Archive for ‘Austin Bars’

December 29, 2010

When you just feel like paying a lot for a glass of wine: Crú Wine Bar


Do you ever go to the car dealership to get your oil changed? You figure they sell your particular car, so they should know the most about them. Right? Shouldn’t the dealer be able to tell you exactly what you need to do to maintain your car better than just a generalist mechanic? So what if it costs $20 more for an oil change. To me, going to a dealer to get my car serviced is like going to a wine bar to get a glass of wine. One would think that I go to wine bars fairly often seeing as I love wine and all, but I just don’t. I know that going to a wine bar can be a good way to try wines by the glass before committing to a full bottle. I realize that many of them have knowledgeable staff that can suggest good wine to try. There are also plenty of decent wine bars in town with a good selection of wine. So why don’t I go to them more often? I get my oil changed at Jiffy Lube because I can’t stand paying way too much at the dealer. That’s how I feel about going to a wine bar. I recently went to Crú Wine Bar in the Domain in north Austin and had the oil change at the dealer experience.

Read the full post at the new home of What are you drinking: http://whatareyoudrinking.net/2010/12/when-you-just-feel-like-paying-a-lot-for-a-glass-of-wine-cru-wine-bar/

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November 30, 2010

Grown up drinks for grown up tastes: Péché Austin


The mixology movement has hit the country with full force. Cocktail bars specializing in intricate drinks have sprouted up everywhere. Austin, TX is blessed with several gifted mixologists including the folks at Townhouse that I wrote about previously. If you’re hankering for a bar with a broad menu of classic and inventive cocktails and a refined atmosphere, try Péché in the heart of the Warehouse District on 4th Street. One look at the long, narrow room with wood floors, dotted with polished marble tables, wood beam ceiling and the richly paneled wood bar with antique absinthe water spouts, and your mood will instantly melt into relaxation ready to sip a sophisticated drink.   

Beautiful Wife and I went there for dinner recently and we were not disappointed by the focus on excellent drinks. Rob Pate, the owner, sidled up to our table the moment we sat down and asked us if we were interested in cocktails. We had barely glanced at the menu of 50+ concoctions of stalwarts like the Moscow Mule, Bees Knees and the Side Car and twists on the Martini and the Manhattan, when we were presented with the delightful opportunity to have an expert guide help us navigate the fun house.

Rob asked if we knew what we wanted or if we would like recommendations? Beautiful Wife wanted a French 77. Done. I was open to exploration and only gave the guidance that I was in the mood for bourbon. He recommend a Rye-based drink called the “Final Say” and I was game to try something new for an aperitif.

Tip: If you know you are in a bar that really cares about its drinks, put yourself in the hands of the bartender.

The Final Say is a blend of Rye whisky, green chartreuse, lime juice, Maraschino liquor and orange bitters all shaken vigorously with ice.

Look A classic martini glass nestling a misty, pastel emerald with a haze of shattered ice crystals glazing its surface.
Smell Pleasing herbal, lime-zest and a hint of honeysuckle like an embrace after he has been drinking Bärenjäger liquor and she is wearing upscale body lotion from a French salon.  
Taste After the first sip I felt like I was in a British bar car riding on the Orient Express. This is a distinguished drink with lush heather grass tempered by savory lime, and brought to life by the warmth of alcohol. It has a long, sweet finish that obscures the sometimes rough backbone of rye.
Price $10

While Péché has only been open for about two years, Rob is no novice in the restaurant and bar business. His twinkling eyes and complexion ratify a life spent both making and consuming lots of drinks well into the night. He got his start in the restaurant business at the tender age of 15 in summer camp and later worked at the Erwin Center while a student at the University of Texas. He has owned the adjacent Cedar Street bar for several years, but Péché is the first restaurant he has owned.

