Sunday, June 2, 2013

Two New Italian Eateries -- Patrizi's + Umami Mia

In the past two weeks, I have attended two soft openings for Italian places, one a trailer, and the other brick and mortar. Both had their high points and a few things to work on.

Patrizi's is a trailer adjacent to the Vortex Theater on Manor Road; it is run by Nic Patrizi, who also runs the Jalopy trailer downtown. He's very welcoming and passionate about his food, and is sourcing from local purveyors as much as possible, like Salt and Time, Milking, Antonelli's, and Coyote Farms.
His family ran the original Patrizi's in Beaumont for years until they closed, and he has all the family recipes. He's got a nice set up at the Vortex, with a covered seating area, and planter boxes for a garden.
On the trailer itself, he invited local artists to come and paint, and then he's framed them all, including the menu. I loved the eclecticness of the paintings! The one below is actually done by one of my very talented co-workers.
Our tasting started off with a perfectly dressed Italian salad, and some antipasti, which included garlic cloves, confited in olive oil, white anchovies, a giardineria puree, and some tasty bread. Nic then brought us the first pasta dish -- the pomodoro with meatballs. Let me be clear: the meatballs were AMAZING. Some of the best meatballs I have had anywhere. Tender and moist and flavorful, made from pork trimmings and beef. I am still thinking about those meatballs!
Next was the Roma tomato sauce with fresh made ricotta with lemon zest. It was a nice heaping mound of creamy ricotta.
And the third, cacio e pepe, just your basic, clean dish with Parmesan and lots of fresh black pepper.
Nic told us upfront that the pasta we were being served was not the pasta that he would be serving once the trailer opened. He just got a new pasta machine that he hadn't even taken out of the box yet; the pasta we had was certainly on the dense side, but I heard from other bloggers who went to the next night's tasting that the pasta was really good.

I have high hopes for Patrizi's! The hospitality was all-around great, there's parking (at least when the theater isn't in session), and recipes that grandma used to make. Will certainly go back for the meatballs and I spied carbonara on the menu too!

Then last week, it was the media tasting for Umami Mia, in the old Romeo's on Barton Springs. Fun, funky design, but a lot of concrete inside. Clean lines, little pops of color.
The cocktail menu was spectacular as were the drinks themselves! From left, we have Hibiscus Nectar Cosmo, Thyme Will Tell (I think) and the Blackberry Italian Soda, adult-style.
Once we were seated, the owners and chef introduced themselves and talked about the concept of umami -- that somewhat elusive fifth taste (along with salty, sweet, sour, and bitter). It's sort of hard to pinpoint WHAT umami is, but it's that savoriness, that flavor that just fills your mouth and makes you want more. It's found in foods that are high in glutamates, things like mushrooms, dairy (particularly cheeses), meats, nuts, and so on. Umami Mia wants their dishes to be an "umami bomb" in your mouth. They are also trying to source local, like Vital Farms Eggs and Johnson's Backyard Garden, and practice nose to tail butchering.

We started off with a roasted peppers and coppa salami appetizer, which had nice big shavings of Parmesan and white anchovies. This was a good dish! Great flavors, and you really can get the umami concept with this one.
Next up was the Italian Salad with large slivers of watermelon radishes, and hiding under there was some crispy pancetta, fried croutons, and a very light salad dressing; I would have liked a touch more of the dressing on it to bring everything together.  Love that they use sheet trays to serve some of the dishes.
The meatball sandwich with mission fig sauce and Gorgonzola cheese was a bit of a miss for us. For starters, ours came without the Gorgonzola, and the fig sauce was too sweet for this particular dish, though perhaps if it HAD had the salty cheese, it would have been a better balance. And while they're using oak to grill their meatballs, it just couldn't compare to the one I had the previous week at Patrizi's.
The pizzas were a little bit of a mixed bag. They are cooked for 4 - 5 minutes in an oven that runs about 600 degrees, and they will have a "slice window" for walk-up customers.  Their crusts are soft and a bit chewy. My hands-down favorite was the prosciutto and fig with Gorgonzola, with it's copious amounts of arugula. You really got the umami bomb flavors here, though I would have loved loved some extra Gorg on top to really kick the umami up! 
The mushroom pizza with shitakes, creminis, and caramelized onions might be a good option for the vegetarians, but it seemed a bit heavy. That's balsamic glaze drizzled across the top along with goat cheese.
Our table found the Mexican pizza to be a bit strange. Described as their house adobo sausage with corn, tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, lime, and queso fresco, there was WAY too much going on here, but not enough flavor, especially from the sausage to associate it with Mexican foods.
Now the pasta itself was really nice -- thin, uniform strips that easily twirled on your fork. But when I think of carbonara, I really want the pancetta, egg, and Parmesan to shine, so the pine nuts, lemon, and herbs were a bit of a different take on it for me. It was hard to find any pancetta in this dish, though it tasted good. I don't know if this is the actual serving size you would get if you ordered it; I think for the price ($16) I would be a bit disappointed in the portioning of this dish.
And finally, the desserts. It's almost better if we don't go there because these were both very strange. I am noticing they do not have desserts listed on the menu that's on their website, and these were not the desserts that were originally planned for our meal (Citrus Prosecco Jello with Poteet Strawberries and Pop Rocks). What they served was a tiramisu with matcha tea powder and I believe chestnuts or hazelnuts inside, and then a chocolate pot de creme with orange, malted milk balls, golden raisins and togarashi, a Japanese condiment of chile flakes.  The tiramisu seemed like heavy whipping cream with squishy nuts mixed in; the matcha flavor was pretty minimal and got lost with the dense mouthfeel of the cream. I am not a huge fan of chocolate and orange together, so that was strike one, but it had a granular texture for strike two; pot de creme should be silky smooth. I hate to say this, but someone is trying WAY too hard with the desserts. Maybe the matcha and togarashi are a nod to the Japanese researcher who scientifically discovered the taste of umami, but I was not a fan. And it's not to say that Italian-themed restaurants all have to serve standard tiramisu or cannolis, because they don't, but golden raisins (strike three), really?
The waitstaff at Umami Mia hustled throughout the night, and were very professional and friendly. There will be an outdoor bar, as well as an herb garden, and the aforementioned slice window -- lots of possibilities there on Barton Springs!

So please take both of these reviews with a grain of salt because they were both soft openings. Patrizi's and Umami Mia both have tons of potential and once they each have a couple months to shake things down, I will happily go back to both and try them again. And while they are both Italian, they have very different focal points, and should both do well.