Sunday, November 5, 2017

Perfect French Pastries at Pâtisserie à la Carte

Back in April of this year, our neighborhood threw its annual potluck party. Some newcomers to our neighborhood left a tray of gorgeous French pastries. I took one of them and was transformed.

Fortunately, they had also left a few business cards behind, so although I did not meet the mystery pastry chef that day, I was able to track down her business on Facebook and send her a message along the lines of, "WHERE CAN I GET MORE OF THOSE OH PLEASE OH PLEASE OH PLEASE"

The mystery pastry chef, who turned out to be Sèverine of Pâtisserie à la Carte, very graciously wrote back and told me that they were working on finding a space to open a food trailer, and that she would let me know as soon as they were set up.

Fast forward to November 2nd. I get a Facebook message from Sèverine: "We are opening tomorrow at Top Drawer Thrift on Burnet Road!" The next day, I hurried over, gave Sèverine a big hug upon meeting her for the first time (I'm sure she was thinking I was a terrifying stalker at this point), and bought a little selection of pastries for our dessert that evening.

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(Upper left - Le Butterbliss; lower left - Canelé; center - Bourdaloue Pear & Almond Tart; lower right - Mogador Milk Chocolate & Passionfruit Tart)

Every bite was absolutely sublime. The Butterbliss was what I'd tried at our neighborhood party and I didn't think anything could possibly be better, but the rest of the pastries we tried gave the Butterbliss a hard run for its money. The canelé was so incredibly rich and custardy; the pears in the Bourdaloue tart absolutely sang; and, while I don't usually like fruit mixed in my chocolate, the passionfruit and chocolate were so perfectly married in the Mogador tart that it was almost another substance altogether. We stuffed ourselves absolutely silly on these beauties.

Patisserie a la Carte
Bourdaloue Pear & Almond Tart
Patisserie a la Carte
Canelé

Patisserie a la Carte
Mogador Milk Chocolate & Passionfruit Tart
Patisserie a la Carte
Le Butterbliss

Séverine and her husband are also serving coffee and tea at Pâtisserie à la Carte, making it the perfect spot to stop on your way to work, or for a little pick-me-up in the afternoon. Burnet Road is a long way from France, but a taste of Pâtisserie à la Carte will make you think you're at a charming café in Paris. C'est magnifique!

Patisserie a la Carte

Their Austin Facebook page
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4902 Burnet Road (at Top Drawer Thrift)
Austin, TX 78756
They are still working out their hours, but right now they're working with a tentative schedule of
M-F 8-10a and 2:30-6p. Check their social media channels for updates!


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Monday, October 30, 2017

Learning to Cook Thai Food at Thai Fresh

Hooooo boy, that was a bit of a break! It seems like summer always saps my will to blog, but this went much longer than usual. Anyway, good to be back - thanks to those of you who are still here reading! And for those of you who want a more consistent dose of food porn, even when I'm off the blogging wagon, I tend to keep up my food-centric Instagram feed.


It was a cooking class at Thai Fresh that got me invigorated to write again - this was, hands-down, the best cooking class I've ever attended. I came away feeling excited to cook the dishes we made - and, more importantly, now I feel confident that I can make every one. A big part of this was due to the fact that the class was hands-on - we split into groups of three, and each of these groups got to make every single dish that was taught in the class. And once you've made a dish once, it's easy to picture yourself doing it again.

With the possible exception of pad thai, I've always felt like there was a giant gap in my knowledge when it came to making Thai food. I've muddled my way through a curry or two, but just never really had a handle on the spices involved and wasn't really sure how to go about finding out what they were. But Thai Fresh's owner, Jam Sanitchat, took the mystery out of every step. She generously shared tons of tips for making great Thai food, and when we sat down to eat our handiwork after the class, everything was so delicious that it built up our confidence.

Thai Fresh cooking class

We started out making papaya salad. It is so easy,  especially if you buy the inexpensive shredder Jam sells at Thai Fresh for this purpose (note: Jam sells the large majority of the ingredients and tools you'll need for recreating her dishes at home, including hard-to-find ingredients like keffir lime leaves). Jam's papaya salad dressing recipe was perfect; not too too spicy, with just the right umami flavor shining through. We took a break after making this to taste our creation.

Thai Fresh Cooking Class
Papaya salad

After eating our fill of papaya salad, we headed back into the kitchen to make drunken noodles (pad kee mao), which is one of my favorites; a phenomenal green curry with chicken and sweet potatoes; and pad prik king with red curry paste.

Thai Fresh Cooking Class
Our group's pan of pad kee mao

Finally, after making all three of these dishes, it was time to eat!

Thai Fresh Cooking Class
Dinner time!

I can't recommend Jam's cooking classes highly enough. We had so much fun, and I can't wait to put my newfound knowledge to good use!

909 W. Mary Street
Austin, TX 78704


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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Austin Taco Project

If there is one thing that everyone in Austin can agree on, it's tacos. Tacos for breakfast, tacos for lunch, tacos for dinner - it's the food for all occasions.

The Hilton recently dove into the taco fray with the Austin Taco Project. They invited us out for a meal on them (we covered alcohol and grat) and we jumped at the chance to check out the newest tacos in town.

Austin Taco Project
Is it just me, or did they model this guy after Brandon Watson?

