Nice Saturday lunch in Austin
- Jim Thompson
As we live 60-70 miles north of Austin and work during the week, we can only come into Austin on weekends, Saturdays actually. So we were looking for some nice places to have lunch on Saturday in Austin.
If places like Hudson's on the Bend, Little Texas Bistro, Cafe Caprice, Mirabelle, Fonda San Miguel, Café Josie, The Shoreline Grill etc. were open for lunch on Saturdays, we'd be happy. That's the kind of fare we generally seek out. That rules out all the brunch menus I've so far seen in town (and other cities for that matter), which is one reason we choose Saturdays over Sundays to come down to Austin (the major reason, though, is that we come down to shop for groceries at the farmers markets, which are not generally Sunday affairs). Were not usually too psyched about brunch menus, but we'd be willing to check out any that seem to offer something outside the normal French toast, waffles (which I love and love to make at home), omelettes, hollandaise sauce, etc.
We do like "regular" food like burritos and barbecue, etc., but can get that in other locales like Lockhart and San Marcos. So we like to come to Austin for a step "up." Too bad were always in Austin during the Saturday lunch hours at The Range in Salado. Still never been there
A previous trip to Austin saw a successful visit to the Vin (formerly Zin?) Bistro. We had a good meal there. The fact that the wait staff were neither very knowledgeable about cuisine nor especially diligent in their service didn't matter because the good food on the menu included good-sounding wine pairings that made it "incompetent wait staff proof." It was amazing to actually have a crab cake that not only featured the crab rather than the breading, but did it competently by not infusing the dish with a plethora of other ingredients to mask the flavor of the crab. Refreshing and good. As it was lunch and there was driving yet to do in the day, we decided to have just one glass of wine with lunch. We decided to do our food/wine pairing with the Spinach Salad with warm goat cheese, candied pecans, roma tomato, green apples and cantaloupe vinaigrette. We were a little leery about the pairing as it was a 2003 Cab Sauv, which seemed like a prospect that had the potential to totally overpower the salad. But, though still somewhat laden with young wine tannins, it turned out to be a really great match for the salad. Eating the two together was very good (though not the divine pairing of the pan-roasted lamb chops and an amazing California zinfandel the completely competent wait staff at the Little Texas Bistro in Buda had set us up with on a previous Friday night meal). The "Vin Sin" chocolate torte with chocolate ganache served with a raspberry sauce and Crème Anglaise was a competently done and good tasting finish. I think the recommended Kalyra Black Muscat dessert wine would have been a decent match for it, but Ill never know because apparently few before us had ventured to give it a shot. The wait staff had to cooperatively search for it and when they finally did uncover it, predictably, it had been open in the back of a refrigerator for way too long and was oxidized into oblivion. Too bad.
All in all, though, we were very happy with our meal there (the quality of service at a restaurant virtually never features in our enjoyment of a mealwe like to concentrate on the cuisine) and were perplexed to see hoards of people waiting in line at the nearby Kerbey Lane Cafe. (Not to dis the Kerbey Lane. Its a good place, and deserves special kudos for using beef in many of its dishes from a ranch that says it specializes in free ranging, pasture-grazed, grass-fed Texas cattle which are hormone/antibiotic-free and all that good stuff. But the Vin is more a culinary experience.)
