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With a large patio, innovative cocktails, and delicious food, Contigo’s the new happening joint in the Mueller area

After a lazy Sunday afternoon of lounging with Thomas and Jamie Lee, our bellies began craving food.  Since no one had to work on Memorial Day, we decided to continue the festivities at the newly-opened Contigo, right next to the Mueller development.  One of Thomas’ close friends from San Angelo, Andrew Wisehart, is the executive chef at Contigo, where we met another of our mutual friends, JT, at the restaurant/bar.

Most of the seating at Contigo is outside, where the magnificent, wooded, dog-friendly patio features plenty of picnic-style tables.  The place is perfect for large groups to come for happy hour to enjoy the great weather and then linger over the excellent cocktails and delicious culinary creations.

For drinks, Contigo offers an assortment of cocktails and draft beers.  Shannon and Thomas each started with an El Pepino, which combined tequila, cucumber water, mint, and lime.  The end result was a refreshing treat that resembled a mojito — only better!  Meanwhile, I opted for the Contigo Ranch Swizzle, which featured tequila, mescal, tangerine, lime, and soda.  Although I enjoyed this concoction, whose flavor had hints of smokiness (from the mescal), El Pepino was the superior cocktail.  Later on, I ordered an El Jefe (recommended by JT).  The stiffness of the bourbon was counterbalanced by lemon and ginger brew, along with a fresh luxardo marischino cherry.

In terms of food, Wisehart designed a menu of small plates that accentuate the variety of beverages.  The food is also locally sourced, which seems to be part of an encouraging trend during these environmentally-conscious times.  Although Contigo will definitely attract groups who linger over their drinks, the outstanding food guarantees that you won’t have to go elsewhere to fill up.

We started with some bar-menu items like the olives and pickled beets.  Both were the caliber of a gourmet restaurant, as the olives sat in an oil that had been dressed up with peppery spices, while the beets were accompanied by a creamy white sauce called grabiche.  Although there aren’t any fish items on the regular menu, there’s a rotating pesce option, which happened to be a shrimp dish on this night.  The shrimp were served in a small skillet with a creamy broth that begged to be sopped up with the fresh bread that came with the plate.  We also thoroughly enjoyed the Texas okra, which were grilled and served with walnuts and cherry tomatoes.

As my main dish, I opted for the daily sausage, which is made in-house.  I can’t remember what type of sausage they served on this Sunday, but it changes everyday.  The sausage sat on a baguette and was served with house-made mustard and sauerkraut.  The sauerkraut was outstanding.  Fries also come with this dish, and they were a perfect crispness.  I didn’t even need ketchup.  Meanwhile, Shannon opted for the grilled cheese, which proved to be a decadent delight, as the thick brioche enveloped a heaping portion of creamy, artisanal cheeses.

I can’t say enough good things about Contigo, and it’s likely going to become a regular hangout on Fridays after work.  With delicious cocktails, a wide-selection of microbrews, and a variety of plates to keep our tummies full, it’s a welcome addition to the Central Austin dining landscape — with the added bonus that you don’t have to compete with downtown traffic to get there.

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Vespaio’s still a happening spot on South Congress, but be prepared for your pasta to be drowned in butter

Shannon and I decided to spend the evening on South Congress Avenue on Saturday night.

We started with some finalizing of my Halloween costume by shopping at New Bohemia, where the wide assortment of used, vintage clothes gave me plenty of options for my 1930’s era look (you’ll have to wait until Halloween to see the final product).  Shannon’s cousin, Taylor, and her boyfriend, Andrew, accompanied us, and they found a great suit for his costume.  I highly recommend that anyone looking for old-school clothing go to New Bohemia, where one of the employees, Marlee, specializes in outfitting customers for Halloween.  She was very knowledgeable and sharp.  We couldn’t have asked for a better person to assist us.

Afterwards, Shannon and I entered the nearby Vespaio, which is usually buzzing on a Saturday night.  But the wait was only about ten minutes on this evening because so many Austinites were in Dallas for the Red River Shootout between the Longhorns and Sooners.  The restaurant was still crowded, but it didn’t have the packed-in feel that it usually does on a weekend, when the wait for a table often exceeds an hour.

The dining area consists of a wooded, open room, where you can see the kitchen through an opening in the back wall.  The interior reminded Shannon of some restaurants she’d visited in Italy two summers ago.  While the sounds of a vibrant restaurant definitely reverberated through the place, it was still possible to converse with your date without having to raise your voice too loudly.

We began our meal with a bottle of chianti classico from San Fabiano, which is a vineyard in central Italy.  The wine was medium-bodied and spicier than the usual chianti, with earthy tones at the back end.  We enjoyed it very much, although it reminded me more of a tempranillo.

For starters, we had some antipasto selections: the marinated button mushrooms and the mozzarella plate.  The mushrooms had been marinated in a balsamic sauce, and they turned out to be quite tasty, with the balsamic flavor infused throughout.  The mozzarella plate was also very good, as the cheese was freshly-made at Vespaio.  It was soft, smooth, and creamy.

For an appetizer, we shared an order of the “Vongole Alla Posillipo,” which is little-neck clams steamed with tomatoes, capers, garlic, oregano, chile flakes, and white wine.  The chile flakes imparted a great deal of spice, and even though I usually love spicy dishes, I think that the cooks went a little overboard here, as the chile drowned out the other Italian flavors.  The clams were tender and tasty, but the sauce makes or breaks a clam or mussel dish.  Shannon fittingly remarked: “They’re nothing like Wink.” I agreed.

For her entrée, Shannon was seeking a vegetable-laden pasta dish with a cream-based sauce.  The most fitting plate that she could find on the menu was the “Spaghetti Alla Carbonara,” which consists of crisp pancetta, scallions, and pecorino romano in cream sauce, topped by a poached egg.  Of course, being a vegetarian, Shannon asked for it without the pancetta, but the end result was nothing like the healthy primavera dish that Shannon had originally sought.  Instead, the spaghetti was drowned in a rich, butter-laden cream sauce, and the poached egg only added to the overall excess of the dish.

Meanwhile, I chose the “risotto of the day” from the menu of nightly specials, and on this night, it consisted of shrimp stirred in with the risotto, which was then topped by a soft-shelled crab (my mom’s favorite).  The crab presented a bit of a dichotomy, as the center had been lightly battered and consisted of mostly tender crab meat, but the legs were so heavily battered that each bite tasted more like fried dough than crab.  Although the risotto was properly cooked to an al dente consistency, this dish had also been infused with so much butter and heavy cream that my stomach told me to stop eating about halfway through.  Personally, I feel that there’s something to be said for creating tasty concoctions without an overuse of butter, oils, and creams, but Vespaio’s chefs apparently disagree.

