This weekend my husband and I decided to celebrate our 6-year anniversary a week early. After a nice brisk walk with our dogs in the cool fall weather, we freshened up and headed downtown to the Four Seasons Bar.
There’s something about the lobby bar here that’s particularly inviting on the weekends. Whether you find an overstuffed couch or a stately leather wingback chair to enjoy a cocktail, there’s the unmistakable feeling that you’re sharing an experience in one of the biggest and best living rooms in the city. Myers chose a tasty seasonal lemon-basil mojito. I kept to my ‘usual,’ a clean and dry gin martini, up with a few olives.
We gabbed a bit about life, politics, where to travel next, and what the woman sitting next to the fireplace was thinking when she chose to wear that outfit in public… I have to admit, we were so cozy in our little spot, that I was hearing the appetizing call of the savory popovers from Trio calling my name downstairs, but before I could suggest we stay for dinner, Myers was whisking us off to the next destination.
Some our favorite spots to celebrate a special occasion include Uchi, Wink, and Vespaio. But tonight, Myers wanted to keep me guessing. He steered us in the direction of East 6th Street to the hip and lively East Side Show Room. Having been to this vibrant turn-of-the-century-France meets “City of Lost Children” sort of cabaret a couple of times before, I was thrilled to experience a change of pace from our normal fine dining haunts. In its brief few months as one of the city’s hip new spots, I’ve heard mixed feedback on the overall food. I was looking forward to seeing if this particular evening would add a notch in the positive or negative column.
We squeezed into a tiny copper penny-covered table in the center of the dining room, elbow-to-elbow with our neighbors who had already begun to let the good times roll. NOTE: This is not the place you go if you want to have the romantic tete-a-tete with your lovey. This is where you go when you want to sit back with some friends and melt into the bustling scene around you. Though this place is known for its intriguing list of both classic and inventive cocktails, we opted for a bottle of wine and a cheese plate to start while we perused the menu. I have to hand it to Chef Sonya Cote who, in her few short months at the helm of the Show Room’s kitchen, seems to have developed a relationship with most of the well-known local farmers and purveyors in the area. Almost everything on the menu is locally sourced.
I’ve only ordered from the main menu once–the lamb burger on a brioche with roasted tomatoes, Texas chevre, and a fried egg. It was heaven. But usually I’ve been swayed by the specials lacing the exposed iron beam across the main room’s entry in colored chalk. Tonight was no different. Myers opted for the Ribeye with fries and I chose the pan-seared chicken with fall squash and potato-carrot mash. Oh, and we couldn’t resist the gratin of the day–potato and goat cheese…
To say the meal was a hit is an understatement. Usually when I go to the three aforementioned favorites in Austin (Uchi, Wink, Vespaio), I pretty much expect to be blown away. And although I have enjoyed my past experiences at East Side Show Room, I really wasn’t expecting more than to simply take in the vibe and enjoy the food.
I’m happy to say my medium expectations rewarded me with an entire dining experience on par with some of the best in memory. The food we ordered was simple. Nothing artistically challenging or culinarily adventurous; just simple, flavorful, and good. It reminded me of when I was living in France for a brief time. I remember having exquisite meals at the most unexpected bistros and brasseries. And most of those meals included the simplest of dishes that once had the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald penning literary masterpieces… (Granted, the lion’s share of that inspiration came from an abundance of alcohol, but the food played a role as well.)
The ribeye was grass-fed beef, which can sometimes be chewy. But the marbling in this cut was rich lending excellent flavor to a perfectly prepared steak. It arrived resting on a bed of crisp thinly-cut fries that seemed to have been lightly kissed by the fleur-de-sel fairy. (Meaning, they were nice and salty.)
The chicken was juicy and tender, and although the plate was a little monochromatic in color, it was fragrant with flavor and the potato-carrot mash beneath soaked in all of the wonderful juices. The entrees were fantastic. And the potato gratin oozing with cheese, butter, and garlic was devilishly good too. Capped off with a luscious homemade pear tartlet, we were pretty much left undone.
But although the food was sensational, surprisingly, it was not the highlight of the evening. It was our anniversary after all, and though dining somewhere fun is always on the list of things to do, Myers has a knack for adding a little unexpected “umpf” to the occasion. This night was no exception.
As the name indicates, East Side is a show room. From the elaborate hand-designed bar by owner Mickie Spencer to the myriad art pieces that festoon the walls from local artist, this restaurant celebrates the visual arts. What I did not know is that my husband had secretly arranged the purchase of a photo I had fallen in love with a few months ago. It was from Austin-based photographer Jeff Stockton. The subject: an Irish horse. I found after doing a photo shoot with Jeff for a Tribeza magazine story we were working on. To see some of his other work, I poked around on his website and was struck by the gaze of this little guy—a fact I happened to mention to my husband in passing conversation. I had no idea he’d remember this detail months later.
(A little background – 1) I love horses. I always have. 2) I spent a semester in Ireland in college and the affect that little green island had on me was profound and unmatched.)
While dining, Mickie stopped by our table to say hello and encouraged me to walk around the restaurant to check out the new art they’d just brought in that week. I took her suggestion and was stunned to see the horse, framed and hanging on the wall where my husband and Jeff Stockton had placed it earlier that day. I admit I shed a tear or two. After six years, I was reminded that I had married not only someone who knew my heart but who also knew how to keep life fun and unexpected. I married my best friend.
The Irish horse is now hanging in my living room; a reminder of a life I relish from my past and the life I have to look forward to.