Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Date Night Ideas in Austin

I remember back in the day when there were very slim choices for date night in Austin other than The Belgian Restaurant (which sadly burned), Fonda San Miguel, Driskill Grill and The Cafe at the Four Seasons- oh, and Chez Nous. But that was about it as far as fine dining went in the ATX, which was just known as plain ole Austin back then, and SXSW was just gaining steam.  Now we have so many fabulous choices that it's hard to narrow down the list! While I love a quiet night at home cooking something tasty with my hubby, sometimes it's great to let someone else do the cooking and cleaning. So I thought I'd share some date night ideas for those evenings when you just want to flirt with each other over some great food and drinks. What happens after that is up to you ;-)

Casual Date Night & Libations

Red's Porch - easy, relaxed and a fun way to get your drink on and enjoy some grub.
Matt's El Rancho - the patio is famous as is the Bob Armstrong queso dip and margaritas. This is Mecca for "locally raised" South Austinites.
Hopdoddy Burger - Seriously fabulous burgers ground on-site with an array of gourmet toppings and terrific beer selection.
Vivo - The ladies get a rose and their cucumber margaritas are a serious success.
The Midnight Cowboy - No food here, but table side cocktails. Reservations are highly recommended as this unique little gem is run just like a speakeasy with a secret password, red light over the door and all. It's located in the former Oriental massage parlor on 6th street if that doesn't scream a happy ending!! Or beginning...
The Goodnight - Retro style bowling and games with chef inspired food and a huge bar to swill some swell cocktails. A good night is sure to be had by you both- or a double date.


Old School Dining

Hudson's on the Bend - It's about a 40 minute drive from downtown out to the Lake Travis area, but you'll enjoy unique Hill Country Cuisine favored by former US presidents and de-throned Tour de France winners alike. The rattle snake cakes, hot and crunchy trout and elk backstrap are a few of the hits we've enjoyed over the years. Located in a quaint stone building in Lakeway and decorated with the whimsical artwork of the chef's wife, Hudson's sings the flavors and sounds of the Texas Hill Country. Willie has been known to like it here too.

The Driskill Grill - Though former Chef David Bull has now moved on to open his own digs with great praise, this is still a great place to enjoy dinner in one of Austin's most historical, and supposedly haunted, buildings. The restaurant was founded in 1929 and shouldn't be overlooked if you really want that old school, Texas fine dining experience.

Chez Nous - I was raised by a Belgian mother, so French classics always appeal to me and I've enjoyed many a nice evening over authentic duck confit and steak au poivre before hitting the bars downtown here.

Fresh grouper at Buenos Aires Cafe

Trendy and Hip "ATX" Dining (but without the Dallas 'tude, which is what makes great dining here so dang great.) 

Uchi - I almost feel cliche including Uchi on the list, but it has received so much well deserved recognition for sushi in the heart of Texas for a reason. Tyson Cole is a master! And I remember watching him learning the ropes when he was working behind the counter at the former Kyoto Japanese restaurant (now Swift's Attic) back in the 90's. We were all a bit perplexed to see this American dude whipping up some killer rolls. So I'd like to think I was an early groupie?? I'd like to also point you in the direction of his second restaurant Uchiko. A bit more casual but no less fabulous. Tyson makes the "ATX" so proud!

Barley Swine - Like Uchi, there are no reservations, but you will just have to cuddle while you wait for some incredibly inventive food featuring nose to tail and local ingredients prepared with a fiercely creative twist. Food is served in small plate tapas style portions and the menu changes often to reflect what is available locally and seasonally. This place will appeal to most Northern Californians who will find their way to the ATX for work and play and Bryce Gilmore is yet another local chef who "done us proud"!

Olive & June - Located centrally in the Bryker Woods area, the patio shaded by an enormous live oak tree just screams romance. The food is smartly prepared Mediterranean/Italian Cuisine and service is attentive and friendly. Those pork meatballs are very fun to feed each other. Check out chef Shawn Cirkiel's other fun date night spots, the renowned Parkside and Backspace (wood fired pizza) for more good times with your sweetie.

Swift's Attic - Situated in the space of the former Kyoto restaurant where Tyson Cole earned his chops, this whimsical little restaurant serves up some creative little dishes that are fun to share such as: blistered shishito peppers, diver scallops, sexy smoked oysters and Niman Ranch Pork cheeks to name a just a few great little plates to share. Also open during the day if you are in need of a lunchtime quickie.

