Mix and match

Posted on 09 Feb 2006 at 8:29pm
By Arnold Wayne Jones


The kitchen at Hibiscus is open, allowing diners to see some of the delicious items being prepared by the chefs.


Hibiscus is a high-end steakhouse that has a flower for a name and that’s just one of the contradictions at this trendy, romantic hideout

Hibiscus is a tropical plant with colorful flowers that can grow larger than Frisbees. The crepe petals are delicate and nicely scented, and they worship the sun.

Hibiscus is also a restaurant on Henderson Street, just east of I-75. Its palette is earth-toned, the lighting is dim to the point of romantic, the cuisine mostly steaks and seafood. The dining room is redolent of cracked pepper and seared rib-eyes.

What the heck is going on?

Aside from the similarities in size Hibiscus-the-restaurant stretches back so far, the patio could well open up somewhere in the Everglades, where hibiscus-the-giant-flower flourishes there’s a peculiar disconnect between what the eatery is and what its name suggests. (A friend who heard the name and wanted to know what kind of vegan options they offered was sorely disappointed.)

But the trendy crowd doesn’t care much about the contradiction of floral-meets-feast, so why should you? They seem to enjoy the clubby-yuppie atmosphere: ecru stucco walls, stone handiwork and well-appointed booths.
It’s probably best not to think about the name too much. Forget that and take the restaurant at face value: as an upscale steakhouse with some creative, if not exactly earth-shattering, recipes behind it.

Hibiscus is one of the Tristan Smith-Nick Badovinus properties that have gained tremendous currency in recent years. (Neighboring Fireside Pies and Cuba Libre are also members of the family.) This one feels less casual, more hyped and intentionally impressive. But while it makes for a great hideout for couples, it also has a businessman’s attitude: The front room has a TV playing sports and CNBC even as the main dining room strives for a haven away from the world.

The split focus can be a mixed blessing: You just might leave some diners disappointed who had different expectations.

That’s how we felt about the by-the-glass wine selections. Wine lives to go with food, with reds especially suited for beef. We expected something great, but instead yawned we sent the zinfandel back, and the syrah was only passable.


Although steak tends to be the specialty, Hibiscus does well with seafood, including shrimp dusted with sesame seeds.

On the plus side, the wine-by-the-bottle list had plenty of approachable and well-chosen options. Be prepared to drop a bit of change for some of the better wines, as well as many of the entrees and even starters, what they call “bites and apps.”

Quirky little names like those aside, this place ain’t cheap. One appetizer, the intriguing “tuna and foie” (big-eye tuna fish with seared foie gras) came in at $19, and that’s before you get to the soup and salad. And Hibiscus’ version of surf-and-turf a thick-cut 9-oz. tenderloin topped with lump crabmeat in a lemon-butter sauce, rather than lobster tail costs nearly $40.

To be fair, $40 might not seem quite so bad once you put a bite in your mouth. We ordered the beef cooked medium rare, which our server pointed out meant very red inside. It was, with the deep center cool and bloody. That’s actually the way it should be (lots of restaurants perpetually overcook their meats), and we loved it.

The tenderloin was melt-in-your-mouth creamy, but precisely charred out the outside, sealing in the juices. The acids in the tangy citrus sauce paired well with the beef and the crab, which was generously sprinkled about. Our initial hesitance about some of the earlier items seemed less relevant once this entr? arrived.

The flat-iron steak ($22) didn’t quite equal the tenderloin in our enthusiasm. Sliced in thin strips and served with a side of three-pepper steak sauce, it, too, was crisped by flames on the outside, rich inside. The flat-iron cut can be a little chewy, as this one was but not fatally so.

The sauce was really the selling point, though. The heat emerges in layers, slowly at first, with a crescendo a few seconds in, but finishing with a quick, soothing denouement. My dining companion declared it too strong, but you can judge for yourself it’s available as a side on any dish.

The flat-iron is one of the few entrees to come with its own side dish (sea-salted French fries, available for $6 elsewhere on the menu). They were firm and not greasy, but we wondered why they generally came a la carte, other than following a custom among steakhouses.

The pan-fried oysters with bacon, spinach, blue cheese and cherry tomatoes ($10) were gigantic, thickly breaded, crunchy-smooth and not at all heavy. The baked Dungeness crab dip ($12) was prosaic in concept and execution, but good. The garlic-salted oven-crisp crackers (they reminded us of naan) combined gingerly with the citrus and white wine tartness in the dip.

If you’ve heard people talk about Hibiscus, they’ve probably mentioned the deep-dish macaroni and cheese ($6). The rumors of it being the best are almost true (my mother still does it better, and you can get some good versions around town if you look). Served gratinee, it was thick and creamy but not overcooked.

The spinach and artichoke salad was off-handedly dressed, with smoky grilled artichoke hearts, but presented cold with slivered almonds.

The staff was affable and polite, although something was missing. While the service was totally acceptable there was nothing wrong it somehow it did not resonate as exceptional, not on par with the aspirations of the restaurant to be a top table.

Hibiscus isn’t the kind or place you’d run to after work for a quick bite, but for destination dining such as St. Valentine’s Day, the food delivers in quality even if it is a bit tough on the wallet.

REPORT CARD

Hibiscus, 2927 N. Henderson St. Monday through Saturday, 5-11 p.m. 214-827-2927.
Food: B
There are some remarkable selections on the menu (beef, of course the specialty), but the by-the-glass wines were disappointing and some items were merely OK.
Atmosphere: B-
For traditional steakhouse atmosphere, it certainly delivers, but the d?cor and vibe are not as sprightly and colorful as the name would suggest.
Service: B-
The service was wholly adequate, but not memorable.
Price: Expensive
Even the fries cost $6 and usually come a la carte.


DINNER SPECIALS FOR ST. VALENTINE’S DAY

For lovers of all kinds, St. Valentine’s Day is a traditional time of the year to do something special and romantic. And dining out on a great meal, perhaps something extravagant, is certainly tops on the to-do list.

But just booking a table at a nice restaurant doesn’t have to cost a fortune or at least it doesn’t have to catch you by surprise. Many Dallas eateries offer fixed-price dinners on and around Feb. 14 to meld the elaborate with the economical. Many require advance reservations, so call ahead.

Metro Grill in Knox Village doesn’t think you have to spend a lot to prove you love someone: Its four-course Valentine’s meal runs only $25 per person.

Hot new Stephan Pyles is preparing a three-course dinner specially created by the famed chef for $75 per person. The meal includes a glass of champagne. The regular menu will also be available for those who want to try more of Pyles’ culinary treats.

On Oak Lawn Avenue, local stallwart Parigi (pictured) offers both three- and four-course dinners with an Italian flair. Choose between lamb chops, beef tenderloin and monkfish with lobster as a main plate. A complimentary glass of bubbly is included in the price.

The sumptuous Hotel St. Germain provides some of the most refined fare in Dallas, and in one of the most intimate settings. A seven-course prix fixe dinner starts Saturday and continues through Tuesday with such mouthwatering items as foie gras on pannetone, oysters menage a trois and chocolate souffle and that’s not even getting to the entree.

No reservation is required to enjoy the dinner duet at La Madeleine Bakery, Cafe and Bistro. The dinner serves two for only $32, and includes soup or salad, two entrees of chicken Cordon Bleu, salmon or beef bourguignon and a heart-shaped cheesecake.

Uptown’s Americas, the Latin tapas bar, offers dinner specials every Tuesday, but this week it expands the menu to include a complimentary glass of champagne, along with the usual live entertainment.

Metro Grill, 4425 N. Central Expressway. Tuesday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. $25/person. 214-261-6000.
Stephan Pyles, 1807 Ross Ave. Tuesday, 6-11 p.m. $75/person. 214-580-7000.
Parigi, 3311 Oak Lawn Ave., Suite 102. Tuesday, 6-10:30 p.m. $65-$75/person. 214-521-0295.
Hotel St. Germain, 2516 Maple Ave. Feb. 11-14, 7-10 p.m. $125/person. 214-871-2516.
La Madeleine Bakery, Cafe and Bistro, multiple locations. Tuesday, 5-11 p.m. $32 for two.
Americas, 2900 McKinney Ave. Tuesday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. 214-979-2400.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of February 10, 2006.

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