Tasting notes

Veggie Fair returns, Dish launches fall menu and you can win foodie swag!

Ahi-Tuna-Pica

A-HA, AHI! | Dish’s ahi pica is one of its best fall menu additions from new chef de cuisine Garreth Dickey.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

You can get deep fried bacon and fried butter and fried just-about-anything at the Texas State Fair, but this weekend, the fried foods are more animal friendly at the Texas State Veggie Fair, now in its second year. Sponsored by Jamey Scott with DallasVegan.com to celebrate and promote the health benefits and environmental impact of the vegan lifestyle, the festivities start on Saturday with the Texas premiere of the documentary Vegucated where, a la Morgan Spurlock, three meat-eating New Yorkers go vegan for six weeks. The screening will take place at the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff on Saturday at 1 p.m., with the filmmaker in attendance.

That night, the animal rights group Mercy for Animals, founded by gay vegan Nathan Runkle, hosts the official kick-off party for the fair at Sons of Hermann Hall, starting at 7 p.m. Then on Sunday, you can enjoy the entirety of the fair — including a fried food competition (for which I will serve as a judge), music and speakers, as well as veggie food — at Winfrey Point on Lawther Drive on White Rock Lake. Admission is free to the fair and runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, visit DallasVegan.com or TexasStateVeggieFair.com.

North Texas seemed to progress quickly from sweltering heat to autumnal cuddliness with almost no transition time at all. I’m not just talking about the weather, but about the food as well.

It certainly feels like fall already at Dish. The new chef de cuisine, Garreth Dickey, has retooled the menu at the three-year-old restaurant, editing some of the regular items and adding all new ones. The coolest tweaks to the menu: A “weekly specialties” list, which Dickey swaps out each Wednesday, and a $35 prix fixe menu which allows him the opportunity to experiment with new recipes and you to be the first to try out what’s new.

The tender flat iron steak, already a staple of the menu, is still there, as are the selection of flatbreads. But burgers have been deemphasized in favor of tacos (the sweet and tangy Carolina pork tacos, $12 as a dinner entrée or two bucks each in the bar at happy hour, are a special now; don’t miss ‘em), and Dickey’s new prosciutto flatbread is the best of them all.

Perhaps the standout of the new items, though, is the ahi pica appetizer. More flavorful than the usual tuna tartare, this version sings with the slow-rising heat of scotch bonnet chilis and the tropical wisp of coconut atop a large wonton disk.

Dish doesn’t have a pastry chef, so Dickey’s desserts are simple yet exceptional. The caramel pot de crème has the personality of creamy butterscotch, and the sweetness of the banana cake is softened with a hint of saltiness.

This month, Café Brazil re-released its seasonal coffee blend — always popular with longtime regulars — as well as a new menu that exudes the fall season. Among the offerings: cinnamon pumpkins pancakes and French toast a la bananas foster, two sweetly indulgent breakfast items designed to raise your blood sugar.

Not to be outdone, Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop on Preston Road in Plano lists “the Bobbie” as one of its most popular offerings. It is nicknamed “Thanksgiving on a bun,” and that about sums in up: Sliced turkey, stuffing and a cranberry relish recreate the sensations of turkey day with the convenience of a sandwich. In fact, it’s the perfect day-after Thanksgiving meal without all the mess and lost refrigerator space.

This year, the annual Beaujolais & Beyond Wine Festival, sponsored by the French-American Chamber of Commerce of Dallas, moves to the brand new Omni Dallas Downtown on Nov. 18. You can check out the big new convention center hotel while sampling wines from France’s Beaujolais region as well as American Rhone style wines, all set to a hip ‘60s-inspired theme. Participating restaurants include Parigi, Hotel St. Germain, Bonnie Ruth’s Café and many more. Tickets are $60 in advance ($55 for four or more) and available at FACCDallas.com. 

