On the East Side, Melody Fury with the Chronicle discovered newcomer Old Thousand is redefining what a Chinese restaurant can be with its rebellious Asian fare. The casual newcomer dishes out playful and modern interpretations of American-Chinese classics for dine-in and takeout.
What makes Old Thousand unique is the duo of chef James Dumapit (Uchiko) and chef David Baek (Thai-Kun, Uchi), who successfully “hit the comfort notes that most diners seek in American-Chinese food,” while unapologetically breaking other molds. The modern and eclectic atmosphere is both studded with playful wit (giant panda dressed like Biggie Smalls), and yet has delicate and refined touches (beautiful floral wallpaper). She also applauds the restaurant's highly diverse team.
Fury finds a parallel in the menu, which takes the familiar elements of regional Chinese dishes in a new direction. The result? Some are subdued and others are big and boisterous. The critic finds plenty of applause-worthy dishes starting with the Chongqing chicken and the tea egg salad starters, moving to the pork ribs in a black vinegar glaze, and then the entrees:
Char siu ($18-34), which translates to "prong-grilled" in Cantonese, was a brilliant mash-up of Hong Kong-style barbecue pork served with Taiwanese-style gua bao (fluffy steamed buns), cilantro, and sliced onions. With an even fat-to-meat ratio, the red meat ring and crispy charred exterior were signifiers of skillful grilling.
The honey prawn and mapo eggplant dishes (neither over-sauced) were also listed as wins, but the noodle dishes didn’t deliver the same satisfaction for the critic, who noted a disappointing lack of texture. But Fury stressed:
Don't expect perfection here because that's not their focus. Rather than attempting to replicate upscale Chinese dining, the menu and ambience strives to conjure up nostalgic memories and to create dialogue. Their business reveals how originality and authenticity ultimately win diners' hearts.
The Statesman’s Matthew Odam found that Austin dining scene veterans still have a crowd-pleasing recipe with their newest project Red Ash Italia. Located in downtown Austin, the Italian restaurant debuted last October. Owners Larry Foles and Guy Villavaso have had a string of previous hits, including Z’Tejas, Hopdoddy, and Eddie V’s (they were the original owners), so it should be no surprise that Red Ash gets a lot right.
Named after the red ash from the wood used in the custom-built wood-burning grill/oven/plancha, which anchors the open kitchen, the restaurant relies on bold flavors for its sharable small plates, wood-grilled entrées, and pastas.
The jagged pappardelle, exquisite but very overcooked, with lush wild boar bolognese ($16 for small, $26 for large) was as rich as the steaks. Waves of speck sliced through creamy gorgonzola sauce in a plate of plump potato gnocchi ($15/$25). My favorite — expertly folded, tucked and pinched capelletti filled with spinach and ricotta — turned to brown butter, sage and walnuts for wintry seduction ($17/$27).
While the food proved reliable, Odam was not a fan of the restaurant’s look. The industrial concrete-walled dining room marked with graffiti including a magnified lipstick marks was said to have “about as much edge as your grandfather in a leather jacket and is about as comfortable as reading a sex scene in a political thriller written by your dad."
Overall, while the restaurant may attract an older expense account crowd, Red Ash delivers flavors anyone will appreciate. A warning: During the critic’s visits, there were only few massive hand-cut steaks below $100. For a better use of money, Odam pointed to the lamb steaks and snapper.
THE BLOGS — Girl Eats World swooned over Grizzelda’s, The Hungry Chronicles had brunch at Blue Dahlia Bistro, Austinot shared a list of Whole30 friendly restaurants in town, and Sushi in the ATX checked out the new Sprinkles at the Domain Northside.
- Review: Veterans behind Red Ash take an old concept for a new spin [Statesman]
- Review: Old Thousand [Chronicle]