Fed Man 55: Parkside (20)

Mike Sutter’s Top 55 Austin Restaurants
No. 20: Parkside
301 E. Sixth St. 512-474-9898, www.parkside-austin.com.
Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight daily.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 11.17.12
Parkside opens the Top 20 homestretch of the Fed Man 55 for six reasons:
1. Blond pâté that’s whipped and mounded and plated with a dab of strawberry, with notes of iron from duck liver alloyed with more subtle metals like Maker’s Mark and cream ($10).
2. A fully realized burger in bar-friendly three-quarter size that delivers full-size satisfaction, compacted as it is with a cannonball of elegantly seared beef glaciered with white cheddar under a full dress of lettuce, onion and tomato on a bakery roll reinforced by fries with the kind of easy crossbred charm that happens when fast food meets bistro ($11).
3. Raw fluke with almond and lemon that makes an energetic bite with toasted crunch, citrus sizzle and salty-sweet fish ($11).
4. Oysters. Parkside shucks about a dozen kinds fresh, ranging up to $36 a dozen or a dealer’s choice platter of 12 for $28 that pulls together three varieties.
5. Marrow, served hot in the bones like beef butter with grilled bread ($14.50).
6. Half-price incentives to show up. Until 6:30 every day, the bar menu is half-price, and that includes the pâté, the burger, the oyster platter, the cocktails and the beer. If the best $5.50 cheeseburger on East Sixth Street can get you in the door, you’ll find reasons to stay. Because more than a loud, rustic-modern raw bar and grill in the middle of a bro’s gallery of shot bars, Parkside is chef Shawn Cirkiel’s showcase city bistro.
My rewards for staying have included a duo of lamb loin and chop with sunchoke gratin. a crisp roasted chicken with sweet-potato stuffing, full-body Texas prawns with mango, a dish of hard-working parsnip ravioli and the guilty pleasures of cinnamon doughnuts like zeppole with pumpkin and buttermilk sherbet.
But sometimes when you stay you overstay your welcome — or rather come to realize its limits, with service like tough love, where you’ll get what you need but not always the affection you want. Which is to say hospitality without warmth. And you’ll crave direction like a middle child, because the menu’s as forthcoming as a laconic father just home from work. What are we having, Dad? “Bass, lime, chili. Tartare, classic. Ceviche, avocado.” Then what? “TV, show. Teeth, brush. Bed, go.”
Beyond that impeccable bar-food and oyster experience, I’ve hit low spots on the menu. At the heart of a $26 branzini entree was a thin stretch of fish begging for hydration, suffocating and camouflaged beneath a groundcover of shaved carrot, radish and herbfall. Before that came a plate of ugly Romaine leaves with brown-edged ribs and a few wilting pieces of anchovy passing as a “classic Caesar.” Another “classic” was a ceviche scorched clean of character by a splash of Bloody Mary spice wash. This is where you pull that word out of circulation until it can get its definition straight.
Parkside’s entitled to a few rough spots and a little attitude. It’s been a five-year fine-dining survivor in a low-brow — and increasingly dodgy — part of town. It’s the most downtown experience of any restaurant downtown.
(TOP: Blond pâté; a view into Parkside's downstairs dining room; cheeseburger and fries. INSET: Raw fluke with almonds; freshly shucked oysters; roasted beef marrow bones with herbs. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s Fed Man 55: Austin’s Best Restaurants