Romantic Adventures for Austin Food Lovers
Enjoying great food is a multi-sensory experience. Sights and smells create anticipation of the flavors that will arouse the taste buds. Your lips and mouth revel in a mix of textures and your ears pick up the subtle sounds of nibbles, swishes, and even the occasional slurp. Sharing the experience with someone you love amplifies this feast for the senses, creating connections rooted at the most fundamental levels of what makes us individuals. It’s no surprise then that we often celebrate relationships with food and drink. But while there is always room in this world for a lovely dinner and a well-paired bottle of wine, when you instead pair a food adventure with romance you create something just a bit different and shared memory that may very well stand apart from the meals you’ll experience throughout your lifetime.
Austin’s inventive, eclectic, and locally-focused food scene makes creating a choose your own culinary adventure a piece of cake (pun intended). You don’t have to jump on a plane to wine country or even across the pond to Europe to craft an unexpected and memorable food experience. You and your boon companion can mix and match a series of small stops among our local restaurants and shops without ever leaving our wonderful town for a day (or days) of multi-sensory experiences. To get your creative juices flowing I offer these suggestions to kickstart your romantic adventure.
A Day of Pampering
Create a true mind, body, spirit and taste experience by pampering every part of yourself in downtown Austin where everything on this adventures is within walking distance so you can park and enjoy one another’s company. Start with Backrub 101 or a Couple’s Retreat at Milke + Honey Spa downtown. You’ll emerge refreshed and more than little bit zen before you continue on to a stellar dinner at one of Austin’s downtown restaurants: TRACE at the W, Congress, or TRIO at the Four Seasons. All three of these restaurants make exceptional service part of their experience so you can relax and let them take very good care of you. If you’re dining at TRACE, be sure to stop in the cozy Library or intimate Red Room for a drink. Before a dinner at Congress enjoy a libation at warm and welcoming Bar Congress. At the four seasons arrive a bit early enjoy a drink in the Lobby Lounge then a walk around the lawn by the river. You can extend your adventure with a flight of wine at Cru Wine Bar, a shopping trip in the 2nd Street District, a Tequila tasting at La Condesa, or a stop at Serve Gourmet Gadgets and Goods to add a few goodies to your kitchen collection. And if you’re really up for the ultimate pampering, book at room at with the W Hotel or Four Seasons so you don’t have to think twice about driving home after your indulgences.
The number of artisan shops that are enjoying success in Austin is so wonderful it’s almost staggering. Our food loving community has shown that we appreciate knowledgable and passionate curators of specialty goods. But sometimes during the hustle and bustle of everyday life we only have a few minutes to run in and out of an artisan’s shop which means we’re missing out on the experience that comes from lingering, tasting, and talking. Treat yourself and your companion to slow, thoughtful wandering through some of Austin’s best artisan shops. Start in Hyde Park at Antonelli’s Cheese Shop. The cheesemongers there know their cheesy stuff and are committed to helping you discover new tastes among their favorite cheeses. Ask them to pack up a set of cheeses to go so you can continue your cheese tasting later. Next, head downtown to Con’ Olio Oils & Vinegars to experience olive oil in all of its glory and try new vinegars you didn’t even know existed. While you are there look for preserves from local favorite and Good Food award-winning Confituras to take home and have on the bread you’ll pick up at your next stop: Easy Tiger. Just on the edge of downtown, Easy Tiger a bakery that will make you want to eat your weight in doughy goodness. Their house-made breads and pretzels are pure perfection and you’ll want to take home far more than you’ll be able to finish. If all of your tasting has made you hungry for a full meal, you can head downstairs to their beer garden for sandwiches and platters featuring sausages and meats cured on the premessis. Or you can save yourself just a little bit longer and head a few blocks east to Salt and Time, Austin’s newest salumeria. There you can enjoy cured meats of every shape and flavor, from genoa to chorizo to copa and more. All along this adventure you’ll have collected the makings of a perfect meal. Swing by Austin Wine Merchant to show them your goodies and have them suggest a perfect bottle. Then head home, or maybe to a local park, to re-live your adventure over dinner.
South 1st Street Sweets
If a sweet excursion is more up your alley, head right on down to South 1st Street. The many and varied desserts you can find in a few block radius is astounding. La Patisserie offers hand made macaroons, croissants, and other traditional French favorites in a house turned bakery. Their glass case is reminiscent of a Parisian bakery and you can enjoy your treasures in one of the two rooms of the restored home. A few blocks further south Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop houses some of the best cupcakes in town, with regular features like the Southern Belle (red velvet with cream cheese icing), James Brown (Valhrona chocolate), and Pinup (vanilla cupcake filled with chocolate). They have daily specials, seasonal specials, as well pies, cookies, and more. Heading back toward downtown, stop at Elizabeth Street Cafe to try their French-inspired baked goods including eclairs, cream puffs, and more. They too make macaroons so you could have a macaroon taste-off as part of your adventure. And finally, nestled in the Trailer Park Eatery next to Torchy’s Tacos you’ll find Holy Cacao, purveyors of cake balls and frozen hot chocolate. These two-bite confections mix a just-right ratio of cake and icing with flavor combinations like peanut butter and chocolate (Brass Cake Balls), carrot cake and cream cheese (Rabbit Cake Balls), and chocolate and chili (Diablo Cake Balls). Plus, there’s just something silly and fun about eating a ball of cake on a stick. Toast them with your partner in sweet crime.
The Epitome of Intimate
Sometimes the adventure of a restaurant experience has everything to do with how many other people aren’t there to enjoy it as well. Austin has a collection of truly intimate dining experiences that will make you feel as if you’re (almost) alone but without having to do the cooking yourself. A dinner at Lenoir is like heading to Todd and Jessica Duplechn’s house for dinner. You can see Todd in the kitchen making exquisite dishes and the lace curtains and wooden tables create an air of quiet intimacy. Their prix-fixe menu is one of the best values in town and be sure to order six different dishes so you can share tastes. Fabi + Rossi is situated in an old house just west of MoPac and features European cuisines made with local and seasonal ingredients. You’re away from the rush of downtown but still close to central Austin. Their menu changes regularly so you’ll never have the same experience twice. Foreign & Domestic is a cozy 47-seat restaurant with an open kitchen and some of the most adventurous food in town. Beef tongue and squid ink and wild boar cannelloni are currently gracing their regularly changing menus. If you want a quiet dinner that will challenge your taste buds, F&D is the place to go. And finally, if you want to bring a little bit of old world charm to your intimate dinner, visit La Traviata on Congress downtown. They offer hand-made pastas and sauces so rich you’ll think you’ve been transported to a cafe in Italy. Their space is small and richly decorated to reflect the food so you’re immediately enveloped in an intimate experience when you walk in the door.
These are just a few ways you can craft your own romantic food experience in Austin. If you have had a great food adventure or have ideas for more, please share them in the comments.