Qi Austin Modern Asian Kitchen Dazzles with Dumplings & Design
Tribeza’s food critic calls Chef Ling Qi Wu’s new restaurant a “showstopper”
By Karen O. Spezia
Photographs by Holly Cowart
I’ve always been a fan of chef Ling Qi Wu. But she earned my undying respect when she had the chutzpah to open a new restaurant in the middle of the pandemic. Not just any restaurant, but a big fancy one in a glitzy new downtown skyscraper. It was a bold move during a time when its storefront on West Sixth Street was so deserted that Texas tumbleweeds practically rolled down the sidewalks, rather than the usual pre-COVID throngs of office workers, nightclubbers, bachelorette parties and pedi-pubs.
Yes, chef Ling has courage. And faith. And vision. But while I appreciate her moxie, I appreciate her food even more. For decades, I’ve followed her career around Austin, from the kitchens of Chinatown and Wu Chow, to opening her own place, Lin Asian Bar, and now to her new showstopper, Qi Austin Modern Asian Kitchen. With each move, she only gets better, fine-tuning her culinary skills and continuing to surprise and delight with her Asian delicacies.
At Qi, Ling can stretch her legs a bit. She’s been able to showcase not only an upscale new menu, but also her striking sense of style and design. Even at her tiny, humble Lin Asian Bar, she found a way to insert some beauty and pizazz. But at Qi, she had a sprawling clean slate to really dazzle her diners. With plenty of space to socially distance, the open dining room features soaring exposed-beam ceilings with industrial flying buttresses. Unexpected explosions of color are found among the modern Asian chandeliers, ancient handicrafts, polished wood furniture and glamorous cocktail bar. Natural light streams in from the outdoor dining patio that overlooks trickling Shoal Creek and once-again-bustling Sixth Street. From top to bottom, the place is gorgeous.
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The food complements Qi’s elegant interior, where Ling experiments with luxury ingredients like lobster, caviar and truffles while still offering traditional Asian favorites. Ling’s dim sum is legendary around town and her Shanghai soup dumplings are her calling card. These delicate steamed morsels, bursting with a brothy pork filling, are an unparalleled must- have. Although all the dim sum options are top-notch, other standouts include the pan-seared basil chicken dumplings, pan-fried Akaushi beef bao, chicken with cashew dumplings and translucent shrimp Har Kaw.
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Entrées include crowd-pleasing favorites like sesame chicken and Peking duck, but also delightfully different choices like spicy chicken with pine nuts. I’m addicted to the Zha Jiang noodles, paired with a savory ground meat sauce and brightened with julienned cucumbers. And vegetables, supplied by nearby Lanfang Farm, are worthy of their own spotlight, especially the sautéed pea shoots.
For indulging, some of Ling’s new upscale and exotic offerings include scallop shumai with caviar, lobster dumplings, truffle egg fried rice and Szechuan peppercorn alligator. Desserts, like the signature Mango Bomb, look like sculpted works of art. Drinks are serious business and extend well beyond the typical hot tea and cold Tsingtao. Cocktails are first-rate and the wine list has impressive selections from around the globe.
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Lucky for Austin, the wildly talented and quietly determined chef Ling didn’t let a pandemic thwart her plans for opening Qi. In the middle of this unprecedented time, she unflinchingly planted her flag on the abandoned streets of downtown Austin and graced our city with a restaurant that’s a feast for our eyes and our stomachs.