip.  Our waitress was very nice and it was great to be accomodated with regards to changing a course in the tasting menu.  It was a convivial atmosphere, but the food (which should be the main attraction) was enough of a detraction that I doubt we'll return.

What have been your experiences?  Am I too quick to write them off?  Any input (as well as other restaurant suggestions) would be much appreciated.

While my experiences there have been better than yours, I think I know what you mean. I think there are two issues here:

Cooking: I haven't had problems with the kitchen oversalting, overcooking, etc. I may have been lucky, but I suspect in fact that you were unlucky.

Design: I've always been a little puzzled by the menu. It's supposed to be, more or less, mix-and-match small plates, a strategy that ought to lend itself to a tasting menu such as you ordered. Nonetheless, too many of the dishes have the same structure: a little protein, a little starch, and two or three veg., each item prepared quite simply. This makes for some good plates, but it's also limiting, even before you get to the issue of redundancy across a whole meal. They also sometimes seem to have made a mental leap from "if we serve it, it must be fresh from the market" (a pretty good idea) to "if it's fresh from the market, we must serve it" (a more debatable theory).

Still, in my experience the problem is not that Wink's not very good, it's maybe just not quite as good as it could be. Plus the El Rey cake makes up for a lot.

Andrew Riggsby

ariggsby@mail.utexas.edu

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However, for an establishment that prides itself on specialty produce

Two things I noticed in your review, 1) the problem with mushroom, greens and meat combo, 2) that your friut with the cheese was flavorless. I have to agree that some chefs do not check for flavor of berries, and presume that they taste as they should, which isn't always the case. Sorry, but if a restaurant touts that they use "quality" specialty produce, that problem should not occur, and paying that much money for a promise that wasn't delivered is inexcusable, IMO.

I know every restaurant has it's bad days or bad plate ups, but that should be recognized and corrected, IF they were striving to be the best.

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  • 1 year later...

I went with my accountant on Friday. My previous visit a few months ago was rather disappointing: boring tasting menu, wine pairings not to my taste.

146358261_cd14ded1e4.jpg

As you can see, the prices are high as ever, especially the tasting menus. A five-course with wine is $97 ($19.40 per course) and a seven-course is $125 ($17.86 per course). Those are just a few bucks shy of Driskill prices: six course with wine there is $125 ($20.84 per course) and nine-course is $175 ($19.44 per course). The items on the tasting menu were mostly unchanged from my last visit: scallops, foie gras, arctic char, NY strip, cheese plate; only the char and NY strip were different.

We split a bottle of one of the house wines, a Spanish tempranillo for $17, certainly a good price.

The meal started off with a complimentary cucumber gazpacho that was nicely cool and refreshing considering the hot weather.

146359256_a4b87875a9.jpg

Seared rare lamb with fennel-Fuji apple slaw, goat feta, and arugula puree. $15. An excellent, uncommon preparation of lamb. The fennel-apple slaw doesn't really fit in here. Also, this seems to be the only glass plate used in the restaurant. Did they run out of their porcelain plates? Nothing against glass but this plate felt like an orphan to me.

146360028_ba4a1e66d8.jpg

Seared dayboat scallops with spring leeks, hearts of palm, and tomato confit. $16. Some serious searing here, very nice thick, crunchy crust. Vegetables were oversalted.

146360808_f27adaca60.jpg

Duck breast with BCF potatoes, oyster mushrooms, escarole, and 30 year balsamic reduction. $25. Another great searing job with oversalted vegetables. I like Muscovy duck a lot more than the Peking they used; the meat on this was rather tough -- and not as a result of overcooking as it was done to medium-rare.

146361315_d3e19b8df8.jpg

Seared sweetbreads on sunchokes with trumpets royale, cippolini, and white truffle verjus. $25. I agree with munchcake's review: this was awesome, clearly the best dish of the meal. Great mushrooms too.

146362453_67dd448862.jpg

Lemon meringue pot, El Rey chocolate cake, creme brulee. $12. Both the El Rey chocolate cake and lemon meringue were excellent.

I was a lot more satisfied with this meal. My guess is that Wink is successful because it occupies the very top of the trendy (not to mention crowded and noisy) restaurant niche. I still think that for the money a better meal can be had at Aquarelle, and for just a few dollars more a much much better one can be had at Driskill.

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  • 3 weeks later...
As you can see, the prices are high as ever, especially the tasting menus. A five-course with wine is $97 ($19.40 per course) and a seven-course is $125 ($17.86 per course). Those are just a few bucks shy of Driskill prices: six course with wine there is $125 ($20.84 per course) and nine-course is $175 ($19.44 per course). The items on the tasting menu were mostly unchanged from my last visit: scallops, foie gras, arctic char, NY strip, cheese plate; only the char and NY strip were different.

We split a bottle of one of the house wines, a Spanish tempranillo for $17, certainly a good price.

The meal started off with a complimentary cucumber gazpacho that was nicely cool and refreshing considering the hot weather.

146359256_a4b87875a9.jpg

Seared rare lamb with fennel-Fuji apple slaw, goat feta, and arugula puree. $15. An excellent, uncommon preparation of lamb. The fennel-apple slaw doesn't really fit in here. Also, this seems to be the only glass plate used in the restaurant. Did they run out of their porcelain plates? Nothing against glass but this plate felt like an orphan to me.

146360028_ba4a1e66d8.jpg

Seared dayboat scallops with spring leeks, hearts of palm, and tomato confit. $16. Some serious searing here, very nice thick, crunchy crust. Vegetables were oversalted.

