Walking into Swift’s Attic is like walking into a dream. Carpeted stairs beckon guests to a dim room where waiters and waitresses in dark clothing glide evenly throughout the dining room carrying carafes of water and plates of breathtakingly odd foods. Fantastical, spidery light fixtures that look as though they’ve been extracted from the set of a Tim Burton film hang over tables set with flickering Mason jar candles. A chandelier enclosed by a large vintage birdcage imparts a shadowy dimness. Moonlight seeps through the sunroof.
Swift’s Attic’s food is as surreal as its space and is capable of transporting diners to other times and places. Each plate evokes a distinct experience. Grilled edamame served with chili oil and pop rocks hearkens the novelty of childhood. The hot water corn bread served with rum raisin butter evokes a grandmother’s kitchen (and in fact, Chef Mat Clouser said that the recipe belonged to his grandmother). The squid fries, piled high on a square of checkered tissue, calls to mind the baskets of fried seafood at humble seaside diners.
As the dream state fades, you begin to realize that not only can the food take you to other worlds and different times, it also just tastes really good. Clouser, his sous chef Zack Northcutt and pastry chef Callie Speer are serious chefs. They have the resumes to prove it; combined, they have worked in the esteemed kitchens of Uchi, Haddingtons, Jeffrey’s, Parkside and Mulberry.
They have such tight control over their craft, in fact, that they can afford to have fun with the menu. They can do whimsical and pull it off. They can be experimental without offending the palates of their diners. They don’t have to pretend to be cutting edge because they are cutting edge. The menu they’ve crafted — full of oddities and wonders — reflects this.
The locally sourced quail was supple, juicy and slightly sweet. The pulpito estofado (stewed baby octopus) was delicious as well. The octopi weren’t overcooked and rubbery, but had a tender chewiness to them. Twice cooked duck wings in a black bean glaze were fall-off-the-bone delicious. The pork cheeks, slow cooked in white wine, melted in my mouth. The dish was served with browned toast, perfect for sopping up the leftover juice.
For dessert, I tried “Chocolate 6 Ways” — as a dark chocolate sorbet, a milk chocolate mousse, a dehydrated mousse, a chocolate sauce, cocoa nibs and chocolate pop rocks. It edged into the territory of molecular gastronomy — both in concept and execution — but instead of being completely inaccessible to the average palate, it was understandable and easy to enjoy. When it comes down to it, chocolate’s chocolate, right?
I also tried the lemon panna cotta topped with a scoop of beet sorbet and a hazelnut crisp. Buried beneath the custard was a pool of thyme syrup. The custard was airy, and slightly sweet. The gelato was very earthy on its own, but this was toned down when paired with the custard. The thyme syrup pushed the dessert from excellent to otherworldly.
To top off the experience, the service was phenomenal as well. The waitress was sharp and precise, but also friendly. She was helpful with suggesting dishes and happy to answer questions.
I went back the next day for lunch (and the next day after that). Swift’s was still in its soft opening and plates were served at a 50 percent discount. There was less magic in the place during the day, as though the light that streamed through the sunroof revealed the mechanics of a sleight of hand. The food, however, was just as good as it was at dinner.
Swift’s Attic has the potential to become Austin’s best restaurant this year. The enchanting, wistful setting makes it unique, while the high quality, interesting food guarantees it a spot in the hearts of even the most critical foodies. It’s impossible to resist the culinary journey that you will embark upon when you sit down at a table in the Attic.