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Dining Picks

Top dining picks for November: Sophistication, coffee spots and Southern comfort

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Steak and marrow from Max's Wine Dive Courtesy of Max's Wine Dive
Austin Photo Set: dupuy_where to eat nov_2012_congress
Congress Restaurant Photo by Casey Dunn
Austin Photo Set: News_Jessica dupuy_fine dining_jan 2012_congress dining room
Congress dining room Photo by Casey Dunn
Austin Photo Set: dupuy_where to eat nov_2012_maxs wine dive
Austin Photo Set: dupuy_where to eat nov_2012_congress
Austin Photo Set: News_Jessica dupuy_fine dining_jan 2012_congress dining room
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin_Cenote_may 2012_exterior
Austin Photo Set: News_Caitlin_Cenote_may 2012_coffee

Our picks for where to eat in November run the gamut from coffee house favorites to Southern comfort dreams and sparkling special occasions. You’ll even find a spot for a Hill Country weekend escape.

Cenote
East Side coffee spot

In its convenient location on East Cesar Chavez, Cenote has fast become a popular drop in spot for morning coffee, lunch, afternoon snacks, late night relaxing and everywhere in between. Cool green interior walls and functional square table seating make an inviting indoor dining space, while the spacious front lawn has fantastic patio and picnic table seating.

I’m always a fan of coffeehouses serving locally-roasted Cuvée coffee, but Cenote's homemade chai tea rich with warm spices and a silky smooth finish is worth a try. For breakfast, nothing satiates better than a Grande Grilled Breakfast Burrito brimming with Coyote Creek Farm scrambled eggs, thick-cut Flying Pig Bacon, potatoes and melted cheese. (Chorizo or avocado are also an option.)

And while you can order from the breakfast menu all day long, the strawberry fields salad with the addition of mango, carrots and a tangy cilantro lime vinaigrette makes a lovely light lunch, while the Texas-size turkey avocado sandwich on multi-grain artisan toast with sliced tomato and creamy chipotle aioli more than hits the spot.

Congress
Special occasion dining

An evening at Congress is no regular weekday affair. As Chef/partner David Bull intended with this crisply elegant fine dining concept, this restaurant is ideal for special occasions. So, on my recent wedding anniversary, my husband and I treated ourselves to such an occasion — and special it was, indeed.

The austere yet comfortable dining room offers an inviting warmth and the hushed verve of quiet conversation among guests throughout. Service is white-glove and impeccable. And the food? Well, depending on your tastes, it’s really quite exquisite.

We’re still dreaming of a long strip of crispy pork belly crusted with whiskey bacon marmalade as well as an espresso-rubbed prime ribeye cap with smoked caramel and potato purée. But Bull also showed his skill at delicacy with dishes such as poached lobster with seabeans and radish salad, and a creative spin on sheep’s milk cheese three ways served with a bitter orange sauce and juniper salt.

All the while, you’re likely to hear an eclectic mix of classic rock tunes from the likes of Neil Young, U2 and Fleetwood Mac. You can order from the extensive wine list, or simply trust the pros and ask for the pairing selections along with the tasting menu. With wines such as Ziliken Estate Riesling (2009) and Pepperbridge Merlot (2008) from Washington state, you won’t regret it.

Max’s Wine Dive
Fall seasonal specials

Max’s has fast become known as a restaurant that can solidly deliver “dressed up” comfort food with a diverse selection of delicious — and affordable — wines. If you’ve ever tasted the fried chicken with chipotle honey, then you know why. (The fried egg sandwich is pretty darn good as well.)

But having recently dined here for a wine pairing dinner, I think it may just be that Max’s chef Erica Beneke is one of the most under-rated/appreciated chefs in town. Sure, she can dish out the classics that made this restaurant famous on a daily basis, but you’d do yourself a favor to dig deeper into her seasonal menus. Take her new fall menu, for instance.

You’ll find items such as quinoa risotto with caramelized sweet potatoes and rosemary pesto, beer-braised pork cheek with tomato chutney and crispy Worcestershire grits, and a roasted game hen with applewood-smoked bacon stuffing with sweet potato butter and cranberry gastrique that makes Thanksgiving dinner look just plain boring.

Sure, you’ll probably break your holiday diet regiment three times over by sampling the Max’s menu, but if you’re going to make the sacrifice, you may as well do it here.


Cabernet Grill, Fredericksburg
Off the beaten path

If you’re looking for a Texas-sized meal in the heart of the Hill Country, stop into the Cabernet Grill just outside of Fredericksburg. Here, chef/owner Ross Burtwell uses a smattering of local ingredients to inspire a menu that reflects the bold flavors of the Lone Star state with menu items ranging from Black Diamond buffalo enchiladas with green chile crema, sesame seared Gulf red snapper with ginger-basil vinaigrette, or grilled jalapeño-stuffed quail.

It’s also the only place in the state devoted exclusively to an all-Texas wine menu giving diners a chance to truly taste Texas terroir. Keep your eyes out on their website for special Texas wine maker vintner dinners featuring specific Texas wineries showcasing their wines with a paired menu.

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