I had a great time eating out with Shannon at what’s become an Austin institution, but I’m afraid that there’s very little culinary innovation going on at Vespaio these days.  As a frequent diner in this city, I expect fresh, unique flavors, where you don’t feel weighed-down after eating your entire plate.  A great Italian meal doesn’t have to be as heavy as the one we were served on Saturday night.

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Excellent wine, decent food, and great service make Max’s Wine Dive a perfect place for a romantic evening downtown

On Friday night, Shannon and I enjoyed a “date night” at Max’s Wine Dive.  Max’s has a special place in our hearts since it was the site of our first date eight months ago, making this return visit a celebration of the special, loving bond that’s built up in the meantime.

As we sat down in this hip, bustling downtown spot, we reminisced a bit about our first date, when we hadn’t made reservations and were lucky enough to be seated at the bar.  This time, we were at an actual table, and we ordered two glasses of a sparkling wine, Chandon Etoile Rose, as bubbles seemed appropriate for this festive occasion.  The wine was excellent, with subtle hints of strawberry, a certain smoothness at the mid-palate, and a dry, crisp finish.

We enjoyed the sparkling wine with a cheese plate, which consisted of slices of blue, manchego, and brie.  The blue was our favorite, as it was topped with honeycomb whose sweetness perfectly complemented the salty cheese.  The manchego was a harder, mild cheese, which was accentuated by a topping of raisins that had been soaked in cherry vinegar.  We thought that this cheese would have been top-notch if it had been a bit sharper, and that would have proved a more intriguing flavor contrast with the raisins.   Finally, the brie was a bit of a disappointment, as it was topped with a kalamata olive tapenade that lended an oily texture to the cheese, which detracted from the sweet creaminess of the brie.

(from left to right) the brie, manchego, and blue

By this point, we were ready for another glass of wine.  Max’s Wine Dive has a unique policy whereby diners can order glasses from any bottle on the list, as long as you commit to at least two glasses.  Shannon and I had experienced this excellent deal on our first date, when we ordered the Luke Donald Claret, and while it was certainly enticing to repeat what works, we ventured outside the box with an Argentinean red wine, Dolium “La Terna,” which is a blend of malbec, tempranillo, and cabernet sauvignon.  As you can imagine, this turned out to be quite a bold wine, packed with earthy flavors.  The hue of the wine is an intense violet; aromas of tobacco and coffee warn the drinker to be prepared for a dynamic confluence of flavors.  Indeed, “La Terna” carries an excellent structure, with spicy undertones and a lasting finish.

Shannon enjoyed the Wild Atlantic Salmon entrée between sips of “La Terna..”  The pan-roasted salmon was topped with an assortment of delicious mushrooms: sautéed shiitake, oyster, and hen of the woods.  These mushrooms were almost as prominent on the plate as the salmon, and a citrus beurre blanc complemented the flavors with a light zinginess, as opposed to being overly buttery.  My one critique is that the salmon was a tad dry from being slightly overcooked.  (Click here for other ways to prepare salmon).

Meanwhile, I chose the shrimp and grits, without the bacon that usually comes with it.  Six medium-size shrimp and a pan-fried grit cake sat in a bowl of buttery broth.  The grit cake was the highlight, as it mixed very well with the broth, creating a moist, buttery treat that was never too soggy.  The shrimp weren’t bad, although there’s not much original about combining shrimp with a butter sauce.  Two large slices of ciabatta bread accompanied the meal, and they proved to be essential for dipping into the butter sauce, as the plate wouldn’t have been very filling without these additional carbohydrates.

Finally, we couldn’t leave without sampling the desserts.  I was attracted to the bread pudding, while Shannon craved the Big Ass Brownie.  Alas, the menu offered the “half and half,” which is a combination of both that’s presented quite attractively, with each half topped with a generous scoop of Amy’s ice cream (dark chocolate on the brownie and Mexican vanilla on the bread pudding).  The chocolate brownie featured a spicy kick, as it’s cooked with a bit of ancho chile pepper.  On the other half of the plate, the bread pudding consisted of a white chocolate brioche soaked in custard before being baked; the end result was moist and rich.  I thoroughly enjoyed the contrasting flavors of the white chocolate in the bread pudding and the dark chocolate in the brownie.  We also shared a glass of ice wine, which was strong and sweet, with a subtle flavor of tangerine bursting through before finishing cleanly.

Max’s Wine Dive is a romantic place for drinking a variety of types of wine, along with enjoying some good food.  The service was also excellent, as our waiter was knowledgeable about the extensive wine list, and he was attentive without ever making us feel rushed.

Plus, Max’s will always have a special place in our hearts as no couple can ever forget where their love began its blossoming journey.

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Avocado margaritas and outstanding Tex-Mex cuisine make Curra’s one of Austin’s best casual restaurants

Last Saturday, Shannon and I were laying by the pool with our friends Ash and Jordan, when pangs of hunger suddenly struck me around 4 pm.  Shannon and I discussed food options in earnest, with us finally settling on ordering a pizza when we returned to my apartment.  But Jordan then mentioned Curra’s, which is nearby, and as she started gushing over the shrimp flautas, we knew that a change of plans was in order.  Jordan and Ash had to leave for a wedding at around 6, but realizing the uncertainty of the food quality at such events, they opted to join us.

After arriving at Curra’s, which is located about a mile west of I-35 on Oltorf, we all enjoyed a round of Curra’s best beverage: the frozen avocado margarita.  Everywhere else, I order my margaritas on the rocks, but not at Curra’s.  The avocado margarita tastes like a smoothie, with the subtle flavor of avocado mixing fantastically with the tequila.  Usually, I don’t like frozen fruit margaritas (e.g., strawberry, peach, etc.) because they’re just too darn sweet.  But avocado isn’t a sweet fruit, and it adds such a smoothness to the drink that I slurped mine down like a milkshake.  Before I knew it, I was already done with my first drink while everyone else had at least half of theirs left.  As a result, I had to order a second one.  They’re really that good!

After indulging in some chips and salsa, it was time to order the main course.  At first, I couldn’t decide between three of my favorites: the cochinita pibil, the carnitas, and the mole enchiladas.  But since I hadn’t dined at Curra’s in over a year and I’d been craving their excellent mole sauce, I decided that I should probably go with the latter choice.  Also, both the cochinita pibil and carnitas are pork dishes, and I could still fulfill my pork craving by ordering it as the filling in my enchiladas.  On the menu, the pork filling’s actually called “chilorio,” which just means that the pork is fried in a chile sauce.  The chilorio was tender and juicy; plus, the enchiladas were packed with the meat, as Curra’s certainly doesn’t skimp on ingredients like the overrated Guero’s.  But the highlight of the enchiladas was certainly the mole sauce, which features notes of chocolate and a subtle peppery bite.  It’s such a unique flavor that it’s hard to describe, and I definitely recommend everyone trying it at least once.

