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'Top Chef' champion Paul Qui is on the move

By Virginia B. Wood, Fri., Aug. 3, 2012

Austin chef Paul Qui's life has been a whirlwind of activity since he emerged victorious from Bravo's Top Chef: Texas competition and also garnered a James Beard Award as Best Chef: Southwest this spring. He no longer works regular shifts at Uchiko, but he does maintain a consulting relationship with the company that owns that restaurant, as well as Uchi outlets in Austin and Houston. Most recently he's been on the road: representing Top Chef at high-profile charity events, attending an international chef's symposium, and vacationing in Japan. "I spent a couple of days visiting my business partner Moto Utsunomiya's hometown and did a two-day stage at a restaurant called Kanawa in Hiro­shi­ma," he reported. Back on the home front, Qui and East Side King partners Utsunomiya and Ek Timrek sold the trailer they operated at the Grackle and are having a replacement truck built, which should be in place in a few weeks. "We want to improve service at the trailers. We've tweaked the menus, added some new items, and raised the price point a bit. I've got a new sous chef named Aaron Savage running the trailer at Shangri-La and we're expecting to see really cool things from him," Qui told us. "We're also in negotiations with the guys at Hole in the Wall about doing an East Side King there, too." The other big news is that the partners have just signed a lease for the first brick-and-mortar East Side King outlet; look for the restaurant to open at 2310 South Lamar next spring. Qui says he's focusing on developing a really good restaurant that is uniquely Austin, and we can't wait to see what he does next.

Austin has been exporting homegrown culinary concepts to other Texas cities for years, and now Houston is returning the favor. The first local Lupe Tortilla outlet is doing big business in the Arbor Walk (10515 N. MoPac) with another outlet planned in West Lake Hills later this year. Lupe Tortilla offers Tex-Mex fare, with lime- and chile-marinated fajitas, and giant, soft flour tortillas made in-house as the specialties.

I dropped by Upper Crust Bakery (4508 Burnet Rd.) to pick up some pastries for a food writers' meeting the other day and noticed the cool new neon sign atop the building for the first time. I also discovered the Frisbee-sized Elephant Ears ($1.45), their huge, buttery version of French palmiers, and now I'm hooked on the crunchy, cinnamon-sugar-crusted delights.

Hot on the heels of our recent story on the Rainey Street district ("Rainey Street Bites," May 25), two new eateries are making their debut in the neighborhood. Look for Spanish small plates at the Tapas Bravas trailer (75 Rainey), and a veritable beer and sausage utopia at Banger's Sausage House & Beer Garden (79 Rainey). The big new venue boasts indoor seating for about 100 in the beer hall and another couple hundred outdoors under the shade of towering pecan trees. They feature 103 taps of carefully selected beer (half sourced from Texas craft brewers), and a menu of 30 different sausages paired with housemade condiments and inviting side dishes. Live music programming will be in the country, bluegrass, and folk vein.

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