It was for one of the top restaurants in Austin, and my internship is almost over, so why not?
The first handful of interns is set to leave on Friday, with the rest of us following shortly after in the coming weeks. So, as a sendoff, a few of us got together and finally tested out Barley Swine.
An Anthony Bourdain favorite, Barley Swine is a cozy, intimate place, with a tasting menu that rotates every few weeks. Their current summer menu is fourteen incredible courses (Yes, fourteen…). Breakdown (and pictures!) below:
The meal kicked off with a crab, mango sorbet, and cantaloupe salad. Light and summery, the little salad is served in a miniature honey pot-shaped cup, and basically makes a statement somewhere along the lines of “OK, get ready”.
I admittedly dropped off the bandwagon for one course and a half; the Mango Shrimp was the half. It was a great idea that started with three difference types of shrimp and a mango sauce, until I found out the fried pieces of shrimp were the heads, and I just couldn’t. I promise I also tried the Octopus and Watermelon, which was one of the prettiest dishes. ¾ of the dish screamed “breakfast”, with perfect cubes of watermelon, a yogurt sauce, something that tasted mostly like granola to me, and a thin slice of octopus. I had trouble getting past the texture after the first bite, but admittedly, everything balanced out the super-salty octopus very well.
The table was real unenthused about the Spicy Eggplant when we read it on the menu… until it arrived, and we were surprised by a delicious bowl of spicy eggplant, lamb sausage, fried okra, and a ball of tomato soup you had to stab open like an egg yolk to mix it all together. The spicy sausage and eggplant was reminiscent of well-prepared chorizo (Though you probably already know this, I am OBSESSED with chorizo). The fried okra in the tomato soup converted us all into okra lovers. We also had a blast breaking open the tomato soup ball, and then were very nerdy about asking someone how they did it (It’s a chemical solution- safe to eat, obviously, similar to the way they used to make Gushers…)
The amazing fourth course was followed shortly after by a slice of summer squash, a mystery green sauce, seeds, and salty feta cheese. It really cooled your mouth down after the surprise eggplant/lamb combo, and coming from the girl who likes every cheese except feta, even I ate the whole thing.
Honestly, the whole experience is a food fest. We tried a Wagyu beef, avocado, and papaya bowl, which is pretty much a tropical beach in your mouth. The papaya is sliced into noodles that look like bean sprouts, and is surprisingly amazing. We also tested Shishito in a fermented mushroom sauce (We had to ask what shishito is; our original guess was some kind of sushi. Shishito is actually a sweet, mild pepper. Can you tell we kind of stuck out in the restaurant?) They come as pair, intended for you to share with the person sitting across from you. You take the whole thing and pop it in your mouth. The mushroom sauce is very mild, as is the pepper itself.
We’re still going here. Big thumbs down for the mystery bubbles resting on top of my fish for the eighth course, but thumbs up for the fish itself, the corn, and the superb broth it was all floating around in. The broth tastes like really strong miso, and mixes well with the fish and the corn.
And, if you thought the tomato soup ball and the pop-in-your-mouth pepper was fun, just look at these….
Obviously they’re adorable, but they’re also delicious. Stuffed with pork belly marinated in bourbon, there’s just the right amount of meat in there that it doesn’t explode all over your hand as soon as you pick it up, and you still get a substantial amount of flavor in each bite. Bonus: the piggy bun itself tastes like the fanciest Hawaiian roll you’ve ever had, only further enhancing the already-stellar pork. And really, how could you not love these?!
The tenth course (and final dinner course!) was a plate combining duck, potato, and plum. It was for sure a standout and a great finale, but who argues with well-cooked duck? The duck was perfect, as was the little dollop of whipped potato, with the shockingly-sweet plum to balance it. Only downside: it’s super hard to be ladylike while cutting it…
Here comes the sweet stuff! We spent all of dinner trying to guess what vinegar pie actually was, and were thrilled to pieces to discover that it’s a palate cleanser, but it’s also dessert (MIND. BLOWN.)
The vinegar comes in in the form of a whipped topping, almost like meringue, and is a little more on the sour side (similar to sour froyo flavors!). It’s balanced out by a pecan crumble layer beneath it, and another layer of dried fruit below that. Everyone’s at the table was a little bit different, but as soon as the waitress turned her back, every one of them was gone.
The surprise and delight continued with our actual dessert: Three little bites arranged on a strange, pot-like plate. The first was fruit leather and cheese, the second a minty spin on a cannoli, and the third a homemade candy bar, with caramel, nuts, and a coffee semifreddo. The bar melted all over our hands, but was a unanimous table favorite.
And it didn’t stop there. We were asked to lift the tops off of our pot-shaped plates, only to discover that dessert continued with three more hidden treats (these are not advertised anywhere in the restaurant, or on the menu online)! Underneath was locally-made caramel, a sesame paper-wrapped chocolate ravioli, and an Arnold Palmer-flavored gelatin coated in sugar. The caramel was so sticky and flavorful, it lasted until after we paid the bill.
Barley Swine, although a little on the pricier side, is 110% worth a visit if you happen to be in Austin. Other than the fact that everything on the menu is worth trying, the meal itself is an experience, and is guaranteed fun for all involved. Now, the real question is: how do I go about getting a few of those piggy pork buns back home to New York?
2024 S Lamar Blvd