Drive-by tasting

One visit. One meal. One shot to get it right: Trompo

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MEXICAN HAT TRICK | Trompo is named for its pork taco, foreground, but the bistek, rear, is just as satisfying. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
Executive Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Trompo

Luis Olvera likes tacos. And he wants you to like tacos, too.

In fact, the outside of his brand-new West Dallas taqueria Trompo still boasts the awning from the space’s previous owner, Mr. Phil’s Bar-B-Que; Trompo’s name is only etched on the door itself, with the hours of operation and Olvera’s philosophy: “Eat more tacos.” And might as well eat his, right?

Damn right.

For those used to eating high-end tacos at gourmet eateries like Stampede 66 or even Urban Taco, the setting of Trompo may come as a disappointment. Located about a mile off the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, it’s near the expanding Design District, right on the edge of the exciting Trinity Groves development, but there’s a bootstrap independence that marks it as more mom-and-pop than corporate. Heck, even by neighborhood taqueria standards, its décor is sparse — i.e., nonexistent. White walls, a mini-fridge, some stools at a counter and a bathroom sign represent the only furnishing in the utilitarian dining area, other than the placard that announces the full menu: three tacos (beef, pork and vegetarian), three quesadillas (beef, pork or both). Oh, and two salsas, Topo Chico and Mexican Coke. That’s it.

That’s all you need.

The restaurant is named for the trompo (Spanish for “top”) — the vertical rotisserie onto which strata of pork are layered, marinated in paprika, roasted and shaved off into the doubled corn tortillas. (The logo for the restaurant is an abstract swirl that suggests a tornado, but is in fact a trompo itself.) Start there: The pork is as fiery-red as an arbol chile, with a crispy, even crunchy char. There is a dusting of onions and cilantro, a modest wedge of lime on the side. Add some salsa if you care to (rojo and verde — both excellent), but everything you need is right there. A signature taco that encapsulates a brand, a style … all in two or three mouthfuls.

The bistek is equally wonderful, if not more so. Shreds of moist, braised beef glistening from the fat of the meat and seasoned simply but effectively. There’s even a vegetarian option of poblano and paneer (Indian peasant cheese), prepared with just as much thoughtfulness and flavor. And each for $1.85.

At more than twice as much (but still cheap), the quesadilla ($3.85) isn’t what you’re probably used to at Tex-Mex joints: Two tortillas sandwiching meat and cheese between their layers. Cheese is the big addition, but here’s it’s more akin to a taco (gringa is pork, pirata is beef, campuchana is a combo) housed on a large single flour tortilla, grilled to a leathery texture and loaded up like a militia in the Pacific Northwest. These are good sharing foods — keep it to yourself, and have a few tacos, too. You’ll still spend less than a Hamilton for it.

Olvera has some streamlining to do. The storefront has barely been opened a month, and there are some growing pains in getting the food out fast (and, for instance, bringing the drink before the tacos so we have something to occupy our time with while waiting). But he’s already got the food right.

Trompo, 839 Singleton Blvd. Open daily 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Find it on Facebook.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2016.

—  Craig Tuggle

Agent provocateur

Super-agent Sue Mengers comes to life in the gossipy ‘I’ll Eat You Last’

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ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

If your only exposure to Hollywood agents is Ari Gold from Entourage, and you thought that was a little over-played, well, you’ve never heard of Sue Mengers. She was an agent of the old-school variety — hustler, cajoler, smoked like a chimney — even though, as a woman in a man’s world, she was about as new-school as you could get in Tinseltown. She started with one client, the stage star Julie Harris, and eventually represented the box office powerhouses of the 1970s: Streisand and Dunaway. MacGraw and Hackman. Burt and Babs.

By the 1980s, though, styles had changed. Her clients — and her influence — fell out of fashion. She bled stars, though continued to make a living representing B-listers. “They survive,” Mengers snarls from behind a joint in her faux Pucci-print kaftan from the living room of her Beverly Hills manse. No need to be bitter. But that doesn’t mean a sharp tongue isn’t warranted.

