High Note Is Playing the Wrong Chords
The other day I noticed that the fabulous Italian eatery Flour & Vine at 300 S. Lamar Blvd. (Austin, TX) had mysteriously vanished and been replaced by a new restaurant, High Note Kitchen. Curious who this new kid in town was I hopped onto their website to review the menu. Puzzled is a good descriptor of how I was feeling after I read it as it seemed a hodgepodge of various influences from vegan to Middle Eastern with an all-day breakfast menu thrown into the mix. I realized I wasn't going to be able to figure out what High Note's perspective was unless I ventured there. And so, I did...
Outside there is a massive patio with umbrellas and heaters. However, on this night, for some reason it was not being utilized. Shame because I would have loved to sit outside in the lovely evening. But, alas. Inside, it honestly took me a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the blinding illumination, so much so that I don't think anything cast true shadows. This was my first red flag -- this is a tactic that some restaurants embrace to make customers a little uncomfortable so that they eat quickly and, thus, there is a perceived higher turnover of table tops and, thus, a resulting high revenue. This is a tragic misconception, however. Uncomfortable clients never return.
As I waited on my date to join me for this culinary exploration, I sat at the bar and ordered one of their signature cocktails, the "High Honey!", which consists of vodka, honey, lemon, and lavender. It was absolutely delicious! I thought, "Hey! Not a bad start." Then I asked some questions about the menu to which the waitresses and bartender had to go to chef to ask. Their excuse for not knowing what is in the dishes is that they were just given the new menu that week. But it's not a long or complicated menu. I ordered the Charcuterie Board. It took nearly 25 minutes to receive it -- a board of sliced meats and cheeses, which they do not produce in-house, but are indeed locally procured. Once received, it was also up to the typical standards of your usual charcuterie board, but nothing special -- three types of salami including a ghost pepper salami, three small chunks of cheese (goat brie, smoked gouda, and a pungent blue, olives, sourdough toasts, honey and grain mustard).
My date arrived and we decided to order from both the "Handhelds" section, or sandwich section, and the "Mains" section based on the bartender's recommendation. I ordered the falafel plate and he ordered the "Ahogada" sandwich, which consists of roasted pork, grilled onion, avocado, white cheddar, tomato lime jus, cilantro, sourdough. Again, we waited at least a half hour for our food and there was only about fifteen customers in the restaurant, half of which were already there when I arrived, at this point an hour beforehand.
When the food arrived, my date and I exchanged glances full of skeptical questions. My falafel plate consisted of a few slices of avocado, a few slices of anemic roma tomatoes and cucumbers, some wilted arugula that appeared soaked in grease, and a dollop of taziki sauce and what I believe was to be chimichurri of some sort. But the piece du resistance of the plate were the two dark brown discs of DEEP fried, I mean fried beyond comprehension or lifespan, falafel. Being that Middle Eastern food is one of my absolute favorite cuisines, I've eaten a lot of falafel in my lifetime. While there's been some that really stand out above the rest, it's really not that hard to make good falafel. This, however...This wasn't falafel. I'm not sure what I was eating. It was a hardened gummy paste of some sort that had been left so long in the frier that it just tasted of grease. I managed to choke one down because I was starving, but left most of the food on the plate.
My date's food wasn't much better. And he's usually not a complainer when it comes to food. In fact, he gets irritated with me sometimes when I am too harsh about food. But even he left half of his food on the plate, unable to finish it. The "Ahogada" sandwich was basically two slabs of sourdough bread soaked in butter with a very thin layer of the ingredients listed above. But all you could taste was butter and grease and the occasional tang of cheese buried somewhere in there. The sandwich was served with a side salad that consisted mostly of arugula (which had the same weird wilted appearance which makes me believe it was sitting out somewhere a little too hot for too long), and a large saucer of marinara sauce. When you dunked the sandwich in the sauce it became even more confusing.
My date and I walked away from the experience very confused. Whoever is in the kitchen at High Note has both no idea how to craft a menu and no idea how to cook. At all. Often when I have a bad dining experience I'll give the place a second shot to wow me, thinking it might just have been an off night. But this was so lacking in passion, commitment, focus, or even just giving one damn about the food or the experience that I'll never go back. In a town with a million amazing dining options, leave High Note off of your list. It's a note you'll never miss.