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Dallas Observer‘s Hanna Raskin: You Are Wrong About Dallas

Pay no attention to Tim. He’s clueless. However, I’ll say this about Dallas Observer restaurant critic, Hanna Raskin: she’s got ginormus matzah balls. I just finished a quick read of her cover story “Homesick Restaurants: How Dallas Became a Dining Nowhereville.” It’s is an interesting read, but I have a few problems with some of her observations. Like:

“The Dallas dining scene is broken, as anyone who’s eaten out lately can attest. It’s slipped from being a city that drew international attention for its renegade restaurants to a town where corporations serve as tastemakers, chefs aren’t taking chances and customers are so stingy with their food dollars that restaurants can’t engage in the type of fine-dining play that distinguishes cities such as Chicago and San Francisco.”

Well Hanna, “eat out lately” is all you have done. Hence your statement: “Atlanta has grits, Chicago has pizza, Memphis has barbecue and Dallas has—well, mussels.” Mussels are a trend (with chorizo!). You are right: We aren’t San Francisco or Chicago (or Los Angeles), we are Dallas. So, we don’t have what they have and that makes us broken? Yikes! Another outsider’s perspective on what we need.

At the risk of sounding like a female dog, I ask you why you chose to print this:

“Many chefs who chant the organic, local, seasonal mantra advocate a hands-off approach to cooking. “Chefs need to let ingredients speak for themselves,” Dallas Morning News critic Leslie Brenner wrote in her prescription for the city’s restaurants, published last summer.”

I’ve been writing about food here for 14 years. Why didn’t you call me?

Horrors!  Sharon Hage closed York Street! Avner Samuel reinvented himself again! Cool it.  Sharon will be back and Avner’s ability to shed his skin every few years and open another concept is, and has been for 30 years, an important dynamic here.  Oh, and by the way, Avner was an integral part of the “Gang of Five.” Born in Jerusalem, he cooked all over Europe before moving to Dallas in the early 80s and started making tortilla soup from scratch at the Mansion. Stephan and Dean will confirm his influence. They all learned a lot about their techniques and regional ingredients from the Mexicans in their kitchens. One of which, Amador Mora, now has his own restaurant, Maximo.

Dallas has ALWAYS been the way you find it now. Our cuisine sprung from cowboys and Mexicans, not a gold rush and a culture filled with ethnic neighborhoods. We have a long history of Tex-Mex. And chili. And Helen Corbitt’s casseroles (Have you eaten at the Zodiac Room? There’s some vintage Dallas food there.)

“Dallas’ untethered cuisine is so thoroughly out-of-step with how most epicureans are now thinking that the city’s begun to exist in a sort of self-imposed isolation, a decidedly unhealthy position for a city with culinary ambitions.”

Oh my head. I believe the kitchens in Dallas are more vibrant and progressive now than they have been in years. We have more farmers markets; we have a stronger “eat local” movement; we have vegetarian and vegan. Our locavore scene may not be as big as other cities, but it’s a hell of a lot bigger than it was ten years ago or even five years ago. TWO years ago. We are not broken. Quit trying to fix us. Grrr.

UPDATE: A smart chef in town just called me to say, “Dallas diners are the problem. They talk about being epicureans but at the end of the day they prefer to go to Houston’s.”

  • tinkerbell

    @Big Guy-

    If you seek to be offended, you will be. You, sir, are working overtime.

  • Justin

    @The Big Guy,

    You’ve accomplished some masterful trolling sir, hats off to you. You succeeded in completely misdirecting the point of the post from the merits of Raskin’s article to whether or not Nancy hates her some jews. Are you some how associated with The DO (I hope not, The DO is too important to honest journalism in Dallas for antics like this) or do you simply have an axe to grind with Nancy?

  • Stephan Pyles

    What I said Tim, was that it is disappointing that Dallas is not further up the gastronomic scale based on our momentum in the 1980s. Dallas is a second tier culinary city and I had once hoped that it would rise to the higher ranks. Of course I believe we are a great dining city, we’re just not New York or Chicago. You should know how a journalist can turn a phrase to suit their story.

  • wja4507

    Where’s Raskin’s solution to her perceived problem? Six online pages and no attempt at a solution.

    I challenge Raskin to this:

    Go back, bullet-point the myriad issues to clarify them, re-interview the cited and other chefs with an aim toward fixing those bullet-points, and publish a proposed solution (or two or more).

    To play off the baseball reference above: it’s real easy to call the pitches, much harder to step up to the plate (pun intended) and take a swing.

  • Glenn Campbell

    This was a great article that had to be written. The Dallas restaurant scene sucks, and it has for some time. I point to the opening of Voltaire in Plano as the beginning of the end. It ushered in the half-assed “vegas-ification” of the scene. The half assed major media food writers also have something to do w/ it as they reward bad behavior as it relates to creating a local identity.

    No wonder nn shills for tj’s every opportunity she gets— they’re buddies

  • Mike

    @Glenn I agree. Food writers have thanked Tristan’ed us to the point where we are drowning in lobster mac and cheese, mussels, and short rib sliders in good looking restaurants w posh drink lists.

  • David Hartford

    I think a few alluded to the fact that Hannah wrote this in order to spur controversy and it seems to have worked. But with that she also lost credibility. read what Pyles just said. She conjured the story and bent quotes to suit her needs.

