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10 great upscale dishes

Staff Writer
Austin 360

TOBACCO CREAM DESSERT/UCHIKO

Executive pastry chef Philip Speer makes desserts for both Uchi and its new satellite Uchiko. This Uchiko exclusive brings together the flavors of scotch, tobacco, chocolate and berry: `I use a pretty high-quality Venezuelan tobacco, and I literally just chop up the cigar and put it into the cream. And I let it infuse overnight, so it gets that really rich tobacco flavor that numbs your lips a little bit. Then with that I make gel out of it using agar-agar (a gelling agent). The calcium in the cream reacts with sodium alginate, which is what I put in the scotch to coat the cream. With that I did these candied pecans. I started thinking leather and tobacco shops, so I went really strong on the vanilla in the pecans. They smell to me like a smokeshop.' Huckleberry paper, maple-vanilla budino (like a pudding) and deep chocolate sorbet finish the dessert. 4200 N. Lamar Blvd. , No. 140. 916-4808 , www.uchikoaustin.com .

AVOCADO TRES LECHES CAKE/URBAN AN AMERICAN GRILL

Chef Mizael Saucedo has the chance to make this hotel restaurant more than just a restaurant in a hotel. This cake is a start. The avocado adds a little color and texture, backed up by crème fraîche with the raisiny tang of sun-dried tomato. 11301 Domain Drive at the Westin hotel. 490-1511 , www.urbanatthedomain.com .

CALAMARI SALAD/ANNIES CAFÉ & BAR

Fried calamari - especially tossed with arugula, fried lemon and fried rings of cherry and banana pepper - sells itself. But toss it with rosy-cheeked sriracha dressing and it's a salad fit for Annies' cosmopolitan elán. 319 Congress Ave . 472-1884 , www.anniescafebar.com . (Reviewed 8/09: 8.5 out of 10)

CHARCUTERIE PLATE/PÉCHÉ

This cocktail cathedral (owner Rob Pate got himself ordained) is also particular about its food, down to an ever-changing array of cured meats and pâtés made in house. The plate might include cured duck breast, creamy duck liver mousse and an aromatic rabbit rillette. It's a sinful indulgence. 208 W. Fourth St . 495-9669 , www.pecheaustin.com . (Reviewed 5/10. 7.9 out of 10)

CUBANO SANDWICH/LA SOMBRA BAR & GRILL

A humble ham-and-cheese Cubano raised to crescendo with buttery pulled pork and cucumbers with the vinegary defiance of the freshly pickled is a good sign of things to come from this dashing Peruvian newcomer. 4800 Burnet Road . 458-1100 , www.lasombra-austin.com .

FOIE GRAS NIGIRI/UCHI

OLIVIA BENEDICT/OLIVIA

The early afternoon light is more flattering to Olivia's progressive angles than the night could ever be. It's a sun porch where you can explore chef James Holmes' farm-to-table ethic and savor this dish of fork-tender shredded flatiron beef with poached eggs on a bakery-caliber biscuit with rich hollandaise. 2043 S. Lamar Blvd . 804-2700 , www.olivia-austin.com .

OYSTERS OCTAVIA/JEFFREY'S

SEAFOOD-SAUSAGE GUMBO/MAMA ROUX

More is more at Michael and Yoli Amr's latest Louisiana spot, and even a cup of gumbo is a cauldron's worth, with catfish, andouille sausage, crawfish tails and shrimp elbowing one another for top billing among the rice, okra and rich brown roux. 13000 N. Interstate 35, Suite 600. 490-1304 . (Reviewed 11/09: 8.6 out of 10)

TENDERLOIN ROBERT/GUMBO'S OF WESTLAKE

Gumbo's good friends will call the menu by name, because it's as clubby as a bridge game: George, Robert, Francine, Rockefeller. Robert showed up with a beef tenderloin cooked an ideal medium-rare on a slightly sweet wine reduction. Six grilled shrimp tumbled over the dish, finished with a mushroom cream sauce and a scoop of salty, skin-on mashed potatoes. The effect was over-the-top lush. 3600 N. Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360) . 328-4446 , www.gumboswestlake.com .

- Mike Sutter