We kicked off our experience with cocktails, of course. I chose a Last of the Oaxacans, a fabulously smoky take on the Old Fashioned, with Mestizo mezcal reposado, Luxardo, and blood orange bitters. 

Austin Taco Project Cocktail
Last of the Oaxacans ($12)

Austin Taco Project's quest to cull flavors from all over the world can be seen in this North Pacific Poke "Taco" appetizer. Raw salmon, lotus root, cucumber, and sesame seeds were served on slices of daikon radish. 

Austin Taco Project Poke
North Pacific Poke ($8)

My husband loved their take on poutine - tater tots topped with rib eye cap barbacoa, fried cheese curds, poblano gravy, and a fried egg. A person could easily make a meal out of this appetizer!

Austin Taco Project Tots
Poutine ($7)

For the taco portion of our meal, I tried the Bulgogi, the Oc-Thai-Pus, and the Wake Up! tacos. The Wake Up! is our server's favorite taco (not just here, but anywhere) - chili & coffee smoked brisket, apple anytime slaw, and blueberry ghost pepper crema on a flour tortilla. My hands-down favorite of the three was the Oc-Thai-Pus: tender Thai BBQ octopus with crispy garlic and cashew cilantro coconut curry on a saffron tortilla.  

Austin Taco Project Tacos
From left to right: Wake Up! ($7), Oc-Thai-Pus ($7), Bulgogi ($6), Mexican Street Corn ($4)

My husband also got a Wake Up!, as well as a Wilbur & Huevos (mojo pork, sunny egg, Oaxaca cheese and arbol sauce on a corn tortilla) and a Barbacoa On Deck.

Austin Taco Project Tacos
From left to right: Wake Up!, Barbacoa On Deck ($7), Wilbur & Huevos ($5)

We were pretty full at this point, but the dessert menu wooed us. My husband chose the Southern Affair, a bread pudding made with doughnuts and topped with pecan pie crumble, vanilla bean ice cream, and bourbon butterscotch.

Austin Taco Project Bread Pudding
Southern Affair Bread Pudding $5)

I had to have the trio of stuffed churros: spicy salted caramel, creme brulee, and ganache stuffed chocolate, served with a warm chocolate dipping sauce and Mexican vanilla whipped cream. I could not get enough of these - they were fabulous.

Austin Taco Project Churros
Trio of Stuffed Churros ($9)

In a city full of fantastic tacos, Austin Taco Project has some stiff competition, particularly given their price point of $5-$7 per taco. Nevertheless, I think Austin visitors and locals alike will enjoy the wide-ranging menu, the well-made cocktails, and the killer desserts.

Austin Taco Project
500 E. 4th Street (inside the Hilton)
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 682-2739

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Kula Conveyor Belt Sushi

Kula Sushi - Conveyor

There are a few good things about the population explosion in Austin, one of the most compelling being the slow expansion of more ethnic food options in our fair city. The arrival of Kula Revolving Sushi Bar is evidence of this growth, and based on the ever-present crowds of Austinites waiting for a table here, Austin was ready.

Now that I have a couple of visits under my belt (literally), I've gathered a few tips for those of you who haven't yet been (and maybe even a couple for those of you who have).

1.  Be Prepared for a Wait
Everyone is super excited to check this place out, and they don't take reservations, so right now there's pretty much always a wait. The good news is, it goes fast. Both times I've been, the wait was shorter than the electronic check-in kiosk estimated (just to give you an idea of what to expect, I waited about 45 minutes on my first visit and 30 minutes on my second - both times for dinner). You can choose to get a text when you're close to being seated, which means you can go across the street to Black Star Co-op for some pre-gaming if you like.

Kula Sushi - Seating

2.  Ordering Tips
•  If it's your first visit to Kula, your server will show you how to remove plates from the conveyor belt (don't take the whole dome!) and walk you through the digital ordering system. One thing we missed the first time we went is that there's a Next button for some of the sections of the menu (we explored the various tabs, but didn't notice that some tabs had several pages).

•  There's a button on the pad to summon your server. You'll probably need to do this if you need a water refill - they don't come back regularly to check on you.

• Everything on the conveyor belt is $2.25/plate. On the digital menu, any item without a price is $2.25; the things that cost more are marked with a price.

• A couple of the items I liked off the digital menu:

Kula Sushi - Ramen
Ramen - at just $5.80 a bowl, this is a great deal - and the ramen is surprisingly good.

Kula Sushi - Poke
"Poke" - I put this in quotes because this is not like any poke I've ever had. It's more like a chirashi bowl with some sort of really flavorful (and delicious) oil poured over the top. Also $5.80.

Kula Sushi - Scallop Hand Roll
Spicy scallop Hand Roll - at $2.25 apiece, the hand rolls are an excellent value.

• Conveyor belt favorites:
  - Any salmon nigiri;
  - Any beef nigiri;
  - Ikura (salmon roe);
  - Seared scallop with Japanese mayo;
  - Crispy rice with spicy salmon;*
  - Sesame balls*

* I highly recommend ordering any fried items off the menu, even though they're available on the conveyor belt. They taste better fresh!

Kula Sushi - Salmon

Kula Sushi - Beef Nigiri
• Avoid:
  - Uni - uni is one of my favorite things in the world, but the uni I tried here did not taste fresh. :(
  - Maki - I've tried four different maki rolls here - would not order any again.

