Venison at Wink

Foodie Find: Wink Restaurant

Wink, tucked into the corner of a small strip center just off Lamar Boulevard, is a favorite for those who have something to celebrate or who just love perfectly prepared local foods served by warm and friendly staff. The team of Stewart Scruggs and Mark Paul opened the restaurant in 2001, and from the start were committed to serving the best ingredients, beautifully prepared. As a result, the menu at Wink changes daily.

A pioneer in sourcing locally, Wink relies on more than 30 Texas farms, foragers, gardens, dairies and ranches for their seasonal menu. Many of the purveyors are truly local, operating within the city limits of Austin, while others may be a bit farther afield. And part of the wonder of dining at Wink is seeing all the bounty of Texas producers in one place, carefully and creatively prepared. Each night Wink crafts a new menu, featuring the fresh produce, meats, and fish the chefs bring in. From season to season each visit to Wink will bring something new and unexpected.

Hamachi at Wink

Diners have two options for ordering at Wink– a la carte, or the chef’s five- or seven-course tasting menu. Each night’s menu has more than fifteen items starting with soups, salads, and sashimi (each visit we’ve had the hamachi, but it’s never the same dish). Fish and seafood are well-represented, with options ranging from scallops and mussels to fin fish from San Miguel Seafood. Hanger steak, duck breast, and sweetbreads are regular features, as well a local game, including quail, elk, venison, and rabbit.

A first glance at Wink’s menu might leave those with special diets feeling a bit lost, but the fresh preparation of all the dishes means the chefs can accommodate a variety of dietary requirements. We found Wink when I was on a gluten-free diet, and a brief conversation with our server at the start of the meal indicated that nearly everything we considered ordering, from the regular menu and the tasting menu, could easily be prepared without gluten. A vegetarian tasting menu is also on offer, and many dishes can also be made vegan. As the menu boldly pronounces, Wink can handle “any dietary issues as our larder allows.” More importantly, they do it with aplomb and without sacrificing flavor.

Wink Five Course Menu.jpg

It’s difficult to recommend specific dishes at Wink, since the menu changes so frequently. However, on each visit my husband Paul and I have both found the seafood and fish dishes to be outstanding. As mentioned, we have enjoyed the hamachi, and most recently we both loved the scallops, which that night were served with maitake mushrooms, blood oranges, pea shoots and yuzu. The tart-sweet citrus was a fitting complement to the richness of the scallops. And on a birthday visit the arctic char was a standout. In the game department, Paul recently had a venison dish served with sweet potatoes and chard. I rarely eat meat, but his noises of delightful satisfaction forced me to have a bite. As with so many dishes we’ve tried, it was a rich blend of flavors, yet delicately balanced with a tart reduction as a counterpoint.

Venison at Wink

Wink is lovely for a special occasion, though the dining room can be a bit loud. The chef’s tasting menu and the well-regarded wine list are the place to start. Drawing from the full menu, the chef’s tasting is offered in five or seven courses, with a wine pairing option. Full table participation is requested when choosing the tasting menu option. Each tasting selection offers a robust sampling of the full range of Wink’s menu, from the artfully composed salads to the hearty duck, steak, or game dishes, ending with either local cheeses or a house made dessert. On our visit the staff were quite amenable to making a substitution for one dish that didn’t meet our dietary needs.

Save room for dessert, even if you’ve decided to indulge in the tasting menu. While all of the desserts sound like perfection, a memorable ending to the meal is the dessert trio, featuring three from the evening’s selection, and it’s the perfect size for sharing. A must for chocolate lovers is the El Rey chocolate cake, dark and rich and fragrant.


Special occasion tip: Let the reservation staff know you’re celebrating a special occasion. They will prepare a personalized menu, and the kitchen staff will all autograph it at the end of the meal. It’s just an extra special touch that complements the already excellent service.

Parking tip: The lot just in front of the restaurant appears to be quite small, but Wink shares two lots with Whole Earth Provision Co., Tip Top Cleaners, and Wiggy’s Liquors. There is also an elevated lot across the street on the north side of 11th. Plenty of free parking is available.


