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Celebratory Dinner out in austin

I am traveling to Austin for the first time shortly, in about two weeks. My girlfriend is testing out for a certification, and as such I would like to treat her to a nice dinner. I consider us both to be pretty adventurous eaters with good palates- and I don't mind dropping a bit of coin on the meal. I have searched through the board, and unfortunately, keep finding different opinions. I enjoy doing tasting menus, however, it looks like the Briskill is rather expensive (even compared to high end NYC restaurants that I frequent) and the news of the executive chef recently leaving leave me wondering if it is worth it. Wink looks interesting, but gets spotty reviews. Any one have any other suggestions?

Also, for BBQ I am told by my boss to go to the salt lick. He has good taste, so I am likely to take him up on this, but he is from manhattan and might not know real BBQ.

We will most likely be staying at the Wyndham garden hotel.

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  1. The Salt Lick is far from the best barbecue in the Austin area. Within the city limits and open only for weekday lunch (11:00-2:30, I think) is House Park Barbecue on 12th just east of Lamar. The fatty brisket is superb. If you're up for a drive (as you would be if you went to the Salt Lick), head south on 183 about 25 minutes to Lockhart and go to Smitty's or Kreuz. Lately, I've been preferring Smitty's. Try the fatty brisket, the sausage and the pork chops. Steer clear of the ribs. Eat at any of these three places and you'll throw rocks at the Salt Lick.

    1. I have had great luck both frequenting and recommending Zoot (on Hearn Street just North of Lake Austin Blvd). I have been to Wink twice and find Zoot to be superior in even aspect, atmosphere, wine selection and food execution and presentation.

      5 Replies
      1. re: kirelerya

        Zoot seems to have a nice menu, and a cheap (though a bit pedestrian) tasting menu. I will definitely take it under consideration. Winks menu seemed a bit more adventurous but according to the boards is spotty...

        1. re: damnlamb

          Hi damnlamb,

          I agree with everything Greg Spence said about 'cue. Visitors never seem to regret a trip to Lockhart.

          As for your celebratory meal, I'm not sure what we can tell you about Wink and the Driskill Grill that you haven't already read on the board. Perhaps you can be more specific about what’s most important to you?

          In case you haven’t seen them, here are some links to several detailed older threads on the same subject:

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

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/336707

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/93377

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/377256

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/386630

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/360625

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/376335

          In my opinion, “fine dining” isn’t Austin’s best food category. I’ve had pretty good experiences at Hudson’s on the Bend and Jeffrey’s; however, I much prefer the food at the Backstage Steakhouse. [More details on these places can be found in the threads above.] Other 'hounds would probably suggest Uchi or Chez Nous, but I haven't tried them yet. Wink and Zoot have been zinged for inconsistency and poor execution, among other things. You might want to totally avoid Italian food in Texas, since you're coming from the East Coast.

          For a no-expenses-barred celebratory meal for diners with adventurous palates, San Antonio's Le Rêve might fit the bill. It would require a bit of a drive, though, and it can be hard to get reservations.

          I hope this helps you choose a place for a great meal.

          Best,
          MPH

          1. re: MPH

            Side question: is La Reve the best "fine dining" restaurant in Texas?

            1. re: tom in austin

              I think it's the best of its type in central Texas, particularly the area around Austin and San Antonio. However, there are a great many "fine dining" restaurants in Dallas—and even new ones in Houston—that I haven't tried, so I’m not in a position to make sweeping declarations.

              If you want a raucous debate, you could post that same question on the Texas board!

              Best,
              MPH

      2. Hi Damnlamb,
        Zoot is a good suggestion and I think you would be satisfied with your choice. It is tasty, although not an unforgetable meal.
        Uchi is another option. I know you have great sushi in NYC, but Uchi really does some creative things with quality fish. I love the idea of interesting sushi combinations, but if you are a sushi purist you may not be as thrilled. (My husband, who has a more refined palate than yours truly, thinks Uchi ruins the quality of the fish by trying to be so creative. I disagree.)
        Backstage gets consistently good reviews on this board, but I have never been. It is on the outskirts of Austin, if that matters to you.
        If it were for me, I would want to go to Uchi.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Honey Bee

          Hudson's on the Bend could be a good choice if: you want to combine it with a drive out by the lake; and, if you wanted more of a regional experience. A regional option could also be Fonda San Miguel, which is "Midtown" here (fifties). If you want to stay downtown, however, the suggestions above are just fine. I'd only go to the Salt Lick with a large group of people that like to drink and listen to music more than eat. Just tell your boss that you couldn't find it. The drive to Lockart isn't nearly as pretty as going west toward the lake, but the meat is worth it.

          1. re: rudeboy

            Can you folks describe what you've tried recently at some of these "fine dining" places, and how you liked the chow? I was going to link to relevant recent posts by the authors on this thread about the restaurants they are vouching for here, but I had trouble finding many (other than MPH's about his or her experiences).

            If I were looking for a special dinner place, I'd want as much detail as possible. Even as a local who hasn't tried every restaurant in town, I appreciate context when someone recommends a place.