Screen shot 2016-04-14 at 9.27.03 AMJohn Logan — who seems as at-ease scripting action-adventure movies (Gladiator, Skyfall), period TV horror shows (Penny Dreadful) and thoughtful plays (Red) — turned his sights on Mengers in the delightfully devilish one-woman show I’ll Eat You Last. It was a smash two B’way seasons ago with Bette Midler on the sofa, campily spewing her dishy gossip to an audience of starry-eyed gay boys. But while the production now at Amphibian in Fort Worth (a regional premiere) doesn’t boast La Bette as its lead, actress Karen Murphy more than distinguishes herself in the best way imaginable: She makes us forget about the star who played her, and think about the stars she knew.

That’s a bonus in such a tart, snappy celebrifest as this, even if it does target more classic gay icons named Cybill and Elton, instead of contemporary pretenders with names like Kardashian and Minaj. The play, like the subject, is old-school entertainment, packaged with a bitchy bow. Unwrapping it is as exhilarating as being a kid on Christmas morning.

It’s 1981, and Sue has just been fired by Barbra after a disastrous movie deal involving Streisand and Mengers’ own husband, an artsy film director best remembered for his flop All Night Long. Losing Streisand — who basically made Sue’s career — meant a hoard of disgruntled actors likewise took flight. Through it all, if we are to believe what we see, Mengers refused to burn bridges … except the ones that Logan has her set ablaze in this extended monologue. (The main targets of her withering wit: Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.) The problem is almost that’s there’s not enough venom in the play.
You yearn for it to get even sassier, the way screenwriter William Goldman has done in a series of tell-alls about Hollywood hypocrisy. At 70 breezy minutes, the play is almost over before it begins. It’s the only standup comic adage to leave ’em wanting more.

Still, what’s there is choice, with Logan deftly name dropping while making rude comparisons of stars to Nazi Josef Goebbels and explaining Mengers’ code of ethics (“1. Never lie to a client. 2. Never tell the truth”) while simultaneously presenting a kind of feminist mini-history. Sue … Hillary … it’s all the same.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Taco love

The Sylvan Thirty development scores another hit with Austin import Tacodeli

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FIREWORK IN YOUR MOUTH | The decor at West Dallas’ Tacodeli is as festive as the flavors in the hand-crafted tacos. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

With the exception of a cup of tea, the taco is perhaps the simplest of all prepared foods … which is precisely what makes it so difficult to get one right. Tortilla, protein, garnish. That’s all you have to work with. We’re talking about maybe a few bites to convey all you need to about your creation. You can’t mask a tough piece of meat behind a bed of polenta or distract the tongue by delivering a dazzling visual croque-en-bouche. You can’t hide the flaws when there’s so little involved to begin with.

Which of course is why a great taco is a thing of beauty — a culinary firework that done right, sets off rockets in your mouth. You don’t luxuriate in a taco — ever heard of day-old tacos? No! You eat them, fast, quick, hot. “Wow” is the principal dividend of a taco. And since most taquerias have words like “stand” or “stop” in their name, it’s not like white glove service makes up for anything. This is the people’s food, and the people will be satisfied.

Over at Sylvan Thirty, it’s not “shack” or “stand” or even “bistro,” but “deli” in the name of the taco joint. And as with a traditional delicatessen, the menu at Tacodeli is a curated one, thought out and planned, but with enough opportunity to individualize it.

Even with just a smattering of ingredients, composing a great taco is a skill. Corn or flour tortilla? Corn, with its natural sweetness, can overwhelm an already-sweet protein like shrimp, and doubling up is sometimes needed to secure all the juices (an excessively messy taco is a failure). At Tacodeli, both flour and corn come from the same Sonoran-style tortilleria just a few miles down the road, so freshness is a watchword, and the flour tortillas here are especially delish and well-matched for the ingredients. (More on those later.)

But what might make customization at Tacodeli the taste sensation it is are the salsas. A good salsa isn’t a disguise, but an accent that inflects the flavors of the meat and vegetables. Many taquerias offer one, maybe two or three salsaS (“mild, spicy or hot?”); they have four here, ranging from a soothing complement to your palate to a bit of liquid TNT.

The creaminess of their signature green “dona” salsa belies the heat from the poblano, while traditional tomatillo — which they promote as milder — imparts a deft, refreshing tang. The rojas resembles a traditional red sauce but with a warm smokiness, and the habanero — as orange as Donald Trump holding his breath — percolates menacingly on the tongue, a slow burn-like acid coming through with a strong citrus undercurrent. Half of the fun in exploring Tacodeli’s menu is a good old-fashioned mix-n-match, coming up with combos that satisfy your cravings.

