I’m not a food critic. So when I went to last night’s 17th Cafe Momentum pop-up dinner, I was a little worried about if I could do the food justice. I wanted to capture the evening, but my inability to describe food as anything other than “yummy” or “delicious” had me concerned.
But the great thing about Cafe Momentum is that although it pops up at the hottest restaurants which are making some of Dallas’ best food, it’s about more than just the plate that’s set in front of you. It’s about the program and its mission. It’s about the young men who wait on you and plate your food. It’s about their stories. And it makes for a dining experience unlike any other in Dallas.
Cafe Momentum has been talked about quite a bit since its launch more than a year ago. Recently, Carol wrote about it and its founder, Chad Houser, formerly of Parigi but now full time with the program.
The premise of Cafe Momentum is great: teach juvenile offenders who have gone through Youth Village’s culinary program how to work in a restaurant—from front-of-house to the kitchen. When the young men finish the program, they’ll not only have experience but the names of some of Dallas’ best chefs on their résumé. The ultimate goal of the program is to have a stand-alone restaurant (Houser is currently searching for a location). But to get there, Cafe Momentum needs money. And that’s where the pop-up dinners come from.
Last night’s dinner at Oak, our restaurant of the year, was my first to attend. Before I got there, I had some questions. So, after the jump, is a guide for Cafe Momentum newbies. Continue reading "A Good Cause Plus Great Food Makes for a Unique Dining Experience"1 Comment »
Two weeks ago, the popular Katy Trail restaurant, Company Cafe, put up a massive chalkboard wall on its exterior, asking diners and passers by one question: What do you want to do before you die?
The project is a partnership with The Intown Chabad, a local Jewish community led by Rabbi Zvi Drizin. The point of this experiment is to get people to examine their potential and share their aspirations. Company Café operations manager Jeff Wells had seen similar projects in other cities and thought the restaurant would be a perfect fit for the concept. That’s why he put up the “Before I Die” wall.
“It’s such a focal point on the trail,” he said of the 15-foot board, covered in multicolored chalk. “We liked it because it really is a wonderful community project.”
So what’s on Dallas’ bucket list? Scribbles range from lofty to strange goals. Some want to travel the world, learn another language, and save a life. Others (who might not be taking the wall so seriously) write that they’d like to puke on a friend or bathe in cream corn. As for Wells’ dream?
“I haven’t written on it yet,” he said. “I’m trying to find the right one.”
Sarah Bennett graduated from Southern Methodist University in May 2011 with a degree in English/Creative Writing. She admits her nerdy passion for historical fiction, and can be found on the weekends cheering on the Mustangs from the Boulevard.
I’m late jumping onto the Boulevardier-love bandwagon, but we all know Oak Cliff’s new French bistro is bound to stick around for a long, long time. So, no rush, right? When the boys from Ava (Randall Copeland and Nathan Tate) and Veritas (Brooks and Bradley Anderson) announced they were moving into Bishop Arts District together, the neighborhood could hardly wait. Half of Oak Cliff has probably visited Boulevardier already and seen what everyone’s been making a fuss about, but I thought it’d be nice to make the other half jealous with Desiree Espada’s handsome photos.
Jump. I command you. These photos are fabulous.
Yesterday, I was invited to lunch at Trinity Groves. I sat at a large table surrounded by the partners involved in the massive project and several members of the Food and Concept Advisory Committee. As one of the partners, Phil Romano, chewed my ear off with details, Mike Babb filled my plate with barbecue.
Babb is the first “graduate” of the Trinity Groves Restaurant Incubator program. In short, Trinity Groves is the 13-acre restaurant-retail-artist-and-entertainment development at the base of the west end of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge which developers Phil Romano, Stuart Fitts, and Larry “Butch” McGregor expect to be what Silicon Valley is to high tech or what Ghirardelli Square is to San Francisco.
As Romano eased back on his sales pitch, Babb told the story of how he ended up snagging the first restaurant to open in Trinity Groves. It’s a classic tale: Man with boring job loves to smoke meats on the weekends. He delivers it to church functions. Somebody at the function asks him to cater her daughter’s wedding. Someone at the wedding has to have Babb’s ‘cue for a family reunion. Babb loses his job and becomes a caterer. His friends love his barbecue and urge him to open a restaurant. Babb hasn’t a clue on what to do. Somehow he found Phil Romano. BAM!