Now we were ready for dinner. Rob explained that his chef du cuisine, Jason Dodd, has a focus on European comfort food with the same commitment to excellence found in the drinks. He sources his ingredients locally and butches his meats in-house. I ordered a rabbit cacciatore and Beautiful Wife chose the carnaroli risotto with applewood smoked Osso Buco.

We didn’t need to look at the wine list. Rob came back with a bottle of Domaine de la Pertuisane le Nain Violet 2007, a lovely Grenache nick-named the “The Purple Dwarf” from Languedoc-roussillon, France. It was a lovely mid-bodied wine with plenty of fruit and acidity to pair well with both rabbit and pork without obscuring either. Looking at the list later, it’s exactly the bottle I would have chosen, but I was happy to put the decision in an expert’s hands. The food and wine were excellent. Our waiter challenged Beautiful Wife to finish her sumptuous portion of risotto and pork, which she gladly attempted. She declared that it was the best risotto she’s had and would be dreaming of the Osso Buco for days. After dinner it’s time for a nice digestif.

Péché is known as an absinthe bar with nine varieties on the menu. Rob was inspired by drinking a Sazerac in New Orleans, the unique, signature drink made with absinthe. He wanted to bring the distinctive absinthe to Austin to help us enjoy a drink that has long been illegal in the U.S. and widely misunderstood. For my after-dinner drink he chose Germain-Robin Absinthe Superieure, an apple-honey mead brandy-based absinthe made in a small distillery in Mendocino County, Calif. It is served traditionally; mixed with water, but no flame and no sugar to let the full taste come though. 

Look  An elegant Champagne flute filled with the warm glow of breast-milk yellow clouds topped with a creamy ivory mouse. This is an absinthe blanche, meaning it wasn’t infused with botanicals after distillation to give it the traditional green hue.  
Smell Strong nose of anise and fennel with a mild whiff of lemon zest.
Taste The Germain-Robin has a creamy mouth feel and it gently eases into rose and geranium followed by a robust juggernaut of black licorice followed by a velvety junior mint finish. It comes on smoother than Sade and finishes with the cool of a Kool menthol. The haze in the glass will gladly become the haze in your head.
Price $20

I’m embracing the mixology trend. I don’t normally mix complicated cocktails at home because I don’t regularly stock all of the ingredients and don’t have the specialized tools that bring them to life. If you appreciate a well-made drink, whether it’s a classic or a unique original, or you want to have absinthe the way it should be served, try Péché. Grown up drinks for grown up tastes. Stay for dinner. The food is amazing. You can follow their drink specials on Twitter @Peche_Austin.   

What are you drinking?

August 26, 2010

Do you love to drink in Austin?


DrinkUP Austin is a handy guide for great happy hours and the what’s what of bars in Austin. Today they posted a survey on Twitter (@drinkupaustin) to find out more about Austinites drinking and online habits. It looks like they will build a handy drink special and coupon tool based on the feedback. Take a look and weigh in on it: http://drnk.in/survey-one. Who knows, maybe they will create something that keeps us in bars even more.  

August 12, 2010

Tito’s and Lemonade at Luster Pearl


Tropical night in the backyard of Luster Pearl and the fans obscelecently spin against the thick heat. Zeppelin and AC/DC thump from speakers hung in trees to the amusement of hipsters playing ping pong and whirling hula hoops.

Sweat drips down my back. I’m angry at my beers inability to quench my thirst. Thank God the bartender came thru with a Tito’s, soda and lemonade. This picnic table now can drink my sweat for a while longer.

That one worked.

August 12, 2010

Townhouse for a Serious Cocktail


When I go out for dinner I want to go someplace where the chef is willing to explore interesting pairings of quality ingredients and serve them with an artistic flair. If I want a basic steak, I can do that at home. We’ve come to expect creativity and excellence in fine dining. The same thing is true with swank drinks.

