Austin’s Friendliest Wine Bars

SXSW is here! As all of Austin’s guests arrive, downtown is transformed into a crazy web of people, events, and pop up eateries and bars. It is going to be a hell of a ride this year since I work for a company that participates in SXSW. If you are looking for a fun, friendly, and Austintacious wine experience  check out my favorite places to grab a glass!

My guide for the coolest and friendliest wine bars is based on different criteria than you typically find in other guides. These are places that I hang out at regularly (ok, A LOT) and love the energy, people, and the overall experience. I judge these places based on friendliness of staff, inviting/fun/quirky spaces, and a decent wine/food selection. Some do not have the most high end wine selection, but I don’t want them too. I enjoy the vibe and people so I pick places that represent all that makes Austin the best place to live in Texas. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

1. Max’s Wine Dive
Max’s Wine Dive located downtown is one of the best places to grab a glass of wine. Don’t sit at a table. Grab a chair at the bar before the dinner rush hits and the bartenders are more than happy to chat you through their wine list in addition to any speciality wines that may be open. I always ask about the ‘day old’ wines that have been opened they are selling at a reduced price. If you go on a Wednesday or Thursday evening prior to their weekly shipment there are usually really interesting wines open they will let you try as well. Who doesn’t like awesome wine for a great price?! Everyone that works there has always been super friendly and very knowledgable. Added bonus: Max’s Fried Chicken. 

Max's Wine

2. House Wine
House Wine is a fun, quirky wine bar located on Lamar and Josephine not too far from downtown. I’ve spent many a night in coffee houses so House Wine brought back the nostalgic feeling of the “early days” of Austin where you could sit on the patio for hours and read. It is a great place to hang out with your friends, significant other, or on your own if you need some quiet time. Cool and comfortable, HouseWine offers small plates of cheeses, olives, and desserts.  The last time I was there they had a cheese plate/bottle of wine special for $50. Great deal! Added bonus: Make-your-own-s’mores plate.

3. East End Wines
East End Wines is actually a wine store located in a historic home on Rosewood Ave in East Austin. With a vast array of wine to choose from you can find economical wines along with high end and rare wines. The great part about East End Wines is they go out of their way to help you pick the right bottle as well as introduce you to new wine. Very friendly and knowledgable (see a theme?) Because you are buying the bottle retail, you can afford to spend a little more and try something different. They also host free wine tastings on Friday afternoons  from 4pm-8pm. If you would like to enjoy the bottle on the patio (and try Raymond’s food truck), they will uncork the bottle (for a small fee) and provide the glasses. Added bonus: Three Little Pigs food truck. Best meatloaf and collard greens EVER!

Wine and Food

4. Red Room Lounge
Red Room Lounge has been around for about a year and a half now and used to be the best kept secret downtown. However, I think the secret is out because the last time I was there it was packed! Red Room Lounge is a cool, laid back, basement lounge with a diverse wine selection at all price points. I like that I can enjoy a less expensive, but still high quality, bottle of wine or I can splurge and order something luxurious. With a somewhat obscure entrance and a basement descent, you may think you stepped into Prohibition era bar. That is why it is one of my favorite places in town. I can sit for an hour, have a wonderful glass of wine, and breath. Added bonus: Bill Elsey, one of Austin’s hottest, award winning sommeliers, is usually around to walk you through the wine list.

Red Room Wine

5. Uncorked
Uncorked was one of the first wine bars I started visiting when Austin’s food and wine scene was still young. Located on East 7th Street just off I-35 in a historic house, Uncorked offers great food, wine, and a view that is one of the best in town. I have consumed many a glass of wine on that patio while I waited out Austin’s crazy evening traffic!  You can order wine flights, glasses, or bottles from a country specific wine list. Tentative wine orderers are put at ease using the winedex tasting guide. Each wine has a series of symbols that describe the type, body, and style. If you have any questions or hesitations they go out of their way to explain the wines and let you try a sample before you order.  The local cheese and charcuterie boards as well as the truffled mushroom risotto are also wonderful. Added bonus: The amazing patio!

UnCorked Wine

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Prime Rib with Guinness Au Jus and Parmesan Fries

Prime rib

Hello friends! I’ve been on a blog break the last few months, but I’ve missed posting for you all! Trying to keep up with a new job, home life, and the holidays was just too much, but now I’m ready to get back to baking, cooking, traveling, and blogging 🙂 It is almost “prime” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) patio season so I plan to be out reporting on Austin’s wonderful food scene and creating more dishes for you at home!

