If you've been saving up your whole Austin life for a special occasion to visit Chez Nous, do it on Valentine's Day. Seriously: In a restaurant land of cool, modern decor, Chez Nous relishes in year-round twinkly lights and paintings of Rue Montmarte on the walls. Their more-is-more attitude spills over to the menu as well, with all the French goodies here -- escargot, bearnaise-smothered steaks, a classic creme brulee. Oui oui.
If you and your Valentine's Day date are on a bit of a budget, Cipollina is a good option for you. None of the (outstanding) pizzas here top $15, perhaps because they do such magical things with vegetables: The kale/kalamata tapenade/lemon ricotta/con?t garlic, for example, which is rich, simple, and abundant.
Tucked into an old, south Austin home with candles, wrought iron, and Mexican art aplenty, Corazon is a relaxing little oasis on South Lamar, with a menu that's equally soothing. No molecular gastronomy here, just classic southwestern fare with fancy, Bobby Flay-esque flourishes: A roasted pork and green chili soup, duck breast over black Thai curry sauce, and my personal favorite, the peanut butter pie.
Don't let its casual decor fool you: 34th Street Cafe is a serious restaurant dressed up as a laid-back bistro, and their rigorously local menu means business. These days, you and your date can enjoy three (large-ish) courses for under $100 on Valentine's Day, and speaking from experience, the bacon-laced butternut squash ravioli (on the menu this year) is an ecstatic experience. I mean hopefully you'll be experiencing ecstasy in other ways, but why not start early, at the dinner table?
Once upon a time, my now-husband, then-boyfriend and I walked to Asti, after he had just proposed. We took a seat inside this modest Italian eatery, ensconced in candlelight and cool, angular decor, sharing a plate of rich linguine and littleneck clams, plus a bottle of champagne just for us. The waitstaff served us something chocolatey and heart-shaped for dessert, and treated us like the king and queen of Hyde Park. It's one of my favorite restaurant memories to date, and a testament to the kind you and your date can make on the calendar day officially slated for love and romance.
Olivia is a delectable little spot any time of day, full of good vibes and farmer's market spoils, but I'm going to recommend it especially for your Valentine's Day brunch. There's a little chicken coop out back that provides the eggs for their glorious eggs florentine, embellished with buttery biscuits and Austin's favorite guilty pleasure, pork belly. Start Valentine's Day here with a hearty meal, and you'll have a whole day's worth of lovin' in you -- knowmsayin'?
While it is true that La Condesa is large and airy, and that their outdoor patio is perfect for cat-calling at stuffy 2nd Streeters on a Friday night, there are also low-lit, cozy booths tucked inside this Mexican gem, perfect for huddling over a shared plate of elotes (their heavenly, cheesy street corn), and taking coy sips of alma blancas: Divine habanero-infused tequila cocktails lined with an hibiscus rose-infused rim, which you just can't help but licking off seductively.
You've heard about it for years, you think you can't afford it, you assume you'll have to wait forever. That's actually all true, but go there anyway. Uchi is place you go to make food memories, to look back fondly one day and let your mouth salivate as it recalls the pleasure of smoked baby yellowtail on your tongue, the scent of wagyu beef wafting to your nose. Just make your Valentine's reservations well, well in advance -- like, if you're reading this, make them now. Possibly for 2014.