“I love barbecue and the blues,” said Babb. “My place is going to be indoor and outdoor. It’s going into that space right over there.” He points toward a 2,500-square-foot space which is currently a hollowed-out purple building. The name of the restaurant hasn’t been finalized.
I was honored to be the first media person to taste the first “product” to come out of Trinity Groves. It wasn’t the best barbecue I’ve ever tasted but it was also cooked someplace else and delivered to the project offices in tin pans. The ribs were tender and the accompanying sauce was more sweet than hot. The cole slaw was the best part of the meal. Babb admits he’s still tweaking his banana pudding recipe. But that is what the incubator program is all about.
As the plates were cleared, Romano wound up for his next pitch: “We’re going to have a food center and entertainment zone. We’ll have a brewery [Four Corners Brewing], a 10,000-square foot cooking school, ice cream shop where we will put extra protein in the ice cream to make it healthier, a fish market bigger than Pikes [in Seattle] with a major player coming in to do it, an oyster bar, a butcher shop making sausages, a German market, a local cheese maker and I’ve already talked to Paula, a chocolatier, a South American florist, a coffee roaster, a baker. You’ll see artist galleries and designers, jazz clubs, belly dancers, and Luna tortilla is moving their tower here and we’re putting in a glass wall so you can watch. Real diversity.” (Yes, belly dancers. Remember, this is Phil Romano I’m talking to!)
Stay with me…18 Comments »
Barbecue is a “cuisine” that attracts a peculiarly conservative following. If an establishment chops rather than slices brisket, ‘Cue Heads are roll. The act of applying sauce on the meat rather than on the side is enough to cast the establishment out of consideration as a true Texas barbecue joint. This is a cuisine where preserving authenticity never means ossifying the status quo.
Enter Off The Bone Barbeque on Lamar just south of the Dallas Convention Center (no relation to the identically named establishment in Forest Hill, TX), which did both these things when it opened in 2009. That ruled them out of consideration for many serious “barbequefiles.” Maybe this reaction explains why they have mended their ways. Brisket can now be ordered sliced with sauce on the side. Not much else has changed. The brisket still goes into the pecan wood-fired smoker about 5pm and cooks until about 7am. The pork ribs are still baby back ribs (not the less expensive spare ribs). They cook for about five hours and are then wrapped in foil to cook for about one additional hour with a coating of sauce to resolve the flavors. The sausage is filled with beef and nothing else. The sides and the dessert are all made in house.
D Magazine intern Jessica Melton attended a press preview of the food that will be featured at Taste of Greenville Avenue (TOGA) this weekend.
We’ve all been there before. The age-old looping conversation of “I don’t know, what do you want to eat?”
Every now and then we get a break from having to make these awkward decision and pick an event like Taste of Greenville Avenue to satisfy everyone in our group. TOGA is taking place this Saturday from 10AM to 8PM at 4925 Greenville Ave. TOGA is a lot like Taste of Addison and Taste of Dallas, only it localizes the event by focusing on the businesses on Greenville Avenue. About 30 Greenville eateries will pick their best dishes and offer smaller portions—that cost about $3-$6—giving everyone the chance to try as many restaurants in one outing as they want.
Jump for food porn.
I was tooling down Irving Blvd. yesterday after a run to the camera store and I spotted a couple of cars and a motorcycle in front of the soon-to-open Off-Site Kitchen. I opened the door to find owner/chef Nick Badovinus and chef Dan Riley trying out a few items for the menu. Besides getting a free cheeseburger (look out for this one, Dallas. It’s a bobbydazzler and it is only $3.50), I got a brief tour of the space which they hope to get open by the end of the month. The food, inspired by “what line cooks eat,” is basically simple sandwiches and breakfast burritos made from quality roasted meats. “Low and slow” in Badovinus-speak. “It’s light industrial food,” he said. “It’s the kind of food you want to eat before you go solder something.”