I wanted my first post back to be a tribute to Irish cooking since we are gearing up for a trip to Ireland and Scotland in April. I am looking forward to reporting back on all our travel and culinary adventures. We will be taking several local food tours and I will be on the lookout for local farmer’s markets. And of course, beer and whiskey tastings!

I usually cook a big Sunday dinner and last week prime rib sounded so good. And Guinness. And fries. Can you tell I was hungry? I thought I would try adding a can of Guinness to make an interesting au jus and it turned out great. The parmesan fries complemented the dish nicely as they were not too heavy and added a crunchy/salty element.

(The recipe below is adjusted to our tastes since we like rare meat, but you can certainly add more cooking time or different spices. Also, please bear with the photos. They are not the greatest!)

Prime Rib with Guinness Au Jus and Parmesan Fries

  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 150 minutes

Ingredients: Prime Rib

  • 5 lbs prime rib roast
  • 5 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons ground thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 can Guinness Stout
  • 1 can beef broth
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped

Parmesan Fries

  • 1 medium potato
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons parmigiano reggiano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

1. Ask the butcher to cut a small (5-10 lb), bone in, trussed, prime rib. You can usually order choice or prime meat. I went with choice since the dish wasn’t for guests.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees. Bring beef to room temperature and rub with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and thyme. Use as much salt and pepper as you are comfortable using, but I add a lot.

3. Place beef in a deep roasting pan and pour a bottle or can of Guinness over the meat. Add the onion, carrot, (you can also add celery if you like) and a can of beef broth to the pan. There are several different ways to roast prime rib. I prefer to roast on high heat and then turn the oven off to allow the residual heat to finish cooking the meat since I like mine more rare. It really depends on your preferred method, but you can also roast on high heat for 10 minutes and then turn the oven on low for 30 minutes.

4. At 500 degrees, roast the beef 7 minutes per pound of meat. For a 5 pound prime rib, roast 35 minutes. Turn the oven off and let sit for 2 hours. Do not open the oven door. Check the internal temp for 135 degrees after two hours. If the meat looks too rare, heat the oven back to 300 degrees and cook in 5 minute increments to keep checking the temperature. Sometimes it takes a few rounds to figure out the best method with your oven.

5. To prepare the potato, cut into small wedges and place in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil, oregano, cheese, and olive oil to potato wedges and mix well. Spread the wedges evenly on a baking sheet.

6. Cook potatoes at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. Unless you have two ovens, it will have to wait until the beef is finished. I let the potatoes cook while the beef was resting.

7. When the beef has finished roasting, remove from the pan and let rest on a cutting board. While beef is resting and potatoes are cooking, strain and pour the au jus into a pan. Heat on low to warm up the au jus when ready to serve. If you need more juice, add some beef broth.

8.When ready to carve the beef, cut the trusses and remove the rib bone from the meat. The butcher usually cuts most of it away so finishing the job is very easy.

9. Slice prime rib as you like it. I prefer a small to medium cut as I try to keep my portions to about 4 ounces, but it is up to you!

10. Serve with parmesan fries, Guinness au jus, and beer (Guinness not required if you prefer a glass of wine like me!)

Prime Rib prep

I am really looking forward to trying some of the interesting culinary treats of Ireland. Do you have a favorite dish or restaurant? If so, please forward! 🙂

Mettle Celebration

Mettle

met·tle

/ˈmetl/
Noun

The ability to cope well with difficulties or to face a demanding situation in a spirited and resilient way.

To celebrate the end of my first week at the new gig in a spirited and resilient way, the hubs and I decided to try a new restaurant called Mettle. True to the definition of the word, Mettle offered an exciting and creative menu, friendly staff, and a great wine selection.

Mettle Restaurant

Mettle is located at the very end of East 6th Street. It appears that the restaurant is part of a converted warehouse or industrial building. It is one of many establishments that is housed in this space. The fun play on the name, Mettle (Metal), is consistent with industrial decor. Mettle incorporates  minimalistic dining elements with local artistic pieces. I love the glass sculpture in the main dining room!

