SIGNews • October 2011 • 13
An Eater’s Review: ViUDA Bistro in Buda, Texas Oscar Ocuto SIGNews staff writer The cozy, small-town feel of Main Street in Buda provides a fitting rustic setting for the menu at ViUDA Bistro. You can expect to be greeted by owner Paul Rutowski upon your entrance. It was shortly after 5 p.m. and the place was already half full with Texans anticipating the start of the Texas-BYU game. When we were seated, Paul added his Wisconsin charm as he reviewed the menu, which changes on a weekly basis, depending on local availability. We decided on MexoAmerican Corn Cobs and Fromaggio Crostini to start our meal, followed by The Yak for myself, and The Carrington for my wife. Tiramisu and A Sinful Brownie were the dessert choices, although we were fortunate enough to also taste the Baked Orange Cake, thanks to our impromptu dining companion. The Corn Cobs arrived lined up in a row atop an oblong rectangular platter, complete with skewers for easier handling. At first bite, your palate will be hit with the smoky taste and slight crunchiness from the fried La Vaca Rica Cojita cheese which paves the way for the soft sweetness of the corn. We were puzzled as to the boiled corn mouth feel, since the menu outlined that the corn was charred. Perhaps a boil then a quick char over fire? Fromaggio Crostini were served in a similar platter to the corn, with three toasted slices of bread cut on the bias and topped off by blends of broiled mozzarella, Monterey Jack, parmesan cheese and paprika seasoning. There was a roasted garlic bulb that brought upon a lingering scent of warm sweetness. We squeezed the bulb, which yielded creamy garlic that was spread onto each of the four pieces of bread. Each taste replenished garlicky sweetness accompanied with a bready crunch that gently removed the flavor, preparing our palates for the next bite. At this point, the place, which is owned and operated by Helen’s Casa Alde (breakfast tacos in the mornings), was full of weekend patrons. There was a birthday party next to our table that added to the mix of burnt orange throughout the building. Paul came back and regaled us with future plans for further renovations and indicated that the exposed shelving adjacent to our table
was part of the original building. Rene Alcala, his business partner, was helping out with dinner service and as he passed our table, Paul took the opportunity to mention an interesting tidbit. Rene grew up in Buda and used to frequent the same building — except it wasn’t for Helen’s breakfast tacos yet. Before Casa Alde opened, the building was home to a general feed & supply store. Rene can remember coming in as a boy and buying 5-cent pieces of candy off those same shelves Paul was commenting on. That added to the overall enjoyment of the experience, letting us forget the visual transformation that the place is undergoing. My Yak steak was presented as a bonein sirloin cut. Sixteen ounces of free-roaming grassfed beef sat atop cubed sweet potatoes and yet under a medley of sauteed spinach and dried cranberries. At first bite, I was impressed by the juicy tenderness that gave way to the subtle spicing done by Kurt the deaf Irish chef. I shared my meal with my companions, and each of them remarked upon its thick succulence. I was glad that I followed the owner’s recommendation of a mediumrare preparation. Since this was my first time with Yak meat of any kind, Paul explained that due to the extreme leanness of the meat, it was best enjoyed in the rare — medium rare range, as any further cooking would render the meat gamy and unpalatable. My only reluctant comment would be in the portioning —16 ounces is twice the normal eight-ounce portion, and is a lot to eat in one sitting. I had an opportunity to spy the deaf Irish chef as he popped out of the kitchen to grab a cold soda, and signed my compliments. True to his busy nature, Kurt gave a simple acknowledgment behind a quick smile and a raised fist before ducking back into work. The Carrington was served as a thin prime rib eye atop a cast iron skillet with mashed Yukon potatoes divided by a sprig of thyme, an onion confit and pan jus. The onion confit had hints of balsamic vinegar throughout, with a tender sweetness mixed in that contrasted the overpowering buttery and garlicky taste of the mashed Yukons. The saving grace was within the jus, which washed my taste buds of the richness from the potatoes. Also, perhaps on
The bistro’s Yak Steak, up close. The restaurant is open on only weekends with hopes to expand its service days in the near future.
account of my palate being snatched by the full flavors of the Yak, my wife’s Carrington left me yearning to return to my meal. Once dinner was done and the table cleared, Paul returned to offer the dessert menu: A Sinful Brownie, a dense and rich mix of chocolates served in brownie triangles with strawberry garnish over a raspberry-chocolate ganache drizzle; the Baked Orange Cake showed up inside a pitted orange, topped with whipped vanilla cream in a semi-deep bowl; Tiramisu a lightly dusted sheen of cocoa powder over thin slices of espresso soaked ladyfingers coated in layers of luxurious mascarpone cheese, served with a kiss of Frangelico over a grid of chocolate sweetness. True to its “pick-me-up” description off the menu, I felt rejuvenated as I finished my dessert. The Frangelico did its job, allowing
the cake to soak it as I wiped my fork across the dish and enjoyed a slightly tart contrast to the overall sweetness that is tiramisu. My wife’s eyes opened wide in a “oh-mygod-this-is-too-crazy” look as her chocolate loving taste buds absorbed the pillowy layers of the Sinful Brownie. Based on her reaction, I decided I had to have a bite. Sure enough, the dessert lives up to its name. Nothing innocent carries such decadence, especially when it has a raspberry-chocolate ganache! My rating comes with a caveat: Don’t let the dimness and eclectic decor of the interior fool you. At first you may feel like you made a mistake in your restaurant choice. Look past your environs and focus on the food that comes out of the kitchen. While The Carrington did not do what The Yak did for me, I will be returning for a try at the salads, soup, and Flapper Bandits (chicken wings) plus whatever devilry lies behind the special of the day, aptly named The Corruption. It is based on Fromaggio Crostini, The Yak and its preparation, plus the Tiramisu and Sinful Brownie that I give ViUDA Bistro an initial four-star rating. Of course, fifth star will have to include that mysterious Nth element that may (and should) come over time and further samplings. ViUDA Bistro has found another returning customer!