Aaron Franklin partners with Uchi chef Tyson Cole for Japanese smokehouse Loro

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What happens when you team two of the most distinguished and celebrated chefs in Austin’s history and put them under one roof? We’re about to find out.  

Aaron Franklin has partnered with Uchi founding chef Tyson Cole to become part of the team at Loro, a Japanese smokehouse from Uchi’s parent company, Hai Hospitality, that is slated to open late in the first quarter of next year at 2115 S. Lamar Blvd.

Aaron Franklin and Tyson Cole have partnered for Loro, a Japanese smokehouse in South Austin. (Credit: Logan Crable)

Longtime friends Cole and Franklin casually discussed the idea of the smokehouse about three years ago, but it was earlier this year that the idea of a partnership first arose, a light-bulb moment Cole credits to his partner and Hai Hospitality founder Daryl Kunik.

While the two chefs’ areas of expertise may seem disparate — Cole working with raw fish and Franklin mastering smoked meat — the Uchi founding chef sees obvious parallels.

“I had an epiphany years back. If you look at it, the meat thing, specifically barbecue, it’s kind of just like sushi,” Cole said. “When it’s the best barbecue and the best sushi, it’s cut a la minute. It’s sliced right then before you eat it.”

Franklin echoes the sentiment: “I think the way the two of us cook is pretty synonymous. We do almost the same thing, if you think about perfecting one thing over and over and over.”

Loro, which was announced at the beginning of the year, will center around grilled and smoked meats, with the culinary team applying the Uchi style and flavor profiles to meat dishes and inventive sides.

Franklin, who has long been a fan of Uchi and Uchiko, shares Cole’s enthusiasm for this unique new partnership that essentially amounts to a James Beard Voltron, with both chefs having taken home Best Chef Southwest honors from the esteemed organization, Franklin in 2015 and Cole in 2011.

“The first thing is that those guys are so hugely inspirational. The level of precision and the amount of integrity that those guys have is incredible,” Franklin said. “If I was ever going to do anything, those guys are the only people I’d ever go into cahoots with on something like this. I’d never open another barbecue place, but it doesn’t mean I can’t do something else that’s really exciting and fun.”

Cole first started toying with the idea of trying something new about seven years ago, with the smokehouse idea percolating about three years ago. The Uchi team kept a Green Egg smoker in the backyard at the South Lamar Boulevard restaurant and used it to experiment with dishes, some of which, like brisket nigiri, made their way onto the specials menu of the restaurant Cole opened in 2003.

“Some of our best specials came off of that. And we thought there’s a concept on its own,” Hai Hospitality president John Baydale said.

Franklin and Cole are spending time in the Uchiko and Franklin Barbecue kitchens tinkering with menu research and development. For Cole, the new restaurant offers a chance to do something that puts a different spin on something that is familiar.

“It’s going to be familiar but unique. Unique sides, unique selections of meat,” Cole said. “The game changer is going to be the way it’s served, the sauces we’re going to make and what we’re pairing it with and how it all fits together. Hopefully it’s an amazing experience and food that people have never had before.”

Franklin has long had a predilection for the light, acidic flavors found in the dishes at Uchi and Uchiko and taps into his trademark enthusiasm and humility when discussing the opportunity to work with the Uchi/Uchiko team.

“I’ve looked up to those guys for so long. I’m excited to learn. I think it’s going to be great. I’m super excited to get to know those guys a little bit better and actually learn how to cook,” Franklin said.

What can diners expect Franklin to bring to the table at Loro? Franklin says the restaurant, which will likely use all post oak, will taste like Central Texas. And the chef, who will spend time working in the kitchen at Loro once it opens, intends to apply the same simple seasoning and complex fire principles he’s crafted at his East Austin barbecue restaurant. 

“I think the biggest thing is going to be the clean flavors of the smoke. Not a whole bunch of over-smoked things. Just really tastefully done. The more delicate side of smoking,” Franklin said.

In addition to experimenting with a new format and cuisine, Loro will also offer a new challenge and opportunity for Cole, as Loro will be the only restaurant in the Hai Hospitality family that serves lunch. Preparing more food for more people at a lower price point are pieces of a puzzle that Cole and company will sort through during the R&D process. As the team continues to hone its vision for Loro, the one recurring theme is excitement.

“Putting two people at the strongest point in their discipline together is a rare thing,” Baydale said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun putting these two mad scientists together, and we’re just super excited.”

