The most important message I took away from my first two visits to 20 Feet Seafood Joint was clear: get there early. On previous visits, I’d arrived around 7 pm and found myself standing in a long line. Even though the line to the counter where you place your order moves fast, there is no guarantee that a seat will be waiting for you after you pay. It is most certainly a joint, a self-service, BYOB restaurant with no frills. There are only 50 seats inside and another 24 on the front porch.
My eating team and I arrived for my last visit at 6:15 pm on a Friday night. The wait to order was short, but all of the seats in the dining room were taken. Co-owner and chef Marc Cassel was hustling through the area, delivering plates and baskets of food. On one run, he attempted to slip between two chairs just as one of the patrons pushed back. Cassel lurched forward and stutter-stepped to regain his balance. As if on cue, the music changed from Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’ ” to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” I watched Cassel apologize to his guests as Dylan wailed: “Once upon a time you dressed so fine.” I could not have choreographed the moment better.
This opulent restaurant clings to the fine-dining standards of old. They still have a dress code— no jeans, no tennis shoes. Tables are set formally with crystal wine glasses, china, and knife rests. I recognized most of the people working the floor; our server has been working there for 28 years. Ask for a glass of Champagne and the sommelier appears. He delivers the order and describes how the glass is etched to induce the lovely bubbles to form a single line to the top. The temperature is 47 degrees, cool enough to quench but warm enough to take in the yeasty qualities of the wine. In early March, there were three dining options: a three-course option with a seasonal slant ($55), a three-course menu from their list of classics ($80), and a five-course tasting ($110). However, the menu options change frequently. We found all of the menus uninspired, almost dated, compared to what is going on in other kitchens in town.5 Comments »
I just read Leslie Brenner’s review of Kenny’s Smoke House (subscription required). In it she writes
“It wasn’t until she [server] delivered everyone else’s main courses that she told me she’d been mistaken: It was Cajun-spiced and blackened. Go ahead and bring it, I said, not wanting to wait. But like the chicken, it looked so awful that I sent it back and got the New Orleans barbecue shrimp, vaguely chemically tasting specimens that came in a buttery sauce with slices of white bread.”
That made me think. I’ve been reviewing restaurants for 16 years and the only times I have sent food back was because it wasn’t cooked properly or the product was rancid, not because I didn’t like it or that it looked awful. To me, that is what I am there to report on. I realize there are times a reviewer performs acts such as sending back food or asking for something to be cooked differently to see how the staff and kitchen handle the situation. That is important information to relate to potential diners.
Brenner’s act of sending food back made me stop and reassess my process. If something is not to my liking I am more likely to leave the plate full to see if anyone picks up on the fact that I did not eat the food. All critics have different methods. I’d like to hear what you think a dining critic should do? Send it back? Or write about what happened?16 Comments »
We were a party of two adults and two children. We ordered two glasses of wine, two salads, and three pizzas. We paid $127.01. I probably wouldn’t have gasped so loud when the bill came if the food had been better. The kitchen uses high-quality ingredients; they deserve to be cooked and served properly. It didn’t help that the service lagged from the second we sat down.
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Matt McCallister likes to eat at Mission Chinese Food when he’s in New York City, and he once found a baby snake while foraging for spring onions. He runs 6 miles on a treadmill to take the edge off when he’s had a rough day. His wife, Iris, owns a small brownie-making concern. She is picky about the soaps she uses in her bathroom, and she got an awesome new computer for Christmas. I know these things about the McCallisters because I read Facebook and pay attention to Twitter.
I find it fascinating that so much of McCallister’s success—or, at the very least, his name recognition—has been generated through social media. Certainly his bio doesn’t suggest that he has done as much “gutter time” as other local talents. I’m not saying the man isn’t talented. But I do think he is the first prestigious Dallas chef to earn his celebrity status with food blogs and social media, before he opened his first restaurant. After just seven years in the business, he stands in the kitchen of the most talked-about restaurant in Dallas, FT33.
Have you been? Let us hear about it.7 Comments »
I walked into this sleek American gastropub in the W Hotel with a chip on my shoulder. I’d seen the press materials with a stylized photograph of sliders, a trend I would like to see vanish, and all-too-abused buzzwords such as “small plates,” “familiar comfort foods,” and “hand-crafted cocktails.” An hour and a half later, I emerged without the chip and with a belly full of good food.
Have you been?
This Indian restaurant, owned by Sonia and Javeed Khan, specializes in the cuisine of Northern India and includes traditional and modern preparations of hearty dishes from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Goa. If you are a fearful fan of Indian food, you will find familiar items such as chicken tikka masala and saag paneer. If you are an intrepid eater, gather a group of like-minded gourmets. There are so many culinary adventures on the menu—curries, kebabs, biryanis—that you’ll want to try them all. There are four spice levels: mild, medium, spicy, and Indian spicy. “Don’t order Indian spicy,” our waitress said. “It will blow your head off.” Heeding her warning, we stuck to spicy and were glad we did. Our group of three ordered six items and did not have one bad bite of food. The Murgh Malai Kebab appetizer was Indian fajitas. Cubes of chicken marinated overnight in yogurt are grilled and served on a cast-iron platter sizzling with onions and green peppers. The chicken was so tender that it really did melt in our mouths. Other standouts included Roghan Josh (chunks of lamb in traditional brown onion gravy spiced with coriander, turmeric, tomato sauce, and red pepper) and Keema Mutter, a dish recommended by owner Javeed Khan. “It is a spicy minced lamb with peas that most Americans don’t eat. Indians love the activity of their taste buds.” Well, I know three Americans who feel the same way and will go back for more.
While several high-profile local chefs have been hogging the headlines, chef Garreth Dickey has quietly created one of the finest menus in town. Dickey—whose résumé includes stints at Star Canyon, the original Green Room, Jeroboam, The Porch, and Hibiscus—now deserves his turn in the spotlight. Between the Caesar salad, scallops, and New York strip on his menu are dozens of inventive and palate-pushing items, such as his cauliflower steak. It’s an ingenious vegetarian concoction of grilled cauliflower, cipollini onions, Calabrese peppers, black radish, and kale mixed with a brown butter sauce studded with golden raisins. Under Dickey’s touch, a thick pork chop, brined overnight, is grilled, topped with soft chunks of apples and diced red onions, and finished with a bourbon glaze spiced with star anise.
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If you are a seasoned chauffeur of children, the idea of adding a drive-through window to a restaurant won’t seem like a novel one. You have already spent years of your life shouting food orders into clown faces, dropping the change from a cashier’s hand, and picking cold fries out of car seats. But what about a drive-through window at a slow-food restaurant?
Erin McKool is a mother, lawyer, and co-owner of Start Restaurant. Two years ago, she and her husband, Mike, hired Frank LaRocca, a former district manager for Einstein’s, to research ways to make slow food fast. In hindsight, adding a drive-through seems like a no-brainer. It has proven that people will wait in their cars to buy healthy food. But the move was a bold one for the McKools and LaRocca. “Being a new concept, I really didn’t know if people would get it,” McKool says. “But it’