‘Top Chef’ gets renewed, brings search for next cheftestants to Dallas

Top ChefLast night on part 1 of the 11th season finale of Top Chef, cutie Louis and workhorse Shirley got booted during the elimination round on Maui, leaving temperamental Nicholas and deserving Nina in the final showdown, which will air next Wednesday. But the bigger Top Chef news in the last 24 hours is this: Not only has Bravo renewed the show for a 12th season, but it will kick off its search for kitchen talent in Dallas — and pretty soon.

On Feb. 18 from 10 am. to 1 p.m., producers will be holding a casting call at the Hotel Palomar before moving on to Atlanta, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. (No word on whether bearish host Tom Colicchio, pictured, will be in attendance, but fingers are crossed.) It’s a slightly ironic choice of location, as the menu at Central 214, the restaurant at the Palomar, is being reimagined by former Top Chef contestant John Tesar. Actually, Dallas has been the hometown to a lot of alums, including Tiffany Derry, Tre Wilcox and Casey Thompson.

Anyone wanting to sign up for the competition can download an application here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Lambda Legal holds victory celebration tonight at Hotel Palomar

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Every year about this time, Lambda Legal’s Dallas office holds a summer kickoff party. But there’s rarely been a season worth partying it up more than this one. With the recent triumphs in the U.S. Supreme Court, the gay rights group has a lot to celebrate — no wonder the theme is “Victory!”

You can be part of the festivities at Hotel Palomar’s Central 214, where cocktails and bites will be served while you learn about the details of the upcoming Landmark Dinner. It’s all taking place starting at 5:30 p.m.; you can get more information on their Facebook page.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Palomar hires new director of pet relations

The Hotel Palomar has announced another major staffing change. No, Graham Dodd is still the exec chef at Central 214. The new employe goes by a single name: Higgins, director of pet relations.

The position of pet relations is a demanding one, as the Kimpton property is proudly pet- (and gay-) friendly, with food and water bowls and hotel I.D. and “wag bags” provided for four-legged guests.

You can welcome Higgins, a beagle mix, to his new job at a fundraiser for Paws in the City on Thursday at a meet-and-greet, with wine and cocktails, food, pet adoptions and a pet costume contest all covered by the $20 donation. Plus, you can get 25 percent off the pet-friendly rate, which would more than rebate the donation.

I’m well-known as a sucker for dogs, and Higgins is a cute one! I adopted one of my dogs from Paws i the City. It’s a good cause.

The event takes place tomorrow from 6 to 8 p.m.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

TASTING NOTES: Central 214 gets a makeover

GrahamDodds_100There’s more than coffee brewing over at Central 214, the schmancy restaurant inside Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar and a frequent hang for the gay crowd.

Last fall, longtime exec chef Blythe Beck left unexpected. She was replaced last month with Graham Dodds, pictured, formerly of Oak Cliff’s popular Bolsa. Word came this week both of Dodds’ new menu and that the restaurant will undergo some other major changes this spring — though we don’t know what those are, other than Dodds calling them a “face-lift … that will marry the food and dining atmosphere.”

We do know that Dodds will be incorporating some of his Bolsa ideas into the new concept: Local farm suppliers, seasonal updates and drawing his inspiration from the availability of fresh ingredients. And it also looks to be a total makeover: Starters, entrees, desserts … even the bar menu. Among the additions: “Popcorn” sweetbreads (as an app!), blue cheese terrine and pear with honeycomb, crisp (!) gnocchi with the oxtail ragout, paprika-honey glazed lamb breast (interesting) with cannellini beans and a chocolate-cranberry pavlova.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Spirit of giving

2011 Toy Drive for children with cancer

Dr. Christine J. Coke of Allen is once again collecting new, unwrapped toys and gift cards from Toys R’ Us, Target or WalMart to donate to the Children’s Cancer Fund to benefit children undergoing treatment for cancer.

Donations can be dropped off at Dr. Coke’s office, 107 Suncreek Drive, Ste. 200 in Allen by Saturday, Dec. 17. You can also arrange to have donations picked up by calling Dr. Coke’s office at 214-383-1380, or by calling Linda Lucky any time at 214-632-9271.

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Cocktails for a Cause Red Ribbon Bash

The Cocktails for a Cause Red Ribbon Bash, benefiting Resource Center Dallas, begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, at Central 214 at Hotel Palomar, 5300 E. Mockingbird. Admission is $25.

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Hardy Candy Christmas benefit show and auction

Miss IGRA Victoria Weston, Trisha Davis and Donna Dumae host the 25th annual Hardy Candy Christmas benefit show and auction, presented by TGRA-Dallas and the United Court of the Lone Star Empire on Saturday, Dec. 10, starting at 8 p.m., at Dallas Eagle, 5740 Maple Ave.