Meanwhile, Shannon and Jordan both enjoyed the shrimp flautas, which have the bonus feature of being gluten-free (for Jordan’s sake!).  This plate comes with three rolled, deep-fried corn tortillas that are filled with shrimp, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and goat cheese.  An avocado sauce mixes nicely with the goat cheese to produce an excellent flavor that’s especially enjoyable with the fresh shrimp.

Finally, being the little boy of the group, Ash chose the “Junior” version of the tamale plate, which comes with four instead of the usual six.  Kidding aside, the “Junior” plate still requires a hefty appetite, as the tamales are huge at Curra’s.  Again, this is not a place that skimps on ingredients.

Although Curra’s has been around for over 15 years, it’s not showing any signs of complacency.  For excellent Tex-Mex food at a reasonable price with quick and attentive service, head to Curra’s.  And try an avocado margarita while you’re there – you won’t regret it!

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Gulf oil spill doesn’t affect Truluck’s, where fresh seafood and excellent service make for a great night out

On Friday, Shannon and I decided to have a date night at the downtown Truluck’s, where my good friend, Luke, had recently become a manager.  After parking our car with the valet, we entered the restaurant, which opens into a swanky lounge featuring live piano music.  A friendly hostess greeted us, and then we shook hands with Luke, who was looking suave in a black suit with lavender shirt and tie.  We were seated at a booth in the expansive dining room, where the acoustics are just right for quiet conversation while retaining the vibrant feel of a happening seafood establishment.

Our waiter, Steven, who happened to have been trained by Luke, helped us select a chardonnay.  After I nixed his recommendations of some of the more expensive bottles, he guided me towards a 2007 J. Lohr, which is from the Arroyo Seco vineyards of Southern California.  The wine features a touch of acidity and minerality at the front, with a soft, creamy mid-palate containing notes of ripe fruit, and a clean, refreshing finish.  Shannon and I enjoyed it immensely, and the price wasn’t bad at $48.

As we were deciding on appetizers, Steven announced that Luke had ordered us a “chilled seafood tower,” which is one of Truluck’s signature appetizers where diners get to pick assorted raw and cold items.  “It’s good to know people,” Steven said, referring to our luck in getting the VIP treatment.  When the tower arrived, Shannon and I were delighted, as it contained four jumbo shrimp and four Rhode Island raw oysters surrounding a bowl of lump crab meat.

Dry ice created a steaming effect that Luke described as the “David Copperfield touch.” The tower was also accompanied by horseradish, cocktail sauce, and honey mustard for the crab.  All of the items were fresh and delicious, with the lump crab meat being my favorite, especially with a dollop of the mustard.  Shannon’s favorite was the shrimp, which exhibited a firm, meaty texture – just like chilled shrimp should taste.

Before enjoying our entrees, we talked to Luke for a bit about various topics.  He explained that the Gulf Coast oil spill hasn’t adversely affected the restaurant as much as you’d think, as Truluck’s only purchased about 25% of its seafood from the Gulf before the accident, so it wasn’t hard to shift the orders to other coasts.  I also wanted to know how Luke retains his swagger when his job duties include appeasing unhappy customers.  Luke comically explained that he’s still able to throw in some personality; for example, if someone complains about slow service (when it’s not abnormally so), Luke might say: “If you’re not used to this type of dining experience, then maybe you should try the Spaghetti Warehouse down the street.”  Just kidding, Luke would never be that rude.  And if he was, he’d choose a customer who wouldn’t quite grasp the touch of irony in his voice.

For Shannon’s main course, she chose the halibut, which was sautéed and sat atop a creamy green sauce with a side of spring vegetables.  This was a meaty cut of the halibut that’s a chewier, heartier version than what she’d had at Wink and Backstage recently, but Shannon enjoyed it very much, as the fresh fish was definitely tender with a subtly sweet flavor.

Meanwhile, I chose the miso-glazed sea bass, which exhibited an Asian flare with the sweet, soy-based sauce complementing the tender and moist fish.  It was accompanied by cucumber slaw which added to the Asian-inspired presentation, along with a delicious crab-fried rice whose spice seemed to be influenced by the Cajun style.  I highly recommend this dish, as it’s quite a fusion of culinary elements.

We’ll definitely be going back to Truluck’s to try some of the other seafood creations on the menu.  With excellent service, fresh flavors, and a comprehensive wine list, it’s a great place for a night out with someone special.

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Uchi continues to draw crowds with its unique and delicious sushi offerings

For Shannon’s birthday, I took her to one of her favorite restaurants, Uchi.  Because it was a Tuesday night, I didn’t think there’d be a wait, but all the tables were full when we arrived at around 6:30.  It wasn’t jam-packed in the waiting area like it is on Thursdays through Saturdays, but the fact that there was even a slight wait on an off night is a testament to the popularity of the unique, creative sushi that chef/owner Tyson Cole prepares on a nightly basis.

While we waited, we each enjoyed a glass of the Bouvet, a rosé champagne that’s dry and crisp at the front end, with notes of cherry at the mid-palate, followed by a clean finish.  It was both a refreshing and celebratory way to start the evening.

Within 15 minutes, our hostess reported that our table was ready (despite an initial estimate of a half-hour wait).  We were led to a table for two within Uchi’s chic, bustling dining room, where the walls are decorated with a Japanese-inspired red-and-black pattern, and the subdued lighting creates a romantic atmosphere.

We decided to order glasses of sake, choosing one that’s translated as “Bride of the Fox.” It was described as having notes of cashew, and although I didn’t detect a nutty flavor, the sake was strong and crisp.  The glass was served in a pinewood box, as diners have the choice of pouring the sake into the box, which imparts a piney flavor to the beverage.  As Shannon cleverly said, if you’re an “out of the box” thinker, you might enjoy savoring your sake from within the box.  But we found that we created a bit of a mess during the transfer, so we chose to stay in our figurative box by drinking it straight from the glass.

Our friendly and knowledgeable waiter, Ryan, suggested several of the “Tastings,” and we took his advice with our first two selections.  The maguro sashimi and goat cheese was brought out first, and it turned out to be our favorite dish of the night.  The big-eye tuna is accompanied by apple slices, goat cheese, and pumpkin seed oil.  The combination of these flavors was out of this world.

The next “tasting” was the machi cure, which consists of maplewood-smoked baby yellowtail tuna, accompanied by yucca chips, asian pear, almonds, garlic brittle, and yellow caviar.  Ryan suggested that for each bite, we top all the ingredients on a yucca chip so that the full assortment of flavors could be enjoyed at once.  The result was a tasty treat, although it didn’t blow us away like the first dish.  The yucca chips resembled potato chips in taste and texture, although they’re not quite as greasy.  While they’re quite good in their own right, I thought that the salty chips overwhelmed the other elements in the dish.

