A new wine restaurant and retail shop will open in South Austin this year, helmed by couple and partners Richard Hargreave, a Momofuku alum, and Claudia Lee. Underdog, found at 1600 South First Street within the forthcoming Willa mixed-use development in Bouldin Creek, will open sometime in the fall of 2022.
The wine menu will reflect Hargreave’s and Lee’s sensibilities: he’s a sommelier who runs a wine importing business in Los Angeles focusing on biodynamic wines and managed wine programs for Momofuku Group restaurants in Sydney, New York, Las Vegas, and most recently Majordomo in Los Angeles; she has worked in events, public relations, and for French aperitif company Pernod Ricard, and, while they have been living in Los Angels, had been sending wine recommendations to her Austin friends or even bottles when certain labels weren’t available in the city.
When it comes to food, Lee and Hargreave want to offer something different from the typical French and Italian-influenced New American menu that’s found in many wine bars. Lee is Korean American and her parents run several sushi restaurants in Los Angeles, while Hargreave says his experiences at Momofuku “opened our eyes to serving wine with bolder, umami-forward flavors,” he says, referring to career experiences in Australia where he enjoyed the diversity of food and techniques. Underdog’s menu will reflect those tastes and experiences which he sums up as: “Asian Australian with a Texas influence.”
The pair tagged Australian chef Morgan McGlone to develop the menu as Underdog’s partner. Most recently, he opened Australian hot chicken restaurant mini-chain Belles Hot Chicken. Before that, McGlone was the chef de cuisine of Southern restaurant Husk’s Nashville location. He also runs a roast chicken restaurant, Sunday Potts Point, in Sydney.
Underdog will for sure serve fried chicken in a Korean-Japanese-Southern style. Other potential items include ebi katsu (shrimp cutlet) burgers, mussels served in sake broth, yuba salad, and just generally dishes “with the aim of showing people that food and wine combinations can be so varied and exciting,” says Hargreave. There will be caviar as well.
The pair previewed potential dishes for Underdog during a pop-up event in Los Angeles at the end of February. They served radishes with dashi butter and nori powder, oysters with kimchi vinaigrette, and crispy rice with whipped cod roe and shaved bottarga.
“We just wanted to be a fun place where there’s no pretense… We want people to be able to walk in the experience of wine and not feel intimidated,” Hargreave says.
The physical space will consist of the wine bar and restaurant area with indoor and patio dining and then a retail section with wine bottles and other goods. There are plans to hold tastings and other events. Architect Drew Randall of Element 5 Architecture and Lilianne Steckel Interior Design are leading the buildout.
The name works on multiple levels. First, they adopted a rescue dog, Squid, who is featured on the logo. Then, they consider a lot of the wine producers they work with as underdogs. Many of those smaller winemakers would often send photos of their vineyards which included their dogs, Lee says.
During the pandemic, Hargreave and Lee’s jobs ended in Los Angeles, and they decided it was time to open their own restaurant and settled on moving to Austin. The Bouldin Creek neighborhood was ideal for them because it had “the perfect combination of old Austin charm and a lively food-and-beverage scene that already exists,” says Hargreave. Newcomer 1417 (funnily enough, that space used to house Sway, which focused on modern Thai with Australian inflections), Elizabeth Street Cafe, Word of Mouth Bakery, Bouldin Creek, and a bunch of Tex-Mex restaurants are nearby.; the Willa development will also include the third location of Austin restaurant Picnik.