Safe bet

Turtle Creek Chorale plays it safe for the holidays — and it shows

concert-2

SANTA’S BACK | The Turtle Creek Chorale continues its tradition of bringing ol’ Saint Nick out for its Christmas concert, but some tweaks might make the show feel more contemporary. (Photo courtesy TCC)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Tradition is a funny thing, especially during the holidays. Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas without Charlie Brown and his sad little tree, or driving through neighborhoods to gawk at the twinkling lights. But while changing routines can shake things up, it’s also a good way to start new traditions.

In the Turtle Creek Chorale’s holiday show My Favorite Things, many of the chorus’ traditions remain intact: The poinsettia dedication, Santa Claus ho-ho-hoing it up, a sign-language version of “Silent Night,” But a spike in the egg nog would not be out of place.

To be fair, the chorale underwent some major changes in the last few months, appointing both a new executive director, David Fisher, and interim conductor, Trey Jacobs, who has had to hit the ground running with a season (and dates!) already announced. You can grant them some slack for that, but the chorale’s opening concert, while at times inspiring, could also feel anemic.

Getting off to an energetic start, a crew of members tells the audience about their indulgences before launching into the show’s title track performance. A humorous and high-spirited tone kicked off the show gloriously, followed by the gorgeously majestic “Gloria Fanfare.” Jacobs wields a confident hold over the solid-sounding voices of the chorale. But that energy takes a major nosedive with a troika of serious and somber numbers.

The small Encore group turn up the silly factor with “An Elf’s Life” but miss the mark. The voices are reliable, but the cast lacks the panache needed for the bit to soar. The number is saved by an Occupy North Pole elf that generates major laughs and applause. The first act ends almost as soon as it begins with spirits high in the always punchy “We Need a Little Christmas.”

Although I don’t quite get the monks-versus-nuns concept for “Hallelujah,” the second half opener is hilarious as singers combine flag corps and Bob Dylan, lifting lyrics on cards in choreographed fashion. Whether on purpose or not, the small mistakes with upside-down cards or missed signals add a comic layer that hopefully they’ll keep.

The same can be said for “Jingle Bells,” as members demonstrate some fancy foot-stepping — part ballet, part drill team, but charming as heck. When confusion ensues as they link arms, it ends up being flat-out hysterical, adding volumes to the light-hearted tone.

These gaffes contribute wonderful charm to the show. But they might consider reverting from the live retelling of “The Christmas Story According to Linus” to the actual recording; a man dressed as Linus just doesn’t convey the tender heart of the original. The accompanying live Nativity only reminds me of my one-line role as a shepherd in my elementary school play, and The Sound of Music’s Maria is a running gag through the show that never quite works.

At times, My Favorite Things is weighed down by an abundance of downbeat songs in succession, and a lack of contemporary tunes does allow for younger audiences (not children necessarily, either) to be reeled in. The twenty-somethings in front of me didn’t seem to connect with the show, giggling and whispering during some of the songs.

But My Favorite Things is still a solid show, even with some misguided nuances. Opening night jitters were apparent, but gave an unexpectedly welcome relief to the concert. Fisher’s poinsettia dedication was anecdotal and beautifully poetic and Jacobs handled the chorale and the audience with experienced savvy. The dreary rain and biting cold didn’t dampen the audience as that other annual chorale tradition occurred: The standing ovation.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Rawlins Gilliland debuts new KERA radio column

When he’s not auctioning at Art Con, Gililand speaks his mind on new KERA segment. (from Facebook)

We may not enjoy those lengthy membership drives KERA has like every other week (OK, every other month?), but thankfully Rawlins Gilliland brings a certain Southern panache to the drive. With sassy wit and comic timing, Gilliland also makes them bearable. We caught up with him last October when he and artist Cathey Miller repped the LGBT contingent at the Pecha Kucha event.

Today, he returned to KERA, not for a drive, but for the first of his on-air columns. And for his debut, “A Verbal Mongoose Guide To Bullies And Bores,” he talks about coping with bullying as he grew up.

He posted this Monday on Facebook announcing the new show:

I return to the KERA Commentary airwaves Tuesday Sept. 20th, both on Morning Edition & later on All Things Considered with an oral essay, “A Verbal Mongoose Guide to Bullies & Bores” about my personal journey to self-protection & creative retaliation regarding being pushed to the brink of teenage suicide.

The issue of bullying in general is very prominent today & relative to gay issues, endemic. So my hope is that my seemingly light spin on this critical issue will make people laugh, yes, but think. Think.

Typically these pieces air shortly after 6:30 am & repeat shortly after 8:30 & then air on All Things Considered shortly after 4:30ish all on 90.1 fm KERA. Hope you can hear it on-air but if not the link to listen will be posted on my FB page after it airs.
Love you, Rawlins

You can either listen to it or read the transcript here.

—  Rich Lopez

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

……………………………………

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