Next, we selected one of the night’s specials, the Chesapeake Bay soft-shell crab.  My Mom’s from Maryland, the home of the Chesapeake, and she was actually visiting her family there on this night, so this choice was a bit of a salute to her, as she’s a huge fan of soft-shell crabs.  And it didn’t disappoint.  The exterior of the crab was slightly crunchy with moist and tender meat on the inside.  Complemented by an African curry sauce, the dish was finger-licking good.

By this point, we’d run out of our sake, so we ordered glasses of the Girard chardonnay, which is from the Russian River Valley.  In terms of price, it’s comparable to the Patz and Hall (from Napa) that we’d enjoyed at Wink, and Shannon found herself contrasting the two.  The Girard has more of a sweet, melon flavor at the front end, while the Patz and Hall features crisp, apple tones.  Shannon definitely preferred the crisper flavor of the Patz and Hall compared to the sweetness of the Girard, which was almost overwhelming on her palate.  The Girard also has more of a buttery finish, while the Patz and Hall ended more cleanly.

Still, it’s worth noting that Uchi has made great leaps in terms of its wine list in the last few years.  I remember the days when they only had about ten wines to choose from; now, they offer about 25 white wines and 15 reds, with almost half of their bottles being available by the glass.

You can’t leave Uchi without sampling some of their excellent rolls.  Our first selection was the biendo, which consists of tempura-battered tiger shrimp wrapped in rice paper, topped with frozen grapes and a Vietnamese vinaigrette.  Accompanied by a spicy Thai chili oil, we enjoyed this rice-less roll.  It wasn’t my favorite, but I definitely appreciate the creative twist on a spring roll, especially the unique use of frozen grapes.

For our next roll, we enjoyed my personal favorite, the Shag, which is a tempura-fried roll of avocado, sundried tomato, and salmon.  It’s served warm and accompanied by an excellent squid ink sauce that’s artistically decorated along a rectangular, wooden serving board.  The cool, slightly tangy ink sauce perfectly complements the flavors of the warm roll.

We didn’t sample desserts on this evening because we had birthday cake waiting back at Shannon’s house (although Ryan generously offered a free dessert when he found out it was her birthday).  That’ll be an excuse to head back to Uchi sometime soon, as it’s definitely ranked right next to Wink in terms of my favorite restaurants in Austin.

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Vino Vino offers great wine values, although the food is a bit hit-and-miss

Last night, I joined Shannon and her mom, Betsi, for some wine and appetizers at Vino Vino before they headed off to the Van Morrison show at Bass Concert Hall.  Vino Vino was only about half full on this Friday evening, so there were plenty of available tables in the expansive, open wine bar.

After greeting us, our server explained the way Vino Vino works.  The menu lists all of the available wines by the glass, but there’s no list of bottles.  Instead, the bottles line the back wall, along with descriptions on notecards.  You can either browse the available wines yourself or have the server guide you through the selections.  I kindly informed her that we’d need a few minutes to makes some decisions.  At this point, she became a bit rude: “I know that — just wanted to say hello…” I was a little taken aback to get attitude from her since I was being pleasant when I told her that we need more time to look over the menu.

As Shannon and Betsi decided on some food choices, I scanned the wine selections that were immediately behind me.  These happened to be from Italy, and since I didn’t feel like walking up and down the restaurant in order to look at the other regional options, I decided to stick to the ones that were in my immediate vicinity.  A Rodano Chianti Classico caught my eye, so I ordered that from the manager who came by to take care of us (perhaps, our waitress was neglecting us after my “rude” comment about needing more time).  The manager was obviously educated in the wine offerings, as he explained the history of the winemaker, along with the difference between this chianti and another Rodano that the establishment serves, the Poggialupi: although they’re both made of the same grapes (sangiovese and merlot), the chianti classico is aged in oak barrels for two years, which contributes to the oaky finish of this delightful wine.  Meanwhile, the Poggialupi isn’t aged in oak at all, as this label was created by Rodano in order to have more wines immediately available (it can be bottled and distributed without having to wait for any aging process).  And what makes a chianti a reserve?  It simply means that the wine’s been aged for three or more years.  The Rodano chianti classico was medium-bodied, and we agreed that it was an excellent wine, especially for the price (just $30).

We also selected various food items to share.  The shrimp consisted of four large ones in a tasty chili oil and garlic concoction.  They were definitely a better choice than the “mussels and fries.” Although the mussels were properly cooked in a decent white wine and tarragon sauce, the fries seemed out of place sitting atop the mussels.  This led to the fries easily getting soggy, which wasn’t the worst problem considering that the white wine sauce was tasty.  Instead, the issue was that the fries were topped by a thick aioli sauce that gradually mixed in with the broth, creating clumps of white goo.  I usually like to scoop the tasty soup after eating mussels, but the aioli just wasn’t meant to be floating around in it (there was a bad flavor contrast, along with an unappetizing appearance).

A beet salad made up for the mediocre mussel dish, as it featured a flavorful combination of pistachios, beets, grapefruit, avocado, arugula and a light dressing.  For a cheese plate, we enjoyed the Roaring 40’s blue, which has an intensely salty flavor and creamy texture.

I’d love to come back to Vino Vino some day when I have plenty of time to peruse the wine selections and maybe try some of their larger food plates.  I think that having an actual bottle list might make it easier for browsing purposes, but I understand that restaurants often need some type of unique gimmick that sets them apart.  Still, Max’s Wine Dive is probably my favorite wine bar in Austin, with its unbeatable policy of allowing any bottle to be offered by the glass as long as you commit to ordering two glasses.

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Even after all these years, Newport’s continues to shine with its emphasis on high-quality seafood creations

For our Saturday night dinner with my parents, we went to the nearby downtown seafood establishment, Newport’s.  I have fond memories of dinners at Newport’s during my years growing up in Dallas, so I was excited to return for the first time in a decade.

Near the center of the restaurant, Newport’s features a large well that’s about 55 feet deep and 30 feet wide.  The artesian water from this well was used in a brewery at the same location until Prohibition in 1926, and the well remains as a bit of a historical landmark.  Although it’s a remarkable sight, Shannon remarked that it can get a little creepy since it’s so dark that you can’t see the bottom.  (Note to self: don’t let Shannon see Silence of the Lambs.)

It's hard to see, but part of the well is on the left side.

We began with a chardonnay from the Napa Valley, which featured notes of apples and a crisp, clean finish.  Compared to the Patz and Hall from Sonoma, which we tried next, I preferred the Napa chardonnay, as it had a stronger acidic tone, while the Sonoma tasted a bit flatter.  Our third bottle, the Mer Soleil Silver from the Santa Lucia Highlands, was personally recommended by the sommelier, and it proved to be the best of the bunch.  This chardonnay seemed to sparkle on the tongue at the front end, and it ended with a dynamic, lasting finish.