Austin has a thirst for good drink and fortunately has several excellent places to quench that thirst. Garrett Mikell, a local celeb in the mixologist world, recently opened a cozy boozing den called Townhouse, located on 5th near the intersection of Lavaca. When I first walked in, I instantly relaxed as if they pumped in vaporized Xanax. The chill lighting, exposed brick, high ceilings with pressed tin panels, rich wood bar back scaling to the ceiling accessed with a library ladder, intimate groupings of mismatched couches and chairs on Oriental rugs said, “you look like you could use a damned fine drink.” Yes, yes I could. Add to that a delightful greeting from our gorgeous server, Jennifer, and I was on the verge of bliss.

Jennifer gave me a run-down of the über creative and witty drink menu featuring house-made infused whisky, vodka, rum and gin. Garrett flexed his ingenious cocktail brain to bring us a twist on the mint julep, “Kentucky Derby’s Bitch,” an internet meme in the making, “OMG LOL WTF” and the love-child of a Manhattan and a margarita, “Pancho Villa Manhattan.”

Flummoxed. There were way too many fantastic choices for me, so I turned over the keys to Jennifer, Garrett and bartenders John and Anoop to select drinks for me. Here is what I had.

French 69

This is a sexy twist on the bubbly French 77 with pink peppercorn infused Right gin, lemon simple syrup, champagne and a mist of atomized crème de violet that they spray over the drink to transform it into brilliance. The crème de violet actually changes the color of the drink right before your eyes.

Look Classic Martini glass filled with a lilac slurpy with a haze of fine froth, garnished with a lemon twist.
Smell Sassy French lass blowing bubbles with violet gum.
Taste It came on with bomb-pop sweetness without being syrupy. The bubbly tickled away the sweet letting it ease into a fruit finish that completely obscured any hint of a bitter bite of juniper.
Price $8

Freshershest (slurred like a drunk saying Exorcist)

A theatrical presentation starting off with a pineapple dusted with sugar and torched for caramelized deliciousness, then muddled and mixed with scarlet Ibis blended Trinidad rum, lime tincture and soda.

Look Jolly Rancher lemon yellow smiled up at me, asking to be drunk.
Smell Coy citrus beckoned me in for a closer sniff.
Taste Hawaiian hula dancer swaying her hips before I put it to my lips. A luau of pineapple without the pig.
Price $10

Where is My Stapler?

A hangover breakfast treat if there ever was one. A sophisticated cousin of the bloody Mary with tomato infused Tito’s vodka, black pepper simple, cucumber slices and spears and fresh basil leaves.

Look Tall, lean cylinder basil shreds and cucumber slices suspended in hazy plasma. Not a hint of tomato red.
Smell A fresh cup of gazpacho with spicy black pepper.
Taste Slap-its-face fresh with smooth tomato, clean cucumber and minty basil. I wanted another one of these. Sensational.
Price $9

Hornet’s Ankles

Get the blow-torch out again for thyme brûléed clementine orange in this bee’s knees drink with honeycomb infused gin, lemon simple syrup and raw honey and bits of honey comb.

Look Autumn brown orange leaves in the lazy afternoon sun.
Smell High tea in Nigella Lawson’s herb garden.
Taste Grand Marnier playing with matches. While good, this is the only drink that wasn’t as balanced as I’d like. The thyme over powered the subtle raw honey.
Price $9

My good friend Cotton Candy says that Austin is a town of accidental nights out. There are too many great places to go to stay in at night. When you go out intentionally with the purpose of finding high-caliber cocktails, try Townhouse. Garrett takes his drinks seriously, mixing excellent elements with top-quality liquor. He pays attention to every last detail, including using cold draft cube ice that melts slowly so it doesn’t water down your drink.

If you need more information, you can check out the Townhouse Facebook page or check them out on Twitter @townhouseinfuse (though they haven’t posted anything yet).

Check out this video of John mixing my drinks.

What are you drinking?

August 9, 2010

Show Me Your Taco!