AUSTIN360 DINING GUIDE: The Top 25 restaurants in Austin | #26-#75

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Better Half names Jeffrey’s and Josephine House veteran Rich Riembolt executive chef

Better Half, the all-day restaurant from the owners of East Austin coffee-and-beer bar The Brew & Brew, announced today that Rich Riembolt will serve as executive chef. Riembolt will come to Better Half after about five years with the McGuire Moorman Hospitality group. The Idaho native and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America opened the revamped Jeffrey’s in 2013 and served as its lead sous chef for two years, and has spent the last two years working as the chef de cuisine at Josephine House. While there no menu has been released, Better Half, which will be located at 1203 W. Fifth Street (at Walsh Street) just west of Lamar Boulevard, will be an ingredient-focused and Texas-inspired all-day cafe. Owners say the menu will reflect the kind of food they love from years of eating around Texas.

Better Half executive chef Rich Riembolt.

In addition to Riembolt, Better Half also announced that general manager Mark Stowe will be running the front of house. Stowe’s career in the service industry includes time as a manager at Jester King Brewery and working as the food and beverage director at Violet Crown Cinema. He also worked on the opening teams at Brew & Brew and Pinthouse Pizza.

Better Half is slated to open at the end of the year.

Chef Adam Brick leaves Apis Restaurant and Apiary in Spicewood

Chef Adam Brick has left Spicewood fine dining restaurant Apis Restaurant and Apiary. The Austin native teamed with chef-owner Taylor Hall to develop Apis into a destination, using elevated technique and locally sourced ingredients to prepare French-influenced cuisine in a most unexpected place. Brick’s work at Apis helped the restaurant land the #9, #3 and #12 spots in the Austin Dining Guide’s Top 25 the last three years.
Sunflower miso-glazed Ora King salmon.
RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Brick says he intends to become a chef-owner of a concept in town and will announce those plans in the coming week.
“I look to build on the legacy that we built in Spicewood and bring that same energy, drive and determination to run independent, local and community supported restaurants,” Brick said in an emailed statement.
 
A native Austinite and alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, Brick worked in the kitchens of esteemed New York City restaurants Daniel, Aureole and Momofuku Ssäm Bar before returning home. In addition to helping Hall run Apis, Brick also launched Pizzeria Sorrelina on the same Spicewood campus.
“My time at Apis, and specifically with Taylor has been the most rewarding, sometimes frustrating,  but productive years of my career. It takes a lot of work to imagine and build a restaurant of that caliber and with that ambition,” Brick said.
Earlier this year Apis hired Alejandro Munoz from Counter 357 as its new chef de cuisine, and he remains in that role, and will run the restaurant with Hall and sous chef Marcus McCreary. Chef Chris Sapp will oversee Sorellina.
Asked last month about the current state of Apis, Hall said the following: “We are still pushing all of the fun and interesting programs we have become known to explore, and our dining room menu is similar in format and identity to menus from the last 1-2 years.  We have shrunk our kitchen staff and concentrated our menu a little, but the format and details remain the same.  We have a small, but talented staff, which operates with the underlying common thread of really caring about the people we work with, and the product and experience we convey.”

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Austin360 Dining Guide 2017: Apis (#12)

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Executive chef Damien Brockway departs Counter 357

Executive chef Damien Brockway will depart from fine dining restaurant Counter 357 after service this weekend. A highly visible presence in the ringed open kitchen at the Congress Avenue restaurant that has made appearances in the Austin360 Dining Guide’s Top 25 the last three years, Brockway has spent the last two-and-a-half years leading a team that executed elegant dishes for tasting menus that pulled from a variety of culinary traditions, including Japan, Southeast Asia and Mexico. Brockway, who replaced opening chef Larry Kocurek, says he is “looking forward to spending more time with family, recharging my batteries and getting the next project off the ground.”

Counter 357’s Damien Brockway on Thursday, May 11, 2017. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

While rumors regarding the next executive chef at Counter 357 have been swirling, chef-owner Eric Earthman says  “a replacement has not been solidified as of yet but our current staff is moving forward with providing an inspired dining experience as was set by the past two and a half years under Chef Brockway’s leadership.”

One of Austin’s few restaurants that wears its fine dining on its lapel, Counter 357 offers three separate tasting menus in its dining room, but has expanded over the past year to include more casual offerings with its expanded bar and lounge food menu.

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Austin Astros fans: Eat at these Houston-based restaurants during the World Series

Baseball fans are superstitious. Like, the most superstitious. So, this morning, with my Houston Astros just hours away from competing in their second-ever World Series (it’s weird to even type that sentence), I thought that I needed some food from Houston to sustain me and stoke the baseball karma. Sadly, some of my first choices have left town. The Austin franchise of Houston’s La Crawfish (a Vietnamese crawfish restaurant) was short-lived at Northcross Mall, and my beloved James Coney Island, Ninfa’s and Antone’s Po’Boys shuttered long ago (though I think they could survive in Austin now if they found spots with reasonable rents). But there are still quite a few restaurants in Austin that have Houston ties. Some are owned by the restaurant group in Houston, while others are franchises, but they all got their start in Space City, the home of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel and the rest.

