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valentine's suggestions? - take a look at my list

hi there!

the fiance and i are total foodies and we're trying to decide where to go for a romantic and delicious valentine's day dinner. we'd ideally like to try somewhere new, and while we're willing to splurge on something really excellent, price is a consideration. we went to wink back in november and loved it, but again we're looking for something new.

here are some of the places we're thinking about. please comment on value, atmosphere, and most importantly the food:

- uchi - we went here about 3 years ago and were both totally underwhelmed and are considering giving it another chance. i don't know if we ordered wrong or what, so if you like uchi, please advise on what to order.

- fonda san miguel - heard great things about their brunch... what about dinner? is it worth the price?

- chez nous - i lived in france for a while so my expectations for french food are pretty high. not uniquely austin, but we live here so that's ok.

- zoot

- hudson's on the bend (i know there's a decent amount about this place in a recent thread)

- castle hill cafe

anywhere else we should consider

thanks in advance! is this austin-specific forum new to chowhound?? exciting!

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  1. I've only been to Uchi once, and I liked it a lot, but it was a long time ago (when they first opened), so I don't feel like I should comment. If you're thinking about sushi, you might think about trying Mikado. Their sushi is delicious, as are many of their items on the dinner menu are wonderuful as well (try the quail).

    Personally, I would skip Fonda San Miguel. Their brunch is a much better option, since you get to try so many items. I've had several dishes at dinner that were incredibly disappointing, and I feel like their entire menu is hit and miss. It does have a wonderful atmopshere (although it can get really loud in the dining room when it is full).

    Chez Nous is a great option. It's homey, romantic, and it has great food. It's also reasonably priced. I'm not French, so I can't comment too much on the authenticity of the food, but I do know it is ownded and operated by French people. Personally, it reminds me of some of the little cafes in the Cote d'Azur.

    I'd skip Zoot and go to Wink instead (if only you hadn't just tried it!). I haven't been to Zoot in a few years, but last time I went, I didn't really like it. It was fine, but nothing exciting. Wink, its sister restaurant, on the other hand (owned by the same people) is consistently amazing. Maybe Zoot has learned a thing or two from Wink? I hope so, because I like the location and the atmostphere.

    Hudson's on the Bend is a favorite of many. I do like their food, but I don't know that it's worth the high prices on the menu. I also feel that it has an almost campy atmosphere, and I don't like that.

    Castle Hill is out. They were great years ago, but no longer.

    Hmm... as far as other places, the Driskill Hotel has a delicious menu, and it is *very* romantic. But it's certainly pricey.

    I also really like Jezebel, a restaurant I've noticed has been largely ignored on this board (can anyone tell me why?) They always have something new and different on their menu. One standout that I've had is their lobster tail in a spicy red thai curry sauce. Yum. Their prices are pretty high, although the portion sizes are very large. Whenever we go to Jezebel, we always get an appetizer or two and split an entree - and still leave feeling stuffed.

    Hope that helps!

    1. If you're considering Chez Nous, how about Aquarelle? Those two places are what I would consider.

      Uchi is also really crowded, rather unromantic.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Kent Wang

        I second the Uchi sentiment. Outstanding restaurant, but almost too vibrant and bustling to be romantic.

        I've already got reservations for Vespaio, which will be our first time to dine there. Good for Valentine's Day?

        1. re: jwynne2000

          It's pretty busy and crowded too. I'd say no. If you still want Italian try La Traviata or Siena. Both are very romantic. I believe a few people here consider La Traviata to better in terms of cuisine.

          BTW, I thought Vespaio doesn't take reservations?

      2. Jwynne, Vespaio has good food, but it is pretty noisy. The last time I was there, I could hardly communicate with my tablemates. That said, it was Saturday night-- maybe on Valentine's Day, people will be more subdued.

        Kent, what do you order at La Traviata? I haven't been in a long time and would like to try it again, but I'd love some direction.

        1 Reply
        1. re: catarata

          It's been a while. Had a duck leg confit on pasta four years ago and it's one of the best confit I've had in Austin. I went again about a year ago and had some sort of seafood item, probably.

        2. I'd think that Aquarelle or Zoot would be fine choices.

          I have had the opposite experience from catarata's in regards to Zoot and Wink. Each time I've gone to Wink, I've been unimpressed. Although Zoot had a rough patch a few years ago, lately they've really shaped up. And Zoot's atmosphere is much more romantic than Wink's (a restored old house vs. a strip mall).

          We went to Uchi last night and I didn't get it, either.