For our appetizers, Shannon and I split orders of the shrimp cocktail and blue crab fingers.  The cocktail consisted of four fresh, plump, jumbo shrimp — they were delectable.  But the claws were probably my favorite, as a garlic butter infused with cilantro provided an excellent accompaniment to the small yet meaty claws.

Newport’s reminds me a bit of Perla’s in terms of its mission to provide fresh, flavorful seafood, and it had a section of the menu titled “Simple Mesquite Grills” that is very similar to the “Fresh and Simple Market Seafood” at Austin’s bustling new seafood spot.  Basically, you can choose from an assortment of fish (tilapia, rainbow trout, red grouper, Chilean seabass, gulf red snapper, etc.) and then pick a sauce (fresh mango salsa, poblano cream, basil beurre blanc, ginger-soy, roasted red pepper, and jalapeno tartar). The plate is then served with a fresh daily vegetable.  The menu also includes a “mixed seafood grill,” which was blackened trout and tuna on this night.  Since I was having trouble deciding, I opted for this mixed grill and chose the spicy chipotle pepper sauce, which is traditionally served with the tuna on another part of the menu.  I’d had this chipotle sauce many times in the past, and I couldn’t resist tasting it again.  Indeed, I was not disappointed, as both cuts of fish were tender and seasoned to perfection.  The sauce added a zesty complementary flavor.

The dinner entrée menu enticed Shannon with its descriptive chef creations, and the apple-pecan tilapia ended up winning her over.  The grilled tilapia is served with garlic whipped potatoes, caramelized granny smith apples, cilantro, and roasted pecans in a citrus butter sauce.  This proved to be a very tasty combination.  Meanwhile, Mom ordered the yellowfin tuna, which is served with the same spicy chipotle pepper sauce that I enjoyed on my mixed grill.  After asking the server about how the lobster was prepared, Dad was assured that the meat would be removed from the shell, requiring minimal work.  I completely understand his sentiment, as although I love to cook at home, having to “work” to eat my food isn’t my idea of a pleasant dining experience at a restaurant.  Dad was thoroughly impressed with the presentation of the lobster, and he reported that it tasted excellent (my lobster allergy prevented me from having a taste for myself).

With contented bellies and three bottles of wine consumed between the four of us, talk of love filled the air, as my parents described their romantic beginnings, at Shannon’s request.  We then shared our story of the chance Halloween rendezvous between Minnie Mouse and Dexter Morgan.  Mom beamed with delight, as this wonderful weekend was preceded by a visit to Conroe, where she enjoyed the company of my brother, Andy, and his new girlfriend, Trang.  Hopefully, they’ll be part of a blog in the near future when they come to Austin together.

For dessert, Shannon and I split a vanilla bean crème brulee, which was creamy and about twice as large as the usual crème brulee.  Even though it met my expectations, we were so full that we couldn’t finish the entire bowl, which might be a first in my experience with the rich French dessert.

Afterwards, we retired to my parents’ condo for a scotch and bourbon tasting, which proved to be an excellent nightcap.

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Just Go With It: Our Spring Break Adventure in Cabo San Lucas

¡DOMINGO!

We woke up super early at 4:15am, which was really 3:15am due to the onset of Daylight Savings Time.  But the excitement of travelling wiped that sleep out of our eyes, as we anxiously awaited arriving in Cabo San Lucas for our vacation. After a quick layover in Phoenix, our plane landed at around 11:00am at the Los Cabos International Airport, where there aren’t any “jet bridges,” leaving us to exit down a staircase (old-school style) with a backdrop of ruggedly beautiful mountain landscape.  Getting through customs was a bit chaotic, as we took a wrong turn and ended up in the departure area, a little frantic.  But Shannon found an airport worker, who she asked: “¿Habla Inglés?”, He smirked and sarcastically answered, “Yeah,” as it should have been obvious since we were at an international airport.  He quickly led us to the proper area, where we picked up our bags and then set out to find our transport vehicle amidst a sea of signs and vendors.  After finally finding the right one, we hopped in the van and were greeted with ice cold Coronas.  Having travelled for over eight hours, the feeling of finally arriving in Cabo made these the best beers we’d tasted in recent memory.  As we rode over the bumpy roads towards our hotel, we marveled at the eclectic geographical setting, which combines sparkling ocean water in a desert setting with a mountainous backdrop.

The all-inclusive hotel (Riu Palace) featured enchantingly landscaped grounds, with an open-aired lobby where tiny Mexican finches swooped in, chirping a happy, welcoming tune.  We enjoyed a buffet lunch, during which Shannon fell in love with the local papaya as we sat at a table overlooking the ocean.  The rest of the food wasn’t anything to write home about, but that’s to be expected at an all-inclusive hotel where your only alternative to the free food is paying for it elsewhere.  This was the beginning of our lesson in the Mexican vacation attitude: “You’ve just gotta go with it.”  Our room was very nice, with tile floors and a balcony overlooking a courtyard of fountains.  Although the “king sized bed” was actually two full beds pushed together, we didn’t mind.

We then went back outside to explore the beach, which featured golden, coarse sand and crystal clear ocean water with a sea-green tint.  The beach sloped downward where it met the ocean, which led to the waves crashing so near the shore that it was impossible to body surf without being slammed into the sandy bottom.   As a result, a strong undertow could be felt very close to the beach, which might be a reason why we’d read that the water is a bit treacherous in Cabo. But once we waded out about twenty feet, the water was calm and enjoyable.  We even tried a little exfoliation, where we covered our bodies in sand, lightly scrubbed ourselves, and then let the salt water wash it away, producing very soft skin (Shannon enjoyed this immensely).

The swimming made us a little hungry, so Chris returned to the buffet in order to grab some chips and guacamole.  Although we noticed that no one else was eating in the open-aired poolside area, we didn’t think much of it.  But we soon realized why most people stayed under the cover of the canopy of the designated eating area.  As soon as Chris triumphantly walked towards Shannon with his full plate, a group of large, fierce seagulls swooped down, with one of them striking its wing at Chris’ body, knocking the plate of chips out of his hands and leaving them the feast they fought for.  The birds then gorged on their conquest, as Chris returned to Shannon with his figurative tail between his legs.  Shannon then struck him with her fist, teaching Chris a lesson about returning empty-handed (just kidding – she was very understanding, and promised not to tell the customs agents in the United States about his contact with wild animals).

