very special romantic birthday dinner
hmm -- lambert's or starlite, or the top of my head -- oh, or bess! all 3 are downtown. lambert's is fancy barbecue in a really beautiful setting, starlite is 'new american' (ie fancy food) in a spectacular setting as well (think contemporary room with impressive chandelier and beautiful crowd), and bess bistro is sandra bullock's 'fancy comfort food' place... probably the coziest/most romantic vibe of the 3.
there's also uchi, if japanese food fits the bill. definitely memorable.
Starlite is definitely a fun spot, but my favorite romantic spot is Zoot. Second choices are Wink and Aquarelle. All of them offer terrific food and great wine lists. Wink and Aquarelle are both acoustically challenged, though.
Zoot, on Lake Austin Blvd., has been around for ages. Our first experience there was back in the mid-90s when Stewart Scruggs was in the kitchen. Stewart is still one of the *star* chefs of Austin, but now that he has returned and he (together with Mark Paul) owns Zoot, it's a different vibe. Not as quite as quaint as I remember it, but there's much more focus on local, fresh cuisine and the wine list has matured nicely. The service is great and they're very amenable to special requests if you want to make it a *particularly* memorable evening.
For example, I called a couple of days ahead of my wife's birthday and requested a special dessert and separate room. Both were accommodated without question and the staff seemed genuinely excited to help me make it a special event. It was just the two of us in the back room. Granted, it was a weeknight, and the restaurant wasn't filled to capacity, but they certainly weren't empty.
FYI - If it weren't for the bad acoustics, I would have also recommended Wink. They have great food and a cozy, contemporary atmosphere, but it's impossible to hear yourself in there.
Aquarelle really had a good thing going as the only French restaurant in Austin. The food is great - about 80% of the time. But when they miss, it's a BIG miss. I've already noted that the acoustics can be challenging, but the biggest random factor is the service. Again, it's great - about 80% of the time. There's one waiter there who takes great pride in bringing the spirit of the chuckwagon to your dinner. He's overly talkative, overly personal, and his timing is impeccably bad.
It makes me sad to have to write that because we really enjoy Aquarelle and eat there every month or two, but it doesn't qualify as "romantic" any more...
We love going to Bistro 88. The food is fabulous and the fact that it is in a strip mall and has glow in the dark battery-operated jellyfish in an aquarium in the middle of the restaurant is definitely "memorable." Not sure what you're going for in regard to being memorable, but for me, the Miso Sea Bass there is like eating candy... It's where we go for all our special/ romantic occasions. We even got engaged there.