Mettle’s menu is classically based, but with a modern spin: tomato salad, beef tongue tacos, duck breast and star anise spaghetti, and steak with potato chip gratin. Food MelodyOut of the selections at the table, I thought the deconstructed beef tongue tacos were outstanding! Served with homemade tortillas, fresh escabeche, crème fraiche, and salsa verde, it was visually appealing and fun to eat. Tender, melt-in-your-mouth goodness! Beef Tongue TacosThe dessert menu was minimalistic by design (and indecipherable) with only a short description of ingredients. Our wait person was ready for questions and described each dessert in detail. I decided to order the macadamia, coconut, coffee, lime and my husband ordered the birch, sweet cream, hazelnut. They were both beautifully presented, but the birch and hazelnut dessert was wonderful. It tasted like a root beer float!DessertWe shared the meal with a bottle of 2009 Chateau Aney (which was very satisfying with a heavy meal), but they also offer a full menu of signature cocktails. The Mexican 86 was delicious! I didn’t think tequila and rose champagne would go together, but it works. I can’t wait to try the Rainey St. Mule on my next visit!

I thought the food at Mettle was well worth the visit. It can be expensive if you order drinks, apps, and a main course, but you do get a lot for the money. I would suggest you arrive early (before 7pm) as the restaurant fills up fast and it can be quite loud. Mettle also has a great patio so I foresee happy hours outside when the cooler weather arrives!

What is your recommended restaurant in East Austin? Drop me a line and let me know where you like to hang out!

Top 10 Italian Restaurants in Austin

PIcture of Italy“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” – Federico Fellini

Craving Italian food, but not sure where to go? Reminiscing of that amazing meal in Italy and need a fix? Non c’è problema! I have put together a list of favorite Italian restaurants in Austin to help you out!

If I had to pick only one style of food to eat, I would undoubtedly choose Italian. Italians are passionate about food. Food is pleasure, love, family, sharing, and community. I love everything about Italian cuisine. It is diverse, yet simplistic, and can encompass many different styles, textures, and ingredients. An Italian dish should tell you a story, and in turn, inspire you to tell others.

To define the list below, I focused on fresh, simple, locally sourced ingredients, a welcoming atmosphere, a decent wine list, and the story. If the food makes me dream of Italy, I will go back again and again!

Top 10 Italian Restaurants in Austin

1. Trattoria Lisina

Trattoria Lisina is located outside Austin in Driftwood, but I had to include it in my list. I go to Trattoria Lisina every few months and I’m never disappointed. Owned by Damian Mandola, the menu is more diverse than Mandola’s Italian Market. Trattoria Lisina offers a multi-course, sophisticated menu from pan roasted chicken, to osso buco, to daily fish specials. It is not uncommon to eat from everyone’s plate while dining there! We had our wedding reception at Trattoria Lisina and everyone involved (event planner, staff, chef) was wonderful! They made our day special and treated us like we were family.

2. Patrizi’s Italian Food Truck

I was fortunate enough to attend a media tasting at Patrizi’s a few weeks ago and had to add it to my list of favorite places. Located at the Vortex Theater, the menu features fresh, simple, homemade pasta dishes using local ingredients. My favorite right now is the pasta pomodoro with homemade ricotta cheese. The garlic confit and infused olive oil is amazing as well! I love the funky Austin vibe, but the food reminds me of a little slice of Italian heaven!

3. Vespaio

I’m not sure I can say anything bad about Vespaio (except not taking reservations). It is a “neighborhood-hangout-meets-Italian-gourmet-comfort-food” establishment. Vespaio makes almost everything from bread, cheese, stocks, pasta, and sauces. They even do all of their own butchering. It is so self-contained that it feels like a working Italian farm. My two favorite things at Vespaio? The wine list and the risotto specials. The wine list offers many wonderful Italian selections and the seafood risotto will blow your mind. It is THAT good. Just go earlier in the day so you don’t have to wait in line.

4. Botticelli’s

Botticelli’s is a small trattoria on South Congress serving up traditional as well as modern Italian cuisine. I like Botticelli’s because it is small, cozy, and the inventive spin they put on some of the traditional fare is unexpected. Check out my first review of Botticelli’s (just ignore the horrible newbie photos!) My favorite dish is the chicken and Italian sausage lasagna with veggies. It is usually offered as a special, but I’ve always been lucky enough to get it. The wine list is limited, but offers decent Italian selections. After dinner, head out back to the beer garden for dessert and live music!

5. Olive and June

Olive and June is located in central Austin and serves Tuscan, farmhouse inspired cuisine using locally sourced ingredients. With a beautiful outside seating area, extensive wine and cocktail menu, and rustic fare, I have to refrain from going every day after work! I also love the small plate options which encourage sharing at the table. My favorite small plate is the zucchini involtini. I recommend following with the sausage gemelli and the citrus torta.

