Ask anyone in the local hospitality industry what’s missing from Austin’s food scene and they’ll likely point out the lack of culinary variety. While the first part of this decade saw unprecedented growth in upscale New American restaurants, followed by a brief, if explosive, Italian wave, it felt like the city’s culinary scene was collapsing under the weight of its carefully placed nasturtium leaves.
But after a few brutal years of formwork, 2017 had to be a course correction. With the exception of a few initial impulses to play it safe, Austin has started experimenting again this year and has extended beyond unit prices and cuisine. The best new restaurants of the year range from two different diner concepts (one with a French touch, one punk rock) to a Texas-inspired izakaya. They all have one thing in common: They are definitely not the same.
It’s too early to say if Yuyo – Carlos Rivera’s (El Chile, El Chilito, Alcomar and El Alma) new El Chile Group restaurant – will join this revered crowd. It’s hard, however, not to cheer a palate deepening in Austin and the trend of giving every restaurant the touch – well-designed interiors and a well-considered bar program – that contemporary diners expect today.
After a seemingly endless series of pop-ups, Yuyo opened in the former El Sapo location on October 30th, offering a modern take on Peruvian chef Maribel Rivero (Carlos’ sister), whom he fell in love with during his stay in Lima. and has since adapted to Texan ingredients.
Seafood plays a major role. In addition to the classic preparation with drum and leche de tigre, the ceviche bar offers eight other varieties with extensive taste profiles. Flounder is served in a citrus and soy marinade with a lively Peruvian spice salsa criolla. The octopus version contains purple potatoes and an aioli made from rare botija olives. and a spicy Ají brightens up mussels. Corvina, a South American fish resembling halibut, is featured in a variety of dishes on the menu, including jalea, a mixed fish roast that is pan-fried with lemongrass and ginger.
However, non-fish eaters shouldn’t avoid the restaurant. There are many other options like traditional steak churrasco with chimichurri, crispy pork with crackling and garlic yuca mash, and adobo chicken legs with red pepper. Although there is only one real vegetarian starter – a quinoa dish with cauliflower and Brussels sprouts – plant-based eaters can make a simple meal with side dishes like caviar lentils in a balsamic vinaigrette, charred vegetable, or papas in a creamy huancaína sauce.
Both the drinks program and the dessert offer are based on the lively flavors of the hearty dishes. On the beverage side, this means heavy use of pisco and tropical fruits like pineapple and mango. But even here the menu nods with a tequila drink made from Ají Amarillo peppers and several cocktails with Austin spirits such as 9 Banded Bourbon and Treaty Oak Rum. As usual in Peru, the desserts are a little heavier, but probably nobody is complaining about it a dark chocolate cake with dulce de leche and a passion fruit sorbet.
All are served in an eye-catching space wrapped in warm wood and accentuated by splashes of color in woven wall hangings and geometric baskets made into fittings. It was interesting to see how El Chile’s aesthetic evolved over the years from their flagship gallery to Alcomar’s macrame minimalism. Yuyo is a bit of both – it blends the seditious colors of previous restaurants with their newfound love of showing the integrity of materials.
And to his credit, the restaurant exceeds many expectations of what a Peruvian restaurant should be. It invests in an atmosphere that does not bow to clichés and covers it with a skill that is just as Instagram-like as our city’s new American favorites. If Austin is to become the world-class city of its ambitions, we need more of it.