It occurred to me as I was dining on the high-rise patio of Branch & Bird (640 Taylor St, 12th floor, 682-785-8888) that my guest and I were sitting too close to the edge, obscuring the breathtaking panoramic view of the fully lit-up downtown skyscape for a few of our fellow diners on the 12th floor of the Frost Bank Tower. At least eight couples posed for pictures within a few feet of our table, causing us to become self-conscious about appearing in various couples’ anniversary photos –– I should have worn a nicer shirt. I even took one of the pics, which the adorably grateful couple still referred to as a “selfie,” as in “Will you please take our selfie?” Not to get all Andy Rooney about it, but if you’re not taking your own picture, it’s not a … anyway.
In between photoshoots, I realized that I should have waited longer to visit the place after the powers that be renamed the restaurant from Perch to Branch & Bird, hired a new chef, and rolled out another menu. On my previous visit (“Caged Birds,” Oct 31, 2018), the food was good, but the kitchen lacked an identity. My guest and I left wondering why we would ever go back, aside from the view or the off chance that we might someday land a job inside the Frost Bank Tower.
On my more recent visit, the menu appears to have a clear direction as an appetizer-centric eatery with just enough classic upscale comfort offerings like penne pasta primavera, beef tenderloin, Texas quail, tacos of the day, and other sandwiches to satisfy bigger appetites. The kitchen’s creative energy, according to what I experienced, was all about the starters. The managers are likely betting that people like me are drawn to the spacious patio and would prefer something interesting to snack on while sipping cocktails or wine on the veranda rather than sitting down for multiple courses of over-the-top flavors. And they’re correct.
Last weekend, I ran into a long-time acquaintance at a cocktail event who suggested we check out Branch & Bird’s newish menu. I likely never would have made the trip downtown – the place never made its way onto my restaurant rotation. I was open to suggestion, and the weather was near perfect.
As was the case with my previous visits, the well-appointed, modern-looking dining room was empty and the (way too bright) patio was mostly full. My guest and I were lucky a table was available out there. With wine in hand and a stiff breeze winnowing through (read: completely wrecking) our hair, we took our server’s every suggestion on food – and she never let us down.
The elk tostadas ($16) were an attractive, masculine-looking starter of four chips topped with slabs of elk and dots of queso fresco and kimchi, all atop zigzags of overlapping mango barbecue sauce and crema. The delicacy was dependant on the twin sauces for zest and balance, but we didn’t mind wiping the plate clean.
The deconstructed chicken tamales ($10) looked like Mexican bruschetta, with bits of masa, chicken, tomatillo, cilantro, onions, jalapeño, and a mild-tasting salsa instead of tomatoes and basil. The whole production tasted like a tamale without being overwhelmed by the masa.
The most hearty app we enjoyed was the chimichurri steak flatbread ($14), topped with aged flank steak, a garlic-heavy chimichurri sauce, jalapeño wheels, caramelized onions, and smoked mozzarella. It’s what I imagine pizza is like in Argentina.
After downing a bottle of Italian red, my guest and I joined the throng and posed for a picture on the edge of the patio. After our evening, we won’t need a “selfie” to remember to add Branch & Bird to our regular rotation.