Downtown business dinner near the Driskill
I'll be in Austin next week and am planning an informal dinner with some work colleagues. We're staying at the Driskill and would like to eat at a restaurant within walking distance that takes reservations for parties of 6 or more. Both casual and upscale (within reason) are OK. Since many of the people I'm traveling with have never been to Austin, I'm sure they would appreciate eating what Austin is known for - good brisket and mexican (preferably interior mexican). The meeting has an environmental theme so restaurants/chefs dedicated to local and/or organic ingredients are a bonus. I've been to Austin about five times in my life and my favorites are Curra's, Sam's, Rudy's and Taco Xpress. Unfortunately, all of these places are not within walking distance and a little divey for a business dinner.
I've searched the board a little and would like your opinion on the following options and any other recommendations.
Manuel's (downtown location)
Second the suggestion on Louies 106. The food is good, and the prices are in the same range as the restaurants you mentioned. And downstairs they have a few small dining rooms, which would give you privacy for your group. In case you go scouting, Louies 106 actually has three dining levels. Check out the level down the stairs from the main entrance.
As someone noted, Wink could be a touch far at a 15-minute walk but they do focus on local ingredients. The restaurant is small and cramped and can be loud.
Cibo tries to stay local (they've hosted the local Slow Foods at least once) and they have an upstairs area that would work for 6+ but the fare is modern Italian which may not be too exciting for you depending on where you are coming from.
Lambert's will probably be the most interesting Texas fare (fancy barbecue) but you'll definitely need a reservation and it can get quite loud.
I love the food at all 3 restaurants but note that Lambert's and Cibo are in the $30/person range but wink is usually more like $50/person (all excluding wine).
As for Tex-Mex, you mention Manual's and I've only been once or twice and it was decent enough--no better or worse than Curra's. There's a less mentioned place also not far away called Cantina Laredo. I've only been once but I was pleasantly surprised at the tastiness of my enchilidas. Each are catering to the more upscale Mexican and pale compared to other parts in the city.
All the places in discussion are quite good--glad someone brings up Louie's 106, though it is sad that Austin isn't culinarily sophisticated enough for them to return the Grilled Sardines to the menu. Another place, about a ten minute walk, is Aquarelle, the outstanding French restaurant, west of Congress on 6th street 6-7 blocks, just north of Opal Divine's. Just to give you another option--though Chez Nous is on the list, and I have nothing bad to say about it. In fact, just south of Chez Nous is Eddie V's seafood place. Another few blocks south of there is the Four Seasons, and their recently redesigned restaurants have been garnering rave reviews here and elsewhere.
Let's also not forget that the Driskill's dining options are hailed highly too.
Oh yeah, and also there's Shoreline Grill, next door to the Four Seasons on Cesar Chavez.
I would say that nearly every place mentioned does a little bit on the local products/organic front...I've been told that Shoreline Grill at least used to grow their own herbs, which is becoming more and more common.
I like your statement regarding grilled sardines and sophistication - I didn't even know that those were being served there. Maybe they should put grilled lengua tacos on the menu, some people just can't get enough of those! ;-)
Jadler, did you decide on a place? I would've picked Chez Nous of the list that you have, and then suggested La Traviata, who takes reservations.
I'm not a huge fan of the Shoreline Grill or the (new) Driskill Grill, but I wish I'd tried the grilled sardines at Louie's 106 back when they were still available. I love this dish, which is relatively easy to find in other parts of the country. Here in Austin, Vespaio has in the past offered some delicious, simple, seasonal specials featuring Spanish anchovies. It's not the same dish, or even the same fish (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/320221 ), but it's the right idea.
I don't know many chowhounds who seriously think that grilled lengua or even tacos are the opposite of grilled sardines in terms of of culinary sophistication. After all, sardines are total comfort food in Portugal, Spain, Greece, and the wider Mediterranean region; plus, there are much less sophisticated local favorites that could be nominated in this category. However, continuing that conversation would probably not help anyone find good chow. I do agree with your conclusion, taliesin15, about the pedestrian expectations of a large part of Austin's dining public, which can force good restaurants to make changes for the worse. The same thing happened at Cibo (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/426957 ). In fact, they used to offer grilled sardines, too.
Maybe we chowhounds should start a "bring back the sardines" campaign.
I see it's been a while since this has been posted, but I will be at the Driskill next month (Feb 2012) and looking for mid-priced restaurants within walking distance to host an informal dinner with my colleagues. Any suggestions since Louies 106 is closed? Prefer not to do Tex Mex but open to Italian, Hill Country Fare, etc.