It’s nice to see this tiny trend in Dallas—small seafood markets growing by stages into little restaurants. Rex’s on Lovers is one example; Sea Breeze in Plano is another. Owner Mark Alterman has created a dedicated following for the market’s New England clam chowder, lobster rolls, and fresh, wild seafood. Now he’s going to give his fans a place to sit. The space will expand by 50 percent and will allow for a full-service restaurant and bar. Additionally, they will ramp up their catering business. Construction is already underway and the project is expected to be completed in November.
For months I’ve driven by the bold, black banner hanging high for all to see. Taunting me. Enticing me. Confusing me, even. “Coming Soon, Uncle Uber’s Sammich Shop.” Who’s this Uncle Uber guy? What does he have against the ‘sandwich’? What ever happened to Fat Ted’s? Are people saying uber again? It’s normally at that point that I would get flooded by depressing memories of my failed attempts to bring back the word ‘boss’, and disheartedly head home … sammich-less. But come Thursday, that acerbic banner will be down, as Uncle Uber opens the door to his shop o’ sammiches.
I was lucky enough to get a call from the Uncle himself, who offered to let me try the place out before the soft opening this Thursday. Needless to say, I was uber pumped to see what this place was all about.
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Last night I decided to drop into Princi Italia, Patrick Colombo’s new spot in the old Poplolos space in Preston Royal. The executive chef, Kevin Ascolese, was Columbo’s chef at Ferre in West Village. Before that he cooked at Salve and Mi Piaci. I also spotted veteran chef/baker David Brawley in the kitchen. If my brain synapses are functioning correctly today, I believe Brawley and Ascolese were together at Salve. (I can still taste the bread he made there.)
The space, designed by JonesBaker, has been completely redone into a sort of contemporary Texas-Tuscan farmhouse. The ceilings have been raised and I loved the rustic basket “chandeliers.” The room is light and open. I feel like the bar area may prove to be too small once word hits the surrounding neighborhood. Two flat screen TVs can be seen from any spot in the house. (Not so Tuscan.)
However, the food was classic Ascolese which translates into finer versions of “safe” Dallas Italian food. I could eat the tagliatelle Bolognese every night. The sauce was barely a sauce. The light, house made noodles were tossed with fresh tomatoes, basil, small bits of meat, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Not a drop of liquid pooled on the bottom of the plate. Which I guess is a good thing because there would have been nothing for me to sop it up with. No bread. Patrick, you hired David Brawley and don’t serve bread on the table? Yes, he can make pizza dough; he proved that at Fireside Pies. And Princi does have a wood burning pizza oven. I guess I’ll eat pizza next time.
I almost choked on a salad of rapini and arugula. The greens were blanched and formed a tangled salad of soggy leaves and stems which were topped with a salty, in a good way, blob of burrata cheese. Once again I yearned for bread. The broth beneath the weed was a drinkable liquid of olive oil, specks of red pepper, and lemon. The plates of Italian “specialties” such as grilled Colorado trout, veal Slatimbocca, and grilled wild Alaska salmon going to other tables looked interesting. The portions are just right and priced from $13 to $20. The list is full of nice Italian reds, whites, and sparkling wine most of which are in the mid-$30 to $50 range. You can order a carafe of several interesting wines for $15 to $31 (12 ounces).
Princi reminds me of Popolos when they first opened—it’s a perfect fit for the demographics of the nearby neighborhood. However, times have changed and Princi is much more casual. Shower shoes and shorts and school uniforms were the norm last night.
Monday night, the Winspear Opera house hosted a sold-out concert featuring Kathleen Edwards, a Canadian folk and country singer, and Bon Iver. Yesterday, one concert attendee, Dallas Observer critic Scott Reitz, wrote a post about the ridiculously expensive “petite sandwiches” served at the concession stand. He posted a picture of what looked to be space food canapes—little Pacman-shaped bread circles with a slice of roasted beef. A little later, I received an email from a reader who’d tried to dine at The Commissary on Monday night. The place was jammed. The reader said the food was good but the service was a disaster.
In the comments section of Reitz’s post, the ubiquitous Jon Alexis (jonfromtjs) made some remarks that rocked my opinion of One Arts Plaza. I admire Lucy Billingsley and her vision of creating a space where Arts District patrons can dine before and after a show. However, Jon pointed out the problems on Monday night. Snippets: “Commissary delicious but slammed, understaffed, and stressed;” “Screen Door, chef working bar, poor lady so frazzled she’s knocking glasses over;” “Jorge’s, one bartender for 20 people at the bar.” Both Tei-An and Fedora were closed.
Jon brings up a great point. “Can the restaurants not look at the schedule and see when a concert is sold out MONTHS prior that they should staff up?” I thought Screen Door offered pre-event dinners but perhaps they only run for larger events. The patio area is a perfect place to hang before and after events. I would think the already struggling restaurants would at least stick a buffet table outside and serve some drinks. Or call in the food trucks. This is a perfect scenario for One Arts on what would otherwise be a slow Monday night. I’m sure the Kathleen Edwards concert drew a crowd that would have returned to any of the places at One Arts Plaza if they’d been impressed. Now, all they remember are plastic packets of Pacman canapés made by Wolfgang Puck Catering. But don’t get me started on that again. (Wolfgang Puck? Why not a local caterer.)37 Comments »