Tasting Notes: May the Fourth, Cinco de Mayo and more

Thursday is May the Fourth, a fauxliday for Star Wars fans. Friday is Cinco de Mayo, aka May 5, and traditionally an exciting holiday for those who love Mexican food and drink. And Saturday is the Kentucky Derby. So lots to keep in mind these days. Here are some events coming up to keep in mind.

First, Q Tacos at Macho Cantina, the new name and concept of Quesa, is open on Cedar Springs, just in time for Cinco de Mayo. All week, they are serving $6 Avion Tequila margaritas and boilermakers, plus the house sangria. And Friday night will feature a DJ on hand from 8 p.m. til 2 a.m. My review of Q Tacos will appear next week, but the short version is: Go there!

Tacodeli, which I have praised for having some of the best salsas around, has decided to release those salsas outside their restaurants. Starting Friday, the dona (spicy), roja (medium) and verde (mild) salsas will be on sale at Whole Foods stores in Texas, as well as Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. (Tacodeli is based in Austin.) The price is $6.99 per 12 oz. container.

Tricky Fish in Richardson is celebrating May the Fourth with a party, constant screening of Star Wars movies and specialty items like The Ham Solo burger, and cocktails like The Yoda, the Death Star and Java the Hut.

One of my favorite restaurants of last year, the Southern-themed Grayson Social, is marking Derby Day with  a brunch that included a variety of juleps (cucumber lime, lavender mint, etc.) for just $8 or a flight of three for $15.

The second of three planned restaurants from Headington Companies has opened in the Design District. This week Sassetta, an Italian resto at Hi Line and Oak Lawn, opened for dinner. It joins neighbor Wheelhouse and the soon-to-open Go Go.

And finally, congrats to John Tesar, who commemorated the publication of his new book, Knife, with a signing at The Highland earlier this week. The cookbook shows how to make Texas-style steakhouse cooking at home. Congrats, chef.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

John Tesar packs his knives on ‘Top Chef’ finale

Dallas chef John Tesar made it all the way to the Top Chef finale, only to get booted just before the end.

Part 1 of the 2-part finale of the cooking competition series aired last night, with the three finalists — also including Sheldon and Shirley — were joined by recently-eliminated chef Brooke to pair a tequila cocktail with a local Mexican dish. (Most of the season was set in Charleston, S.C., but the finale moved south of the border.) Tesar, who runs the steakhouse Knife in The Highland, was critiqued for making a too-plain margarita in the challenge that overwhelmed his caldo.

This was his second stint on the show — this season pitted veterans with newcomers. The finale was comprised entirely of veterans (and only one newcomer even made it to the top 8). Tesar did much better this time.

Now I’m rooting for Sheldon.

Oh, and the episode where they has to make margaritas aired less than a week before National Margarita Day. Come back to InstanTea later today for places to check out for a good marg this week. And maybe ask for one at Knife as well.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

PHOTOS: DIFFA’s Burgers & Burgundy

The annual Burgers & Burgundy fundraiser for DIFFA Dallas moves from a Preston Hollow estate to the Ron King Pedestrian Bridge with its breathtaking views of both Downtown and its neighboring “Large Marge” Bridge.

The evening got off to a slightly late start, as the health inspector loped around before signing off on the cooking stations, but when it got into full swing attendees were greeted by excellent gourmet burgers from chefs at Knife (pimento cheese!), Five Sixty (lamb!), The Grape (the famed “Uncle Herky mini!), Common Table, Madrina and more, represented by culinary masters like Sharon Van Meter, Casey Thompson, Brian Luscher and more. Check out some  scenes from the event.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Cookout fundraiser Burgers & Burgundy moves to Trinity Groves

knifeBurgers & Burgundy started when chef John Tesar was on the DIFFA Style Council and wanted to host a fundraiser. I was at the first one… and the six since then. It has moved from an Uptown condo rooftop to a fancy North Dallas estate’s garden, where it has been for several years. It seems it has finally outgrown that space, though, and for its 8th year will move to the Ron Kirk Pedestrian Bridge, the walkway connecting Calatrava’s “Large Marge” with the Trinity Groves development in West Dallas.

