Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review

East Side Show Room may become a victim of its own popularity

East Side Show Room

1100 E. Sixth, 512/467-4280,
Daily, 5pm-2am
Restaurant Review
Photo by John Anderson

East Side Show Room

1100 E. Sixth, 467-4280
Sunday-Friday, 5pm-12mid; Saturday, 5pm-1am

With exceptional vision, local designer Mickie Danae Spencer has transformed one of the languishing old corner stores on East Sixth Street into a thoroughly engaging restaurant space that is equal parts Parisian bistro, burlesque cabaret, and steampunk film set. Dim lights flicker along art-lined brick walls. A movie screen running old silent films catches the eye for occasional moments of slapstick amusement. A small stage in the corner hosts musicians nightly who spin ballads in the style of Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, and Django Reinhardt.

Welcome to the East Side Show Room, an aptly named new restaurant where theatre reigns over cuisine and being spotted is a fine art form. From the beer tap suspended from the ceiling made from a brass periscope to the exceptionally baroque cocktails and the twink­ling chandeliers fabricated from metal gears and other found objects, just about everything oozes style, including the young and beautiful clientele. However, while the East Side Show Room is one of those places rich in creative spark, it can be underachieving when it comes to the administrative details of running a restaurant.

This isn't to say that food is bad at the Show Room. On the contrary, the clever, constantly changing menu – designed around locally grown produce, sustainable farm-raised meats, and local dairy products – has so much promise. And at times it delivers with resounding clarity. I love the PB&J ($11), a slow-stewed pork belly, crisped at the last minute in the oven then drizzled with a light citrus (was it grapefruit?) vinaigrette and served over a bed of perky fresh greens. I am also impressed by the gratin du jour ($6), a simple but thoroughly satisfying dish when prepared properly. Mine was a plain potato gratin made from thinly sliced spuds cooked down in cream and cheddar cheese. The layers were piled high, practically melted together, yet were perfectly crisped on the top. And a spicy seafood cacciatore ($7), served like a pot pie topped with a wheel of flaky puff pastry, makes an irresistible first course.

But these successes happen inconsistently. Frankly, the very inventiveness that draws fashionistas into East Side Show Room like a giant tractor beam seems to overwhelm the two-person kitchen and inadequate waitstaff. Case in point: On a recent Wednesday night in December, the place was abuzz with activity. Waits for tables topped an hour, and once seated, customers' wait for service was embarrassingly long. We ordered pasta with wild boar Bolognese ($22) for dinner. The Bolognese was exceptional – a simmered stew of game swaddled in a luxurious spicy tomato sauce that I could have eaten with a spoon. Too bad it was served atop wet, limp, and overcooked noodles.

On a different night (a Sunday, and remarkably, equally busy), we were told that two of the dinner items we wanted were already sold out. We settled for fried chicken and pulled pork in a beignet accompanied by cabbage slaw ($16 each). The plate with the fried chicken came piled with a molten sweet-potato-carrot puree humming with sweet intonations of butter and curry and snappy green beans coated in mustardy vinaigrette. The fried chicken was crisp, well-spiced, and generally delicious ... until we bit into a pink, undercooked thigh. The pulled pork was well-executed – slow-cooked, flavorful, and tender. But it arrived cold, and I couldn't help feeling that the overall flavor would benefit from a strong shot of pepper.

The desserts that night seemed like an afterthought. A lavender chocolate torte ($7) weighed on the tongue, the dense chocolate overpowering all evidence of lavender. A napoleon of too-thick puff pastry rounds – the same that topped the seafood cacciatore, only unlike the pastry on the cacciatore, these were cold and chewy – separating thin citrus custard and cream that oozed all over the plate ($7) was impossible to eat with any grace. But it's clear that after waiting for close to three hours for a table and dinner, most people don't bother with dessert.

I really want to like to this restaurant for its creative and inventive spirit. But ultimately, it may become a victim of its own popularity. Or perhaps with time, the kitchen and waitstaff will find an equilibrium that balances both the spark and the little details.

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East Side Show Room, Mickie Danae Spencer, steampunk, sustainable, local produce, seafood cacciatore, fashionistas, wild boar Bolognese

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