Reservations of Choice

Valentine's Day Dining Ideas

The Vietnamese Picnic

A different viewpoint to finding a secluded, intimate dining locale in Austin is that no sane couple would venture anywhere near any restaurant on Valentine's night for fear of interminably long waits and overloaded kitchens and staff. Yet we still don't want to suffer the indignity of having to prepare our own romantic dinner at home, with the requisite cleanup hovering over our heads, distracting us from the promise of post-feast, frisky frivolity. Here's an option you might not have considered:

In the afternoon, after claiming intestinal flu to get away from work early, load up an ice chest and scoot by Central Market and grab some flowers, and a nice bottle or two of Champagne, Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc. Proceed north to Fortune Pho 75 (5501 N. Lamar) for an order of the delicious No.56 (Bun Xao Tom Ga Bo - vermicelli with mixed meats and lemongrass, $5.50), and don't forget the Nuoc Cham dressing and a side of chile sauce.

Hop back in the cruiser, and continue north to Ba Le Bakery (8624 N. Lamar) where you'll get a few of their incredible items. You'll need a No.8 (Goi Du Du -- sesame beef jerky and green papaya salad, $4.50), a Banh Mi Ga or two (shredded chicken sandwich, $2.50), and a baguette of their superior French Bread. You might also want to get some dessert here. They have wonderful croissants for a buck each, or for the more authentic and adventurous, Xuong Xa Hat Liu (a parfait of chestnut, mung bean, coconut, and Jell-O, which comes pre-packaged).

Head south about 75 yards in the same parking lot to Saigon Market and Deli (8610 N. Lamar), where you'll secure a slab of their ethereal Char Siu Roast Pork ($6.50 per lb., and get it sliced). This will be devoured with the baguette. If there are any left when you get there, do not leave without an order of Banh Xeo (coconut milk crepe with shrimp, pork, and sprouts, $3). This will come with cilantro and lettuce leaves, which you wrap around the crepe and dip into Nuoc Cham sauce -- a real taste treat. Grab a small tub of sweet pickled ginger for an after-dinner breath freshener, and you're ready for the picnic.

Four quick, sequential stops within 30 to 45 minutes: much less time than you would spend waiting in line at any restaurant. You have all your flowers, food, drink, and dessert (and the utensils, napkins, flower vase, wine glasses, and corkscrew, of course), so now all you need is the perfect spot.

The view of sunset from Mt. Bonnell is hard to beat, but schlepping all this stuff up the steps might work up a sweat. Instead, grab a couple of lawn chairs (or a blanket), a boom box and some mood music, and drive to the end of Perry Lane. When you get to the top of the hill, hang a left onto Ridge Oak Drive, the site of the city's underground Highland Park Reservoir, and you've got much the same view as you would from Mt. Bonnell, without all the stairs to climb. If the weather is funky and rainy, find a deserted parking garage with a view of downtown or the capitol building and drive up to the floor just below the top level. You're out of the weather, all alone (unless an intrusive security guard happens by), and have a view to match. Don't fight the crowds -- get your Vietnamese picnic to go and bliss out with your sweetheart al fresco.

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