Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review
Seafood lovers will find comfort in dishes from Executive Chef Lawrence Kocurek and Roy's Classics
Reviewed by Wes Marshall, Fri., Aug. 8, 2008
Sun.-Mon., 5:30-9pm; Tue.-Thu., 5:30-9:30pm; Fri.-Sat., 5:30-10:30pm
Roy's340 E. Second, 391-1500
Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-9:30pm; Friday-Saturday, 5:30-10:30pm
Roy Yamaguchi created Hawaiian fusion cuisine 20 years ago at his eponymous restaurant in Honolulu. His idea was to take traditional Hawaiian food and add techniques he had picked up at the Culinary Institute of America. He also brought an adventurous palate and a love of French and Asian foods. The result is a unique cuisine that has been packing in Austinites for seven years.
Roy's went through a variety of chefs in its first four years, but for the last three, the man at the helm has been Austin native Lawrence Kocurek. His predecessors' cooking hadn't really excited me, but I had Kocurek's food at various wine and food events around Austin and had been mightily impressed.
Roy's is always well-populated, but we never had to wait for a table. The feel is sleek and modern, with enough soundproofing so that even with lots of happy talking, you can still have an intimate conversation. The menu is tilted toward seafood, and with 37 restaurants, Roy's has enough buying power to get some very nice fish. Kocurek devises 85% of the menu, with the other 15% made up of Yamaguchi's classic dishes, identifiable by the stylized "Y" on the menu.
Raw-fish lovers will want to try the sensational Pipeline Masters Sashimi Sampler ($25) with salmon, yellowtail, tuna, and octopus. All three raw items were perfectly fresh with the sweet flavors of the sea, and the octopus had a light sauce with subtle nutty sesame flavors. The portions were substantial enough for a dinner or a split appetizer. At 6 to 10 ounces of fish (depending on how generous the sushi chef is feeling), this is the reigning bargain for sashimi in Austin.
The appetizer menu had several good choices. Yellowfin Ahi Poke ($13) includes avocado, tomatoes, and a dollop of flying-fish roe, which adds a nice sweet crunch to the dish. My wife is from Maryland, and I have to admit being a little snobbish about my crab cakes, but the jumbo lump blue-crab cakes ($16) were fresh, sweet, and very light on the fillings.
We had good luck with the cooked fish, also – such as the Seared Rare Hawaiian Ono ($29). Ono is Hawaiian for "good to eat," and they got it right. A seasonal fish only available in the summer, with a light flavor and a tuna texture, it was delicious with the morel mushrooms and leeks. The Hawaiian Kajiki Grilled Rare ($27) came with ratatouille and what was described as an heirloom tomato salad (really grape tomatoes). The fish, aka marlin, was fresh and like a slab of sushi that had seen about 60 seconds on a hot grill. The ratatouille was the only misstep, with tough slices of eggplant that were difficult to chew.
Meat-eaters will find a several nice dishes. Tender Braised Hawaii Kai Short Ribs ($35, the total price for the bargain three-course prix-fixe menu) is a huge serving of fork-tender braised short ribs served on a bed of mashed potatoes, with pearl onions and a lush sauce made from thickened braising juice. Those (like me) who miss the Stinko (roast pork shinbone) at the shuttered Cibo can take solace with the pork shank ($26), something the waitstaff proudly refers to as the "yabba-dabba-do." Big it is and fall-off-the-bone tender. It comes with a kimchi beignet that you will want to savor.
If you've got a sweet tooth, I can recommend two luscious desserts. The Roy's Melting Hot Chocolate Soufflé ($9) is of the flourless type with a molten center, a stripe of raspberry coulis, and Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. There's nothing terribly different about it, but it was a chocoholic's dream date. I loved the pineapple upside down cake ($8), with the caramelized golden pineapple sitting on a brown-sugar pound cake with some homemade coconut ice cream to cool your palate.
Yamaguchi is a wine lover with his own wine label, and he hires people who know their wine. Each restaurant has some local choices, and the wine list at our Roy's is full of bargains – if you stay away from the big names. My favorite is the Domaine Famille Lignères Corbières Cabanon de Pascal 2002 ($34), a heady Grenache with huge red berry flavors and plenty of cleansing acidity to work with the pork shank and short ribs. The Lucien Albrecht Pinot Gris Cuvée Marie et Cécile ($58) is a masterful wine from Alsace, France, with a rich mouthfeel and enough density to go with the sauces in Kocurek's fish recipes. Both are bargains.
The service at Roy's was of the "anything to please" school. Sometimes it felt overly formal and formulaic, but that's a very minor complaint. In the meantime, we were well fed, plied with good wine, and ended both nights very happily.
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