I recently went to Tacos and Tequilla with my friend, food and taco critic extrodenaire, Nelson to review the drinks. My review of the drinks at Tacos and Tquila is here. He posted his review of the tacos on his blog Show Me Your Taco. Nelson has incredible expertise in taco reviews and this one gives you the goods on TnT. He also has a couple of videos so you can get a first had view of the scene at TnT. Check out his site and his videos.

August 5, 2010

What’s Hot in Austin


I’m headed out on Saturday night with my friend @TrAngela to check out some bars that I haven’t been to yet. We want to hit the hottest new bars in Austin so I can review them. Let me know what you think. Please click on the poll below or just comment with your suggestions. THANKS!

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August 3, 2010

Drinking for a Cause: Moonlight Margarita Run


At 8:00 on Thursday evening, August 5, approximately 1,000 people will get together in the gathering dusk to run 3.2 miles along Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. With the sticky air searing their lungs and scorching asphalt blistering their feet, they’ll line up for this 5k dash with one goal in mind: an ice cold margarita greeting them at the finish line.

That seems like a lot of work for a margarita. Of course there is more to it. This 5k raises money for The Trail Foundation, the venerable organization whose mission is to protect and enhance the Trail at Lady Bird Lake. In particular, the Moonlight Margarita Run will raise money to improve the popular gathering spot known as The Rock, under the MoPac bridge adjacent to Austin High School. Now that’s worth a run on a hot summer night.

The slogan: “There are plenty of chances to run on the Trail, but only one chance to run for it.”

Following the run, there will be a swanky gala under the stars on the great lawn of the American Legion Hall. Maudie’s Tex Mex will provide the food and requisite margaritas. Luke Olson will entertain the runners with his Texas-styled songs. Amy’s Ice Cream will debut a new flavor to commemorate the opening of Maudie’s sixth restaurant in the Hill Country. Now its starting to sound like its worth the silly run in the heat for all of this.

This is the sixth year for the event and organizers hope to raise $60,000 through event fees and sponsorship. Trail Foundation Executive Director, Susan Rankin, tells me that event sponsors make the Moonlight Margarita Run a success. Long-term sponsors like Freescale, Roger Beasley Mazda, LRCA, HEB, Run Tex and Whole Foods get behind it because they see the value of the Trail at Lady Bird Lake to Austin and to their employees. While many of us see the trail as the city’s living room and its athletic training center, some sponsors see it as a lure to recruit top talent to Austin.

Maudie’s Tex Mex has been the title sponsor for five years now. Maudie’s owner, Joe Draker, thinks of his time on the trail as a way to connect with the city and to keep values in check. A walk along the lake reinforces a conscious lifestyle, a connectedness with the environment and the passion to preserve it. He sees the Moonlight Margarita Run as an excellent way to help maintain this jewel of Austin. Joe was a long-time family friend of Roberta Crenshaw, the Austin philanthropist responsible for donating much of the land surrounding Lady Bird Lake. Lady Bird Johnson helped raise awareness and funds to beautify the like, but it was Crenshaw that established the trail and spearheaded the construction of the pedestrian bridge at The Rock. That relationship and Joe’s experiences on the trail running and walking his dogs over the years have cemented a deep passion for it.

Susan Rankin and Race Director, Katie Moran, graciously took a little time away from a registration happy hour to talk with me. Here is what they had to say.

There are a lot of experiences in life that go well with a cold drink. I can’t think of a better way to spend my Thursday night than running with 1,000 friends to support The Trail Foundation. And, yeah, having a margarita or two. Come out and join me.

July 30, 2010

Tacos and Tequila


There are a lot of classic flavor combinations; you know two great tastes that go great together like chocolate and peanut butter, coffee and Krispy Kremes and Gin & Tonics. Tonight I’m trying out a true Texas combo, Tacos and Tequilla with my friend @ShowMeYourTaco (Nelson) at a new taco place Tacos and Tequila (TnT) on west 5th street in Austin. You can follow them on Twitter @TnTacosTequila.

