After a somewhat sluggish 2017, major restaurant openings are finally kicking into high gear in Austin. Now, perhaps the buzziest 2018 restaurant of them all is ready to open its doors.
Hai Hospitality’s Loro, an Asian smokehouse concept combining the culinary powers of Uchi and Uchiko chef/owner Tyson Cole and Franklin Barbecue owner and pitmaster Aaron Franklin, will greet its first visitors April 4.
Although Hai is most known for its upscale concepts, Loro, located in the heart of South Austin at 2115 S. Lamar Blvd., takes a markedly casual approach. For starters, Loro has counter service. Guests order food and drinks from the wraparound bar, then take a seat at communal high tops, cozy booths, or picnic tables on the back patio while waiting for servers to deliver their meal. Takeout is also available.
The interior is equally relaxed. Created by Austin-based firm Michael Hsu Office of Architecture in collaboration with renowned Vancouver-based interior designer Craig Stanghetta of Ste. Marie Design, Loro was inspired by storied Texas Hill Country dance halls. Still, the minimalist space winks at Japanese design with a ceiling that evokes vernacular minka architecture and charred yakisugi (also known as shou sugi ban) walls.
Outside, the space feels like a deluxe ranch house with outdoor seating areas decked with rocking chairs and a massive log banquette. Heritage Live Oak trees were kept intact on the property, providing a canopy of shade.
The backyard barbecue vibe extends to the menu built by James Beard Award-winning chefs Cole and Franklin, as well as sous chef James Dumapit, the 2017 Rising Star Chef of the Year winner in the CultureMap Austin Tastemaker Awards. The influence of all three can be clearly seen in the cuisine.
The offerings are broken into several sections. Snacks include candied kettle corn sprinkled with togarashi (a red chili-based spice mixture) and tossed with brisket burnt ends and oak-grilled snap peas with a kimchi emulsion and Sriracha powder. Starters are light, like chicken karaage with a Thai chili gastrique and numbing Szechuan peppercorns or a kale and Asian pear salad tossed in dashi.
For lunch or a quick dinner, patrons can select from sandwiches filled with Thai green curry or smoked and grilled brisket or rice bowls topped with crispy tofu, Malaysian chicken, and char siu pork shoulder. Several larger plates round out the menu, from oak smoked salmon with cardamom simple syrup and chicken bo ssam lettuce wraps to sure to be coveted smoked beef brisket marinated in Vietnamese dipping sauce nuoc cham (available at dinner only). All can be paired with simple sides like garlic rice noodles, coconut scented rice, and a Japanese take on Texas sweet corn.
The beverage program, designed by Hai beverage director Chris Melton, is designed to match the strong flavors of the bright Asian ingredients and smoked meats. The bar will rotate batched cocktails with an initial lineup of TyKu sake slushies, frozen gin and tonics, ginger Old Fashioneds, peach margaritas, lemongrass daiquiris, and Negronis. Wine and sake will be on tap, along with draft beer and a few selected bottles.
Beginning April 4, Loro will be open Sunday through Thursday from 11 am-10 pm and Friday and Saturday from 11 am-11 pm.