That said, it’s easiest to leave the other recipes up to the kitchen. They have designed an exhaustive menu of hand-crafted tacos, including eight beef, six chicken and vegetarian, four pork and three seafood, as well as the daily specials and eggy breakfast tacos. In short, there’s no want for versions to experiment with. (They range in price from about $3–$4.)

The cochinita pibil (Wednesdays only!) is a chewy original of thinly-sliced, charred pork, as juicy as a bride on her wedding night. Brightly decorated with the achiote marinade and boas of pickled onion, it’s a flamboyantly delectable introduction to pibil-style. Another Wednesday special, the Delibelly, draws a creamy coolness from well-marbled strips of pork belly.

The freakin vegan is remarkably satisfying in its simplicity: a shmear of pureed black beans with a slice of avocado and pico, clinging for dear life to the walls of the flour tortilla. I chose flour as well for the shrimp taco, probably my favorite among the selections offered every day. The server recommended I order the taco loco (braised beef) with a double-girding of corn tortilla because the juiciness of the meat might bleed through the first layer. That ended up being an unnecessary precaution, though the dense shreds of adobo-braised brisket were plenty rich enough, along with the caramelized onion, guac and queso fresco.

The only real disappointment on the menu has been the Mexico City chicken: Cubes of grilled breast sat like lifeless monoliths in the tortilla. Much better for chicken lovers is the free-range pollo fantastico. It’s not an overstatement — almost everything here is muy fantastico. It’s one of my favorite food spots in Dallas right now.

Tacodeli, 1878 Sylvan Ave. in the Sylvan Thirty development. Open daily 8 a.m.–3 p.m. Tacodeli.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Knife launches weekend film series to coincide with DIFF

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Knife chef John Tesar is a big movie buff, and when he opened Knife in The Highland, one of the programs he started was a monthly outdoor movie screening. (Appropriate, since the film Chef somewhat mirrored his own experience with a local critic.) The 2016 features the films of Dallas-bred director Wes Anderson — it started last month with Bottle Rocket, and will pick up on May 15 with Rushmore, then continuing with The Royal Tenenbaums (June 26), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Sept. 18), Moonrise Kingdom (Oct. 23) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (Nov. 13). But interrupting that series this weekend will be his tribute to the Dallas International Film Festival, which gets underway today (and it the cover story in Dallas Voice tomorrow).

The series of dinners starts tomorrow at 7 p.m. with a tribute to Arianna (pictured) — a gay-themed movie at the festival set in Italy, with the cuisine of the country featured. Next is Saturday’s Halfway with a 7:30 p.m. dinner featuring lamb and veal, and concluding Sunday at 7 p.m. with the film Mr. Pig, which features — of course — pork. If you can’t make any of these special dinners ($125/person), there will be special three-course dinners throughout the festival (until April 24), which takes place just across the street at the Angelika.

And pick up Dallas Voice tomorrow to read all about DIFF and the USA Film Festival. Cheers!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Review: ‘The Jungle Book’ swings … and hits a home run

THE JUNGLE BOOKRemakes are an inevitable part of the film industry, and Disney has long had a unique ability to remake its animated film with live-action equivalents: 101 Dalmatians. Cinderella. Alice in Wonderland. (Most they will eventually turn into Broadway musicals.) Latest on the chopping block: The Jungle Book, itself adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s tales of an aboriginal boy named Mowgli, raised by forest creatures a generation before Tarzan swung into his literary domain. The 1967 film was of a piece with its time: A musical that drifted in that netherworld between counterculture and doo-woo, between the Beatles and Frank Sinatra. It grooved like Dean Martin, with a hint of the Beat Generation and hippiedom thrown in. And because Kipling’s own 19th century sensibilities hovered in the realm of racism, and the idea of real–life panthers and pythons seemed unwieldy, it seemed safe from remake.

Until now.

THE JUNGLE BOOKTo call the new Jungle Book live-action, though, may be to stretch the term a bit. Only one human actor appear in all of its 100 minutes, the bright-eyed newcomer Neel Sethi, who plays young Mowgli — reared by wolves, counseled by a panther, threatened by a tiger. The rest of what we see — including most of the scenery — is computer-generated (it was filmed in Los Angeles, not the Punjab). Even so, what you see has become, through modern technology, a marvel. It’s a childhood adventure tale that cinephiles will be amazed by.