The tiny restaurant at the corner of Wycliff and Irving Blvd. will basically do breakfast and lunch, but they will be open until 6:30PM and offer take out, including meats by the pound. “All of our meats except rib-eye will be around $3 a pound,” Badovinus said. I also tried a sliced peppered kielbasa sandwich topped with a sliced lettuce salad tossed in a Carolina pulled pork vinaigrette. (Sorry, I finished it before I remembered to photograph it.) Off-Site Kitchen will be a sandwich-lovers dream. They make it easy to grab and go or stay and eat on the covered patio.
Jump for photos.
John Jay Myers has swung the doors wide on The Free Man, his new Cajun cafe & lounge in Deep Ellum. His mission: combining a bit of Bourbon Street with a nightly live-music venue. Menu items: etouffee, jambalaya, gumbo, boudin, alligator, and more. Sounds great to us, but the Cajun vs. Creole distinction seems to have some people in a huff. The general consensus: Bourbon Street/New Orleans=dignified Creole, while western Louisiana=wild & wooly Cajun.
I’m guessing you have a lot to say about the hair-splitting (or cavernous) distinction. I do so love a debate.
If you ever decide to become a restaurant critic be prepared for the inevitable question: “What is your favorite restaurant in Dallas?” It’s a hard question for me to answer. Not because I’m evasive, it’s because I feel like I have to quantify my choice by answering “well, if I’m in the mood for Mexican then I would consider this place or that place. If I want casual then I head here.” And so on and so forth. Pick one out of 6,200? That’s tough.
Ten days ago I took my mother, brother, and sister-in-law to dinner at The Grape. I wasn’t going to do a review. I wasn’t even hungry. I’d just spent a long week and a half eating tricked up fancy food at a new restaurant in Dallas and I just wanted to kick back and enjoy time with my family. Two and a half hours later, I emerged renewed. Just when I thought I couldn’t be impressed, I was impressed. I can now say, without hesitation, that The Grape is currently my favorite restaurant in Dallas.
I decided to call chef/owner Brian Luscher, who I’ve never met in person, and talk to him about my experience at his restaurant and discuss some of the details he pursues in his kitchen. I combined the interview with a quick review.
Jump for the glory of The Grape.29 Comments »
Downtown’s pretty exciting right now. First, Dirt opened on Monday (adorable store, go visit). Then, last night, Wild Salsa opened. And, according to a conversation I had with the manager at Pho Colonial, their downtown location will open in two weeks.
My husband and I have been watching Wild Salsa be built for the past few months, so we decided that even if there was a wait, we were going to try it out. Turns out, there was no wait.
The exterior of the place confused me. Someone said the sign looks like it belongs to a tattoo parlor. I agree. And then they put up a big Day of the Dead mural next to the gorgeous doors. So I was a bit more confused. To the right of all that, you can see into the kitchen. And you can also see that the windows are to be opened. That’s because they’re going to serve tacos from those windows and have seating available outside (and dog treats for those with furry friends).
Okay. So they’re starting to win me over.
Rita and Sara Vazquez, the two smart and sassy gals behind the counter at International Bakery Cuban Dulceria, are throwing a three-day festival (May 19, 20 and 21 from 9:00am to 5:00pm) to honor the glamorous days in Cuba. They have invited Cuban artists, vendors, and musicians and there will be food. Lots of traditional Cuban food. The menu so far includes:
Cuban food from International Bakery Cuban Dulceria serving El Cuban, Pan con Lechon (pork sandwiches), Media Noche (midnight sandwich) and others plus pastel de carne, croquetas, papa rellenas (stuffed potato ball), mariquitas (plantain chips) and much more. Quench your thirst with traditional Cuban soft drinks like Iron beer (iron beer), Materva (mate), and Jupiña (pineapple). And of course enjoy the cold taste of Coca-Cola, whose first plant out of the U.S. was in Cuba. Savor our Families Favorites -pastelitos de Guayaba y Queso (Guava&Cheese pastry), Guayaba (Guava pastry) Pastelitos de Coco (Coconut pastry) & more. Dulces Finos, Capuchinos (drenched cones-cakes) Senoritas (Napoleons) Éclairs de Carmelo (Carmeled Éclair plus Éclairs de Chocolate (Chocolate Éclair)
Tastings from Bustelo Supremo! Goya! And cigar rolling! Music. Call 972-242-3797 for more info.
