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With flavorful Moroccan dishes, Baboush brings Casablanca to Uptown

Baboush-lamb-kebab

MMMM... STICK-MEAT The lamb kebabs at Baboush are remarkably tender, and made even better by the tomato relish and juicy raisins in the saffron basmati rice. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

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

Just a quick glance at Baboush — damask bolsters on the banquettes, invitingly overstuffed ottomans, tapestries clinging to the stuccoed walls with Persian tile behind the bar, all while Arabic music plays in the background — and you’re immediately caught up in its distinctively lush Moroccan atmosphere, without being drowned in clichés. The front wall of windows looks out on a grassy field along the distaff corner of the West Village, providing tons of light during the day and a twinkling calm at night. All that’s missing are Nazis coercing Rick Blaine while Sam plays “As Time Goes By.”

Dallas’ recent flirtation with Middle Eastern influences — from Samar to Kush to Fadi’s and more — is a welcome addition to a culinary landscape dominated by steakhouses, taquerias and, of late, Asian bistros. Baboush’s execution of the food helps validate the trend.

Certainly the kitchen doesn’t scrimp when it comes to forward flavors, a point of view that may catch inexperienced palates unawares. Take the spinach “cigars” ($7) — basically thick spanakopita tubes with goat cheese. My dining companion wanted more cheesiness to supersede the citrusy tang, though that didn’t bother me. But be prepared for lemony accents in many of the dishes.
Their babaganoush is garnished with pomegranate seeds, which don’t add much flavor but make for a nice presentation. While slightly sour, the lemon bite is nothing compared to the dolmas, which push citrus through the roof. That’s not a downside in my book, though my guest, unaccustomed to the staples of Mediterranean cuisine, found it excessive. (A greater issue with the dolmas was an inconsistent texture: leathery one time, mushy another.)

One of the things to love about Baboush, though, is the boldness of its flavors. Case in point: Mergueze ($9), a lamb sausage that’s as spicy as a Mexican soap opera. It packs a wallop, though the effect is insidiously cumulative, growing heat on your tongue with every bite. If comes with a Moroccan tomato relish (also available on its own as an appetizer spread, $5), which comes as delightful surprise. Thicker than catsup but salsa-like in its consistency, the acid from the tomatoes and chunks of garlic are softened with a hard-spice cinnamon savoriness as well as a hint of sweetness. It’s a complex dip, both familiar and unique.

I’ve often cast a jaundiced eye at kebabs: Stick-meats are hard to get right, especially if more than one type of food is on the skewer. That’s not a problem here, where a single protein per stick allows even cooking. That was true of the shrimp kebabs ($12), well-spiced and not overcooked; the lamb kebabs ($14) were an even greater success — the meat incredibly tender and deftly seasoned, given a soothing finish by the juicy raisins in the saffron basmati rice.

The falafel ($7) is Egyptian-style (a green interior), with sesames covering the moist, crisp patties; and the spiced-beef kefta burger ($8, available at lunch) gets a final push from the smooth dipping sauce.

Although limited, the dessert menu is a definite attraction. The baklava here ($7) is among the best I’ve had in town: crisp but deeply saturated in honey with a great crunch of nuts. And the ganache-filled ice cream ($9) — a mini-bombe, sort of an exotic ice cream sandwich — was entirely indulgent.

It’s too bad service, while adequate, has failed to impress. On our first visit, we asked a few questions of our waiter (fairly uncomplicated ones about Middle Eastern food) that he couldn’t readily answer; on another visit, we were given lunch menus at dinner; on other, there were (short) delays in having the entree order taken and getting all the apps out. I’ll tolerate that in a shared-plate restaurant like this, where breezy hospitality trumps minor glitches. Baboush might not be the Casbah, or even Casablanca, but it is something better: It brings that sensibility to us.

Baboush, 3636 McKinney Ave., Ste. 160. Open daily for lunch and dinner. BaboushDallas.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Beyond Turkey

There’s so much more than the ordinary to be thankful for from Dallas restaurants

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LITTLE LAMB | The earthy depth of lamb, mushroom risotto and a rich demi-glace conjure up autumn without cleaving to traditional ideas of the holidays. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Thanksgiving always conjures up thoughts of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, and while those staples are comforting, there is so much more to an autumnal menu than those familiar standbys. And Andre Natera, executive chef at Pyramid inside the Fairmont Hotel Downtown, has come up with some inventive ways to ring in fall without cleaving to the ordinary.

Mixing it up not just for the season, but for specific plated dinner offerings on the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, Natera’s theme exudes sophisticated comfort, starting with the butternut squash bisque (available now only on Turkey Day, but hopefully on the full menu soon). A dollop of oil and slight bite from chorizo turn a simple vegetable soup into a tremendous savory experience.

But you don’t need to be there on Thursday to fully appreciate the scope of the flavors, from a surprising heirloom carrot salad ($10) wrapped around goat cheese to a butter-poached lobster perched on a stone-grits-stuffed ravioli provides a whimsical — and wholly satisfying — variation on the Southern specialty of shrimp and grits.

The hearty, earthen flavors of roasted lamb ($33), served with mushroom risotto and crisp Brussels sprouts, are accented by a rich Zinfandel demi-glace and pitch-perfect preparation.

As always, desserts are a winner, especially the smartly conceived pineapple upside-down cake, which turns a ‘70s-era dinner party joke into a robust and tangy closer. With his current fare, Natera has devised probably his best menu since coming to Pyramid: Inventive, thematically unified, intensely seasonal and executed with all the warmth of a hearth on Christmas Eve. And he did so without relying on turkey or ham. That’s something to be thankful for.

Pyramid is open for brunch buffet and a plated dinner on Thanksgiving Day ($49.95), and offers “turkeys to go” as well.

TASTING NOTES: THANKSGIVING EDITION
Many Dallas restaurants will be open on Thanksgiving, offering those who don’t feel like cooking at home the chance to still enjoy a feast. Among the specials:

Craft — Prix fixe dinner including appetizers, desserts, a selection of side dishes and choice of turkey, prime rib, salmon and more for $85/adult, available 11 a.m.–8 p.m.

Nana — Both a four-course brunch and a select menu for dinner (including bottomless mimosas) are available, starting at $65/adult.
The Second Floor — Chef J Chastain has the kitchen at his Galleria restaurant going all day, with a three-course dinner from 11 a.m.–11 p.m. for $49 (add $20 for wine pairings).

Mignon — In Plano, enjoy a traditional buffet of butternut squash soup, roasted turkey, stuffing, dessert and more from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. for $40/adult.
Some restaurants have pre-Thanksgiving takeout services. The Grape will prepare a smoked Amish turkey dinner or a maple-glazed ham with all the fixin’s from $165–$275 (serves up to 15). La Duni is offering its luscious cakes for pickup on Wednesday until 9 p.m. Pre-order online at LaDuni.com and get a 5 percent discount with the promo code CAKE.

The annual Beaujolais Festival, which for me has always symbolically kicked off Thanksgiving week, comes to a new locale (the new Omni Hotel) on Nov. 18, 7­–9:30 p.m. You can roam around the fancy new digs while swigging some good French (and even Texas!) wines, and tasting bites from local chefs. Tickets are $55. Visit FACCDallas.com for more information.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas