At the Peached Tortilla, biography is part of the company brand, a culinary travelogue that takes its star (former lawyer Eric Silverstein) from Tokyo to Atlanta, picking up culinary influence like a lint roller. The servers even work it into their introductory spiel, explaining how nouns become verbs, and trucks become bricks and mortar. It's a nice arc, full of more ups than downs, but we suspect it's a convenient fiction.
By that we don't mean to imply that Silverstein is a culinary Brian Williams, but that the tale of two cities doesn't really have much to do with the Peached Tortilla's actual cuisine. We assume Silverstein did not stop refining his palate after moving from Georgia. And if not, one hardly hears dueling banjos when disembarking Hartsfield anyway. Yes, there is a touch of the American South in Silverstein's comfort food, but there is also a touch of southern Italy. Calling it "fusion" does it a disservice, if only because the world has long ago fused.
That's more than apparent in the cozy dining room. Glossy benches and Design Within Reach Salt Chairs express a sort of Southern gentility, but it's mixed with French bistro metal chairs, Midwestern dive bar stools, a large portrait of Lady Bird Johnson, and a geometric mural that has no doubt already been posted on BuzzFeed DIY. White is prominent, with sparing dashes of color. Anything else would have suffocated in the tight quarters.
Somehow the service staff navigate the narrow alleys admirably. That's important, because their "social hour" is a perfect occasion for fixed-budget largesse, quickly bringing in the crowds. Silverstein wisely keeps the menu edited. The tiny kitchen has plenty of things to prep and can bust out the same techniques as larger houses, but the relatively slim offerings ensure things come out quickly.
For social hour, that means poppable snacks and carefully chosen cocktails. There are a few surprises on the bar side. The Kentucky Mule ($6 at social hour) juleps the classic drink, while the Margarita de Peached ($6) surprises with habanero heat and thai basil. There's nothing particularly revelatory about the charred brussels sprouts ($5), but we'll never scoff at bacon jam and parmesan. Likewise, concept doesn't much matter with the kimchi arancini ($5), although the wasabi and sriracha aiolis take the dish far from the trattoria. We're envious of Silverstein if he did indeed grow up on Mom's Toast ($5), dim sum shrimp toast lent sophistication from gochujang. After all that wanderlust, the crispy fries ($5) were, well, fries. They still went immediately.
Proper dinner expands the offerings, but everything is still designed for conviviality (there's a large column devoted to "shareables"). Although a little more composed in the expanded menu, those dishes still don't stray too far from comfort. Unagi goes low country in the Blistered Catfish Bowl ($12), swapping the traditional eel. Clever conceit aside, it still wanted something more. The 45-minute egg somewhat blunted the barbecue, but the Japanese pickles, while delicious, only reinforced the sweet. On white rice, that might have struck the right balance, but the slightly caramelized charred cabbage was far from a plain base.
But that was the only (slight) misstep. The Hanger Steak Ssam ($19) gave a new coat of paint to the lettuce wrap, the perfectly cooked beef given zip by kimchi. Tres Cauliflower ($11) grilled, pureed, and pickled the vegetable before adding nori butter. It's a standout version of a culinary cliche that reminds why brassicas have become so ubiquitous.
Silverstein gained his initial reputation on the strength of his sliders and tacos, and they haven't suffered one bit. Barbecue brisket, available on both tortilla and bun (sliders: two for $7, tacos: three for $12) doesn't really resonate as Deep South, both in its choice of protein and sauce. True, roasted peaches aren't typically in the Texas pitmaster's toolkit, but there's something in the smokiness that reads more Southfork than Tara. However, the Kalua pork, using a Hawaiian technique and Japanese and Korean ingredients, somehow does capture the South, as does the crunchy fish taco. Bánh mì, of course, does not. It's not really all that Vietnamese in character either, but ultimately, geography does not matter.
For dessert, the cornbread ice cream cake (a special at $9) was exactly that, and it didn't quite work. The cornbread was good enough to dazzle the fellowship hall, as dense as a Fannie Farmer pound cake, and the ice cream was just fine. But the main components never quite settled their differences. It longed for butter or even a pinch of salt. The banana Nutella spring rolls ($7) were much more cohesive, simultaneously recalling beignets and rice pudding.
It's one of those bright lightbulb ideas that you'll want to duplicate at home (probably never as successfully), and it's a good argument that we should stop our exoticization of Asian flavors. Here, Silverstein isn't so much creating a culinary map as a scrapbook. Pork belly, tofu, miso, pepper jack, fish caramel. Today, it's all just American cooking.
Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.