Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Texas Wine Trip: Day Four

For those who don't know, Hubby and I are in Texas this week tasting wine and exploring cuisine. I have a conference in San Antonio the second week of June, so we came over a week early to check out Texas wine, food, and scenery. We're exploring the hill country and Austin. To read our adventures from the beginning, click here.

The heat and humidity smacked us in the face this morning when Hubby and I walked out of our hotel to find breakfast.

"Wow, welcome to the hot, wet blanket that is Texas!" I said.

"Those who live in hot, wet blanket houses shouldn't throw stones," Hubby replied.

Okay, as an Atlantan who grew up in Birmingham, I should be used to summer by now. Even so, we did try several strategies yesterday to escape the heat:

1. Shopping:

We walked up to the Second Street shopping district and found some cool jewelry stores that featured Texas and other artists. I didn't buy anything, but we enjoyed the shops and the air conditioning.

2. Walking along the river:

The breeze in Austin feels great where you can get it, but that's not along all city blocks, so we took a little pre-lunch stroll along the river. We went under the Congress Street bridge, where Austin's famous bats nest and fly out at sunset in a dramatic display. Or so we hear. We tried to see them last night, but circumstances weren't with us. We may try again tonight.

3. Find air conditioning and good food.

Once lunchtime rolled around, we had two criteria for a restaurant: someplace with good air conditioning, and available seating inside. We found both and some great food at Taverna by Lombardi, an Italian restaurant on 2nd Street. They started us off with great focaccia and dipping oil:

I had the whole wheat spaghettini with vegetable ragu and turkey meatballs. Whole wheat pasta can be a challenge, but this was cooked to the perfect texture. The meatballs had great flavor. Hubby had garganelli with tomato and basil. And then there was this molten chocolate thing for dessert:

4. Get a massage.

What better way to beat the heat than to get pampered in an air-conditioned spa? Hubby very kindly scheduled a massage for us at Milk + Honey Day Spa, also in the 2nd Street District. The massage was excellent, and the therapist actually got my sore shoulder (rotator cuff issue) to feel better.

5. Find a bar.

This one should really come as no surprise for you. After our massage, we stopped by Cork and Co. for a glass of wine. Actually, I ended up with a wine cocktail made from NV New Age white blend of Malvasia & Sauvignon Blanc. The predominant flavors in this off-dry wine are peach and citrus, so it's great served over ice with a twist of lemon:

6. Find sushi.

What food is better to beat the heat than raw fish? At the recommendation of several Austinians (Austinators? Austinites?), we had dinner at Uchi Restaurant. Chef Tyson Cole puts together a Chef's Tasting Menu of 10 courses that changes every night. We were feeling adventurous, so we went for it. In Japanese, Omakase means "It's up to you," or "I trust you." We were in good hands.

Each course was artistic and delicious, but these were the highlights:

Course #2: A Japanese Ceviche with salmon and sea bass. Sorry I don't have more details than that. At its busiest, the restaurant is really noisy, so it was hard to catch some of the descriptions.

The fish, as all of it was, came to the table perfectly fresh and at the right temperature. The silky texture of both fishes complimented the delicate citrus of the fruit.

Course #4: Grilled rare scallops with carrot gastrique, baby carrots, sea beans, and grilled cipollini mushrooms.

This was a great combo of smoky, sweet, savory, and vinegary flavors. Sea beans are a seaweed with the texture of string beans and flavor of asparagus.

Course #8: Wagyu short ribs, pickled peaches, shredded rhubarb and gastrique, and (seriously!) grilled popcorn puree.

Hubby and I loved the peaches with the perfectly tender short ribs. The grilled popcorn puree added nice elements of savory smokiness and creaminess to the dish.

Course #10: Smoked chocolate sorbet, dehydrated blood oranges, aerated chocolate, marshmallow mousse, chocolate powder, and chocolate bacon mousse and oil

This complicated dessert, essentially "deconstructed S'mores," as our server described it, was playtime. The perfectly smooth chocolate bacon mousse balanced the salty and sweet, and the sorbet had smoky/sweet, and the rest of it accented the two main elements. We had fun trying different combinations of tastes and texture.

Okay, Austin, I'm impressed.

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