The Elephant Room has an attic, and it’s created quite the national stir for our Austin food scene. In fact, Chef Tom Colicchio described it as “wildly innovative.” How did Colicchio come to eat here in Austin? More on that later. It’s called Swift’s Attic and Executive Chef Mat Clouser (of Uchi, Kenichi, Rabbit + Hat, to name a few on his resume) has been turning out impressive “modern American small plates” since 2012. The menu has many international influences, but the primary focus is on house made everything and there isn’t quite anything else like it in our capital city.
Once inside, the ambiance is just as unique as the menu. The walls are stripped to bare brick, and the exposed filament bulbs provide the perfect amount of dim lighting. Even the wall art, our favorite being the giant elegantly dressed bird portraits, provide as much whimsy and flare as you’ll find in every plate of food. Small plates of savory and sweet invention that defy duplication.
Not wanting to fight the downtown crowd, we opted to partake of their lunch menu, although the dining room still filled up quickly. If you would like to try the opposite approach, they’re one of the few places serving until 1am on Thursdays through Saturdays.
The beautifully constructed tiny meals come quickly, yet perfectly spaced. We began with the “Strawberries and Lardo” (pictured above). The tangy strawberries are balanced with black pepper and enhanced by the smooth texture of the creamy lardo. A pecan gastrique then brings the entire bite together as tinywisps of micro basil perfume it.
One of their more touted dishes is their “Squid Fries” (pictured above) which are so big and tender it’s really more of a squid steak fry. Cut from large squid steaks, the layers of flavor are almost limitless. Seasoned by charred lemon and then sauced with a sweet roasted garlic aioli each bite is elevated by green onion, dill, and parsley. It’s a perfect dish to pair with one of the 14 mostly local beers that they offer on draft. Unless you’d prefer one of their many wines by the glass served from a state of the art cruvient system.
With the next course, they had us at smoked fig-tomato ragout… The “Braised Windy Hill Goat Shoulder” (pictured above) is braised to perfection and then enveloped by pillowy ricotta gnocchi, watermelon radish, caramelized fig, sundried tomato, and spinach pesto. Did we mention the smoked fig-tomato ragout?
If there is pork cheek on the menu, it is the moral obligation of the table to order it. The “Warm Tender Belly Farms Pork Cheeks” (pictured above) do not disappoint. Braised until tender in white wine and served alongside toast points and spicy Dijon mustard, we can’t say enough good things about this dish. Which is why it will be mentioned again later.
Clouser for obvious reasons has collected many accolades on the local and national level, but he is not the only member of Swift’s Attic dream team to do so. He was nominated by Food and Wine magazine for their coveted People’s Choice Best New Chef in 2013 and 2014. Pastry chef Callie Speer was nominated for the People’s Choice Best New Pastry Chef in 2013! We made the mistake of only leaving room for one of Speer’s experimental desserts, such as her “Popcorn and a Movie” made with butter popcorn gelato, homemade candy bars, caramel corn, and a root beer gel. We asked our server to recommend a dessert to satisfy our guilty chocolate pleasure, and she quickly returned with the “Commander Crunch” (pictured below). You’re correct in your assumption that this name reminds you of a favorite childhood cereal. They changed the name for copyright purposes. A decadent dark chocolate mousse artfully quenelled over chocolate soil with a chocolate tuile explain our server’s recommendation. What make this dish transcend modern desserts is the sweet and creamy Commander Crunch gelato and the vibrant and airy blueberry bubbles. It goes without saying that Speer’s desserts are as inspirationally beautiful as they are delicious.
Swift’s Attic has been featured in more than 150 publications including DETAILS magazine, Wine Enthusiast, and Maxim, but most recent and exciting, they were one of very few restaurants featured in Bravo TV’s “Best New Restaurant” which brings us back to Chef Colicchio. It was at their episode watching party that we were able to partake of their craft cocktails. Specifically the “Lindacello” which blends basil infused Grey Goose, house made limoncello, raspberry puree, and Prosecco all topped with an edible flower. Swoon. Featured in the episode were Sheer’s “Popcorn and a Movie” which was highly praised by Colicchio, and Clouser’s “Pork Cheeks” to which they even provided the recipe in case you need more evidence of its highly evolved flavor.
In an unexpected turn, Swift’s Attic did not move on in the competition, but we saw the episode and can’t begin to understand why. So let that only intrigue you more. You should come and experience the “whimsy and flare” for yourself.Written by Jennifer Stratman, Chef and Owner of the Ginger Armadillo (firstname.lastname@example.org) Images by Lizabeth de la Cruz (email@example.com)