A very Austin date night — at Whole Foods!

20140301_220338Finding a place for a low-key, inexpensive date night can be a challenge. But the new Whole Foods in the Domain might be a very Austin answer to that challenge.

You know we love our Whole Foods here in Austin. But until last night, I never thought of it as a date night option. Grocery shopping just isn’t on my list of romantic activities (although come to think of it I did see a grocery store date night game on Dating Divas the other day.)

But this is something even better. The new Whole Foods has something I’ve never seen at a store…fire pits!

fire pit at Whole FoodsWe headed to the hot food bar and loaded up on things like veggie Samosas, sautéed kale and marinated roasted vegetables for me, and salad, Indian Chicken and vegetables for my hubby, then headed outside to enjoy our firelight supper.  Those who want to add wine or beer to their dinner can do that too…the store has a huge selection of both.

20140301_213855The setting was casual and relaxed, with lots of benches to sit on near the fire pits…plus additional seating off to the side if the fire pit area gets too warm.

20140301_221557The new store is within walking distance of the Domain, so you could combine your Whole Foods date with a movie at the iPic, too.

The new Whole Foods is located at 11920 Domain Drive in Austin. They’re open from 8 am to 10 pm everyday, although I would recommend waiting for twilight to head for the fire pits.

Oh, and just one more thing…the fire pits go off as soon as the store closes for the evening, so it won’t work for conversations late into the night. We found that out the hard way, as our cozy fireside supper was suddenly not so fireside!

20140301_220345

Advertisements

The Russians are coming…no, wait, they’re here!

Russian House Austin TexasA new restaurant has opened in downtown Austin, bringing with it the tastes, and the look and feel of Russia.  And the result is delicious!

We found Russian House thanks to a Goggle+ event, and were kind of embarrassed we hadn’t noticed it earlier in the week. It was directly across the street from Ecopocalypse (on 5th Street and Trinity) we reviewed only a few days ago!  So much for being observant!

But once we found it, we were very glad the event had pointed it out! Russian food is something we love, but hadn’t found in Austin — thankfully that gap is now covered.

Our group sampled a number of items from the menu, including a wonderful baked wild mushroom dish, several lamb dishes, several kinds of smoked meats and a mushroom cap filled with cheeses, salted cucumber and fresh onion. That last one had me wanting to lick the plate…the taste combination was so unexpected and so delicious. Some members of the group ordered from the vodka tasting menu, and pronounced the offerings “amazing!”

The restaurant is decorated to represent different eras in Russian history.  We dined in the Soviet room, a space furnished with benches and tables, and open to the air on 5th Street. If it’s a chilly evening, you may want to take advantage of the rack of Soviet-era jackets and hats near the entrance to the restaurant — they’re not only fun, they’ll keep you cozy when the not-quite-Siberian winter winds in Austin begin to blow.

There’s also a large dining room decorated like a Russian grandmother’s home, right down to the matryoshka dolls and samovars in the sideboard and to the lace table cloths and old-fashioned dishes on the tables. Another smaller version is placed towards the back of the restaurant — a perfect space for a family gathering or friends night out.

A more intimate space features a low table and piles of pillows to site on for a small group dinner or special date night.

The main area of the restaurant includes a well-stocked bar, featuring, of course, many varieties of vodka. There’s live Russian music and plenty of room for dancing, too.

The owners, Varda and Konstantin, had initially intended to open a Russian restaurant in New York.  But a visit to Austin last year had them changing their plans.  “We fell in love with Austin,” said Varda.  “So we went home, packed everything up, and came here.”

And may I say, I am very glad they did!

Loving Gloria’s for the food…and the patio

Glorias Restaurant in Austin Texas via Ais4Austin.comEvery time we went to the Domain, I would see the sign for Gloria’s restaurant and say “We have to try that place sometime.”  Well sometime finally came, and now the only thing we’re wondering is why we didn’t make time to try it sooner!

