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Statesman Reviews Somnio’s Cafe

29 January 2009 953 views 2 Comments

I grabbed takeout at Somnio’s Cafe yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to see the restaurant reviewed in the XL section of today’s Austin American-Statesman by critic Mike Sutter.

Most of the 30 indoor seats were taken when I arrived at 12:30 p.m. but since my order was to-go* it didn’t take long for chef Guidry to put together some sweet potato fries for me to sample along with the mushroom tacos and a side salad. Everything was unique, delicious, organic, and so FRESH. I could definitely feel the love.

*Somnios charges an extra 10% for to-go orders due to cost of the earth-friendly containers they use.

sign_004Somnio’s Cafe: A fresh South Austin bistro, brought to you by people who care what you eat and let you drink what you like
By Mike Sutter
AMERICAN-STATESMAN RESTAURANT CRITIC
Thursday, January 29, 2009

There’s a time to give a polite golf-course clap for earnest farmers-market cooking, all fresh and chewy-green, flavored mostly by its own sense of self-satisfaction. And then there’s a time to close your eyes in reverence for people who can buy righteous produce and make it rock out loud. And for that, I hold my lighter high for Somnio’s Cafe.

This is a place unprepossessing in its South Austin bungalow, with tomato plants out front fighting against winter’s grip with green fruit. It’s a place full of people who care what you eat but who don’t get militant about it. They named two of their best salads after characters in “Urban Cowboy,” for God’s sake: Bud (garbanzo beans, pecans, roasted beets, chipotle vinaigrette) and Sissy (goat cheese, apples, pecans, garlic vinaigrette). Their pal Radish (what, no other “Urban Cowboy” characters get their own salads?) stole the show, though. The thoughtful array of sunburst watermelon radishes and oranges, a spectacle of sweet-and-spicy radish crunch and citrusy sweetness, played out atop fresh greens and honey soy vinaigrette. Forget the movie metaphors. A more appropriate anthromorphology for this trio would be Crosby, Stills and Nash: a hippie supergroup solid enough to stand on its own, with or without a main-course version of Neil Young.
And there were rock-star main courses on our recent night at Somnio’s, no doubt: crisp panko-breaded pork medallions with tangy roasted-red-pepper tahini alongside spicy sweet potatoes and a build-your-own stir-fry bowl with a choice of meats, vegetables and sauces over noodles or rice. We built a winner: chicken, spinach, bok choy and onions in brown sauce over noodles. Chef Jay Guidry was there, a loosely coiled spring of a man in a psychedelic bandana, roving from the kitchen to the dining room, making sure the food was right.

fries

He asked us about another entree: the meatloaf special of lamb and beef flecked with vegetables. And when we said we liked the flavor and texture but wondered if he’d considered a sauce, Guidry’s eyebrows jumped, and he moved quickly to the kitchen, coming back in a few minutes with a steaming garlic gravy that harmonized with the meat and the two side dishes: firm-roasted potatoes, turnips and onions and a mix of purple-hull peas with tomatoes and greens.
For the promoter of what amounted to a rock concert on plates, Guidry stayed cool.
And Somnio’s is nothing if not cool. But not too cool for you, your kids or your budget. Take the main courses, for example. In addition to their vegetable sides, the $11 pork medallions and the $12 meatloaf special each came with one of those musical salads. Food this good, this beautifully plated, this plentiful usually costs more, and it’s usually served in a fancier setting. The patchwork of chair and chandelier styles, the casual piles of paperwork and silverware on the bar, the tea steeping on the counter in French presses — all of it will remind you of your free-spirited Bohemian college friend, the one who draped scarves over the lampshades to make the room more exotic. Too cool for you? No. Too cool for your mother-in-law? Maybe.

tacos_001

But our girls, both younger than 10, found plenty to like, starting with chamomile-citrus and red-mint iced teas from Austin-based Sesa. The pan-fried shitake dumplings packed the drive-through thrill of finger food with a crunch and a salty dipping sauce packed with ginger. And we fought over Nynavae’s tacos, fresh corn tortillas folded around fried globes of chopped mushrooms, topped with crunchy cabbage and served with blue-corn chips and fresh tomato salsa.
And the adults? Besides the food, we liked the French-press coffee and the bottle of Chalk Hill chardonnay that Somnio’s BYOB policy allowed us to bring inside. We also liked the blissful, ringing-in-the-ears feeling of leaving a great concert put on by people who clearly treasure their audience.
Somnio’s Cafe
1807 S. First St. 442-2500, http://www.somnioscafe.com/.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. Open Sunday for brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers $5-$7. Salads $4-$7. Tacos, rice bowls and main courses $7-$12.
Payment: All major cards.
Drinks: Austin-based Sesa hot and iced teas, IZZE natural sodas and French press coffee are $2. They don’t serve alcohol, but you’re welcome to bring your own. They provide glasses and a corkscrew.
Wheelchair access: A long ramp with a gentle incline to the front door.
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  • Lyssa

    I just heard about Somnio’s and can’t WAIT to try it! Thanks for posting the Statesman’s article and your own thoughts!

  • double tonic

    I haven’t been this excited about trying a new restaurant in ages! Healthy, affordable and close in … hard to ask for more. I’m ALL OVER those tacos.