Frankly, the beauty and storytelling strengths of the film are something of a surprise. The director is Jon Favreau, who has made several above-average comedy-infused action films (Iron Man 1 and 2) and some below-average ones (Zathura, Cowboys & Aliens). And the opening few minutes of Jungle Book — an over-edited chase scene — feels designed to distract rather than illuminate. But then we get into the emotion of the characters: The relationship between the man-cub Mowgli and his canine family; the avuncular, masculine attentions of Bagheera the panther (voiced by Ben Kingsley); the goofy good-natured devilishness of Baloo the sloth-bear (Bill Murray, in pure Peter Venkman sarcasm mode). If there’s one thing the Disney machine knows, it’s how to anthropomorphize and make you care about fauna. (The voice acting is exceptional in helping achieve this.)

THE JUNGLE BOOKThat the young actor Sethi is able to carry this emotion on his narrow soldiers is a testament not only to him, but to Favreau’s direction, which modulates the adventure with pathos, light-heartedness, scares and sadness. He sets Mowgli in a gorgeous wonderland — not on another planet, or a fantasy world, but in the past, at a time when the natural world was still so much of a mystery.

The film is appropriate for most-age kids, but what makes The Jungle Book so good is how it taps the kid inside adults. It’s the first truly accomplished cartoon-to-human-being Disney adaptation… even if there aren’t many actual human being around. It owes as much to Raiders of the Lost Ark as to Bambi.

Opens Friday in wide release.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

First look at Emma Stone as Billie Jean King in ‘Battle of the Sexes’

BOTS_2016Screen shot 2016-04-13 at 4.18.26 PMFox Searchlight is making Battle of the Sexes, the screen adaptation of the famous face-off between male chauvinist tennis hustler Bobby Riggs and world champ (and secretly lesbian) Billie Jean King in Houston. A TV version with Holly Hunter has already been aired, but this new version features Steve Carell as Riggs and Emma Stone as King. The film has just started shooting, and we have this photo …. which we will compare with an actual picture from 1973. Wow!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Home chef recipe suggestion: Cheesy squash

Screen shot 2016-04-07 at 9.59.04 AMSo, MasterChef is holding auditions in Dallas on Saturday, and while I don’t plan to audition, it has motivated me to cook at home more when I can. This is a recipe for yellow and green squash (zucchini) that’s simple and more-or-less healthy.

I tried making it twice before, and it got better — I think because I disregarded some advice, which was “don’t worry about lining up the squash neatly — just do a layer.” Wrong. The OCD in me wanted consistency, so I fanned out the slices, which I tried to keep as thin as I could, but wasn’t a jerk about. Douse will EVOO, and grind some black pepper; salt to taste. I then added a sliced pepper (red, jalapeno — whatever; I mix and match) and if you want, a diced shallot (wonderful aroma!), spread shredded cheddar over the top. Then repeat a second time (this time with yellow squash).

Screen shot 2016-04-07 at 9.59.15 AMI use a convection oven, which is easier to monitor, but if you don’t have one, pre-heat your oven to 400. Cover the dish in foil, and bake covered for 30 mins. After 30, remove the foil, sprinkle some parmesan on top, and put back in at 400 for 10–15 mins. more, until burbling, and voila! It smells great and it best served hot!

I’ve been doing weekly cocktail recipes for a few years now, so I think I’ll add food. If you have any recipes you think I should include, email or tweet me, with photos. Bon appetite.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

PHOTOS: The weekend in food

IMG_1390This past weekend was not only Savor Dallas and a special dinner with Padma Lakshmi through the DMA, but also a benefit honoring local chefs Janice Provost and Chad Houser. Among the events were that tasting at El Centro last night, as well as the inaugural Waffle Wars at Trinity Groves. Here are some photos from both events.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Cocktail Friday: Tonight’s the Night

IMG_9788While on a recent cruise, I mentioned to some fellow travelers that I wrote a cocktail blog, and often had to come up with cocktail recipes for it. I mentioned that I might invent one on the cruise. “Tonight’s the night to do it!” one of them exhorted. So I agreed: Tonight is the night. And that would be the name of my concoction.  It combines one of my favorite liquors with one of my favorite liqueurs, and is both tangy and sweet — an excellent combination. So ask for a TTN next time. You’ll have to explain it the first few times I’m sure, but the bartender will enjoy making it I bet. And with Saturday being National Gin and Tonic Day, it’s a good fit right about now.