It’s a fancy-casual event with live music and celebrichefs, where folks dress dapper and simple, where simple burgers are transformed into works of culinary art … all to raise money for DIFFA. This year, it comes on the heals of Black Tie Dinner (which, technically, moved a lot earlier this year), taking place on Friday, Oct. 7, from 6:30–9:30 p.m. Tickets are $150 and space is limited.

In addition, here are some photos from the recent check presentations to the beneficiaries of this year’s DIFFA, presented at LA Traffic at The Joule Hotel.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Knife launches weekend film series to coincide with DIFF

Arianna 5

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

Exclusive: Burgers & Burgundy chef lineup

Grace's Blaine StanifordBurgers & Burgundy, the chef-driven fundraiser for DIFFA, returns on Oct. 2 to the same Preston Hollow estate where it has been for the past two years. And once again, the lineup of local and national celebrichefs. In addition to organizing chef John Tesar (Knife, Oak, El Bolero), among those area chefs coming up with creative takes on the traditional sandwich will be:  Blaine Staniford (Fort Worth’s Grace, pictured at last year’s event); Matt McCallister (FT33); Tre Wilcox; Brian Luscher (The Grape, Luscher’s Red Hots); Jason Campbell (Whole Foods) and Kevin Williamson (Ranch 616). In addition, newcomers will be Joshua Smith (Maine’s Moody Delicatessen), Kris Morningstar (L.A.’s Terrine, who recently was part of another Knife fundraising dinner in Dallas), Justin Brunson (Denver’s Old Major).

Tickets range from $85 to $150, and benefit DIFFA.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

My offer to Aaron Franklin: Move your barbecue joint to my backyard

Aaron Franklin cooking last month in Dallas. Austin may force him to shutter his exquisite BBQ joint.

A number of years ago, “neighbors” along 75 and Mockingbird Lane complained about the “odor pollution” caused by a local business. The business? The Mrs. Baird’s bakery, which has been there more than 50 years. I called “bullshit” at the time — the bakery had been an institution, and who in their motherfrickin’ minds would ever consider the aroma of fresh bread wafting by as “pollution”? People pay to have that smell put in their cars. I suspected the “neighbors” was SMU, trying to get the land for developm… oh, look! The Mrs. Baird’s factory closed and SMU bought up the land! What are the chances?

Anyhoo, that’s Dallas for ya. Dumb regulations. Forget tradition. But that’s not Austin.

Only now it is Austin.

The website I Am A Texan has a post about how Austin’s city council has effectively launched a plan to ban from Austin City Limits (hey, that could be the name of a TV show!) smokehouses. Expensive diffusers. Shorter smoking hours. New equipment. It would all but ruin the distinctive cuisine of the city; they might as well outlaw live music and cycling. Dumbasses.

I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Aaron Franklin recently here in Dallas. The founder of Franklin Barbecue, winner of the most recent James Beard Award for outstanding chef in the Southwest, and author of a best-selling cookbook is the best ambassador for Texas BBQ the state has ever had, and every city in Texas would kill to claim him. And Austin basically wants him to move.

So here’s my proposal: Move Franklin Barbecue to Dallas. You can set up in my backyard. My only rent will be an end cut twice a day. Maybe a rib if ya got ’em.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Knife launches film series with, natch, ‘Chef’

chefIt’s an example of life imitating art and then using art to illustrate life. Last summer, just as the indie film Chef — about a volatile chef who gets into a viral shouting match with a local food critic — was hitting theaters, John Tesar, the chef at the newly-opened Knife steakhouse at The Highland Dallas, was getting into a very public shouting match with a local critic (not me, of course — I’m a delight). There were some who accused Tesar of capitalizing on the film (ludicrous, since it wasn’t a big hit anyway) … though he did address that in my interview with him about the opening of Knife. In the same article, chef told me that one of his plans for the restaurant was a film series on the outdoor patio area, which Tesar — himself a movie fan — would program.

