Sunday, February 20, 2011

BarChi Sushi

Nestled in the 2nd Street District on Colorado is the recently opened BarChi Sushi, the sister restaurant to one in the Woodlands, and cousin to Chi Chinese Buffet at the Southpark Meadows complex in far south Austin. BarChi "fuses sushi bar and lounge with classic Japanese elements." The owner, Susan Chan, also has a background in interior design, and has given the place a very modern feel -- big glass windows in the front, bar area with clean lines, lights that change color embedded in the floor of the main dining room, some more private booths, and of course, the lengthy sushi bar.  BarChi recently hosted a tasting for local media, so here's a look at what we had.

Shrimp crunch, California, and Tuna rolls; all tasty, especially the shrimp.
Pork Gyoza, there was a bit of ginger in the filling, which I liked. The marinated cucumbers and lightly pickled cabbage were nice accompaniments.
Fried Spring Rolls, which, filled with cabbage and carrots, were mostly bland, though well-fried, and not greasy.  (Also not a typical Japanese food.)
Sashimi -- Tuna, Salmon, and an Australian whitefish, similar to yellow tail, and Eel. And while I may be half Japanese, I have never completely embraced the raw fish thing. The tuna & salmon were fine, the whitefish seemed a  little off to me, but others at my table completely loved it and thought it was the best item on the plate. I did like the grilled eel... maybe it's the sauce!
Spicy Duck Breast in what I think was a plum sauce -- really delicious, the whole thing!
Roasted Chicken Teriyaki, with sauteed enoki mushrooms, and crispy rice noodle fan. Very tasty and beautifully presented with the fanned noodles. Don't see this on the menu online or the pamphlet we received, though there is a lunchtime bento box with teriyaki.
They kept bringing things out! What I believe was called Phoenix Roll -- fried whitefish balls with sweet soy sauce; don't see this on the menu either.
This is one of the sashimi combo trays that I photographed while walking past the sushi bar -- looks great!
Patrons can choose the more traditional dining room or the bar area. BarChi also offers a traditional daily happy hour (3 - 7 pm) and a reverse one (10p - 2a) on Friday and Saturday, something that we're seeing more and more. It's my guess that they do quite well as a late night establishment, as you're in the middle of a growing entertainment district with the new Austin City Limits Theater just a block away.  And, they've got lunch specials starting at $8, which include some non-Japanese items like burgers and Thai curry.  Overall, their menu appears to be well priced, and BarChi will certainly fill the void for good Japanese food downtown, with the recent closure of the more traditional Kyoto. I almost forgot to mention their pineapple sake, which was amazing! Cold, smooth, and very easy to drink, it complimented our dishes very well.


Sagra is a husband and wife owned and operated Italian place, that's been on San Antonio Street between the capitol and UT campus for three years. They have recently begun using digital tablets as an extension of their paper menus, and I was invited to come check them out.

I was warmly greeted by Sarwat Pellegrini; she seems to manage the front of the house duties, and her husband Gabriel is the executive chef. While I sat and waited for my friend, she told me a bit about the tablets. As far as they know, they are the only restaurant in town, and possibly even the nation, that are using them to supplement their food menus; there are places that have their wine lists in digital format. (Later that night, I asked my Tweeps if they knew of other places using them, and got no replies. So if you know of someplace, please let us know!) Sarwat stressed that the tablets are in no way meant to replace a waiter, but if a diner has more than average questions about the menu or needs a gluten free, vegetarian, or even vegan option, a tablet can be brought over. 

She demonstrated on the iPad how on the regular menu, you can touch a menu item, and it will pull up more info about the dish, including suggested wine pairings. You can also get to the GF and veg options; and while they make their traditional pasta (and you can watch a brief video on their pasta machine), they do not make the GF ones. And, because it's web-based, you can actually view the menus through your smart phone -- click here. 
My only difficulty with the readers is not having familiarity with the devices to know where things like the "back" button are located. I think that's one of the reasons Sarwat made sure to tell us that you can access the menu on your phone -- you're familiar with your own phone, and know how it works. Overall though, I think the tablets are a stellar concept! Obviously a restaurant has to invest in the tablets, the website development, and having a WiFi connection, but I can see tremendous payoffs, especially in places like Austin where there are a lot of people eating gluten free and vegan.

Foodwise, I started with a blood orange cosmo, which I could have had about 4 more of! As we were there on a Tuesday, we had the mussel bowl special; it's offered either with marinara or white wine sauces, and we opted for the latter. I was delighted to find thin slivers of fennel and lemon in the bowl, something I've never experienced in a mussel bowl before, and I loved it! The table bread is also the perfect softness for sopping up some of the briny wine in the bottom of the bowl. 
Our original plan was to split an oven-fired pizza, but after hearing Sarwat explain how they make their pasta everyday, it was hard for me to not try the spaghetti alla carbonara. The spaghetti was cooked a little past the al dente that I prefer, but the green peas and house-cured guanciale gave nice flavor and texture to it.
My friend picked the pesto pizza, with tomatoes, kalamata olives, goat cheese, and shrimp. The pizza had fresh, generous toppings on it, and a nice thin, crisp crust to it. We split a tirimisu for dessert; it's really cute and very tasty (nice mascarpone richness cut by the espresso flavor), served in a large mug with a little biscotti on top.
Thanks again to Sarwat and the staff for the hospitality and good food! Now having seen the digital tablets in action, I am a believer! Sagra may very well be on the forefront of a new and exciting culinary trend.