We had an exceptional dining experience at Bar Chi last weekend. While the name may suggest it’s a bar, and they do sell well crafted cocktails, (house-made ginger beer is outstanding), the location is truly a high end sushi restaurant. Executive Chef, co owner, and General Manager Leo Wong designed a menu that has catered to multiple demographics since opening in 2010. Bar Chi has maintained their space and enthusiastic customer base, even as other heavyweights like Kenichi and Maiko eventually closed, with a simple perfected formula: feature a stellar happy hour, an excellent menu at reasonable prices and the personal touch of passionate owner management. Use this link to make reservations for Bar Chi.
One of Austin’s Best Happy Hours We dined early on a Friday evening. The place was busy when we arrived and continued to pick up steam throughout the night. Bar Chi is typically busy early because they offer a fantastic happy hour from 4-7pm every day and all day on Sunday that features $4 Japanese beers, $6 house wines, $7 martinis, and a long list of appetizers, nigiri, rolls, and skewers from which to choose. You can’t go wrong getting there early. We didn’t get the oyster shooters on this visit, but they are a Bar Chi classic and always a crowd pleaser.
On our recent visit, we enjoyed some happy hour items, but we really dove into the main menu. To start, we ordered garlic chili edamame simply to compare it to the traditional version, plus it’s a bit of a sushi bar tradition, then shrimp tempura, king oyster mushrooms, and wasabi tiger prawns. They were all excellent. But we took special note of the king oyster mushrooms because they were unique on many levels; unexpectedly large with a rich, almost meaty flavor and perfect texture that would likely work well for a vegan/vegetarian guest. Or, as in our case, they added further depth and texture that we really weren’t expecting from a mushroom. They’re a great example of what Bar Chi does that’s so special… entice you with something you think will be pretty good, and then find a way to surprise you with something even better.
Next we splurged a little with the Wagyu Risotto Spoon ($20), Jumbo Lump Crab Cake ($19), and Hokkaido Scallop Crudo ($17). I’ve added images of all of these below because they’re gorgeous dishes that made everyone smile both from presentation and the flavor. The Wagyu Risotto is a combination of Wagyu beef and shiitake mushroom risotto in a spoon that you take with one bite. There were 5 spoons and four of us, so I valiantly fought to let my lady have the 5th spoon and I’m pretty sure she loves me more now for it. The Crab Cakes were sautéed perfectly and adorned with shredded nori on a bed of aioli. There were three total and they were large enough to cut in half. The Crudo was amazing, with scallops, jalapeno, and avocado all sliced with surgical precision and topped with red tobiko (the tiny fish eggs that give it a salty crunch with every bite). The debate for our favorite was lengthy and the group trophy went to Wagyu Risotto spoons, although for me it was a rare “everyone gets a trophy” day.
Next we moved on to some signature rolls that Leo suggested with a Wild King ($22), Wagyu Surf & Turf ($22), Amber & Jack ($19), and Love at First Sight ($18). They have a lot of rolls on the menu that are under $10, but these were the top 4 recommended by the chef owner. The rolls were very large portions cut into 8 pieces, which was perfect for our party of four. Wild King featured lobster and avocado topped with king salmon. The Amber and Jack featured snow crab and avocado topped with amberjack. The Love at First Site included shrimp tempura topped with seared yellowtail and jalapeno. All three of these were topped with black topiko giving the distinct crunch mentioned earlier. Last on the list was the Wagyu Surf and Turf with ebi, avocado and topped with wagyu beef sizzled with a torch. Again, our expectations were exceeded. It was nearly impossible for the group to choose a favorite roll, but if there had to be a winner, it was probably the wagyu. It’s simply hard to beat wagyu beef when it’s done this well. For me, each roll was exceptional and the lobster topped the beef. But with the extra ingredients blended in perfectly in each of these combinations, they were all simply to die for. It was not lost on us that the flavors of each roll were so distinctly unique, ranging from bright and light to deep and rich, that you certainly would not mistake one roll for another, nor will we forget them anytime soon.
If you take a look at the gallery below and between the interior shots you’ll see the Edamame, Tiger Prawns, King Oyster Mushrooms, Crudo, Risotto, and Jumbo Crab Cakes. Then for four rolls: King Roll, Amber n Jack, Love at First Site, and the Wagyu Surf & Turf. The presentation was simply amazing. You can tell why I’m skyrocketing these guys up our top restaurants list and will feature them prominently again in our upcoming Best Happy Hours in Austin blog.