In a rough year for restaurants, these helped define Dallas’ food scene
With the holidays now behind us, many of us are thinking about how much we ate — or overate — between that fateful Thursday in late November when turkey was consumed with reckless abandon until the last drop of bubbly was consumed to the echoes of "Auld Lang Syne."
But my thoughts of late have turned to other meals: those at new restaurants that, between late 2007 and until the last few weeks, got my taste buds jumping and kept me enthusiastic for eating out for yet another year.
2008 was tough on the restaurant industry, with some memorable meals had at new eateries that didn’t stick around until December. Scene, Blaine Staniford’s funky kitchen in the Mosaic downtown, was one of its victims, as was BLT Steak. But many other wonderful freshman restaurants have survived.
This is not a traditional top 10 list — how do you fairly compare burgers with boeuf bourguignonne? — but a snapshot of the top tables of the year: meals and experiences and concepts that stood out and helped define the year in Dallas cuisine.
1. Screen Door. Executive chef Fitzgerald Dodd took Scott Jones’ concept for high-end comfort food and made an astonishingly deft blend of down-home and uptown: re-imagined moon pies, elegantly styled fried green tomatoes, a deconstructed lobster pot pie. One of the coziest and classy restaurants around, it introduced One Arts Plaza as a foodie destination. Five restaurants have now filled in the complex, but it was the first — and the best. 1722 Routh St. at One Arts Plaza, 214-720-9111.
2. Soley! Fuse restaurant blends Texas and Asian cuisine; Nobu pioneered sushi and spice. But French meets Tex-Mex? Only at Soley! A disarmingly wonderful idea, executed with a guileless inevitability that makes you wonder why nobody thought of it before. (Look for a review soon in an upcoming edition of Dallas Voice.) 2405 N. Henderson St., 214-485-1302.
3. Charlie Palmer at the Joule. OK, so I didn’t love the lobster corndogs, and some desserts were hit-or-miss. But the elegant, ingenious and surprisingly well-priced downtown meta-steakhouse is plainly one of the best meal destinations in all of Dallas: Stunning dÃ©cor, masterful concept, spotless service and damn good food. 1530 Main St., 214-621-4600.
4. Dali Wine Bar. Although divided only by a courtyard, Dali and Screen Door in One Arts Plaza couldn’t be less similar in style, if not in appeal. Smallish, edgy and hip, Dali puts "bar" ahead of "grill" in its priorities, with a sizeable wine list. But chef Joel Harloff knows a thing or seven about creating dishes that compliment anything from a white Bordeaux to an Australian shiraz. Dali embodies that rarest of atmospheres: sophisticated coziness. 1722 Routh St. at One Arts Plaza, 469-385-9360.
5. and 6. Pescabar and Cibus. Alberto Lombardi is the mastermind behind value-driven creativity. He introduced crudo (sort of Italian sashimi) to Dallas through Pescarbar, his West Village restaurant that combines the flair of a Venetian masquerade with the homey flavors of his boot-shaped homeland. Then he developed the best sorbetti and gelati creamery this side of Roma, decorating it with mod-retro panache and adding a formal dining area. The result: A one-two punch that keeps us guessing even as it delivers familiar, lithe dishes. Pescabar, 3699 McKinney Ave. in the West Village, 214-522-3888; Cibus, 8687 North Central Expressway at NorthPark Center, 214-692-0001.
7. Blue Canyon. You have to haul butt out to Rockwall to enjoy Blue Canyon, but enjoy it you will. Unfortunately housed in a crowded mall, chef Brandt Evans’s inventively simple yet tantalizing dishes show fine dining deserves a place even in bedroom communities. 2101 Summer Lee Drive, Rockwall, 214-771-3512.
8. Bengal Coast. Mark Brezinski’s experiment in toning down the potentially overwhelming flavors of Southeast Asia (curries, peppers, etc.) with moderation could have become a bland alternative to "authentic" Indian and Thai cuisine. Is it Americanized? You betcha. But where it begs off being daring it more than makes up for in skillfully fluid execution, with a terrific price point (nothing over $20), can’t-miss items (the little gem "boats" — lettuce wraps to die for) and a soothing but exotic dÃ©cor at the corner of Oak Lawn and Cedar Springs.
9. Cowboy Chow. The four-star chefs responsible for Twisted Root Burger Co. have come up with yet another reason to return to Deep Ellum. Sturdy classics of the chuck wagon variety (brisket tacos with dirty rice, sloppy joe, chili — think Tex without the Mex) meet a casual, surprisingly droll sense of humor in design and concept (well, surprisingly only if you don’t know proprietor Jason Beso). If food can be both ironic and tasty, Cowboy Chow manages to be just that. 2801 Commerce St., 214-742-2469.
10. Sushi Axiom. The simplicity of Japanese cooking can be misleading, but this fusion version, with many sly tweaks to standard items, proved unexpectedly delightful. (Look for a review soon in an upcoming edition of Dallas Voice.) 2323 N. Henderson St., 214-828-2288.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 2, 2009.