Fresh, healthy, bright, and acidic: That’s how Austin-based chef Tyson Cole describes his upcoming restaurant, Loro. The James Beard award winning chef plans to blend the signature flavors of his flagships, Uchi and Uchiko, with barbecue at an Asian-inspired smokehouse. I caught up with Cole at Feast Portland over the weekend, where he prepared a dish of sliced, smoked masu (Japanese trout) served chilled with fried corn, pickled green onions, and herbs. If this was a one bite mini-preview of the Loro menu, it’s got me intrigued. Now I want to see what a chef known for sushi can do with brisket.
Cole announced Loro in January, but offered little information about the menu. We now know he’ll be jumping into the smoked brisket game along with pork shoulder, smoked poultry, pork ribs, an array of house-made sausages, and—of course—smoked fish. They’ll get some apple wood and post-oak smoke, while a custom wood-fired grill will be used for other cuts like beef tri-tip or bavette. “Make it familiar and unique at the same,” is Cole’s self-stated goal. I described a pork rib dish I’d just had at the Granary in San Antonio, which included a garnish with mint and cilantro and a sauce of lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar, and chilies. “That’s very similar to what I’m talking about,” Cole says.
As for sides, Cole explains that, “you need some acid to cut the fat” of traditional barbecue cuts, adding that “most Texas barbecue places focus more on the meats than the sides.” Even those who provide great options generally focus on the classics, which other than slaw and greens, tend toward the heavier side. Mayo-based coleslaw? “How about green mango salad?” Cole counters. He also continually mentioned a menu skewed toward acidic flavors. “You can make it lighter, and cleaner, and brighter and provide some acidity with something besides barbecue sauce,” he says.
The menu isn’t quite set, but Cole knows the sort of atmosphere he wants. “Counter-service style is something I’m drawn to,” he says, nodding to the Rudy’s BBQ chain. When I inquired about a barbecue-omakase option—the chef selected menu similar to the one served at Uchi’s sushi bar—Cole cut me off. “It’ll be too casual for that.” Still, though ordering from a counter might feel familiar to barbecue fans, don’t expect to get your meats by the pound. They’ll all arrive as composed, plated dishes, along with tacos and other small dishes.
Cole selected the generic “Asian” descriptor because he wants the menu to highlight a variety of flavors. He brought on Jack Yoss, formerly a corporate chef for Uchi/Uchiko, but most recently the chef and culinary director for Fire, the W Hotel’s restaurant in Bali, Indonesia. Cole said Yoss will bring his experience in cooking Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian, and Indonesian dishes, which Loro will pair with barbecue.
Loro’s building is nearly complete at Lamar and Oltorf in South Austin. Cole says it might be another six months before it opens, but he is hoping for sooner. Given the warm reception for Kemuri Tatsu-Ya in Austin, it seems like folks in Austin have an open mind about unfamiliar barbecue territory. Loro will be another example of pushing the boundaries of how smoked meat is served in Texas. Let’s hope Cole has as much success in this new realm of brisket and ribs as he’s already had with raw fish.