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Send me on my birthday dinner

I'm a sad No Reservations addict who wants to try some haute cuisine around Austin. Last year we tried Aquarelle and Chez Nous. Both were total disappointments, for different reasons.

My big criteria for eating out is that it has to be something that I can't make at home, better. I eat cheap ethnic almost all the time for quality + price. But for my birthday I'd like to go somewhere that will be an exciting adventure worth the $$$.

I've looked at the menus for Olivia, Wink, Justine's, Mulberry, Jeffrey's, Perla's, and Ventana. Nothing is really standing out to me. I'd prefer "turf" over surf for the bday. But I don't want to eat a steak disguised with a fancy sauce, which seems to be the specialty of all upscale Austin dining. That breaks rule #1 - nothing I can make at home better.

Okay, tell me there's a place where I can go and won't be disappointed!

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Ventana
Austin, TX, Austin, TX

Chez Nous
510 Neches St, Austin, TX 78701

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  1. I would say go to Uchi and just order their turf items. Its better than their surf anyways imo. Don't think of them as a sushi restaurant.

    Elsewhere, I would consider Vespaio and Jezebel.

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    Uchi Restaurant
    801 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704

    Vespaio
    1610 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704

    1. I had the tasting menu at olivias this week and was very disapointed. I asked for pairings and it seems like they picked random wines that didn't go with the courses at all... there were some good dishes but there were 4 or 5 courses that I didn't care for.

      I'd vote for uchi as well

      1. Uchi, except that you say "turf", which puts you solidly in Parkside territory.

        Go to Parkside and explore numerous amazing options. Follow this plan:

        1. Arrive and get sat immediately even though the place is crowded and it is prime time hours. Wonder how the heck that happened.

        2. Order some oysters, whatever the server recommends, and either a prosecco or a cocktail. I like the "rosemary cucumber" early on with the oysters, others have opined that they definitely do not -- YMMV. If you're the sort that likes to have something starchy as a respite with their oysters (and you need more than the supplied saltines), the parkside fries are solid and pair well. Also possible is an early gnocchi appetizer here. (PS opinions vary wildly about this app; I feel it is largely misunderstood and underrated.)

        3. Supplement the oysters with some raw bar options. All are pretty darn good. Check again with the server about the prognosis on fish freshness.

        4. Begin your journey into the realm of awesome. Wrap up the cocktail or sparkling wine (or two) that you've thrown back and move to a bottle of red; no need to look back for the rest of the night. Go quality on the red. Your server can help again here. The journey begins with a race from the kitchen to bring out at least two (and preferably all) of the following for your table:
        * Ravioli
        * Sweetbreads
        * Marrow
        * Steak tartar
        You should have a table of hungry people here, minimum four, do not attempt with just a couple. With enough people, now is a good time to order the pork jowls main and share it family style like an appetizer.

        5. Finally, are you feeling fancy? Demand the steak special (currently two: ny strip and a "beef duo") or the venison. Feeling non-fancy, and didn't opt for fries earlier? Go with the bar steak + fries or the burger + fries. Others at the table should crush fresh fish, chicken, or (if nobody ordered this earlier) the pork jowls. (While I love the pork jowls, they're better shared due to the monotony of the dish.) Somebody will probably want some sides; these are all good but nonessential. The mac & cheese, okra, brussel sprouts, asparagus are all fine. Maybe you'll need another bottle of red here if you've got enough people at the table. People who demand white with their fish should strap one on and realize that red pairs great with almost everything.

        6. Man, so full, can't eat dessert.

        7. Nevermind, f'it. Order amazing desserts, really, just delicious. The doughnut I can especially vouch for, although I still miss their old doughnut option. Maybe some coffee to help get through the feeling of being overfull?

        8. I'm done. Really.

        9. Wait, lets all have a cognac.

        5 Replies
        1. re: tom in austin

          The fluke from the raw bar might make your whole birthday! I cook ferociously at home (Vespaio can kiss my arse) but I've really enjoyed Parkside.

          1. re: tom in austin

            I love your suggestions except that I can't drink right now. :) :) I'm definitely checking into Parkside.

            1. re: mizznicole

              Are you pregnant? If so, you *might* want to skip the oyster bar. I don't mean to be all nanny-state on you, because obviously you are an adult and are capable of making your own decisions, but I know that's one of the (annoying) dietary "rules" I actually observed while pregnant.

              But hot damn if TIA didn't make me want to have my birthday dinner at Parkside! Maybe I'll push it for Mother's Day, since my bday isn't until September!

              1. re: bookgrrl72

                My recent trip to Parkside w/ my pregnant wife offered numerous, delicious alternatives. We crushed the gnocchi, bar steak and fries, fish special, and split a salad. They're still delivering delicious foods, even with our restricted baby-diet.

                1. re: tom in austin

                  Congrats on your imminent parenthood! Glad to hear Parkside delivers, even away from the raw bar. We never get out to nice places like P'side now that we have kids! ;)

          2. I'm going to chime in and 'ditto' Parkside. I went with 2 other people recently and we had many things off the menu, and there wasn't a stinker in the bunch. Too bad about the wine though, it really makes a menu like that IMHO.

            1. I'm going to agree with the current wave. Had dinner last week with some out of town foodies and we did both Parkside and Olivia. The overwhelming opinion was that Parkside was more interesting and more creative food. It was just a better meal overall. We at both the oysters and from the raw bar as well as the entrees and sides. There were 8 of us and we shared everything cross the board. BTW, i am not an okra fan, but those at the table swooned over the fried okra.