If you’re a die-hard Astros fan and are crazy enough to believe that eating food from a restaurant that got its start in the home of the Houston 9 will bring the team good luck, or if maybe you just need to stress-eat, then head on out to one of these places in the coming days for lunch or dinner.

Cyclone Anaya’s Tex-Mex Cantina. 3120 Palm Way Suite 170. 512-339-6277, catexmexcantina.com. A Mexican wrestling legend and a former Miss Houston married and started not only a family but a famous chain of Tex-Mex restaurants. Now there’s one in Austin.

Lupe Tortilla. 701 Loop 360, 512-582-2205; 10515 N. MoPac. 512-582-2201, lupetortilla.com. This family-friendly Tex-Mex spot that opened in 1983 in Houston has outposts near West Lake and in far North Austin near the Domain.

McCormick & Schmick’s. 11600 Century Oaks Terrace, 512-836-0500, mccormickandschmicks.com; and Saltgrass Steak House, 10614 Research Blvd. 512-340-0040, saltgrass.com. Steaks and seafood from Landy’s Inc., which is owned by newly minted Houston Rockets owner Tillman Fertita. That’s gotta count for something in the karma department, right?

Pappasito’s. 6513 N. I-35. 512-459-9214, pappasitos.com. They marinate their beef fajitas in a mixture of pineapple juice and soy sauce (or at least they used to), and the results are wonderful. This restaurant holds a special place in my heart, and not just because I worked at the Richmond Avenue location in 1998.

Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille. 114 W. Seventh St. 512-474-6300, perryssteakhouse.com. The downtown Austin location is grand and Houstontatious, so are the steaks and the massive pork chop. You may even be able to get the piano player to play “Go Go Astros,” if you tip him enough.

Tiny Boxwoods. 1503 W. 35th St. 512-220-0698, tinyboxwoods.com. Wanna feel like a River Oaks socialite? This posh little spot in Bryker Woods has you covered.

Truluck’s Seafood Steak and Crab House. 400 Colorado St. 512-482-9000; 10225 Research Blvd. Suite 4000. 512-794-8300, trulucks.comTruluck’s originated in Houston in 1992, with the first Austin location opening in 2000. And, if I’m not mistaken, they used to advertise in and around Houston sporting events. Just eat a filet and some stone crab claws and you won’t really care.

Hot Luck festival announces 2018 dates; Whole Enchilada passes now on sale

Hot Luck co-founder James Moody said at the end of this year’s inaugural festival that he and his partners felt like they had something special on their hands and hoped to run it back next year. Now, it’s official. The food and music festival started by Moody, barbecue wizard Aaron Franklin and Mike Thelin will return to Austin May 24-27 next year.

Whole Enchilada passes for the festival, which grant access to all of the events and concerts, along with some special parties, are now on sale for $550 at hotluckfest.com. A la carte tickets will go on sale at a later date.

Jon Favreau, Roy Choi, James Moody, Mike Thelin and Aaron Franklin at Hot Luck’s “Hi, How Are You?” (Credit: Alison Narro)

Last year’s festival welcomed culinary world stars Roy Choi, Andy Ricker, Chris Shepherd, Tyson Cole and more, and saw live music performances by Thurston Moore, The Black Lips, Black Joe Lewis, Robert Ellis and others.

For the second year, a portion of proceeds from Hot Luck tickets sales will be donated to The SAFE Alliance, a merger of Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace, both long-standing and respected human service agencies in Austin serving the survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and exploitation, and domestic violence.

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Cafe Josie starting all-you-can eat Sunday brunch, ending weekday lunch

There are some changes on the way for longtime Clarksville-area favorite Cafe Josie. The restaurant will end its weekday lunch service at the end of this week, but the weekday changes does not mean the end of sunlight service at the West Sixth Street spot.

Cafe Josie at 1200 W. 6th St. The restaurant opened in 1997.
RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Cafe Josie will add Sunday brunch service (10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) on November 12. Following in the format of their dinner Experience (unlimited evening dining for $45), Cafe Josie will serve a Brunch Experience for $25. The menu will be set up in a tasting menu style, with diners able to choose whichever dishes they want and however much they want. See a sample menu below. Reservations are now be accepted online.

With the new brunch hours come changes to dinner, as well. Beginning next week, Cafe Josie will open at 4p.m. Monday-Saturday for happy hour, and offer a la carte offerings in addition to their Experience.

