We spent Christmas vacay in Austin visiting family (and hiding from the weather in the northeast). We found some really good eating in Austin, and thanks to Austin hounds whose helpful posts helped us to decide where to visit (and where to avoid) during our stay. We're really looking forward to coming back to your city. Here are the highlights from our trip:
Lambert's - This "fancy bbq" joint was our only taste of Texas bbq and we thought it was very good and occasionally excellent. We visited with friends so we got to sample a wide variety of stuff. Highlights were the fried green tomatoes with generous lumps of crab, the spicy wild boar ribs, and a Texan brie with a blue streak from the charcuterie plate (we sampled a few varieties of local cheese and were really quite blown away by what we found). The brisket and beef ribs were fantastic, but the dry aged ribeye was a disappoint (especially for the $$). Mashed potatoes really were all that given scads of cheese and sour cream, and the mac and cheese was pretty good too, although approaching prohibitively rich. I was a little disappointed in desserts, with the exception of a tapioca that I think hit just the right balance to finish the heavy meal. Good bartending (excellent bourbon sidecar!), good service, nice room.
Starlite - Just the kind of boite-y place I love. Good cocktails, relaxed and friendly service, and happy hour meatballs good enough that we were tricked into staying for dinner. The quail appetizer with pork ragu was flavourful and excellent as was the large veal chop with a (finally!) well-executed polenta (I find polenta is often boring.. Starlite got it right). Ginger cake was great. Wine list was reasonable, interesting, and the barkeep (who also served us since we sat at the bar) very personable and accommodating.
La Traviata - Pretty, romantique room and great Italian in downtown Austin. Loved the a la carte approach to antipasti and the Texas goat cheese we sampled was particularly great. Pastas were quite perfect. Ravioli with brisket ragu and rigatoni with beef cheek were both handled with deft restraint and the effect was surprisingly light and wonderfully flavourful in each case - not at all heavy or overpowering. Nice, reasonably priced bottle of Rioja. I'm sorry we were to full for dessert. Bill was laughably reasonable - we felt like bandits.
The Oasis - Gorgeous sunset and views, passable margaritas, pretty icky food (save the chips and salsa which were OK)... but a very kid-friendly place for the whole family and worthwhile for the view (but don't eat here if you can avoid it!!).
The Steeping Room (at the Domain) - Fresh springs rolls (great peanut dipping sauce) and cranberry scone felt positively virtuous after hoggish holiday eating. Roast beef sandwich was good. I've read others complain that this place is too expensive, but we were happy with our lunch and glad to support a local spot in a mall full of chains.
Jo's Coffee - Was near our downtown hotel and we repeated often for fresh and reasonable breakfast and lunches. Oatmeal and fresh fruit is a great alternative to heavy, egg-or-pancake breakfasts. Sandwiches were good, salads large and fresh, chili satisfying. Nice spot.
Thanks, Austin and Hounds!