For as long as I've known him, Mark has really liked to go out to eat really nice food. I think it's something he picked up from his parents, who also really enjoy it. When we first got together, it took Mark years to convince me that fancy dining was a good time--I thought it was pompous and overpriced and uncomfortable. After awhile, though, I started to really enjoy it too, and when we lived in Portland, we went out pretty often.
Since moving to Austin, we've gone out less and less. In part, this is because the quality of the restaurants in Austin is just not what it was in Portland. We had a couple of expensive meals that were distinctly not worth it when we first moved here, and after that decided that maybe we needed to wait until we moved to somewhere with better food before we laid down that kind of cash again. More recently, there have just been too many other places we need to put our money for us to spend a lot of it eating out.
Last night, however, we made an exception. Well, kind of. As a thank you for a big project I did at work, one of the professors for whom I work said that he'd pay for Mark and I to go out to a nice dinner. After some discussion, Mark and I decided to take him up on that at Wink. We got an early reservation and decided we'd dress up and go out and make a night of it.
We were not disappointed.
Here you see Mark and I poised to leave the house. For the sake of my fashion-minded readers, Mark is wearing navy pinstriped trousers from Calvin Klein (Ross), a short-sleeved red cotton shirt from Banana Republic (thrifted) , Sketchers shoes (Nordstrom Rack), an antique Omega watch (gift from his father), and a faux hawk. I am sporting a black Evan Piccone cocktail dress (Ross), Areosoles wedge sandals (Zappos), a chunky jade scarf necklace (Banana Republic), and an antique beaded purse (thrifted). My unruly hair is pulled back into a ponytail, and I'm even wearing a small amount of makeup (waterproof mascara and Almay lip gloss).
Now, the important part. The food. We arrived at Wink just on time for our 5:45 reservation. The decor at the restaurant was pleasantly understated (I really like their comfy woven chairs) and the dining room is small. We were seated at a nice corner table and our waitress was very knowledgeable and chatty about the menu. At first, both Mark and I were irritated by feeling like she was talking down to us, but as the meal progressed she seemed to realize we were both pretty familiar with food and wine (at one point she asked Mark if he was in the restaurant business) and things got a lot better.
Wink doesn't have a full bar, just wine, so I started with a nice Alsatian pinot gris and Mark had a glass of prosecco. The pinot gris was nice--very sweet, but not cloying, and the sip I had of Mark's prosecco was good as well, though I don't love it pre-meal like he does. After looking over the menu, which changes every day, Mark and I decided to do a few shared courses, rather than each ordering our own appetizers and entrees. We were served warm rolls with butter before ordering, and the rolls, which are not made in-house, but are quite good. There was also an amuse bouche of chilled tomato soup with herb oil that was a tasty starter.
First course: Thunderheart bison carpaccio with shaved trumpets, new potato confit, and porcini mustard
I like carpaccio in general, but neither of us had ever had bison carpaccio before. We've been eating some really excellent bison sausage recently (from Bison Provision Company), though, and have a taste for it. Bison lends itself to this preparation surprisingly well. The flavor is strong, but paired with the amazing porcini mustard, it's not overpowering. The shaved trumpets were a nice addition, as they were surprisingly flavorful, as was the arugula salad this came with, which I would eat with the a porcini mustard dressing all by itself. The only part I didn't enjoy was the new potatoes, which were a little softer and blander than I wanted in this dish. In general, though, it was spot-on. It was also not a super small plate--Mark and I both got plenty. Mark, who is a bit jaded about "new" and "exciting" preparations, said he'd never had anything quite like this before, and really loved it. His next-day review says this is the best dish we had. He calls it the "most successful, most interesting, and most delicious." I liked it a lot, but my favorite dish comes later.
Second course: seared dayboat scallops with Wink pancetta, brussels sprouts, and brown butter mustard
I don't love scallops, but Mark does, so we ordered these for our second course. They were cooked perfectly, and the brown butter mustard sauce was really nice and rich and flavorful--not too much mustard. Mark and I both would have liked there to have been more pancetta in this dish--it's house-made and tasty, but seemed a little sparse. The brussel sprouts were a disappointment--more hard than crunchy and kind of tasteless. The entire dish struck both Mark and I as kind of seasonally inappropriate--more a fall thing than a summer one--but it was still good, if not perfect. Once again, the plate was a totally reasonable size, with two big scallops, the sauce, and a sprinkling of sprouts.
I paired our second and third courses with another glass of wine, a really surprising California Gewürztraminer from Handley Cellars. Gewürztraminer in general is one of my favorite ones, but this one was much less sweet and more minerally than I am used to. Still, it was quite good, if not exactly what I had in mind for this food. The waitress mentioned that this wine pairs really well with spicy food, and I could definitely see that.
