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Disappointing meal at Wink: is it (still) one of Austin’s ten best?

  • m

I’m a native Texan who has recently moved to Austin after many good years on the East Coast (Boston and Brooklyn). Though this is my first post, I’ve been following the board since I decided to move here. Thanks for all your guidance in navigating Austin’s culinary landscape.

Wink was highly recommended here and in other places, but a friend and I just had dinner there last night and found it unimpressive. The scallop appetizer and the baby bibb salad were fine, though not spectacular. The entrées were another story—the crispy duck breast was soggy and the accompanying lentils overcooked, while the lamb was just passable. The cheese plate featured cheese that was much too cold; plus, serving two blues out of four cheeses suggests a lack of imagination. I was particularly disappointed with the flourless chocolate cake. The chocolate tasted like hot-fudge sauce instead of good dark chocolate. Overall, I found the prices high (for Austin) and the portions small, which would have been forgivable had the meal been properly cooked and/or more flavorful. Wink is friendly, inviting, and has an interesting organic menu, yet the food was ultimately not satisfying.

So, what I want to know is: Is Wink still among the best restaurants in Austin? Is it known more for the atmosphere than the food? Or has the place recently gone downhill? In the coming weeks I plan to try Vespaio, Aquarelle, Café Josie, and Jeffrey’s (though several posts have suggested that I may be underwhelmed at the latter). How do these restaurants compare to Wink?

Though I miss the local restaurant scene in Park Slope (especially Tempo, Al di Là, Blue Ribbon), not to mention NYC, I have had some good local chow. I liked the Bee Cave Bistro (the quiche and soup combo); the Eastside Café (the fish special and that tasty cherry cobbler); the Broken Spoke (CFS); Shady Grove (the chocolate icebox pie); Cipollina (the gorgonzola-bacon pizza hit the spot, though there’s something off with their crust). I’ve also had really mediocre or downright bad meals at Suzi’s China Grill (including their eggplant dish); Green Mesquite; the Frisco Shop (burgers only—didn’t try the pie); Hut’s Hamburgers; and Hyde Park Bar & Grill (not a fan of battered fries).

Any feedback you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

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  1. I haven't tried Wink yet, but I highly recommend Vespaio for Italian. Try it if you get a chance and report back.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Mike B

      I was beginning to despair before I read all of your good suggestions.

      Based on your feedback, I have high hopes for Vespaio and Jeffrey's. I think I'll try them next, and I'll be sure to pass on my impressions.


      1. re: MPH

        Try Madam Mam's for Thai... It's excellent. Zoot and Wink are up and down, but I've had some unbelieveably good meals at both -- food, service, atmosphere right on the money. I've also been disappointed at both, and most recently at Zoot with a really disappointing Tasting Menu. Each course very one-note, the note being salt. Not a sweet counterpoint in any course, except for the amazing dessert, a goat cheese cheescake, which was divine.

        I like Vespaio's but find it inconsistent, too, and was disappointed last time. Jeffrey's has always been good... not as stellar as a few transcendent meals I had at Uchi, but I've never left with that nagging I-just-spent-$150-on-THAT feelings.

        Venture out and try the BBQ at Cooper's in Llano, the seafood at T&S Seafood up north, and the best deal in Austin for me; the stellar lunch specials at Elsi's.

        I'm just back from NYC and was lucky enough to be taken to Al Di La -- and there's nothing here that I know of that compares. But that's why you have to wait an hour or two to get in. I love the new wine bar there, though!

        (I'm a former brooklynite, too).

        1. re: Eva

          I went to Wink for the first time Friday night. Sat in the wine bar and had a full meal w/a friend at the communal table. It was very good. Pricey. I recommend the marlin dish. And the chevre cheesecake.

          On another note...Uchi never disappoints. Jeffrey's does, on the rare occasion.

          (I'm a native Texan but lived in West Village on Horatio for awhile. Hello to all.)

          Glad to hear about Madam Mams. Will try it.

          1. re: Eva

            Actually, I think Titaya (at Lamar and Koenig) is better than Madam Mam's, and has much easier parking.

            1. re: pwang

              I agree about Titaya's. With as crowded as the place has become over the past year, it seems lots of people agree as well.