On another trip to town, we had a pretty decent Saturday lunch at Green Pastures. The waiter there said that their crab cakes were the best in town, hands down. They indeed were really good and again, like the ones at the Vin, featured the flavor of the crabmeat rather than breading or multifarious spicing. Definitely great. It would be really tough, but if I had to choose between the Vins and the Green Pastures crab cakes, I guess Id choose Green Pastures. But not quite hands down; and theyre also 5 or so dollars more expensive than the Vins. The point, though, is not competition between the crab cakes at the two venues, but to praise the fact that two places in one town have good crab cakes. A definite bonus. The New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc recommended to accompany the crab cakes at Green Pastures was a pretty good match as well. The other dish we had was the polenta, something I normally dont choose. But this polenta was pretty darn good and the recommended Pinot Grigio (we had longer to spend for lunch this time so got two glasses of wine) was not only a good match with the polenta (and an even better match for its accompanying sun-dried tomato tapenade crostini), but was the least expensive glass on the white wine by the glass menu. Kudos to the waiter for not just trying to push the most expensive wines on the menu (fewer kudos, though, for not realizingor not mentioningthat the prices for wine by the glass on the menu did not reflect the new, higher prices he said the restaurant had just put into effect but did not have printed on the menus yetand fewer still for charging us the higher prices anyway even after wed pointed out the discrepancy. Oh well, guess you cant have everything in life.).
Again, we were happy overall with our meal. Aside from the wine price issue, the only thing we really would like to have changed was that we wish we had called ahead for them to set up a table outside on the porch for us, which would really have enhanced the experience on the sunny afternoon we visited. They said they need to know in advance if you want to sit outside on the porch at lunch (as opposed to the deck, which, they saidand I believe themwas flooded with direct sunlight, which would have made for a scalding experience at a table there).
So, now we are looking for other places open for lunch on Saturdays that might be a good match for us. Like I said above, we like nice places, but are certainly not above other places that might hold special appeal.
"the only thing we really would like to have changed was that we wish we had called ahead for them to set up a table outside on the porch for us, which would really have enhanced the experience on the sunny afternoon we visited. They said they need to know in advance if you want to sit outside on the porch at lunch (as opposed to the deck, which, they saidand I believe themwas flooded with direct sunlight, which would have made for a scalding experience at a table there)."
Nothing like a high-maintenance customer. This is "Chowhound" dude, not Foodieville...
re: Ted Bell
Be nice. They just wished they had been able to sit on the porch. It's not like they're from LA...ahem.
I liked the excess detail you provided for us. It does make it easier to make recommendations. Not that I have many. But it is better than someone saying "Tell me someplace good to eat on a Saturday."
My one suggestion is Moonshine's brunch. I know you don't like the brunch suggestion, but this one is better than most. There was plenty of food and about half of it was pretty darn good. I suggest small portions to begin with. It's sort of upscale southern cuisine. There was a pretty good mix of people, not at all the snooty experience I expected.
Did you try the milk punch at Green Pastures? I kinda like that.
Thanks for the suggestion about the brunch at Moonshine! Sounds good. I'll put it on the list.
And wow, sorry about sounding like a high-maintenance customer. I was hoping that in writing things like "We do like 'regular' food like burritos and barbecue, etc., but can get that in other locales like Lockhart and San Marcos," "the quality of service at a restaurant virtually never features in our enjoyment of a mealwe like to concentrate on the cuisine," and making it known that it was my fault for not calling Green Pastures ahead to sit out on the deck rather than their fault for not making special allowances, and praising them for not putting us out on the scorching balcony just so we could be outside, I might be able to avoid the high maintenance label.
But all that other stuff makes sure does sound pretty high maintenance. Sorry folks! We really do like all kinds of good food, from the "bottom" to the "top," and are open to all suggestions.
re: Jim Thompson
No apologies necessary. Fellow hounds like myself love to hear all the good and bad points of someone else's dining experience. That's what this board is for. Caring about a restaurant's ambience doesn't make one a foodie. Being fooled by it--or by hype--does.
I'd highly recommend Enoteca Vespaio, on South Congress. Though Vespaio itself isn't open for lunch, its more-casual sister restaurant is. I can't speak for the breakfast or brunch items, but their lunch menu has some great regular dishes. You might like the pizza (I love the prosciutto with arugula, and I also enjoy the lardo one); the pastas; the supplì appetizer; and the Italian charcuterie from the front case. Some of the waitstaff doesn't know a lot about wine, but you sound like someone who can show them a thing or two.
Thanks for your review of Vin Bistro. You've made me want to check it out soon.