Driving for Salad

There's not much a drive in the car can't fix.

It gives you time and space to think. Or to think of nothing. A change of landscape to inspire creativity. Plenty of time to dig deep into conversation. Or sit quietly and watch the world go by. The bonus of a trip in the car means you can also experience a road filled with bold new flavors.

Because Austin is so close and has such a vibrant food scene, we play hooky about once a month or so and head 70 miles north where we eat, shop and revel in the "weirdness" of the Lone Star State's capitol city. In less than an hour from San Antonio, the world looks (and tastes) a lot different. And it is. And, for that, we are grateful.

A recent visit to Austin served to commemorate the arrival of an outpost of one of our favorite restaurants in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In mid-February, Vinaigrette, a snappy and hip salad-centric spot conveniently located across from Santa Fe's famous Railyard, launched their first Texas location and we had to check it out. 

Maybe you remember the Mostly Kale Caesar Salad I make which was adapted using Vinaigrette's recipe. Though they only use kale for their salad, I incorporate Romaine for much needed crunch factor. The addition of delectably salty and oily Marcona almonds makes the dish even more memorable, while my addition of Parmesan crisps replaces traditional croutons--without any gluten. This glorious salad was the harbinger to our 2013 trip to Santa Fe and, once we returned home, I shared "10 Reasons to Visit Santa Fe."

Because Santa Fe is one of our all-time favorite places to visit--and Vinaigrette one of our top eateries, I have been waiting patiently ever since I heard an Austin location was on its way. This is the third location for Vinaigrette, the second location is in New Mexico's capital city, Albuquerque. (Do you see the capitol city connection in the two states?)

As you would expect, the Austin venue is as quirky and cool and the food (and quality) is just as good as Santa Fe. Situated on South Congress near Oltorf, this location befittingly replicates the original earthy and friendly vibe Vinaigrette is known for. From the stucco exterior to the sunny and light interior, the warmth envelopes you as you walk in. Welcoming and inviting, the splashes of green and orange are emblematic of the wholesome philosophy.
Owner Erin Wade has a farm in Nambe, New Mexico, where she grows much of the ingredients used in her two neighboring restaurants. True to her sustainable philosophy and style, Wade bought a farm in Bastrop, Texas, where she is growing produce for the Austin location.
The expansive patio is built around a 500-year-old tree that is a stunning statement piece. The teak Kingsley-Bates tables and chairs were comfortable and added another elevated touch to the outdoor space. Surrounded by greenery--in ground, in pots and built-in containers, the nurturing environment made us forget we were sitting outside along the bustling street of South Congress.
Because of my affinity for beets, I ordered The Beet Goes On with scallops. Loaded with fresh baby greens and arugula, the salad features generous servings of diced red and golden beets, crumbles of tangy goat cheese and lots of buttery, toasted pistachios. The honey-balsamic dressing brought the salad together and the seared scallops lent just enough protein and luxuriousness to make this a thoroughly memorable meal.
Like all good men at a salad restaurant, David was lured by the salty salami and savory roast chicken in the Chop Chop and he was in heaven. Chopped crisp Romaine lettuce is tossed liberally with tomato, red bell pepper, chickpeas and thick slices of provolone, along with strips of salami and chopped chicken. The creamy balsamic dressing adds a rich and manly appeal.
The only miss during our visit was the side of seasonal veggies. In early March, seasonal vegetables would likely include broccoli, carrots, beets, sugar snap peas, cabbage, spring onions and/or potatoes. On this day, we were served sauteed yellow squash and zucchini with bell peppers, onions and oregano. Even though it was well prepared and seasoned, I was disappointed in vegetables that seemed more appropriate for summer. 
While we didn't need the dessert, in deference to our full commitment to proper and thorough research and development, we decided to order a slice of the flourless chocolate torte. Being gluten-free, we are always curious to see and taste other people's sweet concoctions. Though the slice appeared wimpy upon arrival at the table, it was exactly the opposite. A few bites of this rich, decadent and unctuous dark chocolate cake smeared into the raspberry sauce on the plate was all we needed for the sweet ending we always want without excess sugar.

Knowing there is a Vinaigrette in Austin means I will likely be finding more reasons to play hooky and head north for the day. Maybe we can skip out together and celebrate our daring ways.
Because a drive in the car--and a stupendous salad--will make any day a foolproof day.

Buen provecho!
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