Nelson is chronicling our adventure in video and reviewing the food on his blog ShowMeYourTaco.com. Check out his post to hear about the food. I’m going to focus on, you guessed it, the tequila.

This urban taco spot recently opened by the good folks at Blue Mesa Grill in Dallas and it has been in business for nine weeks now. Rumor has it that TnT has the 5th largest tequila list in the country with 95varieties and that list keeps growing. This massive list is organized by tequila types  designated by stlye of aging: Blanco, Reposado and Añejo.

It offers more than variety. TnT has a staff that is steeped in tequila knowledge and a passion to share that knowledge with the likes of you and me. If you want to sample a variety of tequila, they offer four different tequila flights to compare three types of tequila. TnT also has cold tequilas on tap – Milagros Silver, 1800 Silver and Cazadores Silver – have you ever seen tequila on tap? If your tastes skew to the higher end, there are currently seven extra ultra premiums ranging from $30 to $65 a shot.

If you like mixed drinks, this is your place. TnT bartenders have a fabulous bent for making creative, delicious drinks with this venerated liquor. And the drink menu changes on a monthly basis. They mix signature recipes with fresh, hand squeezed juices and organic, locally sourced produce. Bar manager and assistant GM, Shelby Lynne, loves her job and it shows. Her favorite thing about working at TnT is exercising her creative genius and artistry in cocktails, surrounded by like-minded people. She aims to dazzle guests with inventive drinks made up on the fly.  

Our waiter recommended that we start off with a flight of infused tequila shots. Shelby dreams up all the infusions herself and the team makes up all the concoctions fresh daily. Here is what they brought us:

  1. Corzo Reposado infused with Mexican chocolate and guajillo peppers
  2. 1800 infused with peach, apricot and organic green tea
  3. Cazadores Reposado infused with cantaloupe

With the preamble complete, it’s time to start the margaritas.

Watermelon Smash

This refreshing summer of love is made with Milagro silver, fresh smashed up watermelon and lime juice. The watermelon pulp is fleshy in the glass and satisfying.

Look The aftermath of a July picnic. Abused watermelon takes solace in a pint glass.    
Smell Sweet like a watermelon Jolly Rancher on a bender.   
Taste  Well, hello fruit smoothie in dominatrix leather. I wasn’t expecting you, but now that you are here. . . I’m going to have to chew your melons. The lime may make you perky, but that tequila shows you who’s really in charge.
Price $9

 

Dirty Margarita

Dirty is the operative word for this margarita made with Cazadores Reposado, house-made caramelized simple sugar roasted fresh on the stove, tamarind nectar and fresh-squeezed lime juice. While it’s dirty, Shelby tells me it’s nowhere near as dirty as her thoughts. Oh how I’d like to keep talking to her on the subject. This is one of Shelby’s favorites because she likes the duality of sweet and dirty. It’s how she envisions herself. She wants you to tell her how pretty she is while spanking her.

Look Masquerading as a golden brown Hefeweizen with a thin head of creamy mousse.
Smell Understated honey and a lime mist at sunset.
Taste This is the bad kid on the playground that you think is your friend. “Oh come on. It’s only Coke with lime.” Don’t believe him. This drink might be sweet and tangy on the surface, but deep inside, he’s out to pick up your mom.
Price $10

 Cucumber jalapeño margarita

This one is made with 1800 Silver chopped fresh cucumber, jalapeño slivers and lime.

Look Lemon grass green with a salad swimming about.
Smell Agave, cucumber and lime hanging out at the spa.   
Taste Cool as a cucumber right from the start, accompanied by fruity lime tang followed by acidic  heat. The spice is enough to keep me in line, but not too much to spoil the mood. I was a little disappointed by the amount of floating jalapeño seeds. They detracted from the overall experience. I didn’t need to chew this drink beyond the actual pepper and cucumber slices and the seeds added more kick than needed on each chew.
Price $9.50

 

Shelby Lynne’s Special

This one isn’t on a menu. All we had to do was ask and Shelby was extremely happy to show off her creative skills. Watch the video clip to hear what she mixes.