1014 North Lamar Blvd., Suite E
Austin, Texas 78703


Hours of Operation: Monday-Wednesday; 6 PM – Midnight, Thursday-Saturday 5:30pm – Midnight; Sun Closed

Reservations: Yes, groups four or smaller can reserve via OpenTable

WiFi: No





This review is part of the 2014 Austin Food Blogger Alliance City Guide. A complete list of restaurants included in the guide can be accessed via Citygram or on the AFBA website.

The One with the Rotten Chicken

Almost nothing smells worse than rotten chicken.

Rocking through day two of the Bon Appétit Food Lover’s Cleanse, which, let’s be clear is not really a cleanse, I hit a couple of bumps in the road. We’ll get to the rotten chicken in time.

Smoked salmon bon appetit wmI got up a bit earlier than usual so I could put together the Avocado and Smoked Salmon on Rye Crackers for both of us, and while assembling the little open-faced sandwiches I was hit with some lightheadedness and nearly passed out. I recovered ably after a few minutes and pressed on, managing to forget the lemon wedges (P.S. there’s a lot of lemon required of these recipes). I made my black tea and settled in for a pretty nice breakfast.

So, about that black tea. I’m a coffee drinker. I don’t drink a lot, but I definitely prefer it to tea. But I wasn’t really clear if tea was OK on the cleanse because I couldn’t find a summary of guidelines–like are snacks “allowed” even when they aren’t listed in the meal plan? What can I drink besides water? I decided to look for the cleanse info from previous years and found this link for the guidelines from 2013. Very helpful. So I ate a clementine and a scoche of the chocolate bark that’s for dessert for an afternoon snack.

Roast veg salad bon appetit wmAfter a bit of work and some appointments this morning I was ready for lunch. To be honest I wasn’t looking forward to it so much, since it featured the roasted vegetables from last night and mine weren’t especially roasty. It also featured the Whole Grain Mustard Vinaigrette which was much too oily for my taste. I tend to make my vinaigrette heavier on the acid than the traditional ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid, but this recipe was 4 parts oil (olive and walnut) to acid, with a healthy dose of mustard. Which still didn’t cut the mustard, I mean, the oil. I added a bit more vinegar, but it still didn’t quite work for me. Paul loved it, however!



Red pepper bon appetit wmI really liked the dinner tonight, despite the aforementioned rotten chicken. I made white beans from scratch in the crockpot and hacked away at the herbs and garlic for the chicken, the Red Pepper-Walnut Spread (which is more of a Red Pepper-Pecan Relish), and the White Bean Salad with Pomegranate and Parsley. I got my sides ready while the beets for later in the week roasted in the oven.

I’d decided to roast a whole chicken I bought over the weekend instead of making chicken breasts for the Pan-Roasted Chicken with Red Pepper-Walnut Spread, and I had my thyme-garlic mixture all ready to shove under the skin. I added a little olive oil and salt and pepper to make it sort of a paste.

And then I opened the chicken package. Not. Good. Also, it was like $13 or something, thank you Trader Joe’s Organic!

Fortunately I’d done the shopping for the full week and had some chicken thighs (which I much prefer to breasts anyway) on hand, so the icky chicken was just a minor speed bump. Chicken went into the oven while I broke into the largest pomegranate I’ve ever seen and fended off the stalking dog who wanted both the chicken and the pomegranate. Weirdo.

The dinner came out really well, though I did have to substitute lime for lemon in the bean salad and pecans for the walnuts in the red pepper dish. I’d definitely make the bean salad again, with lemon or lime.

Recipe Testing: Maple Sweet Potato Cakes with Curried Greek Yogurt

Sweet potato cakes sweetened with maple syrup. Recipe from Food52 and FoxesLoveLemons.

A few weeks ago I volunteered to test some recipes from the Food52 site that were part of the Your Most Impressive Dinner Party Side Dish contest, including these sweet potato cakes by FoxesLoveLemons. I thought they might make a nice Thanksgiving side dish, or a possible alternative latke for Hanukkah. I think they work for either of those holidays, or both if you’re doing Thanksgivukkah this year.