Third course: seared foie gras on pain perdu with almonds and strawberry-vanilla purée
Mark loves foie gras. For a long time, I wouldn't eat it, but I slowly came around and I enjoy it as well. I did not, however, enjoy this preparation. Foie gras is really rich stuff. I think it needs something crunchy with it, as well as something with as sharp flavor. This dish provided neither of those things. Basically, this was big chunks of seared foie gras on French toast, with a sweet strawberry vanilla sauce. I took one bite and thought it came off like meat-flavored yogurt. I really really didn't like it. Mark was more charitable towards it, but didn't love it either. That didn't stop him from eating the entire plate, though.
At this point, Mark and I both ordered red wine to go with our final two courses. Mark went with a Rosso di Montalcino that was probably too big for the food we were eating, but was amazingly good. I ordered a northern California pinot noir that was perfectly adequate and matched well with the food, but wasn't near so good as a similar wine from Oregon would have been, at least not to my palate.
Fourth course: countryside farm rabbit loin on rabbit ravioli with English peas, carrots, and arugula
This was my favorite course. I hadn't had rabbit in years, and I love it. The loin itself was good--perfectly prepared, soft, buttery, melting in your mouth--but the ravioli was what really pushed this dish over for me. It was filled with what seemed to be rabbit confit, and I couldn't get enough of it. I was so disappointed that there was only one big ravioli on the plate. There so should have been two. The peas in this dish were a big disappointment, though--they were, I think, intended to be tiny crunchy spring peas, but instead they just seemed to be undercooked mature peas. Once again, I think the problem was seasonality--spring peas do not exist in Texas in August. Overall, though, I really loved this dish and would order it again in a heartbeat. Ideally not to share.
Fifth course: grilled quail breast on wilted radicchio, Japanese eggplant, chanterelles, and lemon verjus butter
Again, spot on. Mark likes quail a lot more than I do (and I hogged most of the rabbit), so I surrendered the majority of the little grilled quail breast to him. I can say it was once again cooked perfectly, though. Unlike some of the other dishes, the vegetables were perfect in this one as well. The little rounds of Japanese eggplant with chanterelles were really excellent in the lemon verjus butter. I don't like radicchio, and this didn't change that, but Mark said the preparation of it was quite good as well.
Dessert: basil infused panna cotta with balsamic, strawberries, and toasted pistachio for Mark; "Wink Trio" sampler plate for me
After spending the whole meal eating communally, Mark and I went our separate ways for dessert. This decision was fueled by my claim that the sampler plate I was ordering wasn't going to be enough for both of us, and by Mark's lust for panna cotta, which I hate. Mark says his panna cotta was very interesting. I say it looked, as always, like a Jello mold. All the more so in this case, since the basil made it kind of green.
My dessert sampler, however, was amazing. It was tiny portions of three desserts: a warm flourless chocolate cake made with 'El Rey' chocolate and zinfandel infused cherries; a traditional crème brûlée served with fresh blueberries and raspberries; and tart lemon curd in a crisp meringue cup with candied lemon zest and raspberries. There was nothing on the plate I didn't love. For the most part, I ate them in order, starting with the intense chocolate cake, cooling my mouth with the crème brûlée, and then zinging myself with the lemon curd cup. The candied lemon zest on the lemon curd cup and the cherries on the El Rey cake were both to die for. Each dessert was very small--maybe shot glass sized--and together they were the perfect amount (I did let Mark try each thing). They went together perfectly, and any of them would be great on its own as well.
I did make an ordering mistake when I ordered a glass of Saracco Moscato d'Asti with my dessert. It was very tasty moscato, but it was all honey and peaches--just too much sweetness, so I had to order a cup of coffee to drink with it instead. As is typical in Texas, the coffee was the weakest point of the meal. It was a custom blend for Wink from Texas Coffee Traders, and it is probably fine for folks who developed their coffee taste in the south, but I'm from the PNW and I thought it was week. Mark had a dessert wine as well, which he enjoyed, but neither of us can remember what it was.
It was about 8:45 when we left the restaurant, and we agreed that it was a fantastic evening. One of the nicest dining experiences we've had in Austin for sure. The waitress mentioned that Wink has a separate wine bar (with over 50 varieties by the glass) and a bistro menu, and I'd love to try that at some point. The restaurant itself is definitely not on the schedule again until the next time someone else is paying, but if you have a love for fancy food and a special occasion coming up, I'd recommend it for sure.