146360808_f27adaca60.jpg

Duck breast with BCF potatoes, oyster mushrooms, escarole, and 30 year balsamic reduction. $25. Another great searing job with oversalted vegetables. I like Muscovy duck a lot more than the Peking they used; the meat on this was rather tough -- and not as a result of overcooking as it was done to medium-rare.

146361315_d3e19b8df8.jpg

Seared sweetbreads on sunchokes with trumpets royale, cippolini, and white truffle verjus. $25. I agree with munchcake's review: this was awesome, clearly the best dish of the meal. Great mushrooms too.

146362453_67dd448862.jpg

Lemon meringue pot, El Rey chocolate cake, creme brulee. $12. Both the El Rey chocolate cake and lemon meringue were excellent.

I was a lot more satisfied with this meal. My guess is that Wink is successful because it occupies the very top of the trendy (not to mention crowded and noisy) restaurant niche. I still think that for the money a better meal can be had at Aquarelle, and for just a few dollars more a much much better one can be had at Driskill.

You confuse me, first you complain about the prices then you give a very positive review. I don't understand.

How does one qualify a tasting menu by breaking down the price by the number of courses. In the last two days I have had two tasting menus. One at 12 courses for $100 and the other at 8 courses for $95. Either one, I would do again for those prices. Both had their strong points and their weak points, but trying to compare the cost of a salad course or a sorbetto course with the fish course or the meat course, it just does not work that way. A menu pricing does not break down that way. It is the total costs of the ingredients for everything that is used to compute the costs plus labor costs to produce that menu pricing. That is the way I have always been taught.

If one does not care for a particular menu then mark it off as just that. If I find a restaurant that I do not care for inspite of the local prevailing opinion, I just don't go there. No use punishing myself. If I don't care for it and continue to go there, then that is my fault and I have no room to whine about it.

What is wrong with the prices for what you were served. From the pictures, the portions were overlarge for a tasting menu. THe 12 course I had, the first 5 courses were just a one bite thing each. I am just trying to understand what the problem was.

It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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You confuse me, first you complain about the prices then you give a very positive review.  I don't understand. 

I think it's good food but is overpriced considering the alternatives: Aquarelle, etc. Also I wouldn't say my review was "very postive" as I had gripes with more than half the dishes, the duck being the greatest disappointment.

How does one qualify a tasting menu by breaking down the price by the number of courses.  In the last two days I have had two tasting menus.  One at 12 courses for $100 and the other at 8 courses for $95.  Either one, I would do again for those prices.  Both had their strong points and their weak points, but trying to compare the cost of a salad course or a sorbetto course with the fish course or the meat course,  it just does not work that way.  A menu pricing does not break down that way.  It is the total costs of the ingredients for everything that is used to compute the costs plus labor costs to produce that menu pricing.  That is the way I have always been taught. 

Very good point about pricing but having had tasting menus from both restaurants I'd still have to say that Driskill's a much better value. My primary complaint with Wink's tasting menu is the extremely predictable choices of scallops on risotto and seared foie gras. I've come to expect more unique "signature" dishes on a tasting menu rather than common standards.

What is wrong with the prices for what you were served.  From the pictures, the portions were overlarge for a tasting menu.  THe 12 course I had, the first 5 courses were just a one bite thing each.  I am just trying to understand what the problem was.

The dishes I ordered this time were not from the tasting menu; they were full apps and entrees. I was complaning about the tasting menu I had on a previous occasion. I apologize for the confusion.

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I had dinner at Wink a few weeks ago between my girlfriend and I, we had three of the same courses you had. The scallops, the sweetbreads, and the trio of desserts.

I agree with Kent on the value of the restaurant, though the prices weren't bad for what the food was, I probably would more readily go to a place like Driskill and pay more for food I find more interesting, but that's just my personal taste. The food there is well prepared, and the pairings were fairly simple-- things that are tried and true and are known to work together.

I do disagree with Kent on a point, though. Maybe I'm not understanding your gripe with their "signature" items and their predictability. Both Wink and Zoot have never really gone out of the box with their food. I guess it's hard to call those items "signature" if the food is done that way, but I think you'd be leaving yourself set up for disappointment if you were expecting something drasically different from their menus/tasting menus... I don't think their aim is to be new age/super contemporary. They've never really been that way.

As for the food itself, nothing was bad, but for some reason I prefer Zoot. I think the price is more reasonable (just a few dollars less) for what I see is essentially the same ways of doing food. Also the cooks here are pretty heavy handed when it came to the salt.

I'm not sure that I'd ever go back because for the prices paid, I expect there to be something there where I'd really want to go back for, but there wasn't. The food wasn't bad. It wasn't wow though.

Maybe if someone else was paying.

I will say that the service at both places were excellent though, even with a full dining room and what looks to be like a small staff.

If you enjoy the Alice Water or Monica Pope ways of eating though, I think you'd enjoy this place.

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Scruggs and Paul both are New York culinary school grads and it shows in their food - now known in the industry as "CIA" food, text book stuff. Yawn. And at $120 per person, you've got to be kidding... And as to tetsujustin's reference to Pope and Waters concerning Wink/Zoot, spot on.

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  • 1 year later...

I enjoyed a meal here this weekend. I had had a large lunch at Mondola's so it was only an entree (sweetbreads) and a dessert (splitting the trio sampler) for me, but both were very well done. I'd say only maybe the salads are a bit meager for the price you pay. I'd even say it was comparable to York Street up here in Dallas.

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