While this recipe didn’t win the overall title as most impressive, it was chosen on Food52 as a community favorite, and my headnote (which is a shorter version of this blog post) is published with it. All three people eating Sunday dinner called them a win, and asked me to make them again. I think my sister might have sneaked out with the leftovers.

When I made this recipe as written I had trouble with the cakes scorching and not cooking all the way through. My solution was to make more cakes so that they were thinner and would cook through without burning.

The curried Greek yogurt is an excellent sauce, one that I can see repurposing for many different dishes. The balance of spice with the creamy tang of the yogurt hits all the right notes. I think it would make an excellent base for a curried carrot salad.
My tips for making this recipe are:
  • a bit more salt added to the sweet potato mixture before cooking
  • divide the recipe into 12 cakes
  • add a bit of cooking oil to the pan–cooking spray isn’t sufficient to achieve even browning

Maple Sweet Potato Cakes with Curried Greek Yogurt

Makes 12 cakes

Curried Greek Yogurt

7 ounces 2% Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Maple Sweet Potato Cakes

1 large sweet potato, peeled and shredded
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg
1 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of cinnamon
1/3 cup minced yellow onion
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
Nonstick cooking spray
Cooking oil to coat the skillet

In a small bowl, stir together all ingredients for Curried Greek Yogurt. Set aside.

Place shredded sweet potato in a large bowl and toss with salt. Let stand 5 minutes.

In a second large bowl, whisk together egg, maple syrup, white pepper, paprika, salt and cinnamon. Using your hands, squeeze all excess liquid out of sweet potato; discard liquid. Add sweet potato, onion and breadcrumbs to egg mixture; toss to combine well.

Form sweet potato mixture into 12 cakes. Heat a griddle or large nonstick pan over medium high-heat. Spray griddle with nonstick spray or coat with a thin sheen of cooking oil; place potato cakes on griddle. Cook 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown and crispy on the outside, flattening with spatula as they cook and flipping occasionally. Serve immediately with Curried Greek Yogurt.

So Maybe Don’t Eat This

Pei Wei Spicy ShrimpBetween appointments, I decided to go to Pei Wei Asian Diner for lunch, having read good reviews of their gluten-free menu. I’m not the biggest fan of chain-style Asian food, but I am trying to check out the specifically gluten-free menus around town to see what’s on offer.

At Pei Wei the list turned out to be very brief: apart from edamame and summer rolls, there were a couple of salads and two entrees (Pei Wei Spicy or Sweet and Sour). I went for the Pei Wei Spicy with shrimp, which included carrots and sugar snap peas. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t awful, either, but it was strangely sweet and tangy at the same time. Whatever, I ate my lunch.

Now three hours later I’m still reliving that meal. It’s a don’t. I took a picture, and I really don’t want to share it with you. The unappetizing-ness is evident.

Sadly, Pei Wei’s big brother P.F. Chang’s didn’t offer the greatest gluten-free meal, either. Am I destined to give up Chinese food altogether? And why oh why can’t all soy sauce just be gluten-free?

Also, somebody get on the gluten-free fortune cookie, okay?

Where to Eat–Early October Edition

Where to Eat Austin 102013This last week has been super busy and as a result we’ve eaten out a bit more often than usual. While I normally love trying new places, this gluten-free thing means I have to do a fair bit of research before heading out for a meal. I’m starting to learn (and remember) which restaurants have gluten-free menus and a heightened awareness of the needs of diners with gluten intolerance or celiac.

Maudie’s Tex-Mex

ATX Gluten-Free has been a good resource for GF friendly restaurants, and that’s where I learned that Maudie’s has a special gluten-free menu. Maudie’s has long been a favorite of mine–we used to go there about once a week, either after my Jazzercise (don’t laugh!) class on Thursdays or before Paul’s D&D game (okay, laugh!) on Fridays.

While my usual favorite isn’t on this menu because a flour tortilla is involved, pretty much everything else I like in on it. By which I mean chips and queso. Okay, I do like more than that, but chips and queso is a requirement. I think nearly all of their sauces are GF, including the chili con carne, which I’ve noticed is not GF at all restaurants. The staff are clearly educated about the menu and the needs of diners. My tortillas even came to me marked “gluten-free” on the foil. Good stuff, and glad a favorite can still be standby.