3.  Have Fun!
Both of my visits here were a ton of fun. I love being able to "shop" the conveyor belt and explore the menu simultaneously. Plus, the cartoons that play for every five plates you buy and the prizes you win for every fifteen plates you buy add to the festiveness of the experience. If your kids are adventurous eaters, they will love it. If you are just young at heart, you'll love it, too!

Is it the best sushi in town? Of course not. But it's better and much more interesting than grocery store sushi, with plenty of options available for your non-sushi-loving friends, too. Mostly, you're here for the experience - and I think it's one you'll enjoy.

Kula Sushi
6929 Airport Blvd., Suite 125
Austin, TX 78752
(737) 209-8799

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Rosen's Bagels - Best Bagels in Austin

If you've ever lamented the absence of really excellent bagels in Austin, I'm about to make your day.

Tom Rosen of Rosen's Bagels is very quietly entering (and taking over) Austin's bagel scene with his truly, truly outstanding bagels. I'm an enthusiastic person by nature and I think some may suspect I'm prone to hyperbole, but I do try to reserve the superlatives for appropriate occasions. So when I say these are by far the best bagels I have ever had the pleasure of eating...well, I really mean it.

They're perfectly chewy and ridiculously fresh tasting. And if you like stuff on the exterior of your bagels, like poppy seeds or sesame seeds or "everything," you'll be pleased to see that that stuff is there in spades. Don't you hate it when you cut a bagel in half and half of your bagel has all the good yumminess on the exterior and the other side basically has a sad poppy seed or two? You'll never have to worry about this with Tom's bagels; both sides of your bagel will be resplendent with loads of the promised ingredient.

I mean, just look at these beauties.


Rosen's Bagels

Rosen's Bagel - Irv's Standard

Rosen's Bagels

So, how do I get my hands on some of these, you ask? Well, Tom is currently in start-up mode, so for now there are just a couple of options.

1.  You can email him via his website to place a catering order (minimum weekday order is $35, but don't forget that bagels freeze well, and you also can build up to your minimum with some of his fresh, custom schmears, like lime poblano scallion, lemon basil, or honey & toasted macadamia nut); or

2. He's doing pop-ups around town on a fairly regular basis. Check his Facebook page or his Instagram feed for announcements - there is one this Thursday, May 11th at the 300 West 6th Pop-up Market at 10a; one on Friday, May 12th at Forthright Café  from 8a-11a; and one on Saturday, May 13th at Hope & Grain Brewery from 10a-12p.

You will not find a better collaborator for your next schmear campaign.

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Friday, March 31, 2017

Colossal Curry Cookoff 2017!

Curry fans, rejoice!! The Austin Food Blogger Alliance is hosting its second Curry Cookoff on April 22, 2017, at Shangri-La, from 2-4 p.m. This event was a ton of fun last year and the contestants all brought their A-games and created some seriously outstanding curry concoctions. Last year's three celebrity judges - CK Chin, Brandon Watson, and Kelly Stocker - had the very difficult task of selecting the Curry Champion of Austin (as well as 1st and 2nd runners-up), and attendees cast their votes for the coveted People's Choice prize. DJ Dolomike spun the hottest tunes to get the sold-out crowd moving.

Colossal Curry Cookoff 2016

DSC_8416-2

We are working to make this year's event even bigger and better, so be sure to get your tickets while they're still available! Or, if you think you've got the cooking chops to grab the coveted Curry Champion crown, interested contestants should email us at cookoff@austinfoodbloggers.org. It's FREE to enter and there will be fabulous prizes for the winners - not to mention bragging rights!


Hope to see you there!!!

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Fleming's Southern Hemisphere Event - and a GIVEAWAY!

The folks at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar invited me out recently to check out their Southern Hemisphere Wine Harvest event. This fun event celebrates the flavors of the Southern Hemisphere during the region's annual wine harvest. We've been lucky enough to dine at Fleming's several times in the past, so I knew we would be in for a treat, and eagerly took them up on their offer. As always, the food was delicious and the service was truly unbeatable. From the second we hit the front door until the moment we left, we were treated like kings (and no, they didn't know I was a blogger when I was there).


The meal was wonderful, as well. We started with Fleming's wonderful complimentary bread, which was served fresh from the oven. It came with chardonnay cheddar and champagne brie spreads - a fun diversion from the usual butter.

P3166014*-2

My husband is a fan of the wedge salad. We split one of these, and thank goodness - pictured is my half of the salad, and I think the photo makes it look quite a bit smaller than it really was. The slab of bacon served with it was divine (sorry for the lighting on this pic - I'm experimenting with a flash trick that Linda Nguyen taught me - still learning!)

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For my entrée, I chose the New Zealand Rack of Lamb from the Southern Hemisphere menu. It was served over a generous bed of truffle-parsley mashed potatoes and crispy leeks, a melt-in-your-mouth concoction that totally made me swoon. The lamb was super tender with excellent flavor.

P3166022*-2

My husband ordered the Double-Thick Pork Rib Chop with a julienne of apples, jicama, apple cider, and a creole mustard glaze (this was from their regular menu). This caveman-esque slab of meat was very impressive!

P3166023*-2

Sadly, both of us took home a substantial amount of leftovers and did not have room for dessert. It was a bit crushing, as I had my eye on their walnut turtle pie!

