It started Thanksgiving week, slowly picked up speed the first week of December, and by about the 10th, the holiday season was an official runaway train, careening down the tracks with yours truly holding on for dear life. I realized things were happening in the world around me, press releases announcing restaurant openings were piling up on my desk, my e-mail was clogged with tips about places I needed to try, but I was helpless, caught in the holiday maelstrom. Now that things have calmed down a bit and I've returned from a restful few days in Houston (!), I've collected my thoughts (no easy task in the best of situations) and made a list of some of the restaurants I need to look into in the coming weeks. If I'm lucky, I won't have to cook at home the whole month of January! Emilia's (600 E. Third, 469-9722): This classy little spot in the refurbished Waterloo Compound at the corner of Red River and East Third opened in early December and is generating good word of mouth. Mezzaluna alums Michael McLaughlin and chef Will Packwood found some Dellionaire backing and turned this collection of historic downtown buildings into a lovely small restaurant (67 seats) with an inviting bar in the former carriage house (check out the huge wine list) and a private dining room for parties of 16-20 in the old Sunday house. I can't wait. Girasole Italian Dining (219 W. Fourth, 481-0219): The opening bash at this long-awaited warehouse district eatery coincided with the Chronicle X-mas party so I missed my chance to see what Mama Mia's and Piccolo Cafe owner Al Zare and his partners have done with the big space they took over at the corner of Fourth and Lavaca. From all reports, the restaurant boasts a swanky interior and an enormous wine cellar. Mezzaluna (310 Congress, 472-6770): Speaking of swanky interiors, the original downtown location of Reed Clemon's flagship restaurant has had a recent facelift and I'm curious to see the newly redesigned bar and dining rooms. Henry's Cafe & Cantina (1520 Barton Springs Rd., 476-9353): The ads proudly proclaim that Henry's brings the best in West Texas Tex-Mex to Austin. Being a West Texan, I'm eager to get by there and check out the bill of fare at this friendly new restaurant that's set up shop in the original Good Eats location in the middle of Barton Springs' restaurant row. Azul (1808 E. Cesar Chavez, 457-9074): Texas Monthly food editor Pat Sharpe has touted this place in the last two issues of the state magazine and that's enough to interest me. I intend to stop there while I'm house hunting in the neighborhood. World Beat Cafe (600-A MLK Blvd., 236-0197): Word on the street, courtesy of cab drivers, is that this place serves some wonderful North African dishes and might just be the long-awaited replacement for the late and much-lamented Aster's Ethiopian. Rather Sweet Bakery (249 E. Main, Fredericksburg, 830/990-0498): Pastry queen Rebecca Rather lost her 12th Street bakery late last spring but managed to keep her business name alive with some well-timed national publicity (mentions in both Bon Appetit and Ladies' Home Journal). Just this month, Rather and former Schlotzsky's co-worker Dan Kamp purchased the former Marie Cuisine restaurant on Fredericksburg's main drag and have turned the limestone building with the charming courtyard into an inviting pastry shop. Look for all the scoop on Rather's new venture in the update to our Hill Country guide in April, if not before.
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