Since our hunger hadn’t been staved, we decided to go into town to find a meal (as a sidenote, we could not get reservations at the free hotel restaurants for the first two nights because they were all booked, and despite the fact that the buffet was still an option, we needed something a little more special for our first night on vacation).  After a safe and quick $10 taxi ride (which we later learned to negotiate down to 100 pesos, which is closer to $8), we found a charmingly festive local Mexican spot called Miguelocos.  The waiter was very happy to see us, and typical of the Mexican way, he convinced us to up our margarita order to “doubles.” Everything here tasted extremely fresh.  We began the meal with a refreshingly delicious shrimp ceviche, which featured a red sauce that was tangy with a hint of sweetness.  This was one of our favorite dishes of the vacation.  They also served a spicy hot sauce with tortilla chips.  For our entrees, Shannon ordered sea bass tacos; the fish was grilled very simply, allowing the fresh taste of the sea bass to form the dish’s dominant flavor.  Shannon slightly doctored the tacos with pico de gallo and the spicy hot sauce, producing some of the best fish tacos we’ve tasted.  Meanwhile, Chris enjoyed a large chile relleno, which was lightly battered and stuffed with shrimp and cheese.  Once again, this was exceptional.  After another round of margaritas, we were ready to go, leaving with smiles on our faces and happiness in our bellies.  The waiter added to the lightness of the mood by playing a little joke: he handed Shannon the check and then burst out laughing as he took it back and gave it to Chris.  To think that a woman would ever pay for a meal – que hysteria!

After returning to our palace in another safe taxi ride, we enjoyed one of the many crazy shows that the hotel entertainment crew provided every night.  At this one, they made newlyweds perform various tasks (most of which were sexually suggestive).  Again, this is no masterpiece theater, but if you have the “Go with it” attitude, you’ll find yourself laughing at the revelry.  At 11:00pm, it was time to try the hotel’s discoteca, La Pacha, which happened to be right underneath our room (so, even if we’d wanted to go to sleep, we would’ve been inundated with the loud bass beats).  With the aid of a few tequila shots, we danced the night away; our uninhibited style seemed to encourage other couples to join in the fun.  Needless to say, we had no trouble sleeping that night.

¡LUNES!

After a quick continental breakfast (room service is free at the all-inclusive!), we decided to walk along the beach towards the famous Cabo Arch (El Arco), which appeared to be a couple of miles away.  We passed many hotels and vendors during our breathtakingly beautiful stroll, eventually arriving at a sea wall composed of large rocks piled about 15 feet high.  We realized that this sea wall marked the end of the beach and the beginning of a bay, preventing us from continuing towards the arch (we later discovered that you have to take a water taxi, which we’ll explain later on).  A few pelicans sat perched on the edge of the rocks, so we decided to climb towards them for a closer look.  As Chris bent down to help Shannon up, he told her to pass the digital camera to him so that she’d get a better grip.  During the exchange, the camera dropped, slipping under a crevice, and then crashing downwards, with a final “splash!” marking the end of a day’s worth of photography.  After a few moments to lament the loss, we returned to our “Just go with it” mentality and promised each other to not let that unfortunate incident ruin the vacation.  Feeling that we may have been a little bit sad, crabs began peeping out of the rocks and dancing in front of us to bring our spirits back to their excited level.

Have no fear – Chris (such a sweet guy!) purchased a waterproof disposable camera at the hotel shop, for a new source of fun, as people chuckled at the use of such a retro device.  Yes, that’s right – all the pictures you’re seeing are from our disposable cameras  — who needs digital?  To explain one more detail about the pictures, Chris lost a contact in the ocean that day, and he’d forgotten to bring a spare pair, so that’s why he’s sporting his glasses in the pictures.  Again, despite a bit of disappointment at first, Chris couldn’t stay down long, as the “go with it” attitude infused his vacation spirit.

With our bodies slightly sun-kissed from a day outside (yes, Mommy Perri, we wore sunscreen, 50 SPF, after the initial hour-long attempt at the oxymoronic “healthy tan”), we got ready for another night in town (remember, no reservations at the hotel for the first two nights).  We made an initial stop at the Cabo “shopping district,” which was actually just an outlet mall of American stores.  We wanted something a bit more authentic, so we walked the streets, eventually finding a flea market where we engaged in some bartering over a pair of native-stone earrings (the vendor said $12, we countered at $6, eventually settling on $9).  We then ran into a Mexican family walking their dogs, which turned out to be cocker spaniels, much to Shannon’s delight!  Of course, they were no Lady Schaefer, but Shannon enjoyed petting the dogs and having a brief dog-related conversation (en español) with the family.  Our next stop was a hole-in-the-wall dive bar, where a couple of Wisconsin tourists were drunkenly advertising the “Spring Break Deal” – Coronas for $1!  We couldn’t pass that up, so we decided on a brief happy hour prior to dinner, during which time we talked to the young bartender, Javy, about hot spots in Cabo.  Hearing of our plans to later try the touristy dance club Squid Roe, he advised us to come back to his bar after dinner for drinks in order to avoid paying the exorbitant prices at the club.  He was right, as Squid Roe charged $5 per beer, which is ridiculous in Mexico.  Little did Javy (or we) know, but we wouldn’t need any more alcohol after dinner.

Our destination was a romantic hideaway called Misiones de Kino, which we had read favorable reviews about online.  We began the meal with complimentary margaritas, which we noticed were quite strong.  The menu was divided between Mexican and Italian fare, so we decided to mix it up a bit, ordering the mussels casino as an appetizer.  The dish proved to be quite tasty, as the mussels were covered in mozzarella and tomatoes and accompanied with fresh-baked rolls.  We then ordered another round of margaritas, which came out in glasses that were twice as large as before (since these weren’t complimentary), and they were just as strong.  Needless to say, we were on our way towards “one of those nights.” For our entrees, Shannon ordered the jumbo shrimp with the house’s special garlic sauce, while Chris tried the sea bass topped with a fresh mango sauce that resembled pico de gallo.  Both dishes were tasty, although neither one was extraordinary, especially compared to the prior evening’s meal at Miguelocos.  We finished with a Café Kino, which was a coffee spiked with brandy and kahlua.  This proved to be an important decision, as we probably needed the caffeine in order to have the dancing energy for Squid Roe.  At this point, the tequila was in full effect and we were ready to get our dance on!

Squid Roe turned out to be an American tourist spot that’s probably very similar to what people experience as a large Cancun bar, such as Carlos ‘n’ Charlies, during spring break.  There were four levels, each featuring female dancers in cages (but we’re not sure if these were tourists or people being paid by the club – again, we were drunk from the margaritas, so the details are a little fuzzy here).  We definitely were having fun in our own little dance world, although the waiters probably hated us since we didn’t order a single beverage (and there was no cover charge, so we didn’t pay a cent at this high-dollar tourist spot – Javy would be proud).

