When Reina Morris relocated to Texas from Argentina in 1997, she quickly impressed new friends with the Argentinean dishes that she brought to dinner parties?in particular, the desserts. That conversational praise inspired her to hone her skills by enrolling at the Texas Culinary Academy. Today, she's the owner and head chef of the award-winning Buenos Aires Caf?, where she earns adoration for puff pastry layered with housemade dulce de leche or rolled strawberry cake laced with Kahlua and coffee. "Morris' pastries, the likes of which are found nowhere else in Austin, are delicacies worth every calorie," wrote Claudia Alarc?n for the Austin Chronicle.
Morris also creates savory recipes as unique and flavorful as her last courses. She fills empanadas with spiced beef and raisins, forms gnocchi from scratch with pumpkin and cinnamon or cilantro and jalape?o, and fashions small plates of tapas for the happy-hour crowd to enjoy with glasses of wine poured into glasses or feedbags. On a whim, she'll concoct specials such as wild-mushroom-stuffed quail with cheddar-bacon grit cakes and broiled tomato. The kitchen stays stocked with organic produce and hormone-free beef and pork from local farmers, ensuring that the dishes are as fresh as they are ready to give directions to the interstate.
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At Lake Travis Wine Trader, the title of Big Wino is one to be celebrated. Every six weeks, the combination wine store and bar clears its space for the Big Winos event, a guided tasting of six luxury wines. This regular gathering is just one of the steps the store takes toward fostering a warm, welcoming atmosphere and demystifying the wine-tasting process. On any day of the week, wine experts Lori and George are on hand to pour 30 wines by the glass, or help customers navigate a hand-picked gallery of more than 1,000 hard-to-find and boutique small-batch bottles. The bar also explores the world of wine throughout the week with events such as wine dinners and walk-in Saturday tastings. Knowing that tasting wine works up appetites that can't be sated with fistfuls of peanut butter, the bar also curates a menu of small plates such as gourmet cheeses, marinated meatballs, and breakfast tacos.
Zack's American Bistro is always changing. The restaurant's atmosphere shifts throughout the day, from a casual family spot?complete with an outdoor playground for wait-averse kids?in the early hours to a dinner scene that's boisterous in the evening yet quiet and romantic later in the night. Its food, meanwhile, adheres to the seasons, unlike a snow-globe souvenir from the Florida Keys. Thankfully, chef-owner Bryan Cromwell and executive chef Brian Milne can handle whatever the restaurant demands of them.
They rule an open kitchen that allows guests to watch as their food is cooked, which makes for a lively atmosphere tuned to the fast-paced meal preparation. Although their environs might be modern, the chefs are guided by an old-fashioned sensibility and an appreciation for seasonal and Texas-produced ingredients. These fresh components go into dishes such as filet of sole stuffed with crab, chicken corn chowder, hearty house-ground Texas beef burgers, and crispy thin-crust pizzas loaded with eclectic toppings and red, white, or barbecue sauce. Roughly 25 wines by the bottle and a brief but robust selection of local craft brews complement the spread.
Lauded as a 'Neighborhood Gem' by its diners on OpenTable, Eleven Plates' chef Dom Labeaud has elevated the trend of small plates to new heights with twists on contemporary American dishes. This inventiveness is evident in the seared diver scallops, a dish punctuated with grilled corn, spanish chorizo, corn-nut dust, and citrus aioli, which was described in Delicious Mischief as "far more creative, and?more satisfying? than typical takes on the seafare. Inside the dining room, bottles of wine stacked horizontally fill shelves on a wall that faces out toward dark, wooden tables and rich leather chairs, and patterned wallpaper lines the walls above the curving bar. Eleven Plates also serves lunch, offering dishes such as redfish lettuce wraps and caprese sandwiches.
While the heart of Johnny Carino's menu is rooted in genuine Italian traditions, forward-thinking creativity has birthed what they like to call their signature dishes. Led by executive chef Chris Peitersen, the seasoned kitchen staff blends fresh ingredients along with extra time to create high-quality, spiced Italian preparations. Diners will find entrees such as 16-layer lasagna with made-from-scratch sauce, and pizzas made with home-baked crust. Other signature choices include the spicy shrimp and chicken, baked stuffed mushrooms topped with house lemon basil cream sauce, and tiramisu made from the ground up. Entrees can be paired any selection from Carino's extensive wine list and drink menu.
Glowing chandeliers scatter light across the sheer copper drapes that frame Pakwan Restaurant's 96-seat dining room, which is sheathed in spice-hued fabrics suggestive of the sumptuous cuisine emerging from the kitchens. Guests dig into aromatic plates of authentic Indian cuisine, from traditional curries and tandoori to village-style vegetable dishes and kebabs marinated in yogurt and special spices. Executive chef Laila Prasla and her crew utilize traditional Indian cooking methods, stirring authentic ingredients such as desi ghee—clarified butter—into entrees before sliding them onto hand-crafted copper vessels and sending them off to the dining room. Behind a black-topped bar, Pakwan's resident mixologist concocts taste-bud-tantalizing "molecular" cocktails, which offer a fresh spin on traditional bar drinks. Those opting for a bar beverage will also be gifted with four complimentary snacks to prep human food processors for main-course meals.