Proceeds benefit TGRA and UCLSE and the organizations they have chosen as beneficiaries.

Other events coming up at Dallas Eagle include the Stocking Stuffers Auction benefiting PPF on Dec. 16 and UCLE’s Jingle Ball Golden Rings 5 benefiting Youth First Texas on Dec. 17.

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Christmas Stocking Auction at The Round-Up

The Round-Up Saloon, 3912 Cedar Springs Road, will hold its annual Christmas Stocking Auction on Sunday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m., and preview baskets will be on display in the bar on Saturday, Dec. 10.

Proceeds benefit Legacy Counseling Center and Legacy Founders Cottage.

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Black Tie Dinner check distribution party

The Black Tie Dinner committee will distribute checks representing proceeds from its 30th annual dinner, held last month, to the Human Rights Campaign and the dinner’s 17 local beneficiaries on Thursday, Dec. 15, at 6 p.m. at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood. Those attending will also have the chance to visit the exhibit The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, now on display at the museum.

Go online to BlackTie.org for information.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Hotel Palomar hosts Operation Kindness for Santa Paws photo event this weekend

Here at the Voice, we have a soft spot for Operation Kindness, the no-kill animal shelter which offers us a “pet of the week” in the paper. In fact, we love pets, period. We also like the gay- and pet-friendly Hotel Palomar. So we’re happy to let y’all know about Santa Paws, the pet-photo opp at the Palomar this weekend that benefits Operation Kindness. Bring by your dog (or cat or bird or snake or gerbil) and get a free pet-master photo, and help yourself to cocoa and hot apple cider and munchies for man and beast. You can also meet Troy, the new director of pet relations at the hotel and ambassador to four-legged guests.

Of course, it would be nice with all of these freebies that you drop a little cash for Operation Kindness, which will also be there offering up some pets for adoption.

The event takes place Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10 and 11, from 2–4 p.m., at the Palomar on Mockingbird and Central.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Blythe Beck introduces 1st-ever cooking series

If there’s a gap in most home cooks’ repertoire, it’s probably that they don’t deep-fry enough kobe beef or use enough butter. OK, maybe not that exactly, but the thing is, that’s the specialty of Central 214 exec chef Blythe Beck. Now, for the first time, she’s gonna share some of her creations in intimate cooking classes this fall.

There are three classes planned so far — Sept. 17 (Pride Weekend!), Oct. 15 and Nov. 19 — in which she’ll share some of her secrets in making a three-course dinner complete with wine pairing. Class size is limited to 25. Cost is $125 per person.

To sign up, visit Central214.com.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Munch madness: Brackets makes a run as an upscale sports bar, but it’s a swing and a miss

THE USUAL LINEUP  |  Even upscale sports bars stick to the fundamentals: Pizzas (pretty good), nachos and nibbles. No home runs, though.

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

Ever since the Hotel Palomar opened as a Hilton more than 40 years ago, it’s had a Trader Vic’s onsite — even when the restaurant was shuttered for more than a decade, the bones of it remained.

Until last year.

Now, the only tiki you’re likely to see in the space of the old Trader Vic’s is named Barber and may be commenting on one of the innumerable TV screens that dot the room. Gone are the wicker and bamboo; in their stead, brushed concrete and the green felt of pool tables. Polynesian is so 1962; Brackets is a the newest trend: The high-end sports bar.

Which is kinda sad. Are there any real sports bars left?

Brackets tries. You won’t recognize the space, which extends cavernously back a lot further than Traders Vic’s did. The food is slightly upscale, but the wide-open atmosphere, plethora of pool tables and ping-pong stations and dart boards mark this as a guy’s hang.

Which, just as March Madness is underway, it should be. Though it doesn’t have the buzz yet.

On several visits (including lunchtime during a recent game), we’ve been one of the few tables occupied by paying customers, and a sports bar demands buzz. You want to feel part of the action, lubricating it with likeable food and free-flowing alcohol. A lonely sports bar is really lonely.

The potential is there. The New York trend of high-end table-tennis gastropubs is its model, and if it catches on, this is the place to be for it. We liked the glass wall partitioning diners from the occasion stray ball landing in our soup, with a huge hi-def TV on the far wall to give up a clear view of the game. But you want someone playing on that table.

Otherwise, it’s just wasted space.

