Restaurant Review: Yuyo
Manor Road is now home to upscale Peruvian fare
Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, Fri., Feb. 23, 2018
Mon.-Fri., 4:30-10pm; Sat., 11am - 2:30pm, 4:30-10pm; Sun., 11am-2:30pm, 4:30-9pm
To partake of Peruvian food is to participate in a long history of ancient traditions, colonialism, and immigration-inspired cultural fusion. From the ancient Inca to European settlers to Chinese and Japanese immigrants, Peruvian cuisine is a virtual Rainbow Coalition of influences. It's the ultimate fusion food.
Open since late October 2017, Yuyo is the passion project of chef Maribel Rivero, sister of Carlos Rivero of the El Chile restaurant group. Housed in the erstwhile El Sapo burger bar building on Manor Road, Yuyo is light and airy, maximizing the space with vivid colors and hanging baskets that gesture to indigeneity without feeling like cultural appropriation.
My first visit to Yuyo was a happy hour with some girlfriends, where we enjoyed a quiet hour before resuming our work and family obligations. We snacked on a variety of items from both the appetizer and happy hour menus, starting with the chifles – long, slender surfboards of fried plantains with a zingy ají amarillo dipping sauce. Along with the super-crunchy chicharrones, they made a light and refreshing starter. We had high hopes for the yuquitas based on their gorgeous golden-fried glow when they arrived at our table, but the yucca and farm cheese croquettes were bland and pasty in reality. They could have been improved with just a dash of salt.
The Cebiche Clásico was a real game-changer: bright, tangy, with a harmonious balance of acid and heat. Fleshy, firm striped bass topped with crunchy cancha (Peruvian corn nuts) and microgreens, the dish is invigorating and exciting. You could easily just park yourself at the ceviche menu and have a perfectly satisfying happy hour or meal.
Before we left to put our Mom hats back on, we ended our visit on a sweet note with an order of alfajores, crisp shortbread sandwiches filled with creamy dulce de leche and rolled in coconut, served alongside a delicate cloud of espresso cream. There were three of us and five cookies, and no considerable amount of hemming and hawing over the remainders. Someone's lucky husband got a very sweet and hotly contested leftover.
I enjoyed the Purple Drank more than the pisco sour, which is no doubt anathema to the entire Peruvian dining experience. Simply put, the Purple Drank, made with pisco, chicha morada (a corn-based beverage made from purple corn and stewed with pineapple, cinnamon, cloves, and sugar), and seasonal fruit, has a vibrant flavor with notes of mulled cider. The Pisco Sour, on the other hand, lacked nuance and tasted like triple sec. Cocktails are subjective, though, so your mileage may vary based on your tastes.
When we returned for dinner, it was a surprisingly busy Sunday night, and we had to sit on the patio, huddled under propane heaters. We started our meal on an unfortunate note with the ají de gallina empanadas. The dough, which appeared to be corn-based, was mushy and tasted off, for lack of a better descriptor. The pulled chicken filling had the consistency of potted meat and didn't have much of a flavor at all. My husband and I each ate one, and that was plenty. However, the accompanying ají amarillo and red bell pepper salsa, cut to an impressively consistent fine brunoise, was delicious; after giving up on the pastries, I ate the salsa straight from the bowl sin vergüenza.
You can't go to a Peruvian restaurant and not try lomo saltado, a cornerstone of the chifa culinary tradition, a blend of Cantonese and Peruvian techniques and ingredients. The dish is a beef stir-fry combined with onions and tomatoes, served with french fries. The beef was tender, nicely seasoned – an expert balance of pungent garlic and herbaceous coriander – and the french fries at the bottom of the small serving wok soaked up the marinade for an extra boost of deliciousness.
However, my hands-down favorite across my visits to Yuyo is the quinotto, a dish that will make vegetarians rejoice, for here is a meatless (perhaps even vegan; I couldn't get a definitive answer) dish that is both delicious and satisfying. Red and white quinoa, a grain native to Peru, swims in a nutty, fragrant broth alongside tiny pieces of purple and white cauliflower and topped with ribbons of brussels sprouts. I kept eating it long after my hunger was satisfied.
The service at Yuyo is friendly and informative, and the waitstaff appear to be almost entirely attractive white males in their 20s (although I did notice a few women behind the bar). They provided enthusiastic menu guidance that sometimes bordered on the heavy-handed, but not aggressive. But when it comes to driving questions in the dining experience, I'd really like to know what's in a dish rather than that the olive wood serving board was carved by a personal acquaintance in Peru and shipped directly to Austin. Those kinds of details are nice, especially if there's going to be a pop quiz at the end of the meal, but when I ask about what ingredients are in a dish, I expect a clear and unequivocal answer. That minor annoyance aside, the front-of-house staff made both of my visits pleasant.
I have high hopes for Yuyo despite the unevenness of the menu; I worry about the location, given the fates of El Sapo and Flat Top before it. While Austin dining is far from homogeneous, we as an urban locale could do better in terms of encouraging and supporting cuisines that aren't terribly mainstream. Yuyo is a tentative step in the right direction.
Yuyo1900 Manor Rd., 512/919-4147
Tue.-Sat., 4:30-10pm; Sun., 4:30-9pm; Happy Hour: 4:30-6:30pm