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Statesman Isn’t Sold on Grizzelda’s Mexican Respite

Kuneho and Salt Traders Coastal Cooking are solid bets, though

Grizzelda's Robert J. Lerma/EATX

The Statesman food critic Matthew Odam finds upscale Mexican restaurant Grizzelda’s with its vacation vibe is not a place he wants to stay and linger. Last fall, the team behind Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile opened the breezy beachy spot across the street with a menu pegged by a server as “interior Mexican cuisine meets coastal Mexican. With a Tex-Mex flare.” This lack of focus underscores the critic’s problem with the restaurant. His critique starts with the decor:

The collection of ultraluxe shabby chic aesthetic touches careens off into unharnessed eclecticism, the effect a mash-up of the last decade of Mexico City restaurant design combined with some whirlwind R&D trips to Tulum.

Odam argues that the lack of cohesive extends to the menu, which “pulls from various parts of Mexico like a culinary grab bag.” Offerings span from ceviches inspired by Tulum to mole influenced by Mexico City to queso with a nod to Texas. As for the tuna tostadas, he writes:

Here, the cubes of pink fish sit on layers of thick, lardy tortilla chips that taste like fried triangles of your grandma’s pie crust. Three chips, smeared with chile aioli muted by fatty wedges of avocado, arrived stacked high and draped with a cascading tower of microgreens. With such hulking chips, the crunch of crispy fried shallots was lost, but their burnt taste was not.

There are also a handful of entrees, including what he considers an overpriced 14-ounce ribeye missing both the seared finish and fatty flavor he expected, and an underwhelming, undercooked chili stuffed with chunks of pork cheek in a dull guajillo cream sauce.

For Odam, the Mexican restaurant is suited for grabbing a few drinks and shared plates than for enjoying a full meal. Just don’t expect to see him hanging out there often.

Chronicle’s Melody Fury found that newcomer Salt Traders Coastal Cooking fulfills the Jack Gilmore promise of quality cuisine and warm hospitality in the suburbs. Gilmore and the team behind family-friendly favorite Jack Allen’s Kitchen dove into the seafood game last summer when the Round Rock restaurant opened with its raw bar, lobster rolls, and coastal-inspired cocktails. Bonus: Salt Traders’ seafood is sustainably sourced along the U.S. coastline.

Fury points to several starters and desserts as high points of the menu. The ceviche featuring salmon, tuna, and redfish was “bright, refreshing, and not overly acidic, marinated to an ideal doneness,” while the grilled oysters basted in a roasted garlic andouille butter with dashes of Old Bay took the critic right back to New Orleans. And the seafood gumbo and Caesar salad were both underscored as American classics done right. Later in the meal, the coconut mousse and key lime pie were also successes.

Salt Traders stumbled on a few of the main dishes, however. Fury first credits the shrimp and lobster roll as the most successful dish, before sharing her disappointments:

The blackened cod in the enchiladas ($14) was entirely lost within the hardened corn tortillas, thick cheese, and heavily salted harissa cream sauce. The equally heavy-handed street corn salad needed a squeeze of lime to cut through the cloying flavor.

Fury confidently brushes these aside as the entrees simply “still getting their sea legs” and instead focuses of what Salt Traders does right — fulfilling veteran chef Gilmore’s reputation for crowd-pleasing destinations on the outskirts of town.

Patricia Sharpe, executive editor and food writer for Texas Monthly, discovered acclaimed chef Paul Qui traded pomp and pageantry for simplicity, fun, and the perfect bites when he opened Qui's successor, Kuneho. The transformation brought with it a casual pan-Asian menu, which centers on small bites that highlight Qui’s whimsical style.

The menu of about 50 dishes is divided into eight categories, though some are ambiguous. (“What, pray tell, is the difference between a Perfect Bite and a Snack?” asked Sharpe.) The critic goes on to point out the fair prices, and a large menu means the mix-and-match endless possibilities are endless. She finds plenty to praise, too:

[...] we hit the jackpot with the rabbit curry and roti. Showered with Parmesan, the huge, floppy Malaysian flatbread arrived delectably blistered from the griddle alongside a small bowl of heavenly braised rabbit and coconut milk red curry. I wasn’t surprised. Paul Qui has always had a way with rabbit; in fact, the name of the restaurant is the Tagalog word for ‘bunny.’

Upon Sharpe’s second visit, her favorite bites included the panko-breaded veal tongue fried and topped with karashi, the salmon butter (a holdover from Qui), and the “simplest and best morsel: a crisp little tostada made from an egg roll wrapper topped with perfect soft-scrambled eggs and glistening pearls of trout roe.”

Sharpe concludes while Qui was impressive, it was also “exhausting and expensive” making it a challenge to return. But with Kuneho, the critic remarked that she’ll be back — it’s easy, entertaining and there are plenty of dishes left to try.

THE BLOGS — Austinot stopped by Mueller’s neighborhood Italian spot L’oca D’oro, Dine with Shayda shared her top 10 Instagram worthy meals in Austin, and The Hungry Chronicles checked out the tropical cocktails and Peruvian fare at Isla Austin.

Kuneho [Closed]

1600 East 6th Street, Austin, Texas 78702

Salt Traders Coastal Cooking

2850 North Interstate Highway 35, , TX 78681 (512) 351-9724 Visit Website

Grizzelda's

105 Tillery Street, , TX 78702 (512) 366-5908 Visit Website

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