1.25 oz. Hendrick’s gin

1 oz. St-Germain elderflower liqueur

3 oz. tonic

fresh lime

Making it: Pour liquors into a shaker with ice and stir with a bar spoon. Pour into a highball glass (with ice) and add tonic. Squeeze in lime and use as a wedge.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Royale (with cheese)

Latrice-by-Erika-Wagner‘Drag Race’ fan favorite Latrice Royale joins her fellow queens for Divas of Drag, a nationwide tour that proves drag is bigger than Latrice herself

As anyone who has ever seen her perform could tell you, Latrice Royale is larger than life — in a multitude of ways.

Although she began performing drag in the ’90s, it wasn’t until 2012 when she chose, on a whim, to audition for Season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race that she became a star. Her deep baritone, huge frame and saucy attitude kept her in contention through the Top 4, alongside Phi Phi O’Hara, eventual winner Sharon Needles and Chad Michaels, who himself went on the win the first-ever All Star edition. When Royale was cut from the competition, Entertainment Weekly called the elimination “shocking.” (Royale was later voted Miss Congeniality by the show’s fans.)

Fans also know that life hasn’t always been easy for Royale, who spent time in prison for possession of marijuana and prescription painkillers. But she managed to survive the experience. “My size helped. The other prisoners didn’t mess with me. They knew who I was on the outside and gagged at my splits. The worst part of prison life was losing my mother,” she says. “It was the most alone I ever felt.”

She sings about the tragic loss in “I Need You Now,” a gospel song by Smokie Norful, on her new full-length album Here’s to Life. “It was the hardest song to record. It really speaks to how alone I felt at that moment, grieving in isolation,” she says.

The album reveals another surprising fact of Royale: She can sing, not just lip-synch. Unfortunately, unless you buy her album you’ll just have to take her word for it when she’s in Dallas Thursday at the House of Blues as part of Live Nation’s Divas of Drag Tour, which reunites her with fellow Racers including Alyssa Edwards, Kennedy Davenport and more.

“Because we all travel so much, we are bound to bump into each other, so I’ve grown to love a lot of these women,” she says. “As we were putting this together with Mimi, we were brainstorming on who we wanted to work with. It’s been amazingly fun, and a learning process — I’ve never done anything like this before.”

The resulting show is “a mixure of duets, groups live singing and powerhouse drag numbers with a lot of eclecticism,” Royale says. “You have Milk, who is very avant garde, and then you have the likes of Yara Sofia who dances, and Jujubee who is beautiful and gives you goddess — everybody gets something out of this show.”

And there’s what Latrice herself has to offer: A towering disco ball of sassy femininity with a basso-profundo voice. She often jokes how her deep baritone voice sounds like Barry White in drag, which she embraces on her album. “I’m not trying to sing like a woman,” she says. “My goal is to be authentic to myself, my voice and my experience.”

Screen shot 2016-04-07 at 11.37.46 AMHer style is so distinctive among the cast, it’s something she almost can’t get away from. While some queens can go incognito by dressing in boy-drag, Latrice admits, “I can’t hide this no matter what!” She loves the chance to interact with her fans, though.

“When you’re trying to eat [at a restaurant], it’s a little awkward sometimes, but still I’m gracious because you don’t know what kind of day that person has had — so why not? We’re all going to have bad days, but a rule for me is to always be gracious when they recognize you … cuz if they don’t recognize then you’re not doing something right!”

Latrice concedes that the success of RuPaul’s Drag Race has created some tension in the drag community between pageant queens, club queens and those in the middle who simply want to be on the show, but in general, the impact has been incredibly positive — not just for Royale, but for the culture at large.

“It has really elevated the art as a whole and put us in a place where we are exposed to the world,” she says. “Before, it wasn’t so easy. The show has afforded us the opportunity to travel the world  — it’s what you do with that opportunity that matters. But now people have something to aspire to that is greater than what we’ve had before.”

Arnold Wayne Jones
with additional reporting from Shane Gallagher

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones