The opening of Loro in Austin Wednesday comes with great anticipation. I was so excited to try it, in fact, that I accidentally chose the day before the official opening to drive to Austin from my home in Dallas. The anticipation only grew while waiting what seemed like an hour to make a left on Lamar into the parking lot at 5:30 p.m. Thankfully, the kitchen was going at full blast for the final day of the soft opening. Even better, I was just in time for brisket, which isn’t on the lunch menu (it’s served only after 5 p.m.).
A pair of James Beard award winners, and icons of Austin dining, Aaron Franklin and Tyson Cole, have developed a fresh menu at Loro that feels different from either of their signature restaurants. Unlike Cole’s seafood-heavy Uchi just down the street, there’s a single seafood option, a slab of oak smoked salmon. Likewise, on the barbecue side, without the smoked brisket plate and sandwich, it would be hard to tell that this menu had a big-name Texas pitmaster behind it. Both chefs had to look in new directions to work together.
They had help from Hai Hospitality (Cole’s restaurant group) corporate chef Jack Yoss, Loro’s chef de cuisine James Dumapit, and a huge splash of a hire, Bram Tripp. Tripp was most recently the pitmaster at The Pit Room in Houston, which was named one of Texas Monthly’s Top 50 BBQ joints last year’. His departure there was amicable, and the move to Austin was as much about being able to live in the same city as his wife as it was to cook with Franklin and Cole. Now he’s the man in charge of the pits.
Our food editor, Patricia Sharpe (who got the first look at Loro two weeks ago), and I went through most of the menu last night, but it’s obviously too early for a review. The menu is packed with protein options and some fantastic vegetables—the oak-grilled snap peas were better than any edamame appetizer—but I was looking for a dish that exemplified this new culinary partnership. For diners to know what to expect from Loro, what was the single menu item that best highlighted the restaurant’s ambition? Pat and I agreed that it was Aaron Franklin’s favorite cut of steak, the bavette.
Bavette is a fancy name for the sirloin flap. It’s got plenty of fat and cooks up quickly, which makes it great for grilling. At Loro they throw in some modern cooking techniques, but it all starts with brisket fat in the smoker. “I cube it,” Tripp says of the fat trimmed from the briskets. The cubed fat goes in a pan, “and then I put it underneath the briskets as they smoke on the rotisserie so it catches all the drippings.” The bavettes are submerged in that fat for a brief, ninety-minute sous vide bath. But before they go in the bavettes are salted and cold-smoked. The final step before service is grilling the six-ounce portions over post oak coals.
The steak is sliced for presentation, so barbecue fans used to eating with their hands will find that it makes for great finger food. The smokiness and the grilled flavor complement one another, with neither dominating. The steaks are medium rare, but have a denser, meatier texture than a steak that was just grilled. It’s a dish that illustrates the patience of a pitmaster willing to build flavor into a cut of beef that could just as easily have been seasoned and grilled for ten minutes.
The garnish is what provides the freshness exemplified in every Loro dish. A charred shishito pepper chimichurri is spooned over the top, then pickled pearl onions and fresh cilantro are added. It was one of the last dishes that came out, so we had the dipping sauces from most every other meat on the table, and I couldn’t help but dip the smoked bavette into each one. They all seemed to work, which Franklin told me was kind of the point. The man known for sauceless brisket encouraged dunking at Loro. “We really wanted all the sauces to work with pretty much everything on the menu,” Franklin told us, adding that “Everything on the table should be able to complement each other.” If that’s the goal, Loro is off to a good start.