We found another safe cab ride home, but we knew we couldn’t stop yet, so we made a long visit to La Pacha to round out our big night out.  We threw down some “innovative” moves, including some recently-learned swing moves, such as the “Figure Eight” and the “Around the World.”  We’re pretty sure that even people who didn’t want to dance still had a great time just watching us.  Highly impressive stuff.

¡MARTES!

As you might’ve guessed, we slept in late this morning, even taking a brief nap after a buffet breakfast downstairs.  To our delight, the buffet featured fresh juices, which our bodies especially appreciated on this day.  Our favorites were the papaya-orange (Shannon’s) and the pineapple-orange (Chris’).

Our big event of the day was taking a water taxi to see the Arch and check out Lover’s Beach, which had been graciously suggested by Shannon’s aunt, Amie (a party animal in her own right).  As we arrived at the rock formations, our “creative” captain began telling us what each formation resembled.  For example, he proudly pointed out that one of the rocks looked like Scooby Doo.  He then said to Chris in a loud whisper: “And that one, look, it’s like a woman bending over.  And you see that ‘eye’ in the middle…”  Well, you get the picture.  This captain wasn’t very discreet, either, as he asked Chris two or three times whether he could see what he was imagining, and he couldn’t keep himself from giggling each time.  Of course, Shannon could hear every word, so we weren’t sure why he needed to feign a whisper to tell us his dirty little joke.  Next, the taxi came upon a large group of sea lions lounging on a rock in the sun.  They were very cute, as they snuggled together, but these creatures have some of the worst body odor we’ve ever smelled, so we were happy to continue on our way after a few minutes.  Soon enough, we came across the famous Cabo Arch, which was a spectacular sight.

The taxi then dropped us off at the “Lover’s Beach,” which is a small beach nestled between two mountainous rocks.  Vendors sold beers, and we purchased two for $6.  This gave us an idea about how to make money in Cabo: if you’re staying in an all-inclusive, you can grab all of the beers from your fridge for free, take them to Lover’s Beach, and sell them to tourists. Although tempting, we were too classy to implement this business plan.

The back side of Lover’s Beach opens up to the rougher Pacific Ocean, where we were warned against swimming due to the strong current.  Needless to say, that didn’t dissuade Chris, who marveled at the huge waves crashing onto shore.  Surfers were using skim boards to ride the waves, and Chris tried a little body surfing of his own.  He was promptly nailed into the ground.  Still, he convinced Shannon to join him, and as another huge wave crashed against them, she lost her brand-new Ray Ban sunglasses.  She was a bit bummed out at first, but as we scanned the ocean, we noticed a black object lying at the bottom.  Chris, the heroic boyfriend, promptly waded out and rescued the sunglasses, much to the amazement of onlookers.

For dinner that night, we had a reservation at the hotel’s Japanese restaurant, Misaki.  Despite the fact that there were menus, there weren’t many options.  The meal began with a small plate of assorted sushi, which was decent, but paled in comparison to the sushi we eat in Austin.  The restaurant also served a Chilean sauvignon blanc called Diavolo, which was pretty painfully terrible – it tasted no better than a bad box wine, and it had a strange, yellowy hue.  Luckily, they also offered sake, which proved to be a better alternative.  For our appetizers, Chris had the vegetable and shrimp tempura, while Shannon ordered the miso soup.  The tempura wasn’t bad, but Shannon’s miso soup tasted more like beef broth, as it lacked any flavor of salty miso.  For our main dishes, Shannon ordered the salmon, which turned out to be a little dry, while Chris had shrimp in a teriyaki sauce.  The overall mediocrity of the meal shouldn’t have been a surprise given that the hotel has no incentive to deliver top-quality food, as everyone’s food is already included in the price of the hotel room, and the restaurants don’t serve any paying customers from outside the hotel.  Chris felt that the food quality represented a good case study in economic incentives.  Needless to say, we still enjoyed ourselves. The alcohol always flowed freely, which probably led to most patrons overlooking the fact that the food was below-average compared to what you’d eat at a nice restaurant elsewhere.

After dinner, we made a short stop at the entertainment theater, where a troupe was performing a lip-synched version of Mamma Mia. The eclectic dance crew hailed from various countries (mostly South American, but there was one Latvian, as well as one performer from Wisconsin!), and their enthusiasm was contagious.  Afterwards, a group of hotel workers began dancing to a Spanish version of Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart,” and, although this was amusing in its own weird way, we decided that this was our signal to return to La Pacha for another big night on the dance floor.  This time, one of the song selections gave us the opportunity to demonstrate our Texas Two Step, and we entertained some patrons with our mix of two-stepping and swing moves.  We looked like such serious dancers (or maybe just drunk?) that the occasional tourist apologized when s/he accidentally bumped into us.  Unfortunately for Chris, the dance floor was relatively small and dark, so a table occasionally got in the way of his Figure Eights, which caused him to awake the next morning to discover some back bruises… intense!

When we returned to our room, we saw that the maids had turned up our bed, leaving a “suggestive swan” in the middle. The “suggestive swan” needs a little explaining: It was a towel sculpture with the bottom part resembling a pond, and two swan-like necks protruding from this “pond.” The swans had little black stickers representing their eyes, and they were facing each other, as if about to kiss, and creating the shape of a heart.  Perhaps, the hotel maids felt that we needed a little coaxing…

¡MIERCOLES!

After being somewhat disappointed with the food quality, we decided that we couldn’t make definite conclusions about the hotel unless we dined at the Riu Palace’s top-rated establishment, a “fusion” restaurant called “The Krystal.” The hotel didn’t take reservations for this spot in advance, and the concierge said the only way to get them was to line up at 7am.  After being unable to figure out how to set the room’s alarm clock, Chris set his bio clock to get up, motivated by the hope of good food, and he miraculously made it out of the room at 6:45 am as Shannon continued sleeping undisturbed.  Sure enough, there was already a line of twenty people waiting to make reservations, and Chris had to wait for thirty minutes.  But he was able to reserve a table for the 9:15 pm seating, and he victoriously returned to the room, with Shannon marveling at how he’d gotten up so early.

For this last full day of Cabo fun, we had reserved a spot on a zipline outdoor adventure at a UNESCO-protected park.  We had several options, and this one was supposed to be less extreme and contain more wildlife than the alternatives, a perfect balance. Our bus picked us up at around 11:45 am for the 75 minute trip to the mountainous valley where we’d be zipping around.  Along for the ride was a group of guys who had watched too much “Family Guy” recently, as they couldn’t stop singing The Bird song: “The bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word…” It got pretty annoying after a while.  Upon arriving, our friendly mountain tour guides (about five or six of them) fit us with harnesses and mountain climbing equipment.  They advised us not to worry, as they would be attaching all of the equipment for us.  They also explained the proper zipping technique so that we wouldn’t spin out of control (left hand on the safety harness, and right hand above your head so that you can push down to brake at the end of the line).