We were seated on their large patio, our choice for what was a perfect night of soft breezes, Then we opened our menus…the dinner menu for Lance, and the special vegetarian menu for me (yes, they have a complete vegetarian menu!  I was delighted!) As we browsed, we snaked on warm tortilla chips and a salsa with a definite (and much welcome) kick to it.

A little bit about Gloria’s history

In a city filled to the brim with Tex-Mex, the delicate Salvadoran touch at Gloria’s was very welcome. Owners Gloria and Jose Fuentes come by their cuisine naturally.  The two emigrated from El Salvador in 1978. After some difficult years in Houston, they moved to Dallas and soon were working with Gloria’s sister in her Salvadoran restaurant. A year later, they took over the restaurant, which they renamed Gloria’s.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Gloria’s has gone from one small location to 14 locations around Texas.  The business remains very much a family concern — according to our waiter, Gloria herself tries to visit each location once a week!

And then there’s the food!

Our daughter had the vegetarian combination, (which included Papusas (much like an Arepa), Plantano Frito and in-house made black bean soup), I selected the vegetarian fajitas, and Lance chose a beef and chicken combo (for the meat-eater among us),

Unlike many local restaurants where the food arrives smothered in a blanket of cheese, each item on the Gloria’s plates was allowed to shine without over-saucing or burying it. The veggies for the fajita were crisp and fresh…nothing greasy or soggy here.  The cheese was a tasty queso fresco, and the white corn tortillas were thin and warm and fresh. Lance loved the seasoning on the meats, and enjoyed the spicy chili con queso (a dish he usually refuses as it’s often too salty or greasy.)

Service was impeccable, even when I made a special request for something to be changed in my fajita.

This restaurant is a definite must-go-again, especially when the breeze is mild and we’re planning a date night.

Easy date night at the Domain

The Domain in Austin Texas

There aren’t a lot of places that offer a date night option from pricey to darn near free all in one location, but we discovered that the Domain is pretty much on target for both.

For those of you who don’t know, the Domain is a large outdoor shopping area in North Austin.  It’s part of a multi-use community that includes the shops, several residence options, a couple of hotels and even a boutique-sized Fiat dealer.

We wandered around the shop area, stopping at the Apple Store to play with their newest toys, checking out shops for clothes we liked (and clothes that made us both laugh!)  A quick stop at Starbucks or the Steeping Room for a snack, and then some time spent sitting in the rocking chairs outside talking and enjoying the evening breeze. (When the weather is cooler, there’s even an outdoor fireplace to add another bit of romance to the evening. )

Of course, we had to take our turn climbing on the giant armadillo — hey, the kids were all gone, so we had it to ourselves!  Then some more window shopping, this time looking at things for our house (or a house of dreams.) There’s also a Dick’s Sporting Goods, so you can wander in there and plan your next outdoor adventure together.

If dinner is part of the plan, the evening at the Domain could get expensive.  There are so many yummy restaurants there, all a short stroll away, including California Pizza Kitchen, Kona Grill, Maggiano and Cru. The hard part isn’t finding a place to eat here….it’s choosing just one!

If the budget is even more generous, there is a iPic movie theatre there too. But this isn’t just any old movie theatre — the tickets range from $19 to $29 per person.  The theatre pampers movie-goers with blankets and pillows, personal wait staff, a cocktail lounge and access to a gourmet menu if you want to dine while you watch.  Yes, this is where the Domain date night can add up!

Most stores are open until about 8 or 9 pm every night except Sunday, but the restaurants stay open later and the area is very well lit, so it’s fun to wander around even after the shops close.

There was only one thing missing from the Domain — music.  In the city that bills itself as the “Music Capitol”, it was strange that not a guitar or violin or anything was heard.  This would be a perfect place for some live music! Add that into the mix, and this would be an even better date night choice.

The Domain, like so much of Austin is pet-friendly. And they mean it here. Water bowls were in front of most shops, and some welcomed well-behaved pets inside to shop. Looking back, I think more people had dogs with them than did not!  (It’s also kid-friendly, but hey, this is about date night!) Parking is free and is easy to find in and around the shopping area.