Not only did Fleming's make us feel like royalty, they want to make YOU feel the same way! So they've given me a $100 credit to give away to a lucky reader! (It basically works like a gift card, except that it has to be used in a single visit and can't be used for alcoholic beverages, gratuity, or taxes). 

Would you like to win it and enjoy a totally splurge-y meal? To enter, leave me a comment telling me what you'll order off Fleming's menu if you win.  I'll pick a winner at random on Monday, March 27th (because we all need a little something to make Mondays better). You can get up to two additional entries by following me on Instagram and/or following me on Twitter - just please leave me comments here letting me know you've done so (if you already follow me, that counts too!)  NOTE: this can be used at any Fleming's location in the U.S., so you don't have to live in Austin to take advantage of this giveaway.  Good luck!

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Best Chinese Food in Austin, 2017 Edition


Once again for 2017, I've updated my guide to the best Chinese food in Austin for the Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide. Eating my mom's awesome Chinese food nearly every day while I was growing up means that I have very high standards when it comes to this category. Austin doesn't offer nearly the quantity or quality of Chinese restaurants as in other cities, but there are still many places here where you can find great Chinese cuisine.

CANTONESE

DinHoSalt&PepperSquid.jpg
Salt & Pepper Squid at Din Ho = "the usual"
If you live in or near Central Austin, Din Ho Chinese BBQ (8557 Research Blvd., Austin, TX 78758) is probably your go-to for Cantonese food. Over the twenty plus years I've been going there, the food and service has varied a bit in quality; even so, I've yet to be unhappy about a meal I've eaten here. Our standard order here always includes salt & pepper squid (called "fresh and dried squid in special salt" on their menu) and sauteed snow pea leaves; other favorites are their flavorful won ton soup, Peking duck (served with steamed buns rather than the traditional pancakes), orange beef, and Singapore style rice noodles.

If you need a spot to host a large banquet or wedding, the very spacious New Fortune Chinese Seafood Restaurant (10901 North Lamar Blvd., Ste A-1, Austin TX 78753) is the place you're seeking. An Asian organization to which I belong has hosted their Lunar New Year banquet at New Fortune the last two years, and the food was great both times.

Great Cantonese food can also be found at First Chinese BBQ (10901 N. Lamar, Austin, TX 78753) and Ho Ho Chinese BBQ (13000 N. IH-35, Austin, TX 78753). If you find yourself out in Lakeway, I've also had some truly outstanding meals at Pao's Mandarin House (2300 Lohman's Spur, Austin TX 78734). Hot tip: Pao's has a secret menu with some of the more traditional dishes on it that I've found you have to ask for unless your party is predominantly Asian.


SZECHUANESE

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Sichuan Spicy Sizzling Lamb at Sichuan River
When you start talking Szechuanese food, most people are familiar with the popular Asia Cafe (8650 Spicewood Springs, Austin TX 78759), known for their spicy fish. Ditto A+A Sichuan (13376 Research Blvd., Austin TX 78750), a little ways further west of Asia Cafe. But few people seem to have heard of my favorite Szechuanese restaurant, Sichuan River (4534 Westgate Blvd, Austin TX 78745) down south. I'm also fond of the little-known Szechuan House (11005 Burnet Rd, Austin TX 78758) up north (ignore the terrible Americanized-looking food on their website - this is not representative!). Both Sichuan River and Szechuan House offer several dishes in common that are outstanding: a version of sizzling lamb; dry fried green beans; and ma po tofu. Szechuan House also has a mushroom dish called "Stir Fried Three Kind (sic) of Mushroom" that I would order pretty much every day if I were a vegetarian.


UPSCALE

In the last couple of years, hipper, younger restauranteurs have brought more modern versions of Chinese food to Austin. One such hot spot, Wu Chow (500 W. 5th St., Austin TX 78701), from C.K. Chin of Swift's Attic, offers dishes from all eight styles of Chinese cuisine. You pay a premium for the beautiful surroundings and the downtown location, but there are certainly circumstances that justify the extra expense.

Pork rib appetizer at Old Thousand
New to Austin this year is Old Thousand (1000 E. 11th Street, #150, Austin TX 78702), with the
slogan "Dope Chinese Food." Their menu offers a little something for everyone, and their flavors will please both traditionalists and those who seek something a little more contemporary. Full review here.

The old guard favorite in this category is Chinatown Restaurant (three locations: North, 3407 Greystone Dr., Austin TX 78731; Downtown, 107 W. 5th St., Austin TX 78701; and Westlake, 2712 Bee Caves Road, Ste 124, Austin TX 78746). The first Chinatown restaurant opened in 1983, which I suspect makes it one of the longest-running restaurants in a dynamic and very competitive Austin restaurant scene. Like the others in this category, Chinatown's food tilts away from the traditional in many respects, but perhaps owner Ronald Cheng's penchant for keeping things fresh is what has kept his regulars coming back all these years.


NOODLES

Chinese handmade noodles are a beautiful thing. Here are my favorite spots in town to find them.

RiceBowlCafeBeefNoodleSoup.jpg

Rice Bowl Café (11220 N. Lamar, Austin TX 78753) serves up a GIGANTIC bowl of handmade noodles with beef and veggies for just $9.50; they also have my favorite scallion pancakes in town.

