When: Tuesday, April 21st, 2009
I didn't really think there would be any perks in taking up a hobby like food blogging. Little did I know that the "media" actually gets a pretty good hook-up. Well, the Austin food bloggers have been treated well, anyway. So far we (the food bloggers) have had invites to Uchi, Trio, III Forks, Fino, and now Parkside. And those are just the ones I've heard about. However due to my strenuous work schedule Parkside was the first happy hour I was able to attend. Claire and I both agreed that we are going to go out of our way to make it to this particular happy hour, even if I had to adjust my schedule to do so.
Claire and I both commented during SXSW how cool Parkside looked. This was our chance to scope it out inexpensively, having to pay only for beverages. Prior to this happy hour, I had not heard about Parkside in detail, but I had gotten the general vibe that it was a hip place with a talented young chef and a great raw food menu. That vibe was accurate - not only that, but Chef Shawn Cierkiel has got the chops to make Parkside a mainstay on 6th street and in Austin. I also have to compliment the bartender mixing for the party. She was super friendly, knew here stuff, and made me forget why I usually hate the elbowing and maneuvering it takes to order drinks at bars. I don't think I ever caught her name, but she was great. The rest of the staff was always wearing a smile and cleaning up used dishes as we ate. Service was spot on.
The setting upstairs really made me want to check out the actual dining room sometime on a date night. The bar didn't disappoint either. The "Strawberry Sunshine" was a delicious strawberry take on a martini, and at only $4 dollars during happy hour it made a great summer drink (I know, it's only April). It was fresh, fruity, and perfectly sweet. Of course, we didn't discover the drink until the end of our meal, but now we know for next time. Since we were both nervous about meeting fellow bloggers we took full advantage of happy hour. With a pleasant rooftop deck, superb service, and a cool atmosphere Parkside has created a great dining experience.
The combination of great service and solid food might even lead me to go as far as to say Parkside could revitalize sixth street into looking more like fourth or second. Meaning, we could see an uprising of unique, inventive, creative, and delicious eateries spring up around Parkside. Parkside is holding an Ace in it's picket: dessert chef, Callie Whigham. If she can continue to come up with delicious bites like she did during Happy Hour, I would drive all the way from Pflugerville once a week just to try them. After enjoying the food, company and atmosphere the only thing I was still trying to wrap my head around was the inspiration behind the name. Where was this park?
On to the food:
The menu listed the 8 Courses in a simple, detail-less way:
1- Fluke, Lemon, Almonds
2- Crab Fritters, Sauce Ravigote
3- Green Garlic Soup, Duck Confit
4- Cotto Salami, House Pickles
5- Salmon, Green Beans, Linguisa
6- Lamb Belly, Sweet Potato Puree, Chili Oil
7- Bar Steak, Roast Mushrooms, Red Wine Sauce
8- Petite Chocolate Crunch
Everything sounded delicious if not subtle and vague. For me the winners were the first three courses and then the dessert. In fact, had those options been presented to me as a Prix Fixe menu I would have chosen it in a second. However, the middle of the tasting honestly fell a bit flat. No need to worry about that though, because we had 8 courses to try.
First course: I hadn't had fluke before and honestly wasn't sure what it was until I saw it, but I was excited to try it!
The menu was nothing but a composition of ingredients so I really wasn't sure what I was in for. The spoon sized bite was packed with complimenting flavors. The crunchy, slightly sweet almond paired perfectly with the citrus soaked raw fluke fish. If this taste is any representation of what Chef Shawn and Parkside can do with raw foods then they definitely have got what it takes to addict Austin to the raw foods scene.
The Crab Fritters came out next and were scrumptious. Usually crab fritters are heavy and thickly battered. These guys were airy, had a light chewy crust, and highlighted everything that is great about crab. I am still torn between this, the soup, and the dessert on what was my favorite item of the night. The Green Garlic Soup came out next. The only proof I have of how delicious it was is the fact that we ate it so fast there is no photos of it. I love savory and this soup would satisfy the deepest craving I could have for something rich, salty, and savory. The little shreds of duck only added to the depth and complex flavor of this incredible soup. This is another dish I would happily drive downtown from Pflugerville just to have a bowl of.
After three amazing dishes we moved into the middle more substantial, yet, less impressive plates.
I'm not a salami expert and probably won't ever be one but the fourth course's Cotto seemed like fancy lunch meat (Claire even went so far as to compare it to a "Lunchable"). The homemade pickle however, was intriguing if not tasty. The Salmon was good and perfectly cooked just underwhelming. The only thing of note was the use of lemon zest on the green beans that really made them pop.
Amongst myself, Claire, and possibly other tasters, the lamb belly was the least popular. It was mostly just fat. Even though it had lots of different components and flavors going on the only thing you could do was chew the fat and try and fat some belly underneath the cilantro. For my first foray into dining on belly I wasn't impressed.
The bar steak was good. A bit chewy, but it had a great flavor and the best part was the crunchy little onions on top. The mushrooms and crispy onions outshone the steak itself.
By this time everyone was mingling and Claire and I finally met Addie of Relish Austin. She is half the reason that the food bloggers are getting any attention from local restaurants. She introduced us to Kate over at Hunger Sauce. Who is a blast to have around and chat with. She has so many great stories and such a diverse background in Austin that she could probably go on for hours about this city. As we were conversing, the dessert came out. With such a shy description as Petite Chocolate Crunch we had no idea what it would be. What it was: easily, one of my favorite desserts ever. Seriously it was that good. I had heard about Parkside's famous donut holes but these little chocolate bars were incredible. They had a small scoop of banana ice cream, a subtle peanut butter flavor, rich creamy chocolate, and a crunchy wafer that added texture. This was the only dish I had seconds on because we just couldn't resist. Kudos to Callie Whigham for the amazing dessert.
Thanks to Parkside for a tasty and fun happy hour. My only recommendation: make sure and hold on to your Executive Chef and your Dessert Chef as they are both amazing, inventive, and talented. I can't wait for what's to come. I think with just a little refinement on the larger entree style plates we could have a new heavy-weight contender for top restaurant in Austin. This is one case were I think you, the readers, need to be the decision maker instead of my tongue.
I was full of excitment about going to eat at Parkside. I figured out that the excitment I get from eating the food does not always translate into timely blogging. As we were leaving the happy hour Kate asked me if I am one of the bloggers who goes home and immediately blogs about my food experience. Let this be your answer, it's been over a week!