6. Trento

Trento is a neighborhood eatery located in West Lake. I have been going there since they opened early 2012 and I love it. It is convenient, friendly, good wine list, and they make the best ravioli dish I have ever eaten. Try the homemade cheese ravioli with lamb sausage, sage, brown butter, and poached egg (if it wasn’t so rude to lick the plate I would probably do it). For a light meal, I recommend going for happy hour and have the caprese salad or the mussels!

7. Asti Trattoria

Asti is a small, cozy restaurant in the Hyde Park area that offers a Tuscan style menu. And when I say cozy, I mean say hi to the table next to you because you will eventually participate in their conversation. Even though it can get crowded, it is a fun atmosphere buzzing with excitement and great food. I love the interesting, unexpected combinations of the dishes. One of the most memorable meals at Asti was a summer pasta dish with lobster, corn, and sweet cream. SO good! Also try the seafood risotto, duck breast, and rigatoni amatriciana!

8. Gusto Italian Kitchen

Gusto Italian Kitchen is a great neighborhood eatery in the Rosedale neighborhood. We like it because it is convenient, moderately priced, super friendly, and offers solid food and wine choices. It is a great place for a quick weeknight meal or happy hour. Go for the sausage pizza, spaghetti carbonara, slow roasted pork shoulder, and the olive oil cake!

9. La Traviata

La Traviata is a small bistro located on Congress Avenue. It is another moderately priced, solid Italian eatery. It isn’t fancy or intimidating, just good food. It reminds me of the bistros in the Florence area! I especially like the beef carpaccio, proscuitto di parma, and carbonara (can you tell I am a carbonara fan? 🙂 ). Great wine list as well.

10. Andiamo

Andiamo is a locally owned, hidden gem on Rutland Drive. Blink and you might miss it!  Andiamo offers a fresh, seasonal menu using locally sourced products. I have to confess it has been a while since I have visited Andiamo, but it has stayed on my top ten list despite my absence. Try the mushroom ravioli with saffron broth-YUM! They are running a lobster special in June so plan to join them soon!

What are your favorite Italian restaurants? What dish makes you dream of Italy?

Birthday Fun!

Some people despise birthdays. But I love them and birthdays should remind one to appreciate time, success, failure, and basically, just being alive. Moving, breathing, tasting, and experiencing. Birthdays are for living.Olive and June

I always try to take a few days and do things for me. It allows me to think about all the reasons that I love to be here, right now, working towards a life that will make me happy and proud. Turning 35 was a privilege!

I started my weekend on Thursday night at the 2013 Austin Tastemaker Awards. Local restaurants, chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers, bartenders, and craft brewers are nominated to be the Austin Tastemaker of the year. The 2013 nominees and winners can be found here. One of my favorite restaurants, Congress Austin, was nominated so I was very excited about trying their signature dish for the event. In fact, I was probably knocking people over trying to get to the booth.

Congress served a slow poached egg with sausage and herbs. It was UH-mazing! My second favorite dish of the night was Lenoir’s curried goat, and incidentally, Lenoir won the contest. Overall, it was a great event and I am always happy to support the local food community!

Austin Tastemaker Awards

Friday was for relaxing, exercising, and happy houring. I TGIF’d Mexican martini style. Chuy’s Mexican martinis are a birthday tradition in these parts.

Saturday, my husband took me to Olive and June. Olive and June serves Tuscan, farmhouse inspired cuisine using locally sourced ingredients. We ordered the spring vegetable risotto, rigatoni, and gemelli for dinner with the citrus torta for dessert.

It was, as always, fantastic. Italy is one of my favorite destinations so any place that serves Tuscan inspired food will always have me as a customer! Watch out-carb overload!Olive and June Austin

Sunday, my actual birthday, was spent relaxing with friends. The weather was divine so I had to spend some time outside porchin’. If you have been reading my blog, you know porchin’ is serious business at my house. La Crema was today’s porchin’ wine accompanied by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Can’t go wrong with Chardonnay and The Great Gatsby. I am firm believer that drinking wine while reading the classics will make the experience greater.La Crema Wine

I have to say it was an amazing birthday spent celebrating, appreciating, and soaking up fun with people that I love. And that’s all I really wanted or needed.