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parkside - meh?

My husband and I are in Austin for the weekend enjoying one of our favorite towns and our fave hotel (the San Jose). We attempted to eat at parkside last night. We didn't get it together to make reservations so we put our name down and settled in at the bar for a 90 minute wait. [Context: we're Denverites now but lived in New Orleans and Philly previously as well as NY and Chicago, so having lived in great foodie towns, we are used to great restaurants.]

We decided to get an appetizer while we waited and ordered gnocchi. Honestly, it was barely mediocre. It was so soft that it could barely be speared with a fork and the flavors were totally uninspired. The Parmesan on the gnocchi was not high quality and it was pretty boring. I was shocked at how poorly executed the gnocchi was though--cooked wrong, wrong, wrong. We decided that an appetizer that bad probably didn't bode well for the rest of the meal and we skipped the 90 minute wait and hit up some amazing food trucks and had a fantastic meal.

As we left parkside (before the food trucks resuscitated our evening culinarily), my husband asked me if "perhaps Austin just isn't a great food town?" I vehemently defended Austin as a fantastic food town, but the rave reviews for parkside on this board shook my confidence. What gives?? Was it just the once-in-a-blue-moon, crappy execution? A weak link on their menu? Is it generally slipping? I'd love any insight to reconcile our experience with the reviews on the board.

Hopefully we'll have better luck tonight at barley swine!

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  1. I've adopted the rule of never ordering Italian food in Austin. It always disappoints. Good for you for enjoying the food trucks! You'll love Barley Swine. Austin's a good food town, but not nearly as mature a scene at some of the other cities you listed. Also, we didn't have the waves of immigrants from around the world in the early 1900s that led to some of the great food in larger U.S. cities. That's my take on it, anyway.

    1. Despite your wide experience, to declare the whole of Austin either a good or not good food town based on one appetizer at one restaurant is questionable. Glad the food trucks delivered. Looking forward to hearing your report on Barley Swine.

      I wonder upon what you based your vehement defense?

      1. I tend to agree. Austin is really not that great of a food town. I had some HORRIBLE guacamole at a "local" mexican restaurant that everyone seems to just love. The guacamole was insipid and uninspired, so I left before ordering a meal and flew straight to Paris.

        1 Reply
        1. re: rudeboy

          Ahhh, Parisian guacamole, there really is nothing else like it.

        2. Storefront eats: what a fascinating perspective on Austin's food scene. It makes perfect sense that, being "younger" than other cities, it lacks some maturity culinarily. Thanks for the tip on Austin Italian, too; lesson learned.

          Our meal at Barley Swine was superb. It was difficult to even pick a favorite dish because 4 of 6 were incredible--interesting, creative, with near-perfect execution and wonderful flavors. The other two dishes were very good too.

          My only regret is that I couldn't have the dessert with foie gras--I had already promised myself to Amy's and I think I might have missed something spectacular.

          Tonight, as we left dinner, my husband commented that this meal was better than the tasting menu at Joel Robechon. I have to argue that you can't beat Robechon's execution, however, the innovative flavors, smart ingredient combinations and very strong execution make barley swine extremely noteworthy.

          Is there anything else as good or better than barley swine in Austin? We're leaving tomorrow but would love to make a list for next trip. It sounds like Uchiko is a must. Anything else on the level of Uchiko or Barley swine?

          1 Reply
          1. re: EBeater

            i agree with storefront eats about the italian, and also the lack of immigrant foodways developing over the past 100+ years.

            i also think austin is really hitting its stride, foodwise.
            there is a great mix of cheap eats and casual places, plus some higher end and contemporary places.

            austin may never be a top tier fine dining city, and i'm okay with that.

            glad you had an excellent meal at barley swine.
            me, i would have skipped the amy's ice cream and gone for the foie.

          2. Dang, this sniffs of serious pretension. First of all, I don't go to any local restaurant for gnocchi. It's easy enough to make at home. Second, at any restaurant I go to, if the dish is that sub par, I send it back. I am positive they would have been gracious and offered you something else. I have eaten at Parkside numerous times and enjoyed every meal I've had there. Third, I wouldn't debase an entire city's food based on one bad gnocchi. It doesn't matter where you have lived in the USA, if you're that displeased with something, send it back. Feedback never killed anyone.

            3 Replies
            1. re: tokyomonamour

              I really don't understand the criticism directed at ebeater. True, the "perhaps Austin just isn't a great food town?" was a bit rash, but, I don't see anything wrong with their decision. And remember, it wasn't the OP to whom we should attribute this quote, but her husband, so we should cut her some slack.
              They had just sampled a bad appetizer, and knew they had to wait another hour at least to be seated. They were in a new town with a limited number of meals to eat. Knowing this, they rolled the dice, decided their time would be better spent elsewhere, and it was.
              I have been in the situation where the food i ordered wasn't up to snuff, and had to make the decision whether to send it back or not. Sometimes you just get a feeling (maybe in their case based upon the parmesan, or whatever) that that's the best they can do. Maybe they were wrong, maybe not. On this night we probably won't know.
              And i might add, if something is easy enough to be made at home and they screw it up, why should someone decide to give them more money to see if they can do a better job at something that is harder to make. But, they don't owe it to any restaurant to stay and find out.