ChenZSpicyLambNoodleJPG

Chen's Noodle House (8650 Spicewood Springs Rd., Austin TX 78759) and Chen Z (6705 Hwy 290, Austin TX 78735) both offer a variety of wonderful handmade noodle dishes in delightfully divey surroundings.

XianNoodlesJPG
Xian Noodles at Xian Sushi & Noodle

Xian Sushi & Noodle (Two locations: Mueller - 1801 E. 51st St., Bldg C 370, Austin TX 78723 and Northwest - 13201 RR 620 N. Ste U208, Austin TX 78717) is the only place in town where you can watch a chef hand pull your noodles before serving them. You can choose the thickness of your noodles; I think the texture of the thicker ones like the pappardelle adds a bit of oomph that makes the noodles taste more homemade.



Julie's Handmade Noodles,
8557 Research Blvd., Ste. 110, Austin TX 78758 - this longtime fixture near UT campus, formerly housed in a food truck, transformed into a brick & mortar north of 183 this year. Expect generous portions made with love.


DIM SUM

Dim Sum at Wu Chow
Unfortunately, the field for dim sum in Austin is pretty small. For traditional dim sum, my favorite is New Fortune Chinese Seafood Restaurant (10901 North Lamar Blvd., Ste A-1, Austin TX 78753). For a more upscale dim sum experience, check out Wu Chow (500 W. 5th St., Austin TX 78701). They don't have the traditional dim sum push carts, but that just means that everything arrives at your table freshly cooked. They have hands-down the best xiao long bao in town and are obviously using quality ingredients.

Other dim sum spots in town include Shanghai (6718 Middle Fiskville Rd., Austin TX 78752) and Chinatown Restaurant (dim sum only offered at two of their three locations: North, 3407 Greystone Dr., Austin TX 78731 and Westlake, 2712 Bee Caves Road, Ste 124, Austin TX 78746). Full blog post about Chinatown's dim sum can be found here.

What's your favorite place in town for great Chinese food?




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Monday, February 20, 2017

Best Fine Dining in Austin, 2017 Edition

Welcome to the eighth year that this blog has featured an upscale dining guide! This post is part of the Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide, the best way to find all the outstanding food this fair city has to offer.
To qualify for this fine dining guide, restaurants must be locally-owned and offer at least one entrée that cost more than $25. Because I am so frequently trying to think of a restaurant in a particular part of town, this list is divided according to restaurant location. Hope you enjoy this year's guide!


DOWNTOWN (broadly defined here as spanning from I-35 to MoPac,
and from Ladybird Lake to MLK):

Austin Land & Cattle1205 North Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78703. According to their website, ALC is the only independent, family-owned steakhouse in Austin. They've been around for over 20 years, which is quite an accomplishment in Austin's ever-changing restaurant landscape.

Café Josie1200 W. 6th Street, Austin TX 78703 - One of the few establishments left near downtown where you can have a conversation without shouting over a din. I've found the food to be delicious and consistent. If you're dining with extra-hungry people, they offer a $45 all-you-can-eat option at dinner time in addition to their a la carte menu.

Clark's Oyster Bar1200 W. 6th Street, Austin TX 78703 - The prices here are on the steep side for what you get, but everything I've tried has been excellent, and I am glad for a spot to add to the short list of locally-owned seafood restaurants.

Cippolina1213 West Lynn, Austin, TX 78703 - Charming bistro with a more casual feel.
Every seat is on the front row at Counter 3. Five. VII.

Counter 3. Five. VII.315 Congress, Ste 100, Austin TX 78701 - This all prix-fixe restaurant guarantees you a front row seat to the show of creating your meal.

Driskill Grill604 Brazos, Austin TX 78701 - Fine dining in a beautiful historic hotel. They have their own dry aging room.

El Naranjo85 Rainey Street, Austin TX 78701 - Quite possibly the best interior Mexican food in town.

Emmer & Rye51 Rainey Street, Ste 110, Austin TX 78701 - My first experience at Emmer & Rye could have been better, but the large majority of the people I know who have been really love it, so perhaps we were there on an off day.

Fixe500 W. 5th Street, Austin TX 78701 - My favorite spot for upscale Southern food, serving amazingly fluffy biscuits and some of the best fried chicken I've ever tasted.

Geraldine's605 Davis Street, Austin TX 78701 - Housed in Austin's first Kimpton hotel property, Geraldine's offers live music every night.

The GroveThree locations: Downtown, 800 W. 6th Street, Austin TX 78701; West - 6317 Bee Caves Rd, Austin TX 78746 and Lakeway - 3001 RR 620, Austin TX 78734 - A solid offering by experienced Austin restauranteur Reed Clemons.

Italic, 123 W. 6th Street, Austin TX 78701 - upscale Italian fare by the ELM Group (which also owns Easy Tiger and Irene's).

Jeffrey's1204 West Lynn, Austin TX 78703 - On the spendy side as far as Austin fine dining goes, but you can enjoy their excellent food for much less during happy hour - 4:30-6:30 Tues-Sun and all night on Monday.

Josephine House1601 Waterston, Austin TX 78703 - A very sweet restaurant in an old house. I'm partial to their Monday night steak frites night.

La Condesa400 W. 2nd Street, Austin TX 78701 - It took me a couple visits to hit my sweet spot here, but now I'm a fan. Flavorful, interesting Mexican fare in a gorgeous and interesting space. The small plates are the star of the show.