So perhaps it is not a huge surprise that, for the introduction of the series (which is a lot later than we expected, but that’s the restaurant business for you), Tesar has chosen to screen … Chef. Honestly, that’s not something you should miss, if only to howl at the similarities (and dissimilarities) with Dallas reality. It kicks off on Sunday, May 17. And keeping with the foodie theme, subsequent films will include Big Night, Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Julie and Julia.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

DMN food critic Leslie Brennan ranks at the bottom of a national list

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Dallas’ major daily food critic sinks in national poll … and look who’s smiling.

The website The Daily Meal polls chefs nationwide (and anonymously) about what they think of the critics who write about them. Overall, 28 critics were reviewed (not, I hasten to point out, me; the rankings are mostly limited to the major dailies, statewide magazines and national blogs). The highest-ranking Texas critic, Austin’s Pat Sharpe, came in at No. 11. And Dallas Morning News’ Leslie Brenner? At No. 26. Of 28.

Criteria include food knowledge as well as prose style and “who you’d like to share a meal with,” so it’s no wonder Brenner faired poorly, following the divisive Twitterfeud between her and Knife founder John Tesar (who, incidentally, did not observe the “anonymous” option in the poll).

Incidentally, Knife was my No. 1 restaurant of the year (despite giving it as many stars as others on her Top 10, Knife was nowhere on Brenner’s year-end). Tesar was also just nominated for a James Beard Award for best chef/Southwest, alongside other Dallas cooks: Matt McCallister, Omar Flores and David Uygur. San Salvaje by Stephan Pyles was also nominated as best new restaurant in America, and Pyles as best overall chef.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

A few people we think of when we think 2014

BWDP_Bruce profile-1

Bruce Wood

Tomorrow’s edition of Dallas Voice reveals our annual choice for LGBT Texan of the Year. I won’t spoil who we chose, but in going over the year in my mind, some names stuck out — they were on my mind during 2014 a lot, for a variety of reasons. For instance, Bruce Wood — a friend and also one of the most frighteningly talented artists Texas has ever seen (I swear that’s not an exaggeration) — passed away, far too soon, at age 53 this past May. We did a cover story about Bruce the following week, cause he touched so many lives.

The community also reacted strongly to the passing of Chris Miklos, a muscleman popular in the bear community, but also a medical researcher who did a lot of good for people. Just a few weeks ago, I was stunned and saddened by the death, at age 31, of Brandon James Singleton, an actor, dancer and funny, skilled writer (he contributed a terrific series to Dallas Voice in 2012 about turning 30). Just as recently, two community leaders — Paul Lewis, a former executive with Caven and Steve Bratka, a huge fundraiser for the Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats — passed away.

Wed Steve Dan

Noviello and Bedner

Not everyone who resonated died, of course. Mark Pharris and Victor Holmes of Plano won a marriage equality against the state of Texas — bully for them! And bully, too, for Jack Evans and George Harris, who finally tied the knot last March after more than decades as a couple (though not legally binding, their retired pastor wanted to make a statement to the Methodist Church). TV personality Steve Noviello did enter wedded bliss — legally — to his partner Doug Bedner in New York. Matt Miller brought the Gay World Series of Softball back to Dallas, and we were all glad to see thousands of athletes out at the clubs. And Stephan Pyles got more recognition for his cuisine for his new restaurant, San Salvaje. We were also pleased as punch when our favorite radio commentator, Rawlins Gilliland, did his first live spoken word show … and it was such a hit, he did several more.

There were some important allies who we cheered on, as well, from failed gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and lieutenant governor hopeful Leticia Van de Putte. Local chef John Tesar caused such a stir in the foodie community, we were happy he was on our side as a gay-friendly restaurateur. And Dale Hansen raised the bar high early on with his full-throated advocacy for gays in sports.

Think we left off someone important? Possibly — feel free to weigh in with comments. Then again, maybe they are in tomorrow’s paper — or even on the cover! Check it out Friday!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones