Qui: Does it hit the mark?
By Dr Jeffrey Hall
Going to Qui was an exercise of keeping emotions in check. The restaurant was months in the making and one of the most anticipated high profile places to open in recent history of Austin cuisine. Anyone with any exposure to the culinary media knows who Paul Qui is because his face is everywhere. It seems that in Austin if one chef gets any type of award or national notarity they are deified. So, that being said I kept tract of the restaurant opening and circled the date on my calendar. However, events happened so that I was unable to go until Qui had been open for a couple of months. Really, this was a blessing in disguise. Yes, I had to wait to satisfy my desires but it helped quiet the hype and hopeful reduce the wait since they do not take reservations. So, the time had come to go to do my best keep an open mind since I had heard some early reviews.
The location is easy to find and is an area that is growing with new venues that are vibrant. Parking was no problem but on the weekend could be a challenge. The building is a stand alone structure and has character. Inside the finishes were simple but there definitely was a theme in place. Essentially, it is one large room with tables and an open kitchen with an adjacent bar/outdoor sitting area. The tables are small for 2-4 people except for a booth and one large table. The ambience was quiet at first but bustling as the crowd appeared by 7:30PM. It was noisy but one was able to carry on a conversation given the size on the intimate tables. Overall, it had the communal feeling with simplicity. Score-8
Where do I start? First, our waiting person was not very engaging and seemed to randomly sit us at a table. Next, within a few seconds we were chilled by a vent blowing onto our table. Naturally, we wanted a remedy and had to flag down a wait staff person. We asked if the temperature could be adjusted and they only offered to move us to a different table. So, we took the new table and low and behold the same thing happened-a vent blowing on us. I began to explore the cocktail menu and was interrupted by our waiter. “You will need to look at that later I need to go over the menu with you” he said. The menu is different but simple and his descriptions were very helpful. He left and it seemed to be eternity before anyone came to take any drink order. As we waited the observation was that there was an overabundance of wait staff for the amount of people seated. I saw one person just standing there looking over the room with no real purpose and then to walk away while we could have been helped. I can appreciate that a quality place will have delegated tasks to certain people but not at the sacrifice of good service. They did try to serve us someone else’s drink order. There were positives. Different people served the food and they gave excellent descriptions of the food which helped since most of the food was new to us. Lastly, paying the tab was funky with it on a metal clamp. Score-5.
Here is were they hit the mark and we were not disappointed. The marcona almond gazpacho was our starter and had a very rich flavor with frozen shavings of foie gras that melted in your mouth like butter. Next, dinuguan was heavy and flavorable like a roast stew. With blood, pork and gnocchi this was expected and the texture again was unique. Rabbit 7 ways was the excellent and showed the mastery that the chef is known for. He was able to take a simple meat and through presentation/preparation and seasoning create totally different flavors from one meat. Finally, the dessert menu was limited to two choices and at first glance they were not appealing. However, to complete the experience we elected to try the cheddar cheese ice cream sandwich. Yes, cheddar cheese and ice cream together. It was amazing and the contrast of the sharpness of the cheddar and the sweetness of the ice cream/peanut butter was perfect. The amount of the cheese, peanut butter, and ice cream was measured as not to overwhelm or mask any of the flavors. So, my only issue with the food was the portions. I got just enough to savor the flavors but wanted more especially with the price they were charging. Score-8.
I hope they can get their act together on the service and time will tell. Qui will probably survive on the front end but long term could be a challenge with all the competition in Austin. They can only live on Paul Qui’s aura for so long.