A well-informed, reliable Oak Cliff-dwelling person informed me that chef Kelly Hightower walked into the restaurant and punched one of his partners (“the dude who usually works the door”) around 7:30 pm on Friday night. “The guy’s face was all bloody,” says my secret source. “And the dining room was packed.” Talk of the incident is the buzz of conversation all over the OC. I contacted Hightower and he replied, “Nova has no comment at this time.”20 Comments »
I’m happy to report that some newspapers still have a budget! Last week, at the request of their sports department, the New York Times sent restaurant critic Sam Sifton to advance the local food scene. He did a fairly good job of flushing out a few out-of-the-way places. I was happy to read that Sifton connected with BBQ Snob, Daniel Vaughn. Here is Sifton’s piece. And his follow-up blog post. I have left a link to SideDish on the NYT blog, but doubt it will get past moderators. So read it and leave comments. I’m going to opening night party for the media tonight. I will direct all of them to this link. So, bundle up and let’s send them to taste the real Dallas/Fort Worth.5 Comments »
Chow down and shop it up on Henderson Ave. this Wednesday night from 6-9 pm when merchants and restaurants will pair up to host the 19th annual Candlelight Walk on Henderson. Stop by any of the participating retailers to enjoy complimentary finger foods and excellent pre-holiday deals.
When the Discovery channel announced the development of Brew Masters, a new shadow-style reality show following the men behind the malt, specifically the brew-ventures of Dogfish Head Brewery’s brewer-founder Sam Calagione, we jumped for joy (or would have if we hadn’t had so much beer last night).
We thought we couldn’t be happier as we marked our calendars for the Nov. 21 premier.
Flash forward to last Saturday morning when I received an email from my buddy Jeff Fryman, in-house cicerone at The Common Table, who told me that, starting with the premier episode at 9pm on the 21st, The Common Table will be throwing Sunday evening viewing parties.
Happiness officially compounded.
“Hey,” says Jeff, “if people can have Sex in the City parties we damn sure can have one for our favorite beverage, right?”
Be sure to call ahead if you want them to save you a seat. But beware if you’re seated next to one of us; we SideDishers can get a little mouthy, I mean handsy, I mean excitable when we drink.
Consider yourself forewarned.
Here is something we have not seen for a long time: a new Malaysian restaurant! Blue Ginger Garden is situated in the southeast corner of Independence and Parker in central Plano. Signs in the front proclaim: Malaysian Cuisine and Nyonya Delights. Those are clues that the people behind this establishment are aware of the multiple cultures that underpin the cuisine in that country where the majority of the population (60%) is Malay, Chinese make up 30%, and almost another 30 % is Indian. Malaysia is the crucible for merging these ethnic cuisines to produce something that, like grapes in a fine wine, is more than the sum of its parts. The best-known example is Nyonya cuisine, a confluence of Chinese and native Malay influences. The result is that a Malaysian restaurant has the potential to be a very special experience or a disaster if the kitchen fails to grapple with the subtleties of cooking the recipes of so many cultures.
The menu at Blue Ginger Garden is ambitious. You could start with Indian-inspired roti canai (Indian pancake) $2.75 . Continue with a bit of China with the Penang chow kueh teow (stir-fried noodle, Penang-style) $8.75 before proceeding to nyonya acar (mixed vegetable relish) $$5.75 or nyonya pig trotters with vinegar $8.95. The menu is five pages long and includes the lunch menu where everything is less than $7.
The people behind Blue Ginger Garden are Esther & Hai Say. Hai, a retired engineer, works the front of the house. Esther, a former tailor(her work bedecks the windows and walls), is in the kitchen. If you think backgrounds so removed from the restaurant business are unpropitious for a good meal, taste the food. On our visit the chef showed a dutiful attention to flavors and textures. My dining companion, a native Malaysian who had just returned from a two-week vacation back home, pronounced Blue Ginger’s roti canai better than the versions she ate in Malaysia. I particularly enjoyed the (Chinese influence) hometown pork belly with wood ear, an interesting mushroom that looks like a window blind and tastes meaty like a shitake).
The restaurant has been open for two weeks and is still working themselves out, but early signs are good. If you have a group of 8 to 10 people, you may want to reserve the private room. Oh, and Blue Ginger Garden is BYOB. We will be back.