Fed Man 55: East Side Show Room (44)
Mike Sutter’s Top 55 Austin Restaurants
No. 44: East Side Show Room
1100 E. Sixth St. 512-467-4280, www.eastsideshowroom.com.
Hours: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Kitchen open until 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until midnight Friday-Saturday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 09.13.12
East Side Show Room turned 3 years old this summer, and like any toddler it’s going through a phase. Founding chef Sonya Coté left to concentrate on Hillside Farmacy a few blocks north, and Paul Hargrove stepped in, fresh from the kitchens of Trace at the W Hotel downtown. With its downscaled handmade furniture and Paris-by-way-of-Thunderdome decor, the Show Room feels like a ragtag army of post-apocalyptic kitchen kids in fingerless gloves, and the gloves don’t quite fit the new guy yet.
The charcuterie plate under the old administration was a freewheeling collection of candied bacon, liver mousse, wild-hog sausage and fried paté with house-pickled vegetables and sweet accents. But the latest version was a bland trio of meats that could have come from the same animal and spice rack, pressed in different molds for variety with two kinds of mustard and cucumber pickles — chunks and slices — to keep them company for $15. It was the first signal that I’d have to bump the Show Room down from my high pre-season rankings. Another signal came from a shrimp dish anchored by a dry puck of oyster cornbread that tasted strongly neither of corn nor oysters but mostly of salt as a base for a half-dozen competently sauteed shrimp, a $20 plate that could have come from anywhere, like from a hotel menu.
But the Show Room held onto a spot in the Fed Man 55 with two strong dishes and more than two strong drinks, starting with a salad ($10) whose kinetic scramble made sure every bite carried the union of vinaigrette, bacon, onion, goat cheese and tomato that so many salads like this insist on partitioning. “Everything all at once” fits the room’s prim decadence, and grilled quail ($24) danced to that tune with charred peppers, the bold sunrise of fresh figs and a rich pan sauce. The tender bird was both delicate and filling, with enough bones left in for flavor and easy handling but enough left out for less barbaric table etiquette.
I’ve given the cocktail bar a workout here, from easy standards like an Old Fashioned and a cucumber gimlet to craft explorations like a Carthusian Flip (herbal yellow chartreuse with whiskey, vermouth and an egg) a frothy Framboise Flip and a pisco drink that involved a blowtorch. Those last three ran $12 apiece and drank like fortified smoothies in quaint little sherbet glasses. The gimlet and Old Fashioned were straightforward versions of boozy classics for $5 during a happy hour that runs 5-7 every day. The $5 superstar was the El Diablo, a kind of Moscow Mule rendered with tequila, lime and ginger with a blush of raisiny cassis. The liquor amplifies the Show Room’s steampunk dollhouse energy, with beer drafts in little jelly jars poured from a tap welded together from a milk can and spare parts from a Jules Verne submarine. They can’t afford to let that energy level drop, no matter who’s in the kitchen.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)