Lambert's401 W. 2nd Street, Austin TX 78701 - Not your father's barbecue. Think pork ribs with a fennel-coriander rub, brisket with a brown sugar and coffee rub, and brussels sprouts with bacon and brown butter.

La Traviata314 N. Congress Ave., Austin TX 78701 - Their carbonara will make you cry tears of joy. Blog post dedicated to this thing of beauty here.

Parkside301 E. 6th Street, Austin TX 78701 - New American fare. If you're dining with someone who wants a more casual meal, send them back to the Parkside's sister restaurant, a pizza joint adjacent to the Parkside and aptly called Backspace (while you eat at Parkside, of course).

Monkfish Sandwich at Olamaie
Olamaie1610 San Antonio St., Austin TX 78701 - another upscale Southern restaurant with phenomenal biscuits (off the menu) and simply gorgeous surroundings (I so coveted their dining chairs that I asked our server to find out where they were from). Word to the wise, though; they will firmly refuse any changes to their recipes (this includes removing ingredients), so study the menu beforehand to make sure it will work for diners with dietary restrictions.




Péché208 W. 4th St., Austin TX 78701 - Absinthe bar that also happens to have excellent food and service.

Ranch 616616 Nueces St., Austin TX 78701 - Quirky...like Austin. I'm partial to the jalapeno-maize trout, but I don't really think you can go wrong here. Strong cocktails and a nice patio round out the deal.

Red Ash Italia, 303 Colorado #200, Austin TX 78701 - A newer spot that I haven't yet had occasion to visit, but I have it on good authority that their octopus is not to be missed.

Swift's Attic315 N. Congress, Austin TX 78701 - Inventive small plates (for example, edamame served with pop rock salt) in a wonderfully steampunkish space.

TRIO98 San Jacinto, Austin TX 78701 - The Four Seasons Hotel is all about exceeding expectations, and its restaurant, TRIO, does just that.

TRACE200 Lavaca St., Austin TX 78701 - In the super-cool W Hotel Austin, which makes it a great choice for a meal before hitting a show at ACL Live,

Wink1014 N. Lamar, Austin TX 78701 - Another great spot offering New American fare with a focus on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients and an emphasis on personal attention. If you're celebrating a special occasion, let them know; they'll print up special celebratory menus just for you.

Winflo Osteria, 1315 W. 6th Street, Austin TX 78703 - cozy Italian spot with an ample patio. If you get an opportunity, their Listen at Winflo live music series is a lovely experience.

Wu Chow, 500 W. 5th Street #168, Austin TX 78701 - The restaurant that proved to Austin that Chinese food doesn't have to be eaten in a dive - also, the home of the best soup dumplings in town.


WEST OF DOWNTOWN:

Fabi & Rosi, 509 Hearn, Austin TX 78703 - Cozy spot in an old house with a European menu.
68 Degrees, 2401 Lake Austin Blvd., Austin TX 78703 - Co-owned by the owner of one of my favorite Italian restaurants in town, La Traviata. I personally prefer the menu at La Traviata, but 68 Degrees is still very good and a lot more convenient (no fighting for parking downtown).

EAST:

Buenos Aires CaféTwo locations: East - 1201 E. 6th Street, Austin TX 78702; Lakeway - 13500 Galleria Circle, Bee Cave, TX 78738 - Lovely spot serving up - you guessed it! - Argentinian fare. If you have room for dessert, they've upped the ante with their quatro leches cake. Extra leches is always a win in my book.

Chicon, 1914 E. 6th Street, Ste C, Austin TX 78702 - From the folks who brought you Contigo, Chicon has a similar "upscale ranch food" feel, with a few surprises like black rice with oyster mushrooms, root vegetables, and saffron aioli.

Dai Due2406 Manor Road, Austin TX 78722 - I struggled with whether to include Dai Due here; after two visits, it has yet to impress, and on one of these visits we suffered through a painfully chewy $90+ steak. This place gets a ton of love from other food writers, though, so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt.

East Side Cafe2113 Manor Rd, Austin TX 78722 - A glimpse into the good old days when Austin was more hippie-funky, with a large garden on the premises that sources many of their herbs, decorative garnishes, and some of their veggies.

Hillside Farmacy1209 E. 11th Street, Austin TX 78702 - This sweet little place is housed in a building that once was home to a pharmacy, and they've kept many of the accoutrements of the previous occupant intact. Their menu covers everything from raw oysters to shepherd's pie, and they've got you covered for every meal - opening at 9a daily and closing at 10 or 11 at night.

Jacoby's3235 E. Cesar Chavez, Austin TX 78702 - This family-operated restaurant sources all of its beef from the family's ranch, and there's a really cool little mercantile on the premises so you can get a little shopping fix after your meal.
Seafood Pasta at Juniper

Juniper, 2400 E. Cesar Chavez, Austin TX 78702 - Our first (and only, so far) meal at this Northern Italian spot was wonderful. The pasta was especially lovely, but there wasn't a single thing we tried that I didn't thoroughly enjoy.

Kyoten, 4600 Mueller Blvd, Ste 1035, Austin TX 78723 - I'm so disappointed in myself for not having made it here, yet, as Japanese food is one of my favorite genres. At dinner, it is all-omakase, though they have an a la carte menu at lunch time.

