s is for suerte

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Los Taquitos del Dia

Corn is the food foundation of the western hemisphere. Domesticated some 9,000 years ago in Central Mexico, corn migrated into native cultures and cuisines across the northern and southern continents long before Europeans set foot in the “New World.” Corn in and of itself is not particularly nourishing and needs to be nixtamalized to reach it’s full potential.

Nixtamalization involves soaking and cooking kernels in an alkaline solution (generally limewater) and then washing and hulling the softened kernels, a process that greatly increases corn’s nutritional value and usability. The process results in masa–corn dough–used throughout native American cuisines (no masa; no torillas). It remains unknown how and why early native Americans figured this out, but the earliest evidence of nixtamalization is from Guatemala about 1,400 years ago.

Sam Hellmann-Mass, formerly of Barley Swine and Odd Duck, took his love of corn and Oaxaca and created Suerte, a masa-focused restaurant leveraged with local ingredients. Executive Chef Fermín Nuñez, formerly of Uchiko, L’oca d’oro, and Launderette, put together a menu where house-nixtamalized masa made from Barton Springs Mill’s white and Bloody Butcher corn evenly duets with various ingredients and dishes.

We arrived at Suerte 20 minutes before opening without reservations and got in line behind one party in front of us. After getting a nice seat by the window in a tastefully austere dining room (bedecked with sound damping to presumably address early reviews about its loudness), we perused the lucky hour and regular menus.  We started with the seasonal Refresco Tequileros (house strawberry soda, high proof blanco tequila, ruby port, gentian, and lime bitters; $6 during Suerte Hour [$12 off-Suerte]), which were, well, refreshing!

Suerte divides its menu into Snackcidents, Frio & Raw, Masa y Mas, Specialties, and Vegetables, all of which fits on one page and all of which can be ordered and shared tapas style (our preferred way of sampling menus). Because it was Suerte Hour, we started with the Taquitos del Dia (carrots + other stuff; $6) and Chips con Refried Lentils & Yogurt; $6 [$9 off-Suerte]). These snackcidents set the stage for the rest of the meal with a perfect balance of flavors among the different ingredients with masa providing an ever-present back beat. The Taquitos del Dia were gorgeous and a great taster to start the evening. The Chips con Refried Lentils & Yogurt were a great twist on chips and beans with thick, dark, rippled masa planks deeply dipped into flavors of the Indian subcontinent.

We followed our earlier drinks with a Don Dario (reposado tequila, tamarindo, sarsaparilla, lime; $6 [$12 off-suerte hour]) and a glass of Donkey and Goat Gallivanter ($16). The well-balanced Don Dario arrived in a distinctive glass with an ample apron of salt. The Donkey and Goat was part of Suerte’s celebration of the Wonder Women of Wine focused on wines made and owned by women.

We chased our appetizers with the Oak Grilled Brassicas (with pumpkin seed and sunflower sesame crunch and mole pipian; $9), Suadero Tacos (with confit brisket, black magic oil, and avocado salsa cruda; $17), and the Huarache (with duck carnitas, black bean refrito, pickled turnips, and beet top chimichurri; $16). The Brassicas (broccoli) were a nice (healthy) side step from the corn with flavorful crunches. The Suadero Tacos are consistently raved about by local, state, and national reviewers and, indeed, they are dang good with deep brisket flavor counterbalanced by the blissful maizeyness of the soft-blanket tortillas and the creamy brightness of the avocado cruda.

Huarache the footware is a Mexican sandal; huarache the dish is served on a thick sandal-shaped masa base painted with refried beans and then topped with ingredients. Suerte paints its Huarache with refried black beans and then tops it with duck carnitas, turnips, and beet greens. Again, the well-mixed balance of corn and carnitas was rivetingly delicious. Rather than having a desert, we ended the evening with a plate of Chorizo Molotes (with avocado crema; $5 [$9 off-suerte hour]), which look like fat man atomic bombs that explode with flavor.

Suerte means lucky in espanol, and, indeed, it feels lucky to eat here. One might say that that the national attention they’ve received (one on the best new restaurants in the US in 2018 [Eater]; Food and Wine one of the best new restaurants in 2019 [Food & Wine]; nominee for the best new restaurant in 2018 [Bon Appetit]) is lucky, but luck has nothing to do with: Suerte has been appropropriately rewarded for its attention to detail and balance of flavors.

web&where: interwebs; 1800 east 6th street; (512) 953-0092
what’s the deal? masa-focused leveraged with local ingredients; table service
overall: **** (food****; drink***; atmosphere***; service***; instagrammability****)
cost: $$$$

our scale:
–          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]

each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)

 

what others say:
Austin American-Statesman
Austin Chronicle
Texas Monthly

IMG_2230Refresco Tequilero

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Chips con Refried Lentils & Yogurt

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Oak Grilled Brassicas

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Suadero Tacos

IMG_2237Huarache

IMG_2233The Don Dario

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Chorizo Molotes

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IMG_2239the plates: I thought they evoked dappled eggs, the bride thought they looked like moldy torillas!

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