            1. re: Knoblauch

              ummm....okay....well, the original query didn't specify any detail for me to get into anything specific - I only assumed that someone from NYC might want to try something different, which is why I mentioned that there might be a couple of different options, one of which could be coupled with a drive. If there were a follow-up question, I could provide more info. I don't write extensive reviews anyhow - I'll mention a dish or a new place from time to time, generally, but that's about all that time allows. Thank you all for writing details and finding old posts, though.

        2. I agree that you should choose Lockhart over Salt Lick. However, there is a Salt Lick outpost in the Austin airport. I like to get a brisket sandwich before I fly out and eat it on the plane when everyone else is munching on peanuts. This would be a good way for you to get a taste of Salt Lick (although obviously the restaurant is better than the outpost), but not have to waste one of your Austin meals on it.
          FYI-
          Tell your boss that the Salt Lick usually has a booth at the BBQ Festival in NYC (forgot exactly what it is called), but last time I was there the line was crazy-long. Still, a chance to have some.

          1. Yeah, there are not restaurants in Austin that compete with NYC so I think you should go for places that have different experiences than you can get in New York. Looks like you have barbecue covered with Greg's suggestion for Lockhart.

            I will add to the shock of everyone on this board that I had a mighty fine piece of brisket at Lambert's brunch a few weeks ago. Best piece of brisket I've had in the city limits since John Mueller's closed. I've also had some dry pieces there so I don't highly recommend it over Lockhart or anything but I was amazed at how tasty it was. There may be no other place in town representing "new" Austin than Lambert's--old time tastes in a hip somewhat casual setting in a historic building and more expensive then other 'cue places. Their Sunday brunch is a surprisingly good deal for $22 as you get all you can eat food including their super tasty coconut pie and deviled eggs.

            I had a friend who ate at the Driskill recently without knowing about the chef change and said it was much improved compared to her previous inexperience there under Bull. So it's possible the new guy has improved the place. My two meals there have both been lackluster.

            I'm in the Wink fan club but its nothing special compared to New York and is quite expensive as well. I haven't done trendy Japanese food in NYC so I can't speak to the specialness of Uchi but I think the food is remarkable and there are fewer complaints on it here on this board. The menu is more interesting than almost any other in town in terms of playfulness and diverse with non sushi/sashami offerings--check out the current menu on their website. My biggest problem with Uchi are the crowds and lack of reservations after 7pm.

            Also controversially on this board are Fonda San Miguel and Hudson's on the Bend. FSM, is over-priced ($20 enchiladas?!) but still is perhaps more an interesting experience to a NYer than to an Austinite. Still the setting is nice for a celebratory meal and I've always been amazed at what passes for mexican food in the northeast. HotB if it weren't so blooming far from downtown (30 minutes) could be the best choice. Exotic meats usually well prepared (though I've had things like elk steak over cooked there). I haven't been in a while but I know their menu contains things you might not find in NY like Texas quail, rattlesnake, bison, etc.

            1. A lot of it depends on what atmosphere you're looking for. Eddie V's downtown has great steaks and seafood with live jazz many nights. Great bar. Uchi has very upscale sushi/Asian fusion and has some really interesting presentations, but can be a little trendy. My favorites for great food and not too pretentious are Chez Nous and Vespaio, but both can get really crowded and noisy especially on weekends. Fino is another nice option; interesting upscale Mediterranean menu with some outdoor seating.

              As far as barbeque, The Salt Lick is really more of a tourist attraction than a place for great barbeque; it's a cool place with a BYOB policy that's great for big groups. Rudy's has better BBQ, as does Iron Works downtown near the convention center (ribs aren't that great though). The Green Mesquite on Barton Springs has great pork ribs.

              1 Reply
              1. re: gawain44

                I wouldn't recommend Eddie V's personally. The bar is nice, and they can make a proper cocktail, but I wasn't enamoured with the kitchen skills. I hear good things about the appetizers, so perhaps its niche is as an app/cocktail destination. I remember having a bacon-wrapped scallop dish that was poorly executed (I probably would've seared the scallops and also crisped the bacon a little more), and for a place that touts its seafood, it came drenched in a borderline-watery sauce. Not to mention bad shucking on the oysters (ie. sandy & no liquor). Also distantly recall tasting my partner's dish, which was a simply-prepared fish that, unfortunately suffered a few minutes too long on the fire. If your seafood is good & fresh, it's bad karma to defile them like that.

                Chez Nous gets some love on this board, but deserves more IMO, as far as downtown dining goes.

                And the mention of Iron Works is actually a good suggestion. I say that because I have found it damn near impossible to find halfway decent beef ribs all across this country (even in barbecue towns). I suspect it's a challenging thing to pull off, maybe even moreso in a restaurant setting (as opposed to smokin' em in your backyard), but it's the best thing in Iron Works, and that is its raison d'etre in my life. But only go here if you're want beef ribs and/or you can't make it to Lockhart/Luling.