The adventure tour soon began, with Chris enjoying his time zipping across canyons.  Shannon needed a little encouragement from the guides, as the fifty-foot drops created some apprehension for her.  After finishing her first zip line, Shannon had a little trouble following instructions regarding the dismount (pull down with both hands on the top rope, and then hold the bottom rope while lightly jumping).  This prompted one of the young guides to scold her: “You need to work on paying attention!” This remark only served to make Shannon even more nervous.  After a second zip across a small canyon, the following station required us to walk across a tight rope, and although we were secure in our safety harnesses, this was an off-balance, harrowing experience that sent Shannon’s anxiety level soaring. “No more,” she was thinking. After a rock climb, we arrived at the next zip line station, and despite Chris’ suggestion that Shannon go ahead of him on the next zip line so that he could coach her into relaxing, she insisted that he go first.  After Chris made it across the canyon, Shannon was next up, and she couldn’t get herself to jump off.  Eventually, Shannon, la pollo, tearfully begged the tour guides to take her back to the base camp, and so we were separated for the rest of the “adventure.”

Chris’ experience: I was a bit concerned about Shannon’s mental state, but the guides assured me that she was okay, and, being separated from mi amor by a chasm spanning at least 100 meters, I had no choice but to finish the “adventure.”  The next station consisted of rappelling down a cliff.  Basically, my back was parallel to the ground, and I walked backwards down the rock face.  This turned out to be pretty exciting, as I had more control over my movements than on the typical zip line.  After that, I climbed up a relatively steep rock formation and hiked towards the final zip line station, which was made out of cables instead of rope in order to deliver the highest possible speed (60 km/hr).  Afterwards, I was reunited with Shannon, who had actually just arrived at the base camp herself, as she had her own little adventure while I was gone.  Much to my surprise, I later discovered that I was quite close to never returning to America.

Shannon’s experience: I felt bad for being such a baby, but I also was incredibly relieved to not have to finish. I will say, in my defense, there were mattresses padded against the canyon as a “hope” to bring safe landings.  Not my idea of secure. AND it was a group of all guys (except one other bad ass pregnant lady), who kept telling me about different times people had died on this thing.  Although joking, this was not cool! My own personal Mexican guide named Jonathon repeatedly told me not to feel bad as we made our way down the mountain. This was probably way more dangerous, considering rattle snakes supposedly lurk at every corner in this area. (Having the country background that I do, snakes are not as scary as zip lines to me, I now have realized.) There was no trail, so we made our boldly rugged trek down the side of the steep slope, crossing barbed wire fences and sliding down water pipes. I kept apologizing and thanking my guide, which led to some interesting conversation. He continuously told me that he would beat Chris up if he got mad at me for quitting, even though I constantly told him this would not be necessary. At one point, he invited me to a concert featuring Pit Bull (?), while also seemingly seriously telling me that he could “take care” of Chris if I wanted him to. I just had to say the word, and I wouldn’t have to know any of the details. He’d be gone like that. Although he assured me he was kidding after this rather awkward invitation, I made it absolutely clear that the world would not be the same without my Chris, who was as sweet as could be upon our reunion.

After a relaxing final experience swimming at the beach during sunset with espresso milkshakes Chris made using the ice cream and coffee machines, we got ready for dinner.  But since the reservations were so late, we killed a little time playing pool, which remarkably cost $3 per game.  Chris taught Shannon some basic billiards skills, so she’ll be showing those off in Austin in the near future.

Dinner at Krystal began with a decent champagne cocktail (the maraschino cherry in the bottom converts it from mere champagne to a “cocktail”). The server then asked whether we wanted some white wine, and after seeing that it was the same awful Diavolo from the night before, we inquired about other options, eventually settling on Diavolo’s red wine, which the waiter described as a “cabernet sauvignon.”  Despite his description, we couldn’t find any evidence of this being a cabernet when we examined the label; the sickeningly sweet, fruity taste and syrupy consistency suggested that we were drinking a really bad wine that didn’t deserve an actual name (Chris thought it tasted more like a cheap merlot).  Eventually, we were able to order some more champagne, which was preferable because the bubbles helped disguise the impurities.

The meal began with a “tapas plate”: a tiny bite of smoked salmon topped with avocado mousse, a watermelon-tomato puree, and a parmesan “brick.” The smoked salmon was the best of the three, as watermelon and tomato are both watery fruits that don’t complement each other, and the parmesan “brick” resembled the shape of a soft-shell crab or octopus while merely tasting like browned parmesan.

For appetizers, we each ordered the pumpkin-cream soup with scallop.  Shannon’s scallop was less than half the size of Chris’, which was noticeable because the dishes were served without any soup in them.  The waiter then told us to “watch out” because the scallop had the soup inside of it, and it might “explode” when we cut into it.  This made us relatively nervous because of the waiter’s insistence that an explosion was imminent – neither of us wanted to drown in exploding pumpkin soup.  But the waiter soon revealed, in between his cracking-up-style laughter, that he was just joking, as another server returned to our table with the soup, which he poured over the scallop.  Humor seems to be quite popular in Mexico. The soup was decent, although it’s got nothing on Chris’ mom’s pumpkin soup, which she makes at Thanksgiving and Christmas (using renowned chef Andre Soltner’s recipe).  We also ordered the same entrée, which was a Chilean sea bass served with a basil foam and chopped tomatoes.  This proved to be the best part of the meal, as the sea bass was perfectly tender, with moist chunks flaking off the small filet with the slightest pressure from our forks.  The basil foam and tomatoes were an excellent complement.  Finally, for dessert we ordered chocolate lava cakes accompanied with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.  It’s hard to go wrong with this combination of sweetness, so we left satisfied.  As we exited the restaurant, one of the waiters shook Chris’ hand and asked with a huge grin and a wink, “So, are you drunk enough?” Chris wasn’t really sure how to respond, especially since he’d consumed the least amount of alcohol on this night of the trip, but the comment did provide a comical parting to the evening.

After the long day, we weren’t in a Pacha state of mind, so we turned in early. However, we soon were greeted by the disco beats from below, as La Pacha evidently comes alive even without us.  To drown out the sounds, we had to play a Norah Jones album on Shannon’s computer, and we soon fell into a restful, happy sleep.

¡JUEVES!

After one last breakfast buffet and long gaze at the gleamingly blue ocean, we said adios to Cabo and departed back to our beloved Austin. We’d had a wonderful vacation together, and although sad to leave Cabo, we were ready to return to our pets in Austin, which still remains our favorite city of all.

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Filed under Dining, Nature, Night Life, Pets, Travel