Fed Man 55: Swift’s Attic (27)

Mike Sutter’s Top 55 Austin Restaurants
No. 27: Swift’s Attic
315 Congress Ave, Suite 200. 512-482-8200, www.swiftsattic.com.
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday. Dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 5 to 11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Closed Sunday. Bar open until midnight Monday-Wednesday, until 1 a.m. Thursday-Saturday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 10.29.31
Swift’s Attic is the Pee-wee’s Playhouse of Austin restaurants, a collection of bells and whistles assembled this spring by some of the coolest kids in the neighborhood. The kitchen is a supergroup of Mat Clouser from Uchi, Zack Northcutt from Mulberry and Callie Speer from Parkside. Out front, C.K. Chin of Kenichi works the room like the only guy who knows the secret word, and he can’t wait to tell you.
There are green button-leather banquettes, bird-people paintings, skylights and scuffed brick facades suggesting the history of this shotgun walk-up above the Elephant Room, where Kyoto was cutting raw fish way before sushi was shi-shi. At Pee-wee’s, you can pour Burton’s Baton from Dogfish Head and put rum in a beery grog and hire a hostess with all the spark of a Kardashian sister, who might answer your question about happy hour with, “Oh, you know, lots of cheap eats and drinks.” Thanks, Khloe. But the playhouse crown goes to an @-shaped booth upholstered in gold velvet and slate-gray leather in front of blue filigreed tapestry, illuminated by a chandelier in a birdcage suspended from a whaler’s rope.
The menu is what happens when three creative people get to do whatever they want: duck wings, kimchi, squid fries, a Bowling Alley burger. It’s like your order of “banh minis” with foie gras and pork belly starts a game of Mouse Trap. The shoe kicks a bucket of foie paste, a baguette bounces down the stairs, a bundle of julienned veggies drops in the bathtub, the pork belly dives into a braising tank and out pop five little canapes. Sixteen dollars, please.
It folds together two trending notions. One: The banh mi is everywhere, as if we’d just this year discovered Vietnamese sandwiches. Two: Let’s see just how little of something we can put on a dish and still list it on the menu. Does foie DNA count? And that’s a picking point at Swift’s Attic, that it feels too much like finger foods or party plates, something to tide you over before the actual dinner shows up. You might build a $100 check from small plates at $10-$18 apiece and feel like you picked through an hors d’oeuvre buffet at a progressive wedding.
But what a well-catered wedding. A bowl of elegantly pulled pork cheeks ($11) comes with its own sides of fig and mustard, but it truly shines against an acidic canvas painted by a sampler of kimchi ($5), four collections of pickled cabbage, Chinese radish, celery and carrot dappled with gradient shades of heat. And duck wings ($10) show up crisp in their bony array, glossed with black-bean glaze. Their anatomy is familiar but different, like seeing a sardine spatchcocked over grilled kale in a Caesar-style salad ($13). In Swift’s kitchen, squid is extruded into fat railroad-tie “fries” ($12), a balm for the calamari texture-phobe.
But then things get more precise with petite slices of albacore ($14), seared like rosette tattoos with tastes of tomato jam and herb puree. Or a salad bringing together the lush charms of a slow-cooked egg with the sturdy ribs and willowy crown of fennel and the earthy draw of sunchoke ($12). On the more pedestrian side lies a skewer of venison over pita with lazy red curry sauce, executed with no more flair than a Greek lunch line for $18.
Callie Speer runs a close race with her husband Philip for my favorite desserts in Austin. Philip might throw out tobacco and maple or mango and coffee at Uchi, but Callie counters with foie gras in a peanut-butter-and-jelly sorbet parade at Swift’s or “popcorn and a movie” with a crunch bar, buttery ice cream and root beer gelee. Her desserts are a steal at $7, a call to eat them first and make the rest of the menu fight for seconds.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s Fed Man 55: Austin’s Best Restaurants