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Restaurant review: Nori – Food

Spicy Creamy Ramen (Photo by John Anderson)

What does it mean for a restaurant to be innovative in 2023? With gels and foams? Surely not…in this economy? These days, there are other ways to innovate in the restaurant industry, from automation to zero waste.

Even today, in Austin, being an all-vegetarian restaurant is groundbreaking. Despite the growing bona fides of this city and its plant-based population, there are surprisingly few places where diners can enjoy an all-vegetable meal indoors, served on plates, using real forks, knives and napkins that don’t they come off a plate. dispenser

In August 2022, Nori became the latest entrant in Austin’s not-so-crowded plant-based restaurant field. Occupying the space that once housed a Five Guys in the North University section of Guadalupe, Nori incorporates a modern and sophisticated concept between a vape shop and a Party Barn.

And people hide. We sat at the bar for happy hour at 5:30 on a Tuesday evening because there was another hour wait for a table. There, we watched as our hard-working bartender made drink after drink as orders came in from the ticket machine; It was several minutes before she could turn her attention to us and take our order. Since Nori offers discounted maki rolls and cocktails during happy hour, we decided to focus on those to get the most out of it.

We chose margaritas and That Drink Over There, conceived and named by the bartender who served us. It’s a gin-based drink with grapefruit juice, ginger, pear and rosemary that promises a fruity and floral flavor profile, but was a little too bitter to be really enjoyable. Both margaritas and That Drink would benefit from a splash or two of simple syrup to make them more palatable.

We decided to start with the vegetable tempura appetizer. It was delicious, with a crispy and tasty batter, but we wish there had been more of everything. There were a couple of large pieces of bok choy and potato, a solitary red pepper ring, and two small pieces of sweet onion.

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Shiitake roll (Photo by John Anderson)

We made quick work of the tempura but didn’t have to wait too long for our rolls to start arriving. We selected four rolls (which was too much for three people, as the portions are generous): the volcano, hearts of palm, shiitake and spider. The volcano was probably my favorite of the four. It is battered in tempura and fried, filled with spinach, avocado and sweet potato. Those with texture issues may find the soft sweet potato in the middle problematic, but I liked it for its simplicity and overall healthiness. The hearts of palm roll were nice and light, and tasted like a salad. Since hearts of palm have a mild flavor on their own, the main flavor was the tomato/spicy mayo/chili sauce combination on top. Both rolls were topped with Cavi-art, a Danish seaweed-based alternative to roe. It’s an interesting concept, but it wasn’t enough to leave any sort of impression.

I had viscerally negative reactions to both mushroom-centric rolls. There was a strange bitterness to the shiitake roll that was totally off-putting. Likewise, I ate a piece of the spider roll and pushed the plate away. The tempura battered beech mushrooms tasted and felt woody and stale. That said, I have several vegetarian friends who absolutely adore shiitake and spider rolls in Nori, which led to a lively discussion about our diametrically opposed reactions. We came to the conclusion that these particular rolls fulfill a need that I, as an omnivore, do not need to fulfill. Their unqualified adoration for these scrolls speaks volumes, so I’ll leave it at that. I appreciate that all scrolls are creative and beautiful on their own terms.

On the next visit, we turned our attention to the rest of the menu. The beetroot fries were ok, not too greasy and had a slight ginger taste. I was curious about the onigiri, a ball-sized ball of rice with shiitake mushrooms and topped with french fries. It was very delicious, the salt and umami and varied textures danced beautifully, but I have a raised eyebrow at that $8 price tag.

Our main courses came out pretty quickly, starting with the Japanese katsu curry, served with jasmine rice and a breaded tofu short rib. The curry was a bit sweet and sour, but not unbalanced. There were chunks of carrot and daikon in the stew, and the short rib was creamy and delicious. I ordered the spicy creamy ramen, which had a shiitake-based broth with a strong ginger flavor and lots of nori, but it wasn’t particularly spicy. The steak-like shiitakes and blanched broccoli were delicious; in fact, I would have preferred a version of the dish without the baked tofu and with a lot more mushrooms and broccoli. My friend chose the yakisoba, which had a mild flavor and lots of vegetables. If you have a picky eater at your party, this would be a good, heartless dish for them.

My spouse tried a margarita again and again found it lacking in sweetness. I don’t do Dry January, but this time I opted for the yuzu mocktail, which was much nicer than the cocktails, with a lovely balance of sweet citrus notes – pineapple, yuzu – and fizz.

Lavender tea mocktail (Courtesy of Nori)

There are two desserts on the menu, and on this visit there was only one, the lava cake. We were too full to try it, but I considered taking one home to share with my kids. That plan got the kibosh when I learned that the cake is made with almond flour, which is not listed on the menu.

Which brings me to accessibility issues: On my visits, I was seated at the bar and at a bar-height table. I’m lucky enough to be able to sit in higher chairs and get in and out of them with most of my dignity intact. There are also regular height tables, but I wonder if wheelchair users or people with larger bodies would be able to navigate the space easily, especially through the extremely small entrance hall. Also, while the menu indicates which items are gluten-free, those with nut allergies should check the hidden allergens in their dishes.

I enjoyed my visits to Nori, despite my personal aversion to a couple of rolls. The service is friendly, if a little rushed, and the space is charming (it’s a far cry from the bright white subway tiles of the fast-casual Five Guys and the tall stacks of peanut boxes and potato sacks). Based on the brisk business she’s doing even on Tuesday nights, Nori is clearly filling a need in downtown Austin, and doing so in an imaginative and creative way.

nori

3208 Guadalupe Ste. B, 512/520-5775
Sat.-Sun., 5-10pm; Monday, closed
noriaustin.com