Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Trattoria Lisina

13308 FM 150 West
Driftwood, TX 78619


Happy Birthday to me! Happy Birthday to me! I'll spare everyone since we all know how the song ends. I had a Monday birthday this year. Usually, when I think of a birthday that falls on the first day of the work week, I wonder "How can anyone properly enjoy it?" You've got to deal with all of the things that go along with a Monday. For me, that means meetings, a flood of email messages that I just don't have enough time to review, and a sudden case of amnesia regarding what I was working on last week and what I should be working on this week. Looking down the barrel of trying to enjoy a birthday while all of that was going on certainly seems daunting to me. But, it turned out to be a great day. I was flooded with a ton of warm wishes throughout the day, Austin drew me a great picture of an alien robot as a present, and Mariah and my friend Tiffany took me out to dinner at Primizie. All of that made it real easy to enjoy a birthday on the most surly days of the week.

However, I did receive an early Birthday present of sorts a few days before that put me in the right mood for a Monday Birthday. A young lady that I've been dating as of late called and said that she wanted to take me out to dinner. What's more, she thought that she had found a place in town that I've never been to before, and was excited about introducing me to it. Well, what was I to say? I certainly couldn't turn down an offer like that so I agreed.

Saturday night rolled around, and my date (let's call her Ms. Psychologist) and I headed out. Oh, and she even volunteered to drive so I had one less thing I had to worry about. That was cool. Anyhow, we headed out and she drove south. Then, she drove south some more. Just when I thought she was done driving south, Ms. Psychologist kept driving south. She explained to me on the way there that we were going out to the Mandola Winery to do a tour of the place, and then afterwards have dinner at the restaurant nearby. It sounded pretty cool, and I was looking forward to the birthday dinner date.

When I said that we drove south, I meant it. The Mandola Estates are out in Driftwood, not too terribly far away from the Salt Lick actually. We turned onto the property and it looked very nice. Not quite what I was expecting a winery to look like. I guess I was really expecting a much larger plot of land than the 20 acres the winery was on, but it still was very nice.

Apparently, my innate lateness caused us to arrive late so we had to hurry to make the last tour of the evening. We scurried through a little courtyard with a very rustic Italian feel to it and got to the winery just in time to find out that the tour was cancelled due to a staff shortage. Major bummer. But, in lieu of the tour, we were offered a tasting of all of their wines for free. Not being able to pass up a deal like that, we readily sampled the selection of local Texas wines. I have to say that I was pretty impressed with the tasting. The winery maintains a good selection of wines. I was really dazzled by the Canto Felice, a blended wine that we were told was the estates' attempt at a dessert wine.

I saw several shelves of gourmet foods and interesting wine gadgets. So, I busied myself after the tasting by checking it all out. I wasn't half way through my browsing when Ms. Psychologist came back and said that they were running a wine tour after all. She wanted to know if I was still interested in doing it since we had plenty of time before our dinner reservations.

The tour was pretty damn interesting, and I learned quite a bit despite being a homebrewer of wine myself. Our guide explained the various containers they had for storing and aging wine. We also learned about the different machines they had for peeling, destemming, and crushing grapes. Somewhere between the aging room and the fermentation room, I even found a stash of some pretty awesome crackers they put out to cleanse our palates. I think the absolute most interesting part of the tour, however, was the very moment that Ms. Psychologist and myself realized that that we had joined a special tour that had been arranged by the others we had joined. As a matter of fact, it was this very private tour that had caused the staff shortage resulting in the normal public tour getting cancelled. I'm pretty sure that a lesser man in this situation probably would have stopped snacking on the awesome crackers set out for the private event. But not I.

The weather was great and after crashing a private tour, we still found ourselves with an hour or so before dinner reservations. Well, what else were we to do but sit out under the stars with a couple glasses of wine? The ground, at least, between the restaurant and the winery were well maintained. A little courtyard with a fountain seemed to be the focal point of the area. Off to the side of the restaurant, a group of kids played in what I thought was a Bocci ball court. I wasn't entirely sure, but I did notice that they were having lots of fun and that just spoke volumes for the family atmosphere of this place. Anyhow, Ms. Psychologist and I enjoyed the time, took a couple of pictures, and chatted quite a bit.

But, then it was time to get the show on the road. Our dinner reservations were up. I'm always excited about checking out an new Italian restaurant, and being here at Trattoria Lisina was no different. First walking in, the restaurant was quite warm and inviting with lots of energy. The multitude of stone work in the architecture of the building really gave it a very rustic feel.

We were seated by a hostess who seemed to smile waaaaay to much. Both of us discussed her overly excessive smiling at length. Those kinds of discussions can be quite fun when you're talking to a psychologist. Anyhow, we chatted until we were introduced to our waiter, a friendly guy with just enough stories to keep you entertained, but not enough where you got really sick of him.

I'm sure that I'll get some weird looks for this one, but even being on a winery estate, we opted not to order any wine with dinner. Hey...We had just tasted everything they had to offer. Besides, we were out celebrating my birthday...and I had a rare night with no parental obligations. There were going to be drinks later. Anyhow, our waiter explained that they offer fresh ravioli every day, but today we were lucky enough that the Osso Bucco Ravioli was on the menu. I didn't need to hear any more. That's what I got while my date ordered the Linguine allo Scoglio. Together, we ordered the escarole and polenta as a side dish, but a quick review of our hunger level had us ask that it be brought out first.

True to his word, our waiter has the escarole delivered first, and damned quickly at that. It was awesome---easily my most favorite dish of the night. I was surprised at the Osso Bucco Ravioli. It had a very good, complex flavor as Osso Buccu should, but I was disappointed that the consomme that it was served with was cold. I felt that served at least slightly warm, it would have done wonders for the experience of the dish. My date's linguine, however, was outstanding in every aspect. I loved that not one component of the dish's seafood medley seemed over-pronounced in the slightest.

We had a couple more stories and laughs with our waiter before we headed out and enjoyed a little more starlight before driving back to Austin to finish celebrating a birthday. Great food, great wine, and great company. That's all I need to properly celebrate getting older.

Mariah's Note: I have been to Trattoria Lisina and wasn't quite as impressed as Lee was. I thought the winery's building, done in blend of Texas Hill Country and Tuscan renaissance looked a little too new. The interior of the restaurant was open and rather sterile. What I would expect at a Macaroni Grill, not at a wine estate. I guess I was expecting an intimate and charming wine restaurant experience. What I got felt less authentic and more mass produced.

I found the food to be good and fairly authentic to what I've eaten in Italy but not exceptional. They do break the menu into the traditional 1st, pasta course, and 2nd, meat course, and from what I understand, they rotate the menu fairly frequently. But to be honest, I have been just as happy with the food at Mandola's and I don't have to drive as far.

Lee - 8.5
Mariah - 8