One of the golden rules of restaurant reviewing is not to evaluate an eatery during its opening weeks. There are always bugs (hopefully not literal…) to cleaver as new staff learns new processes with new clientele. Nonetheless, we stopped into District Kitchen+Cocktails mere days after they debuted in the hope that, since this ain’t their first buffalo burger, they know what they’re doing. We were not disappointed.
After attending Le Cordon Bleu in Austin and becoming the executive chef for Kona Grill at the ripe old age of 21, Amir Hajimaleki and his brother Ali opened up their first restaurant in 2013, the original District Kitchen+Cocktails, in Circle C. They followed that with Oasthouse Kitchen+Bar near Concordia University in 2015 and now with a second District in the former location of Suzi’s China Grill at Anderson Lane and Shoal Creek. (Amir also features a pop-up [soon to be brick and mortar?] called Roya that serves food from his Persian background).
Amir casts his menu as New American, which is broadly defined as a fusion of French and other European techniques with standard American fare and elements of Asian, Latin, and Mediterranean cuisines (we are a melting pot, after all!). There are hummus and falafel, street tacos, poke, Wagyu steak, shrimp and grits, blackened fish, a buffalo burger (I told you!), salads, pasta, and migas. Such a wide array of cuisines on a menu would typically worry me (what do y’all do well?), but District’s chef de cuisine MacKenzie Viglianco seems to do everything expertly (I only say “seems” since I haven’t eaten through the entire menu [yet]). District’s menu follows the seasons and favors local farmers and vendors as well as sustainable seafood.
We’ve stopped in twice for brunch, and were impressed with the quality and the price for that quality: This chef-conceived-and-prepared food is a great deal. The Hamachi Crudo (pickled grilled pineapple, golden beet citrus marinade, cucumber, fresno pepper, and cilantro; $12) was light and fun–a great way to start our meal. Being hopelessly infatuated with biscuits, I tried the Heart Breaker (two honey buttermilk biscuits topped with duck-fat gravy, bacon, shishito pepper, sharp cheddar, green onions, and two sunny farm eggs; $13) while the bride yinned my yang with the Little Gem Salad (orange supremes, goat cheese, grape tomato, shallots, fresh mint, cucumbers, toasted almonds, and sherry vinaigrette; $12), which was, indeed, a little gem of a delightfully delicious salad.
The Shackshuka (a misspelled middle-eastern dish of two poached farm eggs in spiced tomato ragout, sausage, feta cheese, and micro cilantro with French bread; $10), which came in an iron skillet and a (false) warning of spiciness, was savory and pan-scraping good. The District Spring Omelet (wild mushrooms, roasted red peppers, asparagus, goat cheese, and pea tendrils with smashed potatoes; $10) tasted like a bright and sunny spring day (something these folks excel at). A friend thoroughly enjoyed her Chicken+Waffles (crisp golden waffle topped with fried chicken and served with cinnamon honey butter and maple syrup; $15) raving that the thin chicken allowed the perfect chicken-to-waffle ratio for every bite. Yet-to-be tried enticements include Hog Wings (pork shanks with Shiner tamarind sauce), Bacon Beignets, Falafel Fritters, Truffle Prosciutto Naan, and Blue Crab Mac & Cheese, among others.
Pastry chef Dennis Van has forged some fantastic desserts. A blueberry and lemon cake, a lo-fi/hi-fi tiramisu with rice krispies, and the District’s famous Chocolate Nutella Mousse (light and fluffy chocolate hazelnut mousse, candied orange zest, sea salt; $8) were all memorably delicious.
Cocktails feature prominently in District’s name, but we haven’t ventured deeply into the drink menu yet (check out the highly instagrammable Butterfly Effect on the District’s facebook page). Based on the menu, if Yoda was a foodie, he would say, “The mixology is strong with this one.” We did try a banana-themed libation (no longer on the menu?), but the bride deathstarred it as “Interesting, but I won’t order it again.”
Waitstaff are friendly and unobtrusive: There when you need them, not there when you don’t. The place itself has a minimalist-modern steampunk Moroccan vibe to it with deep red walls, black furniture, gears galore, and a massive pivot door, but the corner windows brighten up the tables during the day. An outside patio beckons in favorable weather. All in all, District fits a needed niche in Allandale eating, resting comfortably between the high-end chefiness of Barley Swine around the corner and the elevated Texas continental of Jack Allen’s Kitchen across the street. We plan on visiting often.
web&where: interwebs; 7858 shoal creek boulevard
what’s the deal? New American locavore with a heavily stamped passport; table service
overall: *** (food***; drink**; atmosphere**; service***; instagrammability***)
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best]
I wrote this review for the Allandale Neighbor