Restaurant Review: Dining Del Lago 2011

Low water, haute dining

Plate by Dzintra

12717 Shops Pkwy. #100, Bee Cave, 512/358-4776
Monday-Saturday, 11am-2pm; Thursday-Saturday, 6-9pm
Cooking classes: Wednesday, 6:30-9pm

The Food Network chose local cooking fanatic Dzintra Dzenis as a contender for its prime-time show The Next Food Network Star, where she developed a strong fan base last season. After early elimination from reality TV competition, she decided to settle down and rent a space in Bee Cave that would serve as a multi-purpose cooking school, catering launch pad, and restaurant. It's the latter that concerns us here, though based on what we found while dining in the restaurant, there's a good chance her cooking school and catering might be worth looking into as well.

Plate by Dzintra is in a strip mall, which might surprise folks looking for a nice meal, but inside, it's an intimate place with well-managed sound and very comfortable seating. There's a bar where you can get beer and wine and watch the huge flat-screen TVs showing pictures of the food. The restaurant changes its dinner menu weekly, and there's usually a theme. The night we went it was "From Sicilia to Toscana."

We had two substantial appetizers. The Plate Special antipasti platter ($17) had four items, all of which looked great, had beautiful aromas, and tasted delightful. The best was a blend of smoked salmon with spring onions, dill, and lemon aioli on toast – a dish with a luxurious mouthfeel. The other items were mini bell peppers stuffed with a great goat cheese mixture, lightly roasted asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, and cured sausage with a caprese blend. The bruschetta plate ($12) also offered several options, including a tapenade of Sicilian Castelvetrano green olives and a mousse of organic chicken livers poached in olive oil. The best choice was pureed garbanzo beans with herbs, garlic, and sweet caramelized onions. Again, the attention to detail was obvious. Each item hit every possible sense very nicely.

Our main courses again showed that the folks in the kitchen were paying attention to detail. The sausage, peppers, and pasta dish ($23) featured meaty chunks of house-made sausage, farfalle pasta, bell peppers, pecorino, and fresh parsley: simple but satisfying. The rabbit sugo ($24) was also simple but just right with braised rabbit, green olives, and pecorino over pasta. We finished with our favorite dish of the night, a raspberry-habanero sorbetto ($8) with Prosecco and mint. The dry sparkling wine married just perfectly with the picante habanero hit.

Dzenis trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where she earned a Grand Diplôme (which recognizes mastery of both cuisine and pastry techniques), and her attention to the tiny details would make her alma mater proud. Everything from the looks of the place and the service to the quality of the food was just right, and thank­ful­ly, all were relaxed and never too fussy. The wine list is perfectly chosen and quite fairly priced, with a heavy emphasis on Old World wines and even a few very good Texas vintages. You can also BYOB for a $15 per bottle corkage, but most of the wines don't have more than $15 in markup over retail. So unless you have something rare and wonderful, you should find plenty here to keep you happy. As a side note, chef Brad Sorenson, formerly of Asti and Dzintra's cast mate on The Next Food Network Star, was cooking at Plate when we visited, though we overheard him telling some Lakeway groupies that he had a new restaurant opening in Downtown Austin, so he may not be there for long.

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Plate by Dzintra, Dzintra's Kitchen, Dzintra Dzenis, The Next Food Network Star, Le Cordon Bleu, Brad Sorenson, Lakeway

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