Tärka Indian Kitchen

Tärka is one of the newer places near our neighborhood, and it’s affiliated with one of our favorite “grown-up” restaurants, Clay Pit. They also have a special gluten-free menu that offers a huge number of their usual dishes.

Our go-to dishes are almost always channa masala and saag paneer. And let’s talk about pakoras, because I’ve been missing fried stuff a lot and pakoras dipped in chutney are so crispy and salty and spicy and delicious. Again, the staff are knowledgeable about the gluten-free menu and make sure that gluten things are packed separately from the GF dishes.

East Side Pies

Pizza is another thing I’ve been missing, and I’ve woken in a cold sweat having nightmares about the loss of pizza from my life. Maybe not really, but it’s been close. I’m writing about East Side Pies this time for two reasons: I literally just discovered them this week, and their GF pizza is affordable. There’s another nice GF pizza I’ve tried, Via 313, but it’s cost-prohibitive on a regular basis.

You may think I’ve been living under a rock. I haven’t, but I was living in Uzbekistan, so I deserve a bit of a pass for not being on the East Side bandwagon until now. East Side is known for their large thin-crust slices and creative toppings, including special sauces such as spinach curry and hummus. They use tons of produce from local farms, including our CSA Johnson’s Backyard Garden. But back to the gluten-freeness of it all. East Side gets its crusts from a local company called Smart Flour Foods and I was happily surprised by the texture, flavor, and quality. It’s a thin crust and it bakes up very crispy. As GF bread products go, this one uses mostly whole-grain flours, so it’s a more nutritious alternative than many GF products. The crusts are available in a few local markets, so I’ll be looking for them. Can’t wait to try some grilled pizzas on these!

Do you like this feature? Let me know if I should keep it up periodically!

Sunday Brunch at The Steeping Room

Sunday brunch at The Steeping Room

Sunday we met up with with our longtime friends Mitch and Donna and their darling two-year old Zella. It was great fun to hang out and catch up after a few busy months of not seeing each other. Zella brought her giraffe mask and we played a bit of peekaboo. Only later did I realize I’d been holding the mask upside-down so the giraffe horns were more like fangs. Oops.

Austin is booming with restaurants, and our neighborhood scene exploded in the three years we were away. I’ve nearly had accidents rubbernecking all the new businesses on the main road in our ‘hood, and they just keep coming. We decided to meet at the new-to-us nearby location of The Steeping Room, a place that’s quickly becoming a go-to staple. When The Steeping Room first opened in another part of town it was a wonderful addition with its offerings of scores of tea blends, traditional tea service, and a varied menu with choices from healthy to decadent. Now that it’s closer to our house I suspect we’ll be there with even greater frequency.

One of the reasons I love this place is because the menu is easy to navigate for people with dietary restrictions. I wrote a bit yesterday about the mentality of living without, and what I enjoy about restaurants like The Steeping Room is how they use more than the average amount of kitchen creativity to create beautiful meals that are delicious whether they are meat, vegetarian, or dairy or gluten-free.

While we waited for our friends to arrive, Paul and I started with spiced apricot scones served with jam, fig and port compounded butter, and clotted cream. I’m just starting to learn my way around gluten-free baked goods, and while the flavor of the scones was excellent, they were very crumbly, making it tough to spread the delicious spreads. We made do and polished them off. Paired with a pot of strong Earl Grey, it was a perfect start to our Sunday morning.

On Donna’s recommendation I got the latkes and gravlax, served with sour cream and berry gastrique. Sounds very fancy, and it looks pretty fancy, but it was super comfort food on a drizzly and chilly (by Texas standards, anyway) late September morning. As I sit here I’m thinking about how easy it would be to make a similar dish at home, though I’m not quite sure I’ll replicate the jasmine tea-cured gravlax.

When we eat tempting and delightful foods like this I don’t feel like I’m living without. I feel happy and lucky to have so many fabulous options just down the street.