Launderette2115 Holly St., Austin TX 78702 - I'm a huge fan of Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki (both formerly of Sway and La Condesa), and their latest venture is one of my favorite spots in town. It's one of the few places where I actually get excited about ordering chicken; their brick chicken is outstanding.

Licha's Cantina, 1306 E. 6th Street, Austin TX 78702 - I have yet to visit Licha's, but one of the best home cooks I know (who also happens to hail from Mexico) raves about this place.

L'Oca d'Oro, 1900 Simond Ave., Austin TX 78723 - I still remember how delicious the porchetta at L'Oca d'Oro was from our only visit there seven months ago. However, the service was painfully slow; it took nearly an hour just to get appetizers.

Monger's Market + Kitchen, 2401 E. Cesar Chavez, Austin TX 78702 - Before opening Monger's, owner Roberto San Miguel was a longtime fixture at the farmer's markets, offering fresh Gulf coast seafood. The market is now a brick & mortar with a restaurant for those who prefer to have a chef cook their treasures from the sea.

Old Thousand, 1000 E. 11th Street $150, Austin TX 78702 - a hip Chinese spot with sufficiently traditional flavors to keep most Chinese food purists happy. Don't miss the chongqing chicken or the brisket fried rice (blog post about my first visit here).

Salt & Time1912 E. 7th St., Austin TX 78702 - It's a butcher shop! It's a restaurant! It's both, in one tasty package.

The happiest of happy hours at Salty Sow
Salty Sow1917 Manor Rd., Austin TX 78722 - On the casual end of upscale dining, which is one of the things I like about it. I'm a sucker for their triple fried duck fat fries, the brussel sprout caesar salad, the truffled deviled eggs, the crispy chicken thighs, and the butterscotch boudino. Also, I love the fact that an entire section of their menu is dedicated to "Things in a Jar."

Kuneho1600 E. 6th St., Austin TX 78702 - I have yet to visit the latest iteration of Paul Qui's signature restaurant, but hope to do so soon.



SOUTH OF THE RIVER (CLOSE TO DOWNTOWN):

Cantine1100 South Lamar Blvd, Ste 2115, Austin TX 78704 - From Austin restaurant veterans Emmett & Lisa Fox. Be sure to try the anchovy-stuffed fried olives, a holdover from the Foxes' now-closed favorite, FINO.

Central Standard, 1603 S. Congress Ave., Austin TX 78704 - Located in the fabulous South Congress hotel, Central Standard offers a varied menu, including one of the 50 greatest burgers in Texas according to Texas Monthly magazine.

Eberly, 615 S. Lamar, Austin TX 78704 - The emphasis at Eberly is on the atmosphere. It's a beautiful and lively space and the service is attentive. The food feels a little like a pricey afterthought; it's good, but probably won't surprise you.

Juliet Ristorante1500 Barton Springs Rd, Austin TX 78704 - Italian fare in a lovely space reminiscent of my parents' home in the 70s (but modernized to be beautiful in this decade). My food experiences here have been a little inconsistent, but it's worth a visit.

June's All Day, 1722 South Congress Ave., Austin TX 78704 - June's is named after the force of nature that is June Rodil, a fabulous Master Sommelier who has been a light in the Austin wine scene for quite some time. If the food is as good as the wine program undoubtedly is, this place is a winner.

Crispy Wild Boar at Lenoir
Crispy Wild Boar at Lenoir
Lenoir1807 S. 1st St., Austin TX 78704 - Like eating at the home of owners Todd and Jessica Duplechan. The concept is simple: any three courses for $45; extra courses are $10. The food is wonderful and the service is exemplary. Don't miss it (and be sure to make a reservation).

Odd Duck1201 S. Lamar, Austin TX 78704 - A food trailer that grew up to be a brick & mortar, by the same chef-owner as Barley Swine (below). Full blog post here.

Otoko1603 South Congress, Ave., Austin TX 78704 - Paul Qui is behind this 12-seat, all-omakase experience, though I've yet to hear anyone say they actually saw him behind the counter. Honestly, I was a little disappointed by my only visit here - the food was wonderful and it was one of the most beautiful meals I can ever remember enjoying, but I was hungry shortly after I left, which is kind of a downer at this price point.

Perla's, 1400 S. Congress Ave., Austin TX 78704 - One of very few locally-owned seafood restaurants in town. One of Perla's best assets is the expansive patio right on South Congress, perfect for people-watching.

South Congress Cafe1600 S. Congress Ave., Austin TX 78704 - New American in a casual-yet-upscale setting. They don't take reservations, and there can be a long wait at peak hours.

Sway1417 S. 1st, Austin TX 78704 - Modern Thai dishes that pack a serious flavor punch. Full blog post about it here.

Walu Walu (grilled escolar) at Uchi
Uchi801 S. Lamar, Austin TX 78704 - Sushi/Japanese fusion. It's a scene, and usually requires a wait, but it's worth it. Don't miss the hamachi nabe.

Vespaio1610 S. Congress Ave., Austin TX 78704 - Italian. Its sister restaurant next door, Enoteca Vespaio, also offers delicious food in a more casual atmosphere.

VOX Table, 1100 South Lamar Blvd, Ste 2140, Austin TX 78704 - Beautifully-presented plates that are perfect for sharing.

