Olamaie is the newest restaurant occupant of a quaint building on 1610 San Antonio that formerly housed the legendary Mars and the formidable Sagra Trattoria. Those are big shoes to fill, but Olamaie has more than done so.
Nominated for a James Beard for best new restaurant, my recent visit more than proved the recognition was well-deserved. Chefs Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas have created preserved a family tradition they describe as modern Southern Cuisine. And there is absolutely nothing like it in Austin.
I began with the Country Sausage Gravy, a dish both unusual and quite memorable. At the core are pencil cob grits, a soft egg, peanuts and green garlic. The mélange of flavors offer incredible mouth feel while at the same time providing more textural substance than the name would imply. This is a smash hit.
And then as if by magic, a wrapped basket of biscuits appeared at our table. Though I’m not usually a biscuit lover, these proved to be cut from an entirely different cloth. Crispy on the outside and delightfully moist on the inside, they were quite simply amazing. As good as the honey butter was, I found I preferred the biscuits sans butter. I’m thinking of them as I write this.
Next up was the equally compelling Ella Ramsey’s Smothered Cornbread. Imagine the most crisp yet tender cornbread around (rivaled only by Spanish Oak’s Jim Trippy), and then smother it with Virginia Oysters, garlic cream and spinach. The first bite was a taste rush the likes of which I have not experienced in some time. I lost control however, as my wife and her friend pulled it away and devoured it. You must try this.
The country-fried Florida Grouper was another smash. Again, serious first bite presence with a texture that was damn near perfect. The taste was smooth with just a hint of lemony back bite. Utterly enjoyable!
Also tried the Kilt’s White Button Mushrooms. I was expecting something different from the description. This time the warm country ham vinaigrette and the tarragon and catsup took a while to sneak up on me. This proved to be my least favorite dish of evening, as the warmth of the vinaigrette had faded by the time the dish reached my table. Still the flavors were quite compelling, and I would give it another shot on my next visit.
The girls tried the Day Boat North Carolina Flounder. The combinations in this dish were absolutely masterful. The biscuit dressing, sorghum, roasted carrot and country ham likker (a Southern term for the liquid that remains after boiling collard greens, turnip greens, et al.). The flounder was a tad on the dry side, but the flavors were so compelling that it really didn’t matter!
The biscuits killed any hope of sampling the desserts, but that will be the next story.
Olamaie is about understated elegance infused with southern Austin charm. This is a tough reservation to get, but well worth it. A doff of the cap to all associated with this traditional yet very modern endeavor.