Kyoten Sushiko Austin has re-opened and if you’re in town you should go right away.
Regular readers know that I don’t make restaurant recommendations unless I’m sure. And when I recommend a restaurant I am always right. For instance everyone that’s ever taken my recommend for Elephant Jumps in Northern Virginia has told me it was even better than my endorsement led them to believe.
When I first wrote about my favorite sushi place in Austin I didn’t think it would last because it was too good. Chef Otto Phan, who had worked at Nobu and Masa in New York, needed a bigger stage. Two years later he decamped from the Mueller neighborhood looking for the recognition that his skills deserve in a city that’s Michelin-rated. And he’s absolutely gotten it with his new Chicago restaurant Kyoten, which I reviewed shortly after it opened in September and had the good fortune to return to last month.
Chef Phan kept the Mueller space in Austin, though, and Kyoten Sushiko Austin just had its soft re-opening this past Wednesday under a new chef that’s been training under him in Chicago. I dined there Friday night and was absolutely thrilled by the meal.
Kyoten Sushiko Austin Has Been Remodeled
The restaurant has been remodeled. It’s no longer as barren (something it was criticized for but I appreciated, in a Japanese minimalist sort of way where adornments are simply distractions from the meal).
There’s no more ‘rolls and bowls’ served at lunch, the front seating area has been converted to a welcoming area to wait before the chef is ready for you to be seated for your meal. They have 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. seatings, expect the meal to take about 2 hours although as the chef was finding her footing our meal lasted until about 8:20 p.m.
New Chef Sarah Cook’s Omakase Experience
I was both excited and nervous to try the relaunched restaurant. I was sure it would be the best sushi in Austin (it is) but feared it would be ‘Chef Otto-lite’, doing the same thing that he was doing only not as well. That isn’t the case.
Though the focus remains on Edomae sushi, aging, curing, and marinating fish and presenting complex flavors from simple dishes, chef Sarah Cook is clearly taking the restaurant in her own direction. There are several dishes that are ingredients-intensive, in contrast to Chef Otto’s simplicity. And she places an emphasis on fresh herbs.
You’ll receive about 20 different items and dishes over the course of the evening, each one handed to you to eat directly with your hands. There weren’t chopsticks on the table until being presented with cooked dishes, though you could certainly ask for some if you prefer not to pick up a piece of fish directly. Most piece of fish are presented in front of you to pick up and eat, the shrimp dish placed directly in diners hands.
There’s a natural progression to the meal, starting with simple tastes of fish like Tasmanian ocean trout and lean tuna. They age the fish here but since we were just days from opening we were being served more belly cuts that don’t require the aging.
Then it’s time to move to more complicated flavors balanced by more than just rice and freshly shaved wasabi.
Then there’s a transition from nigiri to prepared dishes.
A unique and special element to an omakase experience served at a sushi counter is interacting with the chef throughout the meal. Chef Cook is really engaging and very knowledgeable about everything she’s prepared. She’s also humble (a marked contrast to the prior chef here!) and genuinely seeking feedback on each dish as she experiments with what works best. She acknowledged that her scallop dish isn’t quite where she wants it to be. I found the scallop to be perfectly cooked, a real rarity, but a bit overwhelmed by the sauce she presented it in.
Tuna is always a fan favorite, and we had three pieces during the evening. Earlier in the meal we were served a lean tuna. Then closer to the end a medium and a fatty tuna. I was surprised to enjoy the medium tuna even more than the fattiest one.
Some guests apparently ask what kind of fish this is. And it isn’t fish at all, but a piece of A5 Hokkaido wagyu.
Our penultimate course was uni. Rather than being served traditionally it was served as the topping of a porridge of rice, fresh fish, and a variety of herbs. Beautifully presented and delicious, at this point in the meal I found I was actually getting full and so I didn’t finish all of the rice.
Our evening ended not with tamago sadly but with a meringue and then fresh fruit.
Kyoten Sushiko Austin Will Only Keep Getting Better
The meal wasn’t perfect. The chef’s sushi knife skills may not be up to where Chef Otto Phan’s are yet — a couple of my pieces had bits of sinew, especially the ocean trout. Still it’s hard to imagine that while Chef Cook’s experience is almost entirely working with Asian cuisine that it’s her first serious foray into sushi.
Service needs a bit of time to perfect, though it was very friendly and personal – the hot towel at the beginning of the meal was soaked with too much water, and there was no towel for wiping fingers between pieces.
Nonetheless Kyoten Sushiko Austin is the best sushi experience in Austin right now, and this is merely the chef’s baseline – her starting point – and I’m excited to keep going back because it’s clearly going to keep getting better. It’s $150 per person, but that includes tax and tip (so I compare it to a $115 meal).
There are a lot of great meals in Austin, from the world’s best barbecue to delicious Mexican, and many takes on New American and Asian Fusion cuisine. But Kyoten Sushiko Austin is the most interesting new opening right now.