      2. I have never been sold on Wink (OR Zoot, for that matter), so I'm not surprised to hear your comments; they give so little bang for the buck and then try to sell that as one of their virtues. I think Vespaio AND Cafe Josie live up to their reps, and among upscale places Mirabelle is a definite sleeper. Hoover's on Manor Road will give you a much better CFS than the Spoke, and if you want to wipe out some of the bad taste of your negative experiences, Din Ho on 183 is far superior to Suzi's, nearly anyplace is better for BBQ than Green Mesquite tho John Mueller's on Manor remains arguably the best in town, and the best burgers are at Casino el Camino on 6th Street, which unfortunately only opens in the evening when the crowds start forming there; the Big Ass Burger at Roaring Fork is a good alternative, tho.

        1. s
          Seamus Mitwurst

          What a sad post.
          I've been there maybe three times and each time was wonderful.
          BUT, for the prices they charge it'd be hard to convince myself to go back after reading a review like that.
          Maybe I'll wait until someone else is paying.

          Try Jeffires. Enough people love it that even if you are underwhelmed you will at least have an opinion when people start talking about it being wonderful (or awful, as I am often wont to do).

          Lately I've decided that the chichi places fail to hold my attention anyway. Oh well...

          1. Yeah! I'm so happy to find a fellow NYC chowhound here. I moved from the city in March and found some places I would recommend- but nothing like our previous location for high quality, variety and atmosphere. I do miss it!

            I will recommend Cafe Josie, and the Fajita al Guajillo pastor (or anything) at Polvos. The pie at Frisco is pretty fabulous, and Hoovers is worth a try also. I like Vivo across the street and will recommend checking it out, but not as much as El Chile which I just love. Try Asti in Hyde Park for Italian also. A major source of frustration is the lack of good Asian cuisine, notably Thai. I have heard the Backstage is the place for steak but haven't been yet.

            I know this will be contraversial, but I do like the bbq and breakfast tacos at Rudys.

            Good Luck!

            4 Replies
            1. re: Christine

              Another NY native here. We left our perch high above W3rd st. in June for a better life and to finally own a home. Loving the area and the people so far. The food is good, you just have to search a bit harder to find what you want as you may already know. I was used to walking out my door and getting the best (blank) in the City. We traded (arguably) the best Italian and Asian food for the best Tex Mex and BBQ. A fair trade IMO.

              Anyway, we've tried most of the Thai places in the area and as of now Thai Spice Cafe in a shopping center at the corner of 360 and Bee Caves is our favorite. The only thing I don't like about the Thai food here is that they don't use the broad rice noodles like I'm used to. Pad Se Ew is one of my favorite dishes and the noodles are thin. Not Pad Thai thin but not wide like I'm accustomed to. Also, every place that we've tried the Pad Se Ew they use regular broccoli as opposed to Chinese broccoli. Thai Passion downtown is serviceable too.

              MPH, thanks for Bee Cave Bistro rec, it's near my house and I've been meaning to check it out. There's also a great wine and spirits shop in the same strip as the Bistro. Great beer selection and the lady that runs the place is sweet.
              For Pizza, so far the Brick Oven on 35th is our favorite. Nothing like NY pizza but they use good ingredients and the thin crust has a nice, smoky flavor. It reminds me of BBQ pizza haha. I also like Yaghi's on hwy 71 and Bee Caves. Not like home but close enough.

              I would love to find a good Chinese food restaurant. I've been meaning to try Wink as well as Uchi, I'll report back when I do. Let's get some action on this board!

              1. re: nypb

                Slipped my mind- I have been to the Brick Oven (only on 35th!) and Uchi, which is fantastic! Give me hope. It so interesting that you mention missing the broad noodles because that is exactly what I've been searching for here.

                1. re: nypb

                  For Chinese, try Din Ho BBQ. They have great chow fun which uses the wide rice noodles -- not sure if they are the type you are interested in.

                  For Thai, try Madam Mam's on Guadalupe. It is my new favorite thai food in the city.

                  1. re: Mike B

                    Madam Mams used wide rice noodles for their Pad Se Ew, and its pretty good, although I prefer Pad Thai.

              2. This is a very old thread, but I felt compelled to say something.. my other-of-significance and I have been to wink ten or so times in the past year, and have Never been disappointed. We usually sit in the wine bar, and order a whole bunch of small items and a bottle of wine. Consistently delightful, innovative, well-executed meals have resulted. A couple of times the chef has come out to say hello to us, as we are recognized now. He says he would order exactly as we do, lots of different tastes. The service has never lacked wit, charm, perfect timing and ideal recommendation. The chevre cheesecake with the saracco moscato de asti is bliss. try it again, this way! really. sorry to gush, but i cant say enough good things about Wink. (on another note, one of the worst meals ive ever had was at Zoot.. another story.)

