Cosmo Rouge’s chic style soars but the food stays planted on earth
Cosmo Rouge isn’t equivocal about what it aims for: Its web site boldly proclaims “upscale Euro-chic dining” and an “ultra-lounge experience.”
So far as it goes, those goals are reached, even exceeded. The decor is glamorous and texture-rich, with long red velvet curtains and high-back chairs lending it the verticality of a Parisian cathedral lined with tapestries. The bar frequently hums with like a stockcar in the pit. And the menu, covering everything from Polynesian to Spanish influences, seems exotic but approachable tailor-made for those drawn to the trendy dazzle of the Hot New Thing.
On the surface, Cosmo Rouge has everything going for it. The lounge in particular delivers all it promises. But while the trappings of dining are upscale, the food needs more to be as memorable.
We started with the arancini balls ($7), partly because the name made us smile. These traditional-Italian globules of fried risotto, garlic and parmesan “pop” sprightly in the mouth warm, cheesy but not overwhelming (although we kinda liked the idea of overwhelming in an appetizer that boasts parmesan and garlic). It seemed odd, then, that they came served with a bland and runny marinara-style sauce that did nothing to bring out the flavors. Still, we’d order them again sans the sauce.
The same can’t be said of the lamb kebobs ($8). Kebobs are a risky venture almost anywhere: Different meats and vegetables cook at different rates, and orchestrating a finale that does justice to each isn’t easy. In this case, the lamb was overdone and chewy, despite the efforts of the mint glaze.
Still, there was plenty more on the menu to explore. Cosmo Rouge features an ambitious range of tapas, soups, salads, entrees and desserts we counted nearly 40 options overall, and weren’t willing to give up yet.
The duck and orange salad ($8) perked us up. An intriguing mix of citrus-soaked duck breast drizzled with a ginger vinaigrette and a mix of mandarin orange slices and arugula showed creativity.
The macadamia-crusted mahi-mahi ($17) seemed like a good bet: Is there any dish other than poi and a pineapple cocktail that sounds more Hawaiian? But the menu’s description oversold it.
“Dusted more than crusted,” I noted to my dining companion. We were expecting the dense, waxy macadamia to give a sweet crunch to the fish. But the nuts were so pulverized as to make very little difference to the overall taste. They seemed more after-thought than reason. (The mahi-mahi itself didn’t seem especially fresh, either.) The grilled vegetables benefited from sopping up some of the delicate pineapple chutney with beurre-blanc sauce that infused the fish.
Seafood turns up frequently in the recipes here. In addition to the mahi-mahi, there’s tilapia, salmon, shrimp, calamari, mussels and assorted fruits de mer in the house paella. (Mushrooms are almost as common, showing up in a number of soups and entrees.) Fish can be tricky certain items (shrimp, scallops, squid) are prone to overcooking and developing a milieu that teases out the often-light flavors is a balancing act worthy of the Flying Wallendas.
The pasta and grilled shrimp ($16) stumbled. The shrimp did not seem to be tossed with the linguine, but layered atop, detracting from the integration of elements into a single dish. The savory, peppery sauce sparkled in the bowl and coordinated nicely with the pasta, but tended to drown out the prawns.
The bistro does shine is in its pastries. In addition to the delicious bread basket, on one visit, three separate staffers recommended four of the desserts as their favorites on the menu. Basically, they were all correct.
Chocoholics will enjoy the chocolate nirvana ($7) molten fudge swimming around like lava in a caldera of crusty cake. This has become increasingly familiar on many menus, although the cognac caramel here set this one apart.
The mixed nut tartlet ($7) had all the complex, crunchy intrigue that we were looking for in the mahi-mahi. Served warm in a light crust, this melange of pecans, pistachios and macadamias stood out among all the dishes we tried. A dollop on the side of olive oil ice cream you heard right was unexpectedly wonderful, although because the tartlet was warm, it melted too quickly.
Service was puzzling. We arrived at one visit without a prior reservation and were told by the hostess that we could not be seated even though the dining room was empty. Then, just as quickly, we were offered a table “if you want to eat right now.”
At the table, service felt attentive to the point of being pushy. Plates were whisked away from our table even when we weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to an appetizer or breadstick. And we were constantly being reassured dishes were “on their way.” I prefer more service to less, but judiciousness has its place, too.
Cosmo Rouge gives the hip Bishop Arts District another reliable hangout, which will only cement its reputation as a classy but unpretentious cultural destination. Hopefully, as the menu evolves, it will become a dining destination in its own right, as fluid in its substance as it already is its style.
Cosmo Rouge Bistro & Lounge, 407 N. Bishop Ave. Open for lunch (brunch Sundays) and dinner seven days a week. 214-942-0202.
From sauces to desserts, every dish we tried had something going for it, but some item lacked flair and polish.
The vibe at the lounge differs from that in the bistro, but the bold decor grabs the eye no matter which side you’re visiting.
The staff was attentive to the point of pushy, but pleasant.
Entrees are in the teens, but with tapas, it’s easy to rack up a bill.
THE AGE OF WHIMSY?
Boys will be boys and that seems especially true in the kitchen.
Over the past few years, many local chefs have taken the idea comfort food to extremes, apparently finding solace in their memories of summer camp.
This is especially when it comes to desserts. First is Stephan Pyles, doyen of Dallas cuisine, who at his eponymous restaurant’s opening last November passed around gourmet s’mores but still made with graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallow, pictured. Not to be outdone, chef Douglas Brown put s’mores fondue on his menu at Amuse. (He also offers sweet “lollipops.”)
They’re not alone. Kenny Bowers of Kenny’s Wood Fired Grill in Addison lists two desserts a chocolate “cigar” and a peanut butter and jelly “sandwich” made of white cake and fruit puree that call to mind the fourth-grade cafeteria.
Creme brulee might not sound like kids’ stuff, but when you put it in a candied apple, as Hector’s on Henderson has done, you can literally feel like a kid in a candy shop.
So what accounts for such immaturity from mature men?
It probably has something to do with the aging of Generation X and a desire to remain young in spirit. Nearly everyone in town seems to find room on the menu for old-fashioned macaroni and cheese (Twisted Root Burger Co. actually made little appetizer “balls” out of mac and cheese). There probably isn’t another food that calls to mind mom’s home-cooking and the delights of childhood.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, August 11, 2006.
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