Buenos Aires Cafe - Locally owned and operated  by Argentinian born chef Reina Morris, this is one of my favorite places to enjoy the best emapanadas known to man followed by a fabulous steak milanesa and fresh pastries and cakes. The menu also includes very fresh fish and traditional Argentinian specials such as the Parrillada mixed grill. I buy the Chimichurri sauce in pints to keep on hand for terrific marinades at home. I was so excited when she opened a second location near my house in West Austin and her location off east 6th Street is just as pleasing and fun. Also open for delicious lunchtime quickies.

Perla's - Seafood flown in freshly from around the world, simply prepared and shared in their lovely nautical themed interior or shaded patio overlooking the hustle and bustle of South Congress, means Perla's is truly my happy place. One wouldn't think that a lobster roll from Austin, Texas would rival those found in Maine, but I have it on record from those who have places in Maine, that this is the real deal. A buttery, fresh roll stuffed to the gills with huge chunks of fresh lobster meat in a light homemade mayo, with chopped chives is worth every penny of the $29 you would never pay while in Maine. Other terrific bites are the grilled octopus, fresh oysters, New Orleans BBQ shrimp and bouillabaisse. 

Justine's - French food is sexy. And romantic. and Justine's has a nice Austin vibe mixed in with French flair. Their website features an old film of naked girls splashing about in the bathtub for goodness sakes, so that's pretty hot for a date night while perusing the menu online. Enjoy the steak frites and tartare, et moule frites and a creme brulee with lots of wine. Then hail a cab home or get a room at the W.

La Traviata - Locally owned and operated by a female chef who knows some serious Italian dishes, the pasta bolognese and carbonara have made some of my Italian friends almost weep with pleasure. Located off Congress avenue in downtown Austin, it's a small space that packs a flavor punch and will likely leave you just wanting to go home and cuddle on the couch while the food digests.

This one nestles between old school dining and hipster scene due to the recent renovation that was the brainchild of duo Larry McGuire and Thomas Moorman (Perla's, Clark's, Josephine House, Elizabeth Street Cafe, Fresa's, Lamberts). Valet parkers dressed in retro tennis garb and custom tailored waitstaff uniforms are charming and whimsical, but the food is serious business. This is where the power players come to eat as it has been an institution for decades and is now infused with some youthful spunk post face lift. Guests will enjoy a martini and cheese cart, expensive farm raised steaks and chops, foie gras, lobster, caviar and all the decadent a la carte trimmings to make an expensive date night that's certain to impress.

Honorable Mentions

The list could go on and I hope I haven't left out any great date night spots, so if you have some worthy suggestions, please let me know as I'd love to try them out and post them here. This is a list of other really good places for date night to consider:

Fabi and Rosi- Hipster foodie find with a Germanic influence located in a quaint building off Lake Austin boulevard near Tarrytown.

Congress - Former Driskill Grill Chef David Bull's endeavor that features a three or seven course tasting menu in some pretty swanky looking environs. I would depart from Austin dressy casual here and wear an actual dress, and cute heels. And then throw cation to the wind and let them choose your dinner for you.

Trio at The Four Seasons - This was once known as  the Cafe at the Four Seasons until they glammed it up a bit a few years ago. Dinner for two on the outdoor patio overlooks a lush lawn which slopes towards Town Lake (now called Lady Bird Lake- and I won't ever call it that. Seriously, don't call it Lady Bird Lake or we will all know you're new to town). This is the place where we've always enjoyed a celebratory meal dating back to toasting my first job (coincidentally working for Lady Bird's radio station), college graduation, wedding brunches and pre -Irwin Center concert dinners. Get a room for the night, take a cab to see a show and stay for their decadent Sunday brunch. Old school Austin makes a great effort at being hipster ATX with a hill country flair.

Vespaio - More fabulous Italian food not to be overlooked and located in the South Congress area. The hanger steak is succulent and juicy and their fresh pastas and pizzas are always a treat, especially the parpadelle with lamb ragu. The less formal Enoteca next door has a cute patio and if you are lucky, you can park in their small lot behind the building.

Artisan Bistro - A lovely french bistro located in Lakeway and owned and operated by a French family. True classics such as Beef Bourguignon, duck confit and salade nicoise are a pleasant surprise tucked away in a sleepy little Lake Travis village shopping center.

Eddie V's - A chain? Yes. Consistently good service and fresh seafood and prime steaks? Yes and Yes and YES! The jazz bar downtown is always a great place to dine for two.

Sweet little Austin flowers hand picked for me :-)

1 comment:

  1. Great list, Tracy. You have included most of my favorites, here. Have you been to Contigo? That's a fun atmosphere for dates too.


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