Expect some finger-licking fun on Wednesday with the opening of Uncle Otis, the chicken-focused first half of a two-part venture by Kris Ryan just off Xingfucun Road. The other half, The Big Smoke, is slated for a soft opening on Friday night. These two places, along with the restaurant Back Alley Bistro that Jeff Powell plans to open beside the manicure shop-bar-cafe Frost he runs with spouse Cheri, will further make this area a destination for diners (more on the bistro soon).
First, Uncle Otis: This place will feature rotisserie chicken, with sides such as fusilli salad, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese, and wraps, salads, soups and more. Ryan is aiming for home-style cooking that people can eat in, take out or have delivered. On Wednesday night, the kitchen team headed by JP from sibling restaurant Saddle Cantina will keep it simple with birds and sides, and there will be discounts on beers and sodas. Check it out from 4 PM to midnight.
I stopped in yesterday and JP had a few chickens done, one with a spicy coating, the other with butter and thyme, and they were tasty. Even better, there will be about ten homemade sauces and I foresee plenty of debate over which is best. I tried the BBQ, Thai chili and roasted tomato sauces yesterday, and I liked the last one.
Second, The Big Smoke. This takes up the bulk of the venue and has a long hallway with a half-dozen rooms branching off, including a bar that seats six, a dining room that can handle twelve, and other spaces filled with tables for two. Total seating capacity is around 200 people, with outdoor areas for both Uncle Otis and The Big Smoke, but the layout means you can get a sense of privacy by picking your nook or cranny. Ryan has kept the look simple by painting the cement walls, installing brick and wood, and adding a decoration here and there — a glowing “bar” sign, an iron chandelier, a large clock — with the hallway and the doorways between rooms giving it an impressive sense of depth.
Look for some house drinks here, as Saddle Cantina manager Gordon is working on a series of mojitos and was busy preparing ingredients yesterday. As for the food, the focus is on dishes presented so they can be shared, and will range from suckling pig and short ribs to scallops and seared tuna. The Big Smoke will be able to cook up to three splayed pigs simultaneously on its large circular asado grill.
I sampled the short ribs yesterday, which came with an intriguing coffee and ancho chili sauce that I imagine will elicit reactions as strong as that item was intense. The seared tuna we had was good.
Finally, and perhaps less sexy but very practical, the entrance of The Big Smoke will serve more as a cafe. Ryan says he plans to open early so people can drop in to pick up a breakfast burrito, cinnamon bun or other food, and a cup of coffee or fresh juice. This will be of great interest — and sustenance — to anyone who knows how hard it is to catch a taxi in that area in the morning.
These venues are north of Workers Stadium, just off Xingfucun Middle Road, across from Frost and close to April Gourmet. Uncle Otis will initially open from 4 PM to midnight, with The Big Smoke slated for an opening with a limited menu on Friday night. I’ll update here if any additional information comes up.