Zax312 Barton Springs Rd, Austin TX 78704 - A bright, laid back spot with a dog-friendly patio that I always enjoy. I have trouble veering away from the shrimp remoulade salad, but whenever I have, it's always been tasty. For those of you with refined bloody Mary palates, be sure to check out their build-your-own bloody Mary bar during brunch.


NORTH OF DOWNTOWN:

Asti408C E. 43rd St., Austin TX 78751 - Solid Italian fare from experienced restauranteurs Lisa & Emmett Fox.

Barley Swine6555 Burnet Road, Ste 400, Austin TX 78757 - Interesting, innovative fare from a chef with a nose-to-tail philosophy.

The Carillon1900 University Ave., Austin TX 78705 - Located in the AT&T Conference Center & Hotel on campus, The Carillon could easily be a buffet restaurant in a large, well-funded university. And, in fact, during the day, it is. But at night, it transforms into a fine dining establishment with very good food.

ChinatownThree locations: North - 3407 Greystone Drive, Austin TX 78731; Downtown - 107 W. 5th Street, Austin, TX 78701; West - 2712 Bee Caves Road, Ste 124, Austin TX 78746 - My experiences here have been a little hit-or-miss, though my friends know to take my extreme Chinese food pickiness with a grain of salt. I usually end up with a sushi sampler at their Westlake location.

Fonda San Miguel2330 W. North Loop, Austin TX 78756 - Interior Mexican in a warm, inviting atmosphere.

Foreign & Domestic306 E. 53rd St., Austin TX 78751 - A tiny place with a completely open (and similarly tiny) kitchen surrounded by bar seating so you can watch the action while you swoon over your food. The food here can be a little adventurous (in a good way) - I once tried venison heart tartare here.
Chirashi Bowl at Hanabi

Hanabi, 9503 Research Blvd, Ste 500, Austin TX 78759 - A lovely neighborhood sushi restaurant with consistently very fresh fish and some of the most earnest service I've ever encountered. I probably eat here more often than any other restaurant. Full blog post about it here. (they also have another location that serves ramen and kushiyaki).

Komê, 4917 Airport Blvd, Austin TX 78751 - One of the few sushi places in town where my non-raw-fish-eating husband gets excited about ordering sushi. Both the raw and the cooked offerings here are excellent - and surprisingly affordable (for sushi). I just wish they took reservations, as there is usually a wait, and their waiting area is cramped and uncomfortable.

Musashino, 2905 San Gabriel, Austin TX 78705 - Consistently fresh sushi with some interesting offerings in the maki (sushi roll) department.

North by NorthwestTwo locations: Northwest - 10010 N. Capital of Texas Hwy, Austin TX 78759; and South - 5701 W. Slaughter Ln, Ste D, Austin TX 78749 - Consistently decent, and they brew their own beer. 'nuff said.

Olive & June - This Italian restaurant from established Austin chef Shawn Cirkiel is a favorite of mine. I love their Sunday dinners, when they offer a very generous multi-course meal for $36 (children 12 and under are free!), A blog post about my first meal at Olive & June can be found here.

Mussels at Texas French Bread
Mussels at Texas French Bread
Texas French Bread2900 Rio Grande, Austin TX 78705 - This little bakery and café offers a wonderful dinner service. It's one of my favorites for a casual but delicious meal. Much of the food is locally sourced, and everything I have tried has been beautifully prepared.

Uchiko4200 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin TX 78756 - The sister restaurant to Uchi. I've heard their food described as more "masculine" while Uchi's is more "feminine" - I guess my taste buds are hermaphrodites, because I love both spots.

Vino Vino4119 Guadalupe Street, Austin TX 78751 - Wine bar that also serves excellent food.


BIT OF A HIKE:

Andiamo Ristorante2521 Rutland Drive, Austin TX 78758 - This out-of-the-way Italian restaurant has a devoted following for a reason. Addictive bread, wonderful pasta, photo art that will make you want to get on the next plane to Italy. Their monthly wine dinners are not to be missed (reservations fill up quickly, so be sure to get on their mailing list!)

Apis23526 Highway 71 West, Spicewood, Texas 78669 - One of my very favorite restaurants in Austin. They offer a couple of prix fixe options, along with a blowout signature tasting that will truly make you feel like a king or queen. Very much worth the drive.

Café Malta3421 W. William Cannon Dr., Austin TX 78745 - Tucked away in a strip mall that also contains a tobacco shop and a Taco Bell, Café Malta definitely qualifies as a hidden gem. To my surprise and delight, they make most everything from scratch, from their pastas to their preserves.

Trout Salad at Jack Allen's Kitchen
Jack Allen's KitchenThree locations: South - 7720 Highway 71 West, Austin TX 78735; West- 3600 N Capital of Texas Hwy, Austin, TX 78746;  and Round Rock - 2500 Hoppe Trail, Round Rock, TX 78681 - Jack Allen, the founding chef of Z'Tejas, brings a breath of fresh air to otherwise-barren upscale restaurant landscapes. The flavors here are bright, fresh and innovative. Try the Navajo Taco or the trout salad - both are fantastic.

Soto11066 Pecan Park Blvd, Cedar Park, TX 78613 - Well worth the drive to Cedar Park. If you want to be really wowed by a meal, go find Chef Andy and tell him to surprise you. He will. Full blog post here.

What's your favorite spot to enjoy fancy fare?

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