                1. I have not been to Wink but Jeffrey's is always so good. The chocolate dessert (I cant remember what it is called) is excellent. Vin Bistro is another one that is always worth the price.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: gabliana

                    The chocolate dessert at Jeffery's is called Chocolate Intemperance. LOVE IT! We went for our anniversary in January and had a marvelous meal and exceptional service. We were a bit worried at first, we said it was our anniversary when we made the reservation that afternoon, and when we were seated next to a loud couple in a small room it was bad. DH spoke to the host and we were moved to a private room where we were treated to attentive service (but not intrusive). I'd go again any day!

                    1. re: lshoes

                      Go to Jeffery's and skip Wink. I went to Wink several weeks ago and it was utterly forgettable save the >$100 bill. What were at once time a beautiful pair of lamb chops were cooked to a tasteless grey. Jeffery's on the other hand has creative food, high quality ingredients and superb service for about the same money.

                  2. That must have been a rare off night. I have always had exceptional meals at Wink. For pricey but amazing food, try Jezebel on Congress, next to Little City coffee shop near the Capitol. The chef puts out every plate and has created some of the most delicious sauces anywhere. He'll pair different sauces with different entrees on request. For a different type experience, more casual and with great well-priced wines, try the Grove Wine Bar. Great food, wonderful wines(many in the $22-$30 range, per bottle, and you can buy wine to take home at a discount) and maybe the best outdoor dining deck in Austin. http://www.grovewinebar.com/ I especially like the new Tomato Shrimp bisque (mostly tomato, and delicious) and the pastas (all of them). The ahi tuna salad is exceptional, as is the salmon over polenta -- casual and very good food on Bee Caves Rd just outside Loop 360.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: showmethefacts

                      This will sound silly, but the thing that annoyed me the most about Wink was that they didn't serve any other beverages besides wine and water (when I went). How can you have a restaurant in Austin Texas that doesn't serve tea, even hot tea? The food at Wink has never been worth the price to me.

                      If I'm going to spend a wad of cash I want to know that the food is consistent, innovative and the atmosphere will be fun. I go to Uchi for something special.

                    2. Last night I had a fantastic experience at Wink. The service was wonderful, the man at the front door remembers your name, the service is wonderful; you get your food quickly but you don't feel rushed. The food? Outstanding. We got a scallop appetizer, the scallops were perfect, they were very tender and were served in a soy sauce and with spinach. For my dinner I ordered lemon sole on top of parsley gnocchi with brown butter aioli. It hit the spot! The sole was very fresh and cooked perfectly and did have a slight hint of lemon. The gnocchi was very fresh and a beautiful color of green because of the parsley. It was very soft, sometimes gnocchil can be gummy, and went well with the brown butter aioli. What I really loved was that there weren't huge servings. Each of us got one scallop from the appetizer, my sole fillet was a perfect size, and there were only 6 gnocchi dumplings; yes, I counted! For dessert we shared the Wink Trio. It had their lemon meringue pot, creme brulee, and flourless chocolate cake. All three were amazing. (And a good, small size, too.) I highly recommend going to Wink, everything I ate was delicious, and the whole menu looked like it had equally wonderful dishes.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: nyc_girl13

                        was this your first time there?
                        i recently got a restaurant.com gift cert for wink, so i could try out their tasting menu and take the edge off the price.

                        1. re: dinaofdoom

                          First time in years, yes. I used a restaurant.com certificate, too. If the tasting menu is less money I would do that. However, it's pretty difficult to go over $100 with two people.

                          1. re: nyc_girl13

                            the website doesn't price the tasting menu, so perhaps it changes.
                            i got the $25 cert so we should be totally fine for 2/food.

                            1. re: dinaofdoom

                              We had quite the oppisite meal then some written above. We walked in and greeted with a smile and felt at home.
                              Sat down and took in the feel of the place and felt like a big dinner party at someones home, everyone seemed to be having the same uttlery amazing experince as we were having. This place has flavor. Definitely topped our list as one of the best meals we have ever eaten.
                              The waitress was amazing also, she made it all complete!

                              1. re: dinaofdoom

                                That's great, tell me about your experience when you've gone, dinaofdoom!