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online exclusive

Get some culinary swag! To win a pound of seasonal blend coffee from Cafe Brazil, a pint of Dickey’s barbecue sauce and more, email lifestyle@dallasvoice.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Daylight dining

With lots of belt-tightening, restos like Craft turn to quailty, affordable lunches

GNOCCHI SHINES | The creamy potato dumplings and the flavorful sauce almost excuse a slightly chewy beef short rib at Craft’s surprisingly affordable, streamlined lunch. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

 

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Mexicans laugh at us gringos for eating “lunch” at noon and “dinner” at 6. Go into a bistro in Mexico City — or a lot of European towns for that matter — and you’ll see diners gorging themselves at 4 p.m., with the big meal of the day still yet to come.

Americans are not likely to change their eating habits so radically, but restaurants are catching on that maybe folks would like to enjoy a bigger meal, at a good price, earlier in the day. It helps their bottom line, too, as many eateries — especially high-end ones — are finding themselves wanting for customers willing to splurge a little on something other than gasoline.

Over at Craft — among the highest of high-ends — new chef de cuisine Tim Bevins is flexing his muscle for the lunch menu. Founding chef Tom Colicchio’s traditional style of freshly prepared, family-style New American fare still dominates at dinner, but during the day, Bevins has created more familiar a la carte entrees, most under $12, with service streamlined to give you the chance to explore the textures of Craft without breaking the bank or spending longer than your lunch hour enjoying a meal.

The menus at Craft have never been designated simply “summer” or “spring,” or updated with a Post-It pinned on the corner or chalk board indicating “today’s special.” Rather, they usually contain today’s date — this is what the kitchen thinks is good now. That means, literally, a bill of fare: A small menu printed daily on butcher paper outlining the chef’s best of the day.

The set-up is conducive to sharing if you wanna dine with friends or coworkers, but each item makes a hearty meal in itself, though the bruschetta and chevre with walnut pesto ($8) provides an ideal appetizer: Soft, salty goat’s milk cheese melts in your mouth as the crunch of toast and nuts give it body. (You don’t need it, though: Every meal comes with a complimentary arancini, a baseball-sized risotto cake with a sweetness from the honey-vinegar gastrique.)

I was taken aback by the “duck egg, escargot, asparagus and brioche” ($10). The combination suggested something like an open-faced sandwich, but it was more of a scrambler, with the egg fluffed around a good-sized dish and dotted with escargot and cubes of toast. It’s a surprisingly healthy dish, what with greens and being high  in protein, though you realize why snails are usually doused in garlic and butter: It gives them flavor they don’t inherently have.

The sam’ich here ain’t no ordinary bread-meat-bread stackable. At nine bucks, the croque madame with ham and pecorino cheese and a fried egg floated on top, is the most luxurious single-digit lunch special you’ll probably find in town. Sure, it’s a cholesterol bomb (a handful of lightly dressed frisee does nothing to convince you it’s a low-cal option), but the ultimate in Francophile comfort food.

The kitchen hand rolls the garganelli ($14), a cigarette-sized pasta tube tossed with sweetbreads. If you’re a fan of the thymus gland of a cow (and who isn’t?), you’ll like the spicy bite from the tomato; if not, it’s an excellent introduction to a tasty delicacy that deserves more respect.

I was disappointed by the chewiness of the beef short ribs ($16) — that meat should fall off the bone — but the sauce was flavorful and the gnocchi so creamy I’m surprised they made it from my fork to my mouth. When’s the last time you thought about eating this kind of lunch when someone else wasn’t buying?

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Ooh-la-la

There’s a reason The French Room has a rep as one of Dallas’ best restaurants — because it is

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

MAIS OUI | The food at The French Room is as impressive as its decor.

Overall Rating 4.5 Stars

The French Room inside the Hotel Adolphus, 1303 Commerce St. Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner,  6–9:30 p.m. 214-742-8200. HotelAdolphus.com.