Look Raucous laughter lemon yellow with orange and lime wedges skinny dipping below the salt snow pack rim.
Smell Perky citrus with a wry smile.
Taste A provocative come-on that’s not going to get you slapped in the face. The smoky, oaky tequila runs this show without being domineering or rude. Mellow orange and laid back lime in a ménage a trois with caramel steals the show midway through, but steps out of the way to let the guest of honor close out this party in style. Thank you. Thank you tequila. You are awesome.    
Price $13

 

Nelson and I had a fantastic experience at TnT. The food was delicious – read about that on ShowMeYourTaco.com – the drinks were tasty and the service was stellar. We acknowledge that we were writing  a review, which in part accounts for the highly attentive service. However, this was actually my second visit and Beautiful Wife and I had an equally enjoyable time with prompt and helpful service. I’ll definitely go back.

To close out this post, the one thing I really want is a good tequila song. There’s that one instrumental that PeeWee Herman dances to, but that doesn’t quite cut it for me. Maybe we could alter the Doors song:

Well, show me the way
To the next tequila bar
Oh, don’t ask why
Oh, don’t ask why

 Nah. A friend on twitter suggests M.I.A. Teqkilla. Here it is.

July 16, 2010

In flight at House Wine


Do you remember ten years ago when wine bars started popping up here and there? Not tasting rooms, or wine shops that served by the glass, but honest to goodness establishments fully dedicated to the enjoyment of wine by the taste, the glass or by the bottle. Outside of New York and San Francisco wine bars were few and far between. Much has changed. In Austin there are at least a dozen different wine bars.

My beautiful wife and I decided to try House Wine before going to dinner. This place is in a little house just south of Lady Bird Lake a block west of S. Lamar on Josephine St. They are definitely going for the South Austin vibe – casual, cozy and a little sloppy. The space is intimate (small) and eclectic (mismatched shit). We felt pretty comfortable right from the start.

There wasn’t table service, so we bellied up to the bar and looked through the menu. House Wine has about 25 whites and 30 reds by the glass and by the bottle. The prices are pretty damn reasonable ranging from $7 to $11 and bottles in the $20s and $30s. We were there at happy hour – hey hey 2 bucks off each glass.

On this particular night, we were indecisive, so we decided to order two flights. Three half glasses for $15. A bargain. I ordered a Spanish Tempranillo, a Côtes du Rhône and Spanish Verdejo (white). My beautiful wife asked the bar tender to select a flight for her. She had a sparkling rosé, an Argentine Malbec and a California Pinot Noir. We also ordered a selection of cheese and smoked salmon. The cheese and salmon were nice, served in a gorgeous wooden bowl and gave us something to clear our palettes between wines. Worth the order.

Here’s what I had.

I started off with Paso a Paso Verdejo 2008.  Lovely pale yellow in the stemless glass. Nice scents of pear. The Verdejo grape makes a nice medium bodied, citrusy, honied wine that is right at home on the shabby back porch of House Wine and at your summer party.   

Next I had a Volver Tempranillo 2005.  Bright ruby with a fruity nose. This guy started off with round cherry, cassis and vanilla and finished with cocoa and a bite of tannins. The smoked salmon tasted great with this.

My third glass was REDblanc Côtes du Rhône. This organic Grenache, Syrah blend had a warm plum color and a nose to match. It was a mouthful of raspberries, violets and licorice with a touch of cedar on the finish.

Decent wines for the price.  If you are looking for a very relaxed, inexpensive wine bar with a decent selection, try House Wine. If you want knowledgeable wine guideance and service in an elegant setting, you’ll be disappointed here. Good news is there are several other wine bars in town.