Austin, TX Part I: Vespaio and Long Branch Inn
I recently spent forty-eight hours in Austin to visit one of my best friends, JR. I'd never been to the hipster town and was looking forward to spending time with JR and gettin' some grub on! After a pleasant 3 hour flight out of LAX, my friend Mika and I landed in rainy, freezing Austin. Watch out Texas- we had arrived! We were greeted by JR's smiling face, which was certainly a sight for sore eyes, and were whisked off in his Honda to East Austin where he resides.
We spent most of the dreary afternoon catching up and drinking wine. After a light snack at a local Mediterranean/Italian joint (nothing to write home about) we went to Long Branch Inn, JR's local pub of choice. The large, loft-like space was filled with people and had a very welcoming vibe. I could see why JR loves it so much. We sipped on red wine, met some of his friends and then remembered that we hadn't really eaten much. This is where you'll probably be very disappointed, but we went to a Wendy's drive-thru. Yes, she of the square burger.....that Wendy. It was late, we were buzzed and I couldn't remember any of the Austin-based fast food chains that I had seen on the drive from the airport. I got some sort of Southwestern salad which was basically a bowl of lettuce with some hot chili dumped on it. Not good. Should have stuck with the square burgers.....I imagine they're famous for a reason.
Long Branch Inn.........
A little art in the bar........
The next night we went to our only pre-planned dinner of the trip. I had wanted to celebrate our reunion with one fancy dinner out, so I did some research and settled on Vespaio. When I told JR, he said that yes, Vesapio is one of Austin's most celebrated restaurants. The three of us put on our good jeans (ha) and made the short drive there. I had been told in advance that Vespaio does not take reservations, so we weren't too taken aback when the hostess said our wait would be 90 minutes. We made our way through the VERY crowded bar, stared at some people until they relented and left (well, not really) and snagged a small bar table. We were ready to get our drink on!
We got champagne for us girls and a gin and tonic for JR. The time passed quite quickly while we chatted, checked out the other customer and made small talk with the very helpful waiters. I have to say, it was almost uncomfortably crowded- people kept knocking into my purse which was hanging on the back of my chair. After almost exactly 90 minutes, the hostess lead us to our table. Food time!
The dining area was nice and large, facing the open kitchen where we could watch the chefs put pizzas in a wood burning oven. We ordered a bottle of red and immediately asked for the baked oysters and an order of calamari before continuing to check out the menu. JR settled on the Bistecca Togliatti Con Palate Fritte, which was the Tuscan marinated hanger steak grilled on oak with a Chianti redurre with shoestring potatoes, sautéed spinach and parmesan roasted tomato. Phew- did you get all that? M went with the Pappardelle with Cream and Mushrooms- chestnut pappardelle tossed in truffle cream sauce with king trumpet and shitake mushrooms finished with parmigano reggiano. (Yes, Vespaio is very thorough in their descriptions!). I opted for (take a deep breath in) the Lasagna a la Bolognese- sheets of handmade spinach pasta layered with beef, veal & pork ragu, béchamel, pepperino romano, Tuscan pork sausage and housemade mozzarella. Sounds good, doesn't it??
Calamari with yummy marinara
The oysters and calamari arrived and we dug in. Although the calamari could have been a tad crispier, they were nice and tender and the accompanying marinara was so well seasoned that we couldn't stop dipping everything into it. The oysters were baked in a cream/cheese sauce and also very delicious. Off to a promising start!
Steak and fat fries
The main dishes arrived and were absolutely massive. JR's steak came with an enormous pile of fries coated in garlic- and they certainly didn't resemble any shoestring fried I'd ever seen. These were much thicker and definitely lacking any crispness that a well-fried fry would have. He did enjoy the steak, but it was nothing that special. My lasagna was also a heaping pile of pasta just drenched in melted cheese, garnished with half of a sausage link. I don't mean to sound snobby, but the presentation of these dishes didn't exactly scream "fine dining." The sheets of pasta were thick, and the sausage was such an odd touch. Flavor-wise, it was quite delicious actually, but I could hardly make a dent in the behemoth. M's dish was the best- the flavor of truffle cream sauce was perfect- but once again, the pasta was too thick.
Behemoth lasagna with sausage garnish
The winner of the night...mushroom pappardelle
For dessert we got a trio of chocolate- a dry brownie that none of us even bothered with, a chocolate mousse and a scoop of chocolate sorbet. The sorbet was so good that we ordered a scoop a la cart since we ended up fighting for it. Rich and decadent, we didn't miss the cream at all.
Trio of chocolate desserts....
After dinner we made our way back to the Long Branch Inn to cap off the night. It was a nice way to end the evening.
Overall, I have to say that Vespaio is certainly not worth the wait. I would certainly go back if they took reservations, but the food better be insane for me to wait 90 minutes. Obviously there are lots of other people who disagree, so I'll let them wait for Vespaio and give them one less person to hold up the line.
Thanks JR and M for a memorable Austin trip!
More Austin eats to come, stay tuned.