A handful of low-lit, soft music-playing places in Austin to take your honey. I dare you not to make out after dinner -- even if you've both had garlic.
The less pricy version of its big sister restaurant next door (Vespaio), Enoteca places a focus on farm-fresh vegetables and herbs, that atop warm, crunchy pizzas, arrabbiata sauce-laden pasta, and peak out of your leafy salad. Just like regular Vespaio, there's also an extensive wine program here, and that's always good for date night.
Sandra Bullock's Austin eatery is an underground (literally) outfit that feels like an old French tavern. High-backed wooden booths complement the space's preserved brick arches and iron railings, and portions here are generous enough to split with your honey, Lady and the Tramp style. Demure eaters will like the Pan-Seared Scallops with pea risotto, while meat-spearing carnivores will be delighted by the "Steak Frites," a 10 oz. hanger steak served with parmesan-laced french fries.
With the windy staircase (to nowhere?) at the front door, the cozy little booths, and the charming textured ceiling tiles, walking into this SoCo eatery feels like you're momentarily ducking into Florence. There's also a gorgeous courtyard out back, and the food is straightforward Italian: Good for dates who like to play it safe culinary-wise.
To be fair, any seat at this cozy bistro is a good seat -- but on a sunny, cool day, please make it a point to head to the the small courtyard out back, where huge palm fronds sway in the breeze, lights twinkle overhead, and neighborhood kitties stop by to say hello.
The slight undertone of bawdy, lascivious behavior is what makes Justine's so much more than another French restaurant. The food is marvelous (I've been legitimately turned on by their Salad Nicoise, and when can you say that about salad?), but that's not really why I want you to go. I want you to go because this is a place where it feels like anything could happen: Strangers could kiss, a verbal brawl could ensue, a senator could get caught with his mistress. Or you could just have dinner, and save your naughtiness for later.
Like a miniature post-war Vienna ballroom, complete with a stage for gypsy jazz bands and just a few steampunk decor touches (welded by owner Mickie Danae herself), East Side Show Room is worth the wait. Cocktails are pricy but impeccable, and the goat meatballs (served with arugula, tomato sauce, and a fried egg) are a little plate of savory, salty magic.
Deep down in the history vault of east Austin, there lies proof that Hillside Farmacy was, indeed, once a pharmacy (the "ph" kind). Which makes the throwback feel appropriate: The atmosphere is 1920s-feeling restaurant with tiny white tiles all over the walls, and dishes include boutique American/continental fare, like mac n' cheese carbonara (the classic with upscale touches like pancetta and mornay sauce). Order their Wasabi Bloody Mary, which is Asian spicy and yummy.
A sweet and petite restaurant that a culinary-pedigreed couple (him from TRIO, she from Jeffrey's) opened up earlier in 2012, Lenoir probably seats 30 people, max. And that's just the way they like it: Each dish on their prix fixe menu is so lovingly crafted and tasty, like the roasted antelope -- so tender it'll bring a tear to your eye.
For much of this list I've told you about atmosphere, and the atmosphere at Buenos Aires -- mahogany-heavy, airy, and romantically dim -- is delightful. But I also want to tell you that Buenos Aires is one of the few places in town where you can get gnocchi, and this dish you won't want to share. Mixed with sweet potatoes and jalapenos, it's a small plate that your lover will just have to drool over. But maybe they can get a taste when you kiss 'em goodnight.