Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Austin: a great little city

I have been to Austin many times and always enjoy spending time there so when my friend Bina asked me to go to Austin for a weekend, I didn’t hesitate. On a Thursday evening in April, we are on a plane from San Francisco to Austin, for a couple of days in the capitol of Texas.

My past trips had always been for business so I am looking forward to a couple of days of leisure time in this great little city. With our hotel just a couple of blocks from the Capitol, after a coffee at Starbucks, we start Friday morning with a little bit of culture with an official tour of the Capitol. The Capitol is a beautiful old building and the tour, although short, gives a good feel for both the history of the city as well as the way Congress still works today.

Thru the gardens we walk back to Congress Avenue and to the lake. It is a beautiful day, blue skies, temperature in the eighties and a slight breeze. We decide to drop into the Four Seasons to check if we need reservations for the patio bar that night to watch the bats at sunset. The concierge at the Four Seasons is not just extremely friendly; he also knows the answer to all our questions. The first one is of course an easy one: no reservations needed for the bar, but make sure you come early, around 6 – 6.30. When asking him where to go for authentic Texas BBQ, he point us to a place just a couple of blocks from the hotel called Iron Works. For shopping he tells us to try the boutiques on 2nd. As it is lunch time, we decide to check out Iron Works before going for some retail therapy. Iron Works is in an old mill next to the Austin Convention Center.

We order our food, pork for me, ribs for Bina and sit down to eat. My pork is good, the potato salad one of the best I have ever had, but Bina’s ribs are definitely the winner. Juicy, tender, we are literally licking our fingers. Satisfied and with full stomachs, we decide its time to hit the shops. That morning I mentioned to Bina that I wished I had some nice little summer dresses and I guess you should be careful what you ask for……on 2nd st. we find several little boutiques with great clothes and shoes. What makes it even better: they all seem to have the same sale going: buy 2 and get the third item for free. A couple of hours later, loaded with shopping bags (I wanted a summer dress….I got 6 of them…summer can come now, I am ready), we hurry back to our hotel to change for the night: cocktails and appetizers at Trio in the Four Seasons and a late night dinner at Uchi.

Its almost 6.30 when we get to Trio, but we are lucky, we find a table and comfortable couch on the patio and order drinks and appetizers, while reading about the history of the 1.5M bats living under the bridge on Congress Av. We order a selection of appetizers: tuna tartare, crab cake and Carpaccio. The food is delicious, the crab cake served on a bed of English peas. I don’t like peas, I don’t eat peas, but these peas are so fresh and sweet that I have to make an exception. But the best is the Carpaccio: served with truffled arugula, a soft farm egg on top and manchego cheese, it melts in your mouth.

The sun is about to go down and we hurry down to the dock where we arrive just in time to see the first bats fly out from under the bridge. It is an amazing sight: hundreds of thousands of bats leaving their home under the bridge, flying out in what seem to be organized patterns, turning the sky black for the next 15 minutes.

Our next stop is Uchi for a late dinner. I have been to Uchi several times and it is one of my favorite places in Austin.

Our reservation is for 10.30 and we are early. The place is packed but we manage to find 2 seats at the bar. I order a glass of Alsace white while Bina orders sake. They bring us a small plate with Asian pears with a delicious spice on it. It’s a bit peppery and we can’t place it so we ask the bar tender and he tells us it is Yukari, a Japanese style seasoning. We move to our table and lose ourselves in the menu. There is so much to choose from that it is hard to decide, but in the end we order the shag rolls, the negitoro, hama chili, the fried tofu and tempura fried brie. Of course it’s way too much food and by the time the brie arrives we are too full to enjoy it although it is probably the best dish we ordered

After Friday night’s decadence we wake up early on Saturday morning for a run along the lake. We do a relaxing 3 miles and back at the hotel we agree that we deserve brunch. We check a couple of places but end up at Trio again. It’s a beautiful morning and we lounge outside over coffee, frozen lemonade and eggs; fried for Bina, Benedict for me. After brunch we go back to our favorite concierge as we are looking for a place where we can get our nails done. He points us to a place on the other side of the bridge and tells us while we are there to check out the shops on SOCO (South of Congress). It is a fun area and it reminds us a bit of Haight-Ashbury: funky second hand clothes and jewelry shops, outdoor food stalls. We have done a lot of walking and are happy to sit down at the salon for a manicure and pedicure. An hour later, with happy hands and feet, we go back to the hotel to relax for a bit before dinner.

Dinner is at Trulucks, downtown, another restaurant I really like and we are not disappointed. We start with calamari and shrimp and lobster Rangoon . For main course I have the stuffed Florida lobster, while Bina decides on the miso glazed Seabass. Both dishes look gorgeous when served and taste as good. It’s another night of indulgence. Both our dishes are served with Parmesan mashed potatoes that are lethally delicious.

We have seen the dessert tray and the desserts look massive. One dessert can easily serve a table of four, so when our waiter asks us if we have room left, we regretfully tell him that there is no way we could manage one of them, although Bina admits that she would love to try the chocolate cake. The waiter surprises us by serving a muffin size of the cake. This is just the right end of a perfect dinner.

It’s Saturday night and 6th street is in full swing when we walk back to our hotel. We have an early flight the next morning, so we decide to skip nightlife tonight and leave that for a future trip.  

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