The Barley Swine Experience

"There is no love sincerer than the love of food." -George Bernard Shaw

There exist minor obstacles in life that often prevent you from getting what you want, even if it is something seemingly easy to obtain. Obstacles like restaurants that require reservations, and establishments with prices so high that it's hard to find a willing dinner companion.

I've been dying to dine at Barley Swine for the last 3 or 4 years. As a person who describes herself as commitment-challenged, a major deterrent for me was the restaurant's requirement that its patrons take a vow to show up on a certain date at a prescribed time. Austin prides itself on being laid back, a city that not only allows patrons in cargo shorts and flip flops to eat at its fancy restaurants, but encourages it. Requiring customers to make a reservation several days in advance is antithetical to the Austin way of life. And I like options.

Then comes the sticker shock. I love food. More than most, I'm told, so I have zero qualms with spending a fortune on sustenance. Unfortunately for me, most of my friends don't share my philosophy.  $85 for the chef's tasting menu plus $40-50 in wine sounds like a bargain to me, while others imagine all the cool stuff they can buy with $135 whilst eating a $4 P. Terry's cheese burger (not that there's anything wrong with P. Terry's cheeseburgers, I ate 3 last week). Luckily, my dear friend Ariane agrees that investing in extraordinary culinary experiences is worthwhile, which is probably why we have eaten our way through the Violet Crown side-by-side. Well, more technically, across from one another at a dining table.

Ariane and I made plans. But, life got in the way, as it often does, and we just never made it. The South Lamar location closed and I got spooked. Had I missed my chance to experience Barley Swine?! Fortunately, the location on Burnet Road opened shortly after, so all was not lost.

Last night, the stars aligned (because I forced them to), enabling me to have one of the greatest culinary experiences one could ever hope for in the Capitol city.

Ariane recently celebrated a milestone birthday, so we decided to celebrate the only way we know how: eating and drinking and eating some more.

The new spot is much more spacious than its previous location, with double the amount of seating available, though it maintains an intimate and rustic feel.

We opted for the chef's tasting menu, rather than the a la carte option, which includes 14 courses of small plates of imaginative farm-to-table creations.

Chef's tasting menu

Chef's tasting menu

Here we are toasting glasses of 2009 Bodegas Fuentespina Tempranillo Reserva. They offer pairings of wine (both red and white) and beer to accompany the tasting menu, but we decided to enjoy a glass of wine of our choosing.

The chef's tasting is an amalgamation of flawless works of art whose natural flavors are accentuated by the expert mingling of various conventional ingredients from local suppliers. Here are some of the highlights.

The crab tamale was one of the more inventive offerings. The dish appears an unassuming crab shell accompanied by a bit of salsa. The server provided instructions: flip the stuffed crab shell over and combine the masa and crab meat mixed with fennel together with the salsa. A little on the salty side, the crab tamale was slightly reminiscent of a Tex-Mex classic, while the injection of crab flavor renders it wholly unique.

Here I am spreading decadent bone marrow across a flaky parsley croissant.

It's hard to make fried chicken stand out. Barley Swine succeeds in making its version memorable with this slightly sweet and not too spicy bite of locally raised, cage free chicken.   

If you're not paying close attention when slicing into the short rib steak, you'd think you were cutting butter. The flavor of this perfectly seasoned and cooked delightful little piece of beef is accentuated with miso and fermented beets.

When we began, I was sure I would never be sated by 14 tiny bites. I was so wrong. We couldn't possibly eat anything more by the last course and had them box the artisan chocolates.

My Barley Swine experience far exceeded expectation and I think it even cured me of my reservation-making phobia. It is certainly an experience worth working to overcome obstacles for. 

Barley Swine 6555 Burnet Road Suite 400, Austin, Texas barleyswine.com