The kitchen tries for something as contemporary as the atmosphere. It’s what it needs to be — pub grub. And that means shareable bites with lots of flavor. That worked with the pepperoni rosettes and knotted garlic pizza dough ($8), sickeningly rich and delicious and almost certainly unhealthy-for-you appetizers that were meant to be washed down with a match playing over your shoulder. Probably slightly healthier but also good was the asparagus/green bean tempura ($8) with spicy Asian mayo. Good start.

Then came the short-rib nachos ($9). The chips themselves were more like fried wontons crisp, airy and firm and sufficient to support the plentiful garnishes on top. The meat was styled more like pulled pork than a more traditional bone-loosened strip, and the meat itself was excellent. We think. The black bean puree that crowned it was simply too salty and overpowering. Bar food is meant to make you thirsty — its how you sell beer — but this interfered with the taste. Although the guac looked slightly anemic and pale, the taste was spot-on — creamy with chunks, and we got lots of heat from the side of jalapeño.

The pizzas ($9–$15) are a combination of New York and Chicago styles: Airy but thin-crusted, except for the bulbous edge crust. They are filling without forcing you to feel engorged.

There are several thoughtful ideas to elevate the preparation, chiefly a wood-burning oven. That’s what’s used, we assume, to prepare the wood fired pork chop ($16). It’s a thickly cut slab of meat, but that’s a danger with a pork chop you’re not stuffing: It gets quickly tough, as this one did. The plum glaze, a gooey concoction, added sweetness to the garlic mashed potatoes, but only tended to obscure the flavors of the pork. Perhaps for good reason: The pork was bland. Sliders were more on track, especially coming on potato bread with matchstick fries.

Desserts are out of the popular playbook for middlebrow cuisine: molten chocolate cake and cheesecake and the way-over-the-top s’mores calzone ($6), so sweet as to make Julie Andrews seem like a bitch. It’s definitely diet defeating.

That’s all right during the playoffs. Or the NCAA finals. Or the Super Bowl. But what’s gonna get me coming back here off-season? That’ll take a hail mary.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Tasting notes • 11.12.10

If your last name is “Wines,” you’re probably destined to become a sommelier, and that’s just what Emily Wines is. In fact, she’s one of fewer than 100 people in the U.S. to earn the title master sommelier (even fewer are women — Barbara Werley at Pappas Bros. is another). Wines works for the Hotel Palomar in San Francisco, but she’s coming to its Dallas cousin Thursday for a fundraiser for Resource Center Dallas. For a $20 donation, you can enjoy Emily’s “Wines for the Season” intro to white, red and sparkling vinos, as well as Central 214 executive chef Blythe Beck’s tasty bites. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 18.

Landmark Restaurant inside the Warwick Melrose Hotel is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its parent company with “Three for $30 Dinner” during the month of November. Come in an order an appetizer, entrée and dessert, and even taste some house wine, for 30 bucks. To book a res, visit LandmarkRestoDallas.com.

Kent Rathbun’s three local restaurants — Abacus, Jasper’s and Rathbun’s Blue Plate Kitchen — will do something they haven’t before: Sell the same item on all the menus while raising money for the North Texas Food Bank.

At a tasting this week, local foodies chose from among three yummy entrees to pick one that would make it on the menu. Anyone ordering that dish for $15 through Nov. 17 will get a complimentary pumpkin pie empanada dessert and earn a contribution to the NTFB, courtesy of Capital One Bank. The winner: A phenomenal chile-seared sea scallop on chipotle corn mash, pictured.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Election Day watch party locations

AT&T Plaza at Victory Park on south side of AA Arena

Election Day watch parties will be held Tuesday night at various locations in Dallas. Each county party will hold a rally and many candidates are hosting gatherings of their own.

The Dallas County Democratic Party will rally at AT&T Plaza in Victory Park by the south entrance of American Airlines Center. Stonewall Democrats of Dallas will be at Victory Park. The location in case of rain is the Jack Daniels Grill inside the arena.

The Dallas County Republican Party will be at Hotel Palomar on Central Expressway at Mockingbird Lane. Log Cabin Republicans will be at a private house in North Dallas. Contact the group for more information.

Openly gay District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons hosts a party at the Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Elba Garcia, the Democrat running for the District 4 seat on the Dallas County Commissioners Court, will be at the Kessler Theater on Davis Street in Oak Cliff.

County judge candidate Clay Jenkins and State Rep. Eric Johnson will be at Studio Bar & Grill, 1135 South Lamar near Gilleys and Southside on Lamar.

A number of candidates will be at Victory Park, including Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and State Rep. Carol Kent. Openly gay judicial candidate Tonya Parker will be nearby at the W Hotel.

Bill White’s Dallas campaign will be at Victory Park as well. White will be in Houston.

—  David Taffet