#FoodieFriday: Oh, My! Austin’s OP Wine Bar

by By Julie Tereshchuk on June 10, 2016 in Food, Living Texas, Austin,

“Who eats in a hotel restaurant?” Well, if you’re in Austin, and you’re downtown at the JW Marriott, then you better be eating in the OP Wine Bar recently and oh-so-smartly tucked next to the hotel’s Osteria Pronto restaurant. If you don’t, then you’re missing out. So, forget the old stereotypes and treat yourself to a dining experience that gives Austin’s standalone food and wine bars a robust run for their money.

Of course, it’s not all about the carefully chosen wine pairings and exquisitely prepared Italian cuisine—you can either order from the OP’s own abbreviated bar menu, or, as we did, from the full Osteria Pronto restaurant menu. Either way, the dishes come from the adjacent open kitchen. (No hiding the food prep behind closed doors here.)

The atmosphere is very relaxed and inviting. Photo courtesy of JW Marriott
The atmosphere is very relaxed and inviting. Photo courtesy of JW Marriott

However, as we were saying, it’s not all about the menu. Service and atmosphere play a major part in the overall experience. And, on a busy Friday evening, the OP aced it. Our two bartenders were knowledgeable, not snooty; welcoming, not creepy; and attentive, not hovering. From our perch at the 14-seater bar (interestingly outfitted with both purse hooks and power outlets), we had a good view of the swirling mass of human activity that marks an early Friday evening in a busy downtown Austin hotel lobby. The ebb and flow provided great people watching, yet never invaded the tranquil OP Wine Bar. If fighting your way to the bar and having to yell at your server to order dinner is your idea of the perfect way to eat out, you should consider skipping the OP.

Glance away from the lobby, and you’ll soon see some of the attention to detail and thoughtful investment showing how serious the folks at the JW Marriott are about everything in this wine bar. Curious diners that we are, we were intrigued by the constant motion of the shiny Berkel hand-cranked prosciutto slicer that we could easily watch as it slid back and forth, creating what our group later attested to being delectable, wafer-thin slices.

These opening bites set a wonderful tone for what was to come next. Photo by Julie Tereshchuk
These opening bites set a wonderful tone for what was to come next. Photo by Julie Tereshchuk

So, we went big and had the full dinner and wine experience, which was gently guided by our bartenders. From the all-Italian antipasti platter, with its Prosciutto Cotta, Speck and Prosciutto de Parma nestled alongside three melt-in-the-mouth Gorgonzola dolce, Parmesan reggiano and Talleggio, we dallied with some chili-marinated gulf shrimp (a light touch on the marinade preserved the delicate seafood’s flavor) and calamari paired with rock shrimp. A northern Italian Ceretto Arneis Blange made for a light, summery companion to our appetizers.

After splitting a caprese salad paired with the only Napa Valley wine of the night, a crisp Markham Sauvignon Blanc, we struggled not to fall like starving wolves on two pasta dishes that were the highlight of the night for some of our party: the artfully named Straw & Hay, a duet of creamily sauced noodles—think carbonara—topped with a soft boiled egg (pictured above), and cheese ravioli (pea, ricotta, wild mushrooms). The Coppo L’Avvocata Barbera d’Asti wine pairing got high marks for this northern Italian red’s balance of acidity and dryness.

Although the meat eater in our group would have loved to try the bone-in veal picatta, by this stage of the meal we had to split an entree. A rich sea bass soon banished any other thoughts, especially as the sipping choice was a Merlot blend, the Tuscan Gaja Ca’Marcanda Promis.

The lemon tart was a perfect way to close out the meal. Photo by Julie Tereshchuk
The lemon tart was a perfect way to close out the meal. Photo by Julie Tereshchuk

Putting all thought of moderation aside, we relished the caramelized lemon tart, a fitting close to the meal as it was expertly paired with a Fattoria Selvapiana Chianti Rufina dessert wine.

Whether you’re dropping in for an appetizer and a beer, a glass of wine, or a wine flight; or having the full dinner and wine experience that we did, be sure to try the JW Marriott Austin’s OP Wine Bar, an excellent addition to the Capitol City’s downtown dining scene.