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Crash courses: Parkside, 8212 Wine Bar, Mizu

Mike Sutter
Mizu Prime Steak and Sushi offered a filet of beef with Brussels sprouts, exotic mushrooms and truffled mashed potatoes during Austin Restaurant Week.

During the eight days of Austin Restaurant Week that wrapped up earlier this month, I wrote three-course reviews from nine restaurants, from County Line to Finn & Porter to an Irish pub called Bagpipes. Here are crash-course reports from Parkside, 8212 Wine Bar & Grill and Mizu Prime Steak and Sushi. The Restaurant Week specials have passed, but the experiences (and many of the dishes) are still in play.

Parkside

301 E. Sixth St. 474-9898, www.parkside-austin.com.

Been a long time since I walked Sixth Street with a date. With a woman on your arm, you're a target for every panhandler waving $5 roses in your face, for every crotch-grabbing loiter-bug with an opinion about her assets. Charming. That Parkside has survived in this twitchfest of a neighborhood is a credit to Shawn Cirkiel's food, which ranges from a first-class burger and fries to a full raw oyster roster to veal tongue and braised pork cheeks.

Small plates with big flavors is Parkside's calling card. A rabbit pâté was firm, rich and garlicky, good on grilled bread with the simple herbs, carrots and mustard. Every bite of a hiramasa appetizer rang with an interplay of raw ocean fish, ginger and heat, brightened with cilantro. And maybe you've seen a piece of meat cooked perfectly rare, like we saw in a dish of short rib and strip steak: a bloom of dark red at the core, fading to light pink, giving way to the mahogany sear of the crust. An airbrush of skill from the grill.

Pastry queen Callie Speer has left Parkside to start her own business, but Parkside plated two charming desserts in her absence. Sugar-dusted yeast doughnuts with brandy mascarpone? Hot, crunchy, blissful. Goat cheesecake as dense as a cheesemonger's playbook, tart and rich. The astringent bite of basil from the tiny scoop of green ice cream kept the dish from playing too heavy.

A quick note to our waiter, who kept his cool and kept us engaged and fed despite his crowded section: If I'm ordering $70 worth of food and more than $60 in wine by the glass and bottle, it makes me feel cheap when you press me to order sides. I appreciate making sure we're full, but it felt like a `want fries with that?' moment.

8212 Wine Bar & Grill

8212 Barton Club Drive at the Barton Creek Resort & Spa. 329-7959, www.bartoncreek.com.

The Barton Creek Resort doesn't have an address so much as it has a presence. Make that turn off Bee Cave Road on to Barton Creek Boulevard, and it's just a matter of time before the hillside Goliath rises into view on the left. The intimidation factor for those of us who don't wear Italian driving slippers (or drive the car to match) is hard to overstate. The 8212 Wine Bar is the more casual cousin to the austere Hill Country Dining Room. It's grand without being overwhelming. Tall ceilings, amber glass, dramatically framed black-and-white pictures of Old Austin. Impressive place to take out-of-towners.

A garlic-seared tiger shrimp with ancho chile, fried avocado and grapefruit offered a good mix of heat and texture. A cowboy ribeye steak was cooked a grade beyond the rare I asked for. Just as well, because the extra heat helped to cook the extra fat. I expect fat on a ribeye, but there was more than I'd want to deal with in polite company. The steak's mustard demi-glace had the twang of the best Heinz 57 sauce ever, and a side of mac and cheese was rich without being runny or sticky, the pasta cooked just right.

The waitress and I had fun with the wine list. There's a no-nonsense lineup of about 15 whites and 15 reds, split among Old and New World styles. For $15, I put together a flight of three two-ounce glasses: Stag's Leap chardonnay (pear, butterscotch, long, smooth finish), St. Hallett's sauvignon blanc blend from Australia (a nose like rubber cement, with stonefruit flavors and short, sharp acidity) and Earthquake zinfandel from California (gigantic caramel aromas with a finish of butter-pecan and berries).

Mizu Prime Steak and Sushi

3001 S. RM 620. 263-2801, www.mizuaustin.com.

Mizu is a new (relocated, actually) surf-and-turf cathedral overlooking the valleys and hills around Lakeway, with bandanna-clad sushi chefs, waiters dressed in black and a vertigo-inducing patio. It's a high-end place in appearance and price points: nigiri sushi at $4 per piece, steaks in the high $30s, specialty sushi rolls at $15, main courses from $26 to $39.

I took the land route, opening with a salad of frisee with a tangy vinaigrette, topped with a nugget of foie gras and a sunny-side quail egg. The liver, egg and fresh greens, punctuated by the astringent dressing, made for a cohesive quartet of flavors.

A dish starring a filet of beef worked hard with flavors and textures: al dente Brussels sprouts, a scattering of exotic mushrooms, truffled mashed potatoes. Truffle oil is a bully on any plate, taking everybody else's lunch money, robbing them of the chance to be Plate President. Even so, the steak won, thanks to a Napoleon Dynamite dance of char, tenderness and deep red-meat flavor, cooked a glowing medium-rare and sharpened with a slightly sweet demi-glace.

From a phone call to check on availability to a nice exchange with the hostess to the attentive waiter and runners, service here was friendly and professional. The view from the soaring windows gives everybody a prime seat.