Brunch Experience menu

  • Brussels Sprouts – dijon rum glaze, rum soaked cherries, candied pecans, chive
  • Pamp’s Buttermilk Biscuits & Gravy – house sausage
  • Buttermilk Pancakes – whipped butter, pecan praline syrup
  • Mexican Vanilla Yogurt Parfait – fruit, local honey, hazelnuts. dark chocolate
  • Gulf Shrimp & Cheddar Grits –  smoked poblano salsa, pickled onion
  • Pumpkin Roll – sheet cake, bourbon cream cheese frosting, walnuts
  • Breakfast Casserole – eggs, bacon, potato, sausage, cheddar
  • Peach Pear Cobbler – caramel whipped cream
  • Bagel Bites – smoked tomato arrabiata, shaved grana, basil
  • Pigs in a Blanket – house sausage, cheddar, jalapeno, puff pastry
  • Burrata – butternut squash, mushrooms, brown butter, thyme
  • Fried Chicken – mashed potatoes, pan gravy
  • Pecan Square Benny – poached egg, smoked pork hash

Uchi restaurants across Texas auctioning private dinners for Hurricane Harvey relief

Uchi restaurants across Texas are holding auctions to raise money for the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which is helping with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. People have the opportunity to bid on a 10-course, beverage-paired meals for 12 at Uchi Houston and Dallas and Uchiko in Austin. All of the dinners will be hosted by Uchi founding chef Tyson Cole, who will join chefs from his team at each restaurant throughout the month to prepare the dinners.

Cole will be joined for the November 6 meal in Dallas by chef de cuisine Alex Astranti, November 13 at Uchiko by concept chef Kaz Edwards and on November 20 by Uchi Houston chef de Cuisine Lance Gillum. Bidding starts at $4,000 and is currently taking place on Hai Hospitality’s website.

Hama chili at Uchi and Uchiko. (Contributed by Logan Crable)

New food truck raises eyebrows and anger with name Poke Me Long Time

Kevin Randolph and wife Sherilyn Milch named their food truck Poke Me Long Time with the hopes of turning people’s heads. Fishin’ accomplished.

The food truck at 1606 E. Sixth St. has received some negative reviews and mentions online for its name, which some seem to see as juvenile and crass at best and racist at worst, playing off the demeaning depiction of Vietnamese sex workers in “Full Metal Jacket.” But Randolph takes exception with at least part of that interpretation.

Randolph said the name is an intentional sexual innuendo but that he and his wife, whose grandmother was born in Vietnam, are not racist.

“My wife’s Asian. She owns this place, too. It’s not a racial thing. It’s more of a sexual thing, really,” Randolph said.

How did they come up with the name?

“Oh, man,” Randolph said with a laugh. “Honestly, we just got really stoned one night. I’m not gonna lie to you.”

The Missionary Bowl at Poke Me Long Time. (Credit: Facebook.com/pokemelongtime)

The 13-year resident of Austin said he opened the food truck with his wife as a healthy alternative to the bar business he’s worked in for almost a decade. It’s the first food operation for Randolph, a nine-year veteran of Sixth Street bars, who manages the Handle Bar and served as a promo guy for the Yassine brothers for a few years. Randolph opened the trailer 11 weeks ago after doing several pop-ups at bars and start-up companies.

“We wanted to help our community,” Randolph said.

And, while he’s heard the criticism, Randolph said those angry about the name have the wrong idea.

“Those are just closed-minded people,” Randolph said. “I’m not mad. But have an open mind; don’t have a close mind. If you ever met us or talked to us on the phone, you’d know that’s a complete (BS) story. People want to take it there; don’t take it there.”

Filipino restaurant Be More Pacific Kitchen and Bar now open in North Austin

Be More Pacific Kitchen and Bar, the Filipino restaurant spawned from the food truck that Mark Pascual and Giovan Cuchapin began six years ago, is now open at 7858 Shoal Creek Blvd. in the space previously occupied by Rebel Pizza Bar. 
Guided by chefs Salvador Melgarejo, a Philippines native and cousin of Pascual, and Tony Dominguez, a veteran of the kitchen at La Condesa, the Filipino menu includes dishes like adobo pork sliders, Lumpia Shanghai (mini pork and shrimp egg rolls served with sweet chile sauce), pinakbet (stewed mixed vegetables featuring bitter melon, served over steamed rice) and sisig (sizzling pork bits mixed with fresh onion and topped with fried egg).
Credit: Ashlyn Allison

“We know that Filipino food is good, is approachable—it just hasn’t been introduced properly,” said Cuchapin. “We want to show everyone.”

Be More Pacific is open Tuesday-Friday lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch and Tuesday-Friday dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday hours are 11 am to 11 pm.