Coming for a conference - Concierge Recommended:
The Driskill Grill
Fonda San Miguel
I specifically asked for for great, interesting, well executed food, rather than the stuffy places where the blue hairs hang out. I am from NY, and have lived in Chicago and currently in New Orleans, so I like to thing of my palate as reasonably educated.
Anyone have any comments, criticisms, or other suggestions?
I think the concierge gave you some good recs. All of the places you've named are very popular with locals. The key issue is your budget.
The restaurant at the 4 Seasons Hotel is newly revamped, has an acclaimed chef and might be a good choice. It's called Trio. http://www.fourseasons.com/austin/din...
I can strongly recommend Finn and Porter at the downtown Hilton. For some reason it's easy to overlook so doesn't get talked about a whole lot. But excellent steak, fish and sushi - and I've always been impressed by the service, as well.
Uchi and Fonda San Miguel are both musts. But I think you should really try some BBQ. I moved here after living in Illinois and Washington and people kept talking about the barbecue and for years I was like yeah whatever smoked meat....until I tried it. Now I always take any out of towners to BBQ. The Salt lick is awesome if you have a car and want to take a trip otherwise Ruby's or Rudy's are my faves.
If you choose to head out for BBQ and want to stay in Austin (as opposed to driving to Luling or Lockhart), I suggest you to House Park BBQ or Sam's. House Park is only open for lunch and is in central Austin. Sam's is on the eastside and stays open until 2 am (or later). It is in a run down little shack and serves some fine mutton. The ladies who run it are gregarious and funny.
I have different tastes than lazysmurf in BBQ-
I have family from Driftwood and grew up eating Saltlick in the 70's and early 80's. At the time, it was great BBQ in a relaxed setting. However, after revisiting the place a month ago, I can hardly recognize the food. It was so greasy and the peach cobbler stated like canned peaches with Bisquick on top. None of my family eats there anymore- which is sad because we used to love it.
Mr. Broken Record here. For some amazing Chinese food you will not find in NOLA, try the slightly funky Asia Cafe located in the Asia Market, somewhat NW of central. Your hotel will have never heard of it, but it is the best Chinese in town, specifically, more or less authentic Sichuan cuisine. Lots of great things and some duds. So, search this board for specific menu recommendations. It will be well worth the trip, guaranteed. Well-executed and not stuffy, for sure. Blue hairs will be Chinese grannies eating some great chow, and you don't see that in other Chinese places around town (for the most part). Also, the two Madam Mam locations offer some pretty decent (actually, more than pretty decent) Thai food. Search the board. Fonda is pretty darn good, but a bit on the pricey side. But it is the real deal as far as interior-Mex goes. For a more Texan experience, take that rental car out Hwy 71 to the western reaches of Travis County and relish the Backstage Steakhouse. Texas food with some nice touches of Asian, SWestern, etc.; search the board for other comments. Top-notch Chef Raymond is mostly overlooked these days, but his stuff is far more interesting than the trendoid joints your hotel recommends. Also worth the drive. Chowhounds must be willing to sacrifice convenience for quality. Now, more importantly, will Ant'ny Uglesich ever come out of retirement?????
These are all good options for mid to upscale restaurants. Here are my thoughts:
Uchi- Very good sushi, but expect a long wait (unless you are there at 6:00pm). It is in a cute little house and known for some interesting flavor combinations. Some sushi purists may not approve of the menu (i.e., maguro with goat cheese, fuji apple, and pumpkin oil) but I think it is wonderful.
The Driskill Grill- Many reports indicate it has declined since the departure of the head chef.
Wink- Gets mostly positive, but some mixed reviews on this board. I have never been.
Zoot- Very good New American food. The vegetarian tasting menu is a great option even if you are not a vegetarian.
Fonda San Miguel- Not as centrally located as the other places, if that matters to you. I think it is a wonderful place for Mexican food and would recommend it.
Out of your list, I recommend Uchi, Fonda San Miguel and Zoot (in that order). Enjoy Austin.