I know what you're thinking: "Is Barley Swine really that underrated?" Well, hear me out a bit!
When Barley Swine opened eight years ago on South Lamar, the tiny joint was ALL the rage. It was so small that it was hard to get a seat (at communal tables, no less), and it was landing on all sorts of best of lists. Now, flash forward to 2018, and the restaurant is still just as delicious (and so much bigger and better on its Burnet Road location), and the critical acclaim is still just as high, but when was the last time you ate there? I'll wait a second while you think. Younger siblings Odd Duck and Sour Duck Market get all the press and Instagram love nowadays, but the oldest is still producing incredible meals.
Case in point, I went there for a birthday meal this spring, and we ate EVERY DAMN DISH. Every single one. There wasn't a misstep in the lot. In fact, we had to order a second round of one particular dish (which I'll get to in a second). And, the waiter even brought us out baby bowl scrapers for us to get every little bit of yummy sauce off our plates. I mean, c'mon, what a baller move!
While the menu is constantly evolving and changing with the seasons, I'm happy to say there are a couple of constants (that, of course, are tweaked given the current produce), and one of those is the shiitake dumplings. These things are some of the most delicious dumplings on the planet. They are pillowy and light and have that meatiness from the mushrooms. And, better yet, they come in this scrambled egg sauce I can't even begin to describe. It's worth every slurp you can scrape off the plate. Order two if you're with a larger party. Hell, order one just for yourself! When I went in the spring it was served with grilled kohlrabi, and this summer when I went back it was accompanied with the more seasonal zucchini (pictured here).
Chef Bryce Gilmore (much like his dad Jack) also does delicious things with his meat courses. Whether it's a goat shoulder, sirloin, or an aged duck. If you're a carnivore, definitely don't leave without partaking in one of his heavier, meatier dishes.
I haven't actually done any of the chef's tasting menus, but if you're looking to completely go to town at Barley Swine, it's really not that expensive at $95 per person. The last time I was there, I sat next to a man at the bar who was doing the menu solo for his birthday and thought to myself, "yeah, I would totally do that for myself."
Another great thing about Barley Swine is that the wine menu is totally reasonable, and I've always found something surprising on there I wouldn't have normally considered. Always, always, always ask your server to recommend something. I love discovering new wines or boozes that way!
So, while Uchi and Uchiko are always on everyone's occasion meal lists, and all the new hotspots get all the love, next time you're looking for a beautiful meal for a birthday or date night in Austin, consider Barley Swine instead!