312 Barton Springs Rd
I wanted to post this last week (when I actually went to the restaurant), but I’ve been holed up in bed for a week and a half with a killer sore throat. Sorry for the tardiness. Anyway, last Saturday I went on date with a nice gentleman (I know, me on a date!). Since we had already established that I was the resident foodie, I was left to pick the restaurant. The only guidelines I were given were it had to be mid-priced, in south Austin, and American cuisine was preferable. Those restrictions immediately left of some of my favorite south Austin hang outs: Mars, Havana, Guerros, Vespaio, and Maudes. So really the only options left were So Co Café, Zax, Freddies, and Threadgills. Now we can argue all day about Threadgills, but I don’t particularly like the food there. I had been to Freddie’s recently (read the review), and I couldn’t convince him on So Co Café, so we were left with Zax Pints & Plates.
To be honest, Zax is a great place for a first date. Its easy to find (if you’re being a good first dater and meeting at the restaurant), the food is reasonable priced, there is a good drink selection (because you can’t go on a first date without consuming some alcohol to calm your nerves), and its well lit (if your date turns out to be a creep). The ambiance really is nice - hard wood floors, white walls, big windows, and nice vaulted ceilings. If it’s warm out, they have a nice secluded outdoor patio.
My date, being the wine snob, decided on a bottle of Pepi Pinot Grigio. I did take a gander at the wine and beer list and noticed it was surprisingly small for a place that had “& Pints” in its name. But the small selection was well rounded and reasonable priced. Plus, most of the beers offered are on draft instead of bottled, which honestly does make for a better glass of beer. This time though we stuck to wine. I wish we had picked the beer though. The wine was VERY tart. But after a couple of glasses, I didn’t seem to care. Besides I was on a date, who rates the wine when they have such beguiling company to keep them occupied?
The menu at Zax is like its beverage list, small but well rounded. There are a couple of appetizers, a couple of soups, quesadillas, burgers, pizza, a few entrees, and a couple of pasta dishes. On previous jaunts to Zax, I have had the Crab Cakes, which are nice plump offerings of fresh crab, the Grilled Polenta, grilled polenta triangles covered in a creamy blue cheese, and the slightly chewy and disappointing Calamari. This time my date and I opted to drink out appetizer in the Pepi Pinot Grigio. I think the waitress assumed we weren’t going to order because we had both gone through 2 glasses before she came to take our dinner order. I went with the Seared Sea Scallops. To be honest, I was getting a little buzzed at that point (2 glasses of wine and no food!) and I totally don’t remember what my date ordered. I THINK it was the Mediterranean Tilapia, but he turned out not to be a food sharer so I didn’t get a chance to taste his meal. I got the impression he didn’t like whatever he ordered mostly because he told me he didn’t later in the evening.
Our dinner arrived quickly (or what seemed like quickly in my buzzed state). The scallops were firm, slightly chewy and well cooked, not the tender, tasty morsels I would have liked. They were rather unremarkable and tasteless. The polenta, however, was really awesome. It was covered in a creamy goat cheese and some sort of red pepper sauce. It had a nice texture and finish, and was really the star of the dish. The green beans were cooked perfectly - firm and green beany (really, what else can I say about green beans).
We ate and talked and laughed. I even managed a sleeve touch or two, just to show I was interested (hey, Cosmo says you have to bridge the physical gap on a first date). When we were finished we went to Alamo South for our evening entertainment: the Master Pancake Theater’s bashing of the Breakfast Club. And Master Pancake Theater did not disappoint. They transformed a truly awful 80’s movie into something fun and watch-able (I don’t want to get any disparaging e-mails about my hatred of the Breakfast Club – it’s not a generationally defining movie, it’s just bad, period).
Bottom Line: Good place for a first date