Culling from his à la carte menu, Chef Paul Qui — Top Chef winner, Uchi alumnus, etc. — created a superb tasting menu for us last night at his eponymous Qui in Austin.
But the best dish — for reasons that are wholly self-explanatory (see above) — was the chitarra-shaped long noodles that he prepared for our daughter Georgia P and tossed with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
You wouldn’t think that Chef Qui — a nationally acclaimed chef who knows the heat of the celebrity kitchen and the bright, glaring lights of reality television — would care about the “little people” who dine in his restaurant.
But this dish alone, which Tracie P and I both slurped down as well, was enough to make our experience there one of the best dinners in recent memory (and I have had some pretty extraordinary meals this year).
The way we were greeted and treated, with a toddler and newborn in tow, was just the first indication of the humanity and brilliance of his hospitality, a first taste of the wholesome and delicious food that would follow.
After dinner I asked Chef Qui about how he achieves the freshness and avoids the freeze-dried flavor in the raw fish he serves.
“It has a lot to do with the way the fishermen handle the fish,” he said. And simply put, “it has a lot to do with how much you’re willing to pay.”
The quality of the yellowtail sashimi was simply thrilling.
The texture of the baby octopus was like a gummy bear. In this dish, the quality of the materia prima was rivaled only by Chef Qui’s deft hand in how he delicately sautéed the cephalopod. Compressed, intensely flavored watermelon played counterpoint to its gentle saltiness.
Wine director and general manager June Rodil needs no introduction from me: she’s one of the brightest stars of the Texas wine scene and she’s one of the few Austin-based wine professionals who lands in the national wine media on a regular basis.
With every one of her lists, she’s impressed me with her ability be au courant with the international wine dialogue despite the obstacles that the Texas wine industry can pose for buyers like her.
Tracie P and I LOVED the 2006 Foreau Vouvray Sec (June knows how much we love classic Chenin Blanc) and the seven-year-old wine had just the right balance of freshness and muscularity to go with the sea- and landfood that appeared before us.
Skimming through her focused, tight list, I found so many wines that I would have loved to have drunk: López de Heredia, Scarbolo Pinot Grigio Ramato (this is what I’ll drink next time), and Gaudio Barbera del Monferrato Bricco Mondalino (I DIG that wine).
The noodles appeared again in the “pasta curry style,” with fresh herbs and Thai eggplant. This dish was stunning and the Chenin Blanc made for a dreamlike pairing.
The plat de résistance was the Dinuguan, pork offal and pork blood braised until melt-in-your-mouth. I was blown away by the lightness and elegant flavor of this traditional dish from June and Paul’s childhood (they’re both Filipino-American). And once again, the Chenin Blanc delivered its delightful freshness with just enough umpf to work well with the richness.
The gnocchi were tender, with delicate but consistent texture. I couldn’t talk Georgia P into eating any Dinuguan but she loved the dumpling.
Chef Qui (above) and sommelier June, we love your restaurant. Thank you for a truly wonderful evening!