              Having said all that, I will say that I have eaten at Parkside, once only, but it was one of the best meals that i have had in Austin.

              1. re: tokyomonamour

                "First of all, I don't go to any local restaurant for gnocchi. It's easy enough to make at home."
                Now, who is being pretentious?

                1. re: TroyTempest

                  I guess I forgot to add the ditto to storefronteats comment re Italian in Austin in my comment. I don't order gnocchi out because I haven't really had a good Italian experience in Austin. If I'm craving Italian, I try my best at home to make stuff. I do think gnocchi is fun to make and simple enough, if I have the time. That being said, having had a poor Italian meal here (Asti's risotto specifically), I don't dismiss Austin's food scene because of it. I just choose something else or don' t go back.

              2. Tokyo: If you read my post, I am definitely not dismissing Austin's food scene from one appetizer, nor am I being pretentious.

                Troy said this better than I will (thanks!) but I was just trying to reconcile great reviews for a restaurant (parkside) on this board with the bad dish we had there. I have no problem sending a dish back if there is something wrong with it, but it is futile to send something back at a restaurant that is not good enough to improve on a mediocre dish. In the case of the gnocchi, the texture would have warranted sending it back, but the individual elements of the dish were all solidly mediocre so it felt futile to send it back and not worth the gamble to wait 90 minutes for a restaurant that served a poor quality gnocchi, which is, in your words, easy enough to make at home.

                But I got my answer from you all so thank you: don't order Italian in Austin--which i won't next time!

                Glad to hear that Austin is hitting its stride as a food town (barley swine and the food trucks certainly suggested that!) We're excited to eat there again next time we visit. And dino: yes, skipping the foie was a tactical error on my part.

                How is Justine's?

                5 Replies
                1. re: EBeater

                  I'm in the minority around here, but I find Parkside to be mediocre at best. I'm willing to give it a third try to hopefully hit the three's a charm, but I'm not in a hurry.

                  Uchiko is hands down my favorite place in Austin, and honestly, so far, the world. I just got back from a week in San Francisco, eating at a couple of starred places as well as some other trendy things, and nothing competes with Uchiko on any level from food to service.

                  I think Congress warrants a try next time you're in town as well. I was bowled over by the lobster bisque. The other two dishes were kind of meh, but I'd like to give it another try.

                  1. re: EBeater

                    Next time you get an appetizer from Parkside, get the marrow bones. They're one of the best bites I've had in Austin.

                    Justine's gets mixed reviews around here, but I went a month or so ago and enjoyed it very much. Everything we got was at the top of its game.

                    1. re: addlepated

                      Nope - I had the marrow bones and they were not prepared as I would have expected or enjoyed. They were cut across the bone instead of along it meaning only the very end was caramelised as opposed to along the full length rendering the inside bit more like bland egg whites..oh, and that was having waited for around 90mins or so when there were only us 4 plus a couple of other tables on a mid week night.

                      1. re: McEwans_Exported

                        If you have a seriously bad experience that is genuinely incomprehensible (e.g. waiting 90 minutes in an empty restaurant) you should probably reach out to Shawn Cirkiel directly online. He is extremely approachable and genuinely cares about the details.

                        I like how they do the marrow at Parkside, so delicious and buttery.

                    2. re: EBeater

                      Actually, i think you said it better than me. :-)

                    3. EBeater, here is a Parkside battle plan: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7044...

                      Three things: first, Parkside is erratic, although nowhere near as erratic as (for example) Wink, Perla, Justine's, Congress, etc. I'd say that Uchi, Uchiko, and Barley Swine are the only joints in Austin that punch it in more reliably and are in a similar modernist trope.

                      Second, FWIW, I like the gnocchi. Subtle dish, divides many diners.

                      Lastly, the cocktails, desserts, and crowds were all major strengths for Parkside, but I've noticed a significant decline in cocktail awesomeness, and a minor decline in dessert awesomeness. The crowd issues have intensified over the last couple years and now getting sat promptly on Thu-Fri-Sat nights requires a reservation or some luck. (Doesn't help that Tom and Padme both tweeted favorably about the joint when they were here for Top Chef.)

                      Good luck, and I hope you come back to Austin for more eating. If you ever run aground again, give me a ring and I'll curate a mind-blowing Austin chowventure for you. There is no French Laundry or El Bulli here, and our town misses much in the way of fresh seafood, but it still has plenty to offer.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: tom in austin

                        Wow, Tom! What an awesome offer--thanks so much! We'll drop a line next time we're in town and would be happy to return your offer in New Orleans, Denver, etc.

                      2. Barley Swine was absolutely amazing the one time I have eaten there. That being said, I have been to the Carillon several times and they still hold claim to my favorite meal of all time. They do absolutely fantastic work there and, although I haven't been to Uchi or Uchiko, I would put it on top of the must try list for Austin.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: ms1195

                          What might that be, ms1195? Maybe post a reply to the "Best Thing I Ever Ate, Austin" thread.