          Siena has a nice atmosphere, but I can't remember a thing, good or bad, about the food. However, I have glowing foodie memories about Aquarelle and Zoot.

          1 Reply
          1. re: addlepated

            I've dined at Wink twice and also find the food boring and overpriced. Also, not only is it in a strip mall it's next to a dry cleaners!

          2. My wife and I went to Chez Nous Saturday night, first time in about 7 years. Yes it has a great atmosphere, but the food is not worth the wait. I had steak frites and the fries were limp and unimpressive. The steak was cooked correctly, but it almost seemed that it had been pre-cooked for the dinner rush. It was a ribeye med. rare, but it was somehow dry (aside from the fat you typically find on a ribeye) with a thick crust on the outside. Skip it, especially if you have had good french food.

            3 Replies
            1. re: LeroyT

              Seems strange to order steak and steak frites at a French restaurant, though that's still no excuse for what happened with your dish.

              The escargot I had a few weeks ago there is the best escargot dish I've ever had. I believe it was an escargot and crawfish stew, similar to an etouffee. Their house terrines are also superb. Really, that last meal was more enjoyable than the one I've had Aquarelle. Aquarelle had fancier, more laborious dishes but in terms of sheer enjoyability the simpler, less haute cuisine preparations are sometimes better.

              1. re: Kent Wang

                I'm confused as to why steak frites is strange to order at a French place, it is the definition of bistro food. And with the three course prix-fixe, Chez Nous is a bistro. Also, the rest of the menu didn't appeal to me.

                1. re: LeroyT

                  Agreed, LeroyT.

                  Bifteck frites (steak frites), like moules (mussels) frites, is a classic brasserie dish in both Belgium and France. And obviously, French restaurants should be good at making fried potatoes!

            2. Addlepated, how interesting. Maybe I went to Zoot during the rough patch a few years ago. I can't remember the last time I went there, but I think it was probably the summer of 2005. Maybe I'll read some more recent reviews from the 'hounds and try it again. As I said before, I do love the atmosphere there... kind of like Starlite before they moved downtown...

              Kent, I have never had good confit in Austin, so I may check it out. Thanks for the tip.

              1 Reply
              1. re: catarata

                Good confit seems to be hard to come by. I'd say it's good by Austin standards but not by what I've had in other cities and especially not compared to how I make it. I make a mean confit, if I do say so myself. In fact, I'm making one as we speak.

              2. This is the perennial question for chow recommendations in Austin: ambience or deliciousness? It almost seems as though the two are mutually exclusive. I like the food much better at Vespaio and even Cibo than at the more "romantic" La Traviata (which is hit or miss, at best) and Siena (which I think is quite bad). Fonda San Miguel has a seductively inviting dining room, but I would not recommend this place for dinner, and I also concur with catarata that the food at Castle Hill is underwhelming. I've had two unimpressive meals at Wink—in 2005. Of course, a judgment based on two data points from more than a year ago may not be reliable. What I’ve read lately by other ‘hounds makes me want to give their chow another shot.

                There was a fairly detailed recent thread on where to go for a "blow-out" dinner in town that included discussion of Hudson’s on the Bend. Here's a link to it:

                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/353241

                Two "fine dining" places where I've had very good meals recently are Backstage Steakhouse in Spicewood and Jeffrey's, right here in Austin. I posted reviews about both of them. Until they fix the search function on this site, you can use Google's advanced search, limited to chowhound, to pull up old threads on any restaurants that interest you. Or, you can just scroll back a few pages.

                I hope this helps you find a good spot for V-Day. And please be sure to report back on your experience.

                Best,
                MPH

                2 Replies
                1. re: MPH

                  Jeffrey's would be my choice. I haven't been since I moved out of Austin several years ago, but from roughly 1980 to roughly 2000 I ate there a couple or three times a year on average and was never disappointed. I have been there a few times on Valentine's Day and thought it was roughly perfect for that occasion.

                  Jim

                  1. re: Jim Washburn

                    Thanks for all the great suggestions. I'm leaning toward Aquarelle or Chez Nous, so I will let you know what we decide. From talking to people recently, I've heard some really mixed reviews of Zoot.

                    Since you've all been discussing Wink, I thought I'd add my two cents. When I was there in November, I was very impressed. They had wonderful fall seasonally-inspired selections on their menu -- I had duck and my fiance had venison(I think) and both were delicious. The waiter did a great job pairing it all with a nice sort of smoky red wine (a Syrah maybe?) Anyway, it was delicious and I thought it was a very decent value as well.... Then again, I just moved here from Manhattan a few months ago.... so my sense of such things is WAY off. :)