Part of the pure-dee fun of writing this blog is scoping out restaurants so I can tell you about them. Add to that the fact that some Austin restaurants have attained national fame, and I’m double-down for trying a new spot.
One of our most in-the-know friends has subscribed to Bon Appetit magazine for years. Mention a spice or a restaurant and she joins the conversation with, “Oh, yes, I read about that in Bon (in her decidedly French nasal tone) Appetit (with a beautiful drawl and a lilting emphasis on the last syllable – App-a-TEE).”
Every time I hear my very well-respected friend inject the name of her authoritative magazine into the mix, I think to myself (in a British accent), “By Jove, under which rock have I been hiding?”
Somehow I stumbled my redneck self into a subscription to Bon Appetit’s email newsletter, and it’s there that I read about one of Austin’s new restaurants, Emmer & Rye.
Our friends, the Merritts, are usually also double-down for trying new places with us, so I invited them to join us. They said yes – but they couldn’t say no – I told them I read about the place in Bon Appetit.
After a nice long walk to Rainey Street, we arrived at Emmer & Rye at the time of our reservation, and the place was already hoppin’. It’s a popular spot in a prime location with a lively crowd, and the decor is very kitchen-y. It feels like the chef could walk out any minute for a homey meet and greet. Even the waitstaff is dressed in starched, white aprons. It’s a very nice atmosphere.
So, here’s the interesting part of their concept and what I think has drawn the attention of such acclaimed food magazines. The plates are small, but the service is big.
Each table’s menu board is kept at the edge of the table during the meal. A server comes by your table a total of eight times. If you want to try the small plate on his cart, he sets it on your table and checks it off your menu board. If you want to decline, simply say something like, “No, merci.” (not: “Nah, we’ll wait for the next one.”)
Each plate from the cart worked into a succession of flavors, designed personally for us by our server. Everything we tasted was scrumptious.
But here’s what you need to know. They’re called small plates because they’re small.
Small plates are smaller than what you find on an appetizer menu. Shared around a table for four, each person really only gets a “bite.” If you’re expecting that, you’re ok. If you’re hungry, it might not be a wise choice.
We all thought the cart-delivered plates were beautiful, and we savored each morsel in our mouths, but one bite isn’t really enough to discuss. The furthest we got was, “I think that was quinoa, don’t you?” And, “I wish we could have a whole bowl of those chips.”
Also, If you’re treating your kids and grandkids to dinner, be prepared – small plates do a pretty big number on your wallet.
Thankfully, our progression of textures and flavors ended with a bite of the restaurant’s real claim to fame – pasta – created by the chef from his very own in-house freshly milled and blended flours.
While we didn’t go away hungry, we also didn’t go away completely satisfied. So, here’s my recommendation: If you want a bite or two of some really incredible combinations of grains, veggies and sauces, you should check out Emmer & Rye. If, on the other hand, you just want to visit with your friends and dig in to your dinner, you might want to walk a little further down the street for pizza.
I am glad we went, though, for now I will forever be able to tip my teacup and politely interject into even the most pretentious conversation, like my very cultured friend, “Oh, yes, we ate there after I read about them in Bon App-a TEE.”
Encouraging intentional adventure and a bit (or bite) of something new,
PS – Have you tried a small-plate restaurant? What did you think?