    If these writers are not pleased with the sandbox they landed in it might be time to move along. Perhaps NYC and LA have a spot for each of these scurrilous she-dogs.

  • big tex

    Grow up Glenn. Have you ever been to TJ’s?
    She shills for it because its good. Thats it.

  • jonfromtjs

    @ Glenn Campbell

    “No wonder nn shills for tj’s every opportunity she gets— they’re buddies”

    The only times i have been in the same room as Nancy, she was masked. I literally would not recognize her if she walked into TJ’s today.

    I said i know her jewish FRIENDS. (Because all us jews know each other!)

    In direct response to your accusation of shilling, TJ’s has been recognized in 2010 by D Magazine, the Dallas Morning News, The Dallas Observer and been invited to take part in Taste of Dallas and the Dallas Food & Wine Festival. Clearly we’ve been doing some ass kissing, eh?

    Not fair on any account.

  • skeptic

    Food writers merely report what they perceive. While there is probably some accuracy to Haskin’s article, the problem remains that as a person who has been in Dallas for such a short time, she lacks the perspective to accurately assess the dining scene in Dallas in its entirety. Does she really think there is a better culinary city in North (or South) Carolina? My sister lives in Charleston. I know the dining scene in Charleston. Charleston, you are no Dallas! The food media have very little to do with the caliber of restaurants that exist (or don’t exist) in Dallas. The culinary scene in Dallas will improve when there are consumers to support innovation. One of our friends is a prominent chef in town and he tells a story of folks coming to his restaurant from other cities such as Tulsa, Tyler, or Shreveport. When they say “you should open a place like this in (fill in the city), we don’t have anything like this”, his response (to himself) is “there’s a reason. There’s no market”.

  • The Big Guy

    “The culinary scene in Dallas will improve when there are consumers to support innovation. ”

    This is the smartest thing written in all these posts

  • dallasboiler

    I agree with Stephan Pyles point, and I’d be disappointed if our established local chefs didn’t aim for Dallas to be a legitimate Tier 1 dining city. I think that it’s a notable accomplishment that some even try to argue that we belong in the same category given how we compare to those cities on size, diversity, history, and geography.

    How many cities of similar size can you think of that are as new as Dallas and as geographically ‘challenged’ that have much better dining scenes? I can think of only one, Las Vegas, and that’s due to its tourism industry. Otherwise, you’re looking at cities like Phoenix, San Antonio, Austin, Columbus, Charlotte, Memphis, and Denver. Those places all have a few good restaurants and maybe a signature cuisine (e.g.; Memphis ribs, etc.); but if I had to live 1 year dining in just one of those cities, I would pick Dallas for the breadth of choices and quality of the offerings that it has.

    I hope that Dallas’ best chefs keep aiming higher to bring new and interesting things to us; but I don’t see how unfavorable comparisons to New York, Chicago, L.A., etc. of the dining scene as a whole render Dallas’ as “broken”.

  • The Big Guy

    @dallasboiler –

    I have to disagree with your statement.

    Dining is Las Vegas is horrible, and in many ways is comparable to Dallas. Glitzy places, mediocre food. Las Vegas restaurants don’t have to be good, because the customers are not “regulars”. They get a steady stream of suckers. I would say, though, that Bouchon is excellent.

    The common theme in these posts, and in many conversations I have in about Dallas in general, is that what recommends Dallas is that it is “better than __________” or “cheaper to live in than _______________”.

    It is better than OKC, and cheaper than SFO.

    This does not make it GOOD, it just makes it better than the worse places.

    In addition, the fact that it is in the middle of no where is not really an excuse for the “triangle” of producers, chefs and consumers not to exist.

    The problem with Dallas cuisine is NOT that there are no chefs who can do inventive, local (if that’s what they dig, pun intended), interesting, high quality cuisine with a great dining experience. The problem is the CONSUMER in Dallas demands chain restaurants in strip centers, and they vote with their wallets.

  • DGirl

    Bruno Davaillon earned a Michelin star while he was chef of Alain Ducasse’s Mix in Vegas. He may be the only Michelin ranked chef in Dallas. True, Vegas doesn’t get the “regulars” that The Mansion gets here, but that didn’t stop the team at Mix from delivering excellence to every guest. And if you haven’t been to The Mansion lately, then go. A very diverse, innovative menu is wildly appreciated but the diners who go there. There are many regulars, many hotel guests and many special occasion diners who show up every night to enjoy Dallas’ best. This restaurant single handedly dispels the idea that Dallas dining isn’t good.

  • cp

    Did any of you read the opening 12 paragraphs of Hanna’s article? You don’t have to be from here to find the library and research archives of cookbooks from the 50’s. I think her point is that, at some point in the last century Dallas cooks were bold and daring, a quality not found much here any more- aside from Tex-Mex, and why should Tex Mex be the only thing that makes Dallas food “bold”?

    And yeah, scallops and mussels are the most boring food on the planet. The only things that set them apart from cardboard is what they are cooked in and served with. So, we have mussels here, big effing deal, so does every other two-bit town in the USA.

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  • linus

    am i commenter #67?

  • Brandy

    jon from tjs rocks.