*Editor’s Note 3/29/16: Barley Swine has relocated its entire operation to a larger space at 6555 Burnet Road since my visit.
Many of my previous visits to Austin had been during Austin City Limits where my schedule was jam-packed full of concert-going and nearly every moment of my usual 3-day stay was booked up. But, this Christmas-time trip was a little different. We were in town for a full week with plenty of time to relax and do bit of gastronomic exploration.
I’ve experienced a variety of Austin’s lower-key options including mini-trips to the outlying barbecue towns of Lockhart and Elgin, but I had never before really experienced Austin’s more elevated dining scene. First on my list of places to try was a little, Southern, tasting menu-only restaurant called Barley Swine and sister to another amazing Austin hot spot called Odd Duck – both which recently received 2015 James Beard Award nods.
Bar Ciccio is the kind of place you could walk by a million times and never notice. It’s located on a strip of 6th Avenue that gets ridiculously minimal intentional foot traffic and the shop front is so understated that you probably wouldn’t even realize it’s open for business. In fact, the place is completely subterranean and is located down a flight of stairs frequently obscured by scaffolding, but to miss this truly authentic Italian joint would be a big mistake.
I told you guys I’d be back. I knew you couldn’t keep me away from New York for too long. And Thanksgiving was just the right occasion to come back East for a few days of powering through my old stomping ground. To be honest, this rampage sort of turned into a food and drink greatest hits extravaganza. You’ll see what I mean when I get around to publishing everything I ate…
Anyway, while in SF, one of the things I’ve been missing most from my time in NY is access to great, simple, Italian comfort food. I just haven’t been able to find a reliable red sauce joint out here yet. So, I made sure that one of my first stops in NY was at one of my old NYC favorites, Fiat Café in Nolita, for a cheap, filling, and reliably delicious meal.
I think it’s about time I gave Aliment its much deserved due. Since that very first weekend away from New York in San Francisco over six months ago, Aliment has proven to be a reliable go-to restaurant when I’m in need of an excellent meal in the Union Square/Nob Hill area.
Before this visit, I had only been to Aliment for brunch, but I was so impressed by every single dish I ate on every single visit that when I was in need of a last minute Saturday night table for four in the ‘hood, I was confident that Aliment would be able to deliver. Somehow, despite how great this place has consistently proven itself to be, it continues to remain off the radar for most San Franciscans.
Japantown is a really unique and interesting part of San Francisco. It’s a dinning hot spot for just about every kind of Japanese food you could think of – ramen, soba, udon, sushi, hot pot, katsu, and yakitori to name a few. But, if you look close enough, you can find some non-Japanese gems in the area as well such as the wonderful Fat Angel Food & Libation.
If you’re ready to drop some bills on serious sushi in San Francisco, Akiko’s is the place to do it. All of the fish is ridiculously high-quality and a good portion of it is even imported directly from the famed Tsukiji Fish Market in Japan. All of their preparations are utterly impeccable and do that magnificent fish the justice it deserves.
Just because I moved away from NYC doesn’t mean I still don’t have a few more gems tucked away to tell you all about. One of my more frequented go-to date night spots from my New York days is a tiny Portuguese restaurant located on the western edge of SoHo serving homey, upscale, and unusual food in a cozy, window-lined space that faces out onto the quiet, infrequently trafficked streets. I think Pao! still remains off-the-radar for most people and prior to Union Bar & Kitchen opening, it really was the only viable date night option in the area.
To celebrate my lovely girlfriend Amy’s
redacted birthday, we planned a glorious weekend getaway to the Paso Robles wine country. We had heard excellent things about the remote region’s beauty and density of high-quality wineries so it seemed like a great way to spend a couple of days and the perfect way to mark the occasion.
On the Friday of her birthday weekend, Amy drove down from San Francisco to pick me up from work in Sunnyvale before we headed off into the beautiful, winding, south-of-SF countryside only to stop quickly in Moss Landing for dinner before reaching Paso Robles at around 11 PM.
I feel like it’s a good idea to always have at least one great date night spot in every neighborhood. San Francisco’s Financial District is pretty quiet at night compared to the rest of the city, so it isn’t always too easy to find a great place to serve this purpose. One night I was in the area looking for a nice place to take Amy to and I stumbled upon Salt House which I seemed like it might very well fit the evening’s bill.