There’s fine dining, there’s special event dining, and then there’s The French Room. Chef de cuisine Marcos Segovia has maintained the high standards of this jewel box restaurant, with food as elaborate and impressive as the decor. Despite a mix-up on the bill that was quickly resolved, service is almost impeccable

Food: 5 stars
Atmosphere:  4 stars
Service:  4 stars
Price:  Expensive

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Mark Twain defined a literary classic as a book everyone praised and nobody read. The same might be said of any creative undertaking with a long-standing reputation, even a restaurant. Sure, it was once great, but has it maintained those qualities, or do people’s expectations simply mask its weaknesses?

So after years of The French Room at the Hotel Adolphus getting credit as Dallas’ best dining establishment, a reassessment was in order.

Wow. Or rather, still wow.

Some things just resist diminishment. Certainly the room itself — an ornate rococo jewel box of space that almost makes Versailles look like a double-wide in Abilene — has retained its bones.  Soothing seafoam blues and angelic pinks on the walls and ceiling, soft ecru linens and comfy medallion back chairs inject a luxe Gallic panache into the boots-and-denim familiarity of most Texas-based restaurants. (It’s one of the few places in town where men are still required to wear a jacket.)

The mechanics of service are also intact. Waiters invisibly replace silverware for each course and refill water glasses with stealthy precision. The sommelier introduces the wines with authority but not pomposity. Plates are deftly serves from the left and removed from the right. (A mix-up on the bill on our visit was unfortunate but quickly resolved.)

But while bad service or a shabby atmosphere can ruin a good meal, it’s the food that should be the star, and here, it still is.

The menu at The French Room permits one of two prix fixe choices: An elaborate feast chosen by chef de cuisine Marcos Segovia ($110), or a three-course dinner (usually $80, but $50 Tuesdays through Thursdays) that allows some a la carte selecting by the diner. We went with the three-course, without disappointment.

The meal, of course, begins with a bread basket (the fennel wafer and oat bread were fantastic) and a complimentary amuse bouche of lobster salad with white grape and chanterelles, where crisp, earthy texture of the seafood combined seamlessly with the rich, soft fruit. But that’s just the beginning.

VERSAILLES REDUX | Compared to the usual denim-and-leather style at most Dallas restaurants, The French Room still requires men to wear a coat to dinner. Nice.

The appetizer of Hudson Valley foie gras was a perfect starter for the season. With its autumnal influences of cranberry reduction (so thick and tart, it almost tasted of raspberries), it’s a soothing cold-weather bite. The spongy fluff of banana bread, topped by a wedge of pecan crust, melted effortlessly on the tongue — helped along, no doubt, by the glass of Sauternes-like Torrentes wine that came with it. The floral, apricot-like notes with a bit of pear educed the fatty richness from the liver and bread.

The crab cakes took on an herbaceous quality, with lobster sauce imbuing the crab with a distinct muscularity, while the combination of goat cheese and polenta, pancetta and figs on slightly warm spinach elevated the salad to haute cuisine. (An apple cider sorbet, served in a charming bloom of a cup, makes for an excellent palate cleaner.)

The veal tenderloin, turned a vibrant red from the intense Chambord sauce as well as the medium rare prep, can only be described as creamy, with the beef nearly blue alongside an equally rich risotto with Spanish chorizo spicy. The boldness of the chorizo is not exactly French in character, but then who needs to be a purist? The black angus beef entrée melted in the mouth.

A rare misstep was with the halibut. It came as a beautiful piece of fish: big, white as a mountain with its top of toasted cocoanut. The cooking was also spot-on, though the sauce was too salty, interrupting the flavor of the fish.

Any place calling itself The French Room better know something about pastry, and naturally it does, under the eye of Joe Garza. If there was anything wrong with the Grand Marnier soufflé, it was just the strength of the orange sauce, which swirled around inside the lightest custard balloon imaginable. Soufflés can be tricky, but this one nearly floated out the dish.  Just as delicious was the banana bread pudding: Chunky but smooth, served warm with pralines and bourbon glacé.

There’s fine dining and there’s event dining, but The French Room is something else entirely: A restaurant whose food brilliantly mirrors the extravagance of its setting, where style is confluent in all disciplines. A classic? Yes. But one people definitely want to come back to again and again.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens