Size doesn’t matter

Posted on 26 Feb 2010 at 12:29am
By ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

Sangria’s streamlined menu of small-plate dining revitalizes Uptown tapas

MEDITERRANEAN MADNESS | Sangria reinvents itself with a broad-scope approach to tapas, with tangy items like the seared scallops on tomato confit.

3 out of 5 Stars
Sangria, 4524 Cole Ave. Open daily 4 p.m. 214-520-4863. SangriaTapasyBar.com.
With Mediterranean influences shading traditional Spanish tapas, Sangria combines a continental sophistication with Middle East items.

Food: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Atmosphere: 3 out of 5 Stars
Service: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Price: Moderate

Singing the value of  "fresh food" doesn’t always refer to how recently the vegetables were picked or the meats butchered; sometimes, it involves gussying up a menu with new ideas.

Sangria has served Spanish-style tapas at its Uptown location for three years, but as that niche has grown — Stephan Pyles’ newest, the James Beard-nominated restaurant Samar, is itself high-end small plates culled from three continents — it has found new life with a new executive chef, Jeff Moschetti.

Moschetti’s Dallas career has had peaks and valleys. He opened the Moroccan-themed Dragonfly (with Pyles, who served as consulting chef) nearly a decade ago; but Pyles’ influence seemed to dominate — you could always tell when Stephan was in the kitchen, because the entire staff upped its game. Moschetti went on to Ferre, where he served sometimes great/sometimes not Italian cuisine.
It now seems that Spain beckoned all along. It was just a matter of working his way to the right country.

To be fair, despite its name, Sangria has a pan-Mediterranean style. Moschetti imbues Middle Eastern elements throughout … not a stretch, as the Moors deeply influenced Spanish culture. It’s most immediately noticeable in the dip appetizer ($10), a trio of Arabian favorites: Labneh (creamy white and tangy), fava bean hummus and the top of the lot, baba ghanoush. It’s a good starter while you’re negotiating with your dining companion about what else to sample — tapas are always best shared. (Other non-Spanish starters include sagnaki — Greek fried cheese — and a Syrian salad.)

A distinguishing characteristic is how even the simplest, most traditional tapas items are bursting with creativity. There’s an unexpected but welcome crunch to the Sangria salad ($5.95), owing to pomegranate seeds and spiced walnuts tossed among organic greens; and the smokiness of the grilled pears provides a depth to the dish. I had a similar reaction to the warm spinach salad ($6.95).

Despite casting a broader net, Moschetti has essentially tightened up the selections. Sangria’s menu once exerted a tyranny of choices: page after page of interesting-sounding items, and only so much time to try them. The a la carte options have now been streamlined, with enough choices that you can still explore but without requiring a mnemonic device to remember what you enjoyed last time.

It’s easy to remember the calamari ($6.95), which is marinated for 24 hours and gets packed with flavor, just as the salty zest from the capers in the veracruzana sauce rounds out the seared scallops ($11). Sweet and savory meld spectacularly in the tomato confit and avocado aioli on the cured tuna ($10.95).

The preparation of the beef tenderloin ($14) impressed me; small pieces of meat can often be fatally overcooked, but this was just right — served an exquisite medium rare, and glazed with a red wine reduction. The doughy gnocchi ($6.50), despite a creamy béchamel-pistachio sauce, was bland, while the chicken tagine ($10.95) was appropriately subtle with its liltingly-seasoned couscous specked with medjool dates.

As successful as the entrees are the desserts. Don’t miss the Catalan specialty, torrija — a bread pudding soufflé with a caramelized top a la crème brulee, and served with vanilla gelato — or the egg roll-style baklava or flourless chocolate cake. Trust me, you’ll want to find the room. 

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TASTING NOTES

You no longer have to drive to North Dallas to get your Pinkberry fix. The second local purveyor of the WeHo frozen yogurt chain opened earlier this month in the West Village.

The sixth annual Savor Dallas comes to Downtown March 5 and 6. The events, developed by local food expert Jim White, includes seminars and tastings on Saturday, but the two main events are the Arts District Wine Stroll on Friday and the International Grand Tasting held at the Sheraton on Saturday, with chefs from 60 restaurants serving their signature dishes. Chefs in attendance wil include Billy Webb of Opio, Joanne Bondy of Old Hickory at the Gaylord Texan, Blythe Beck of Central 214, Doug Brown of Dish, Sara Johannes of Five Sixty and Jorge Cruz of Hector’s on Henderson.  Tickets are available at SavorDallas.com.

Billy Webb is staying busy. The same weekend as Savor Dallas, Kindal’s Soul
Fusion Cafe, for which Webb served as the consulting chef, is set to open. The menu combines African-American comfort food with Asian dishes — "soul-shi," they are calling it.

Right around the corner from the Wine Stroll, Tei An is opening its rooftop lounge, which will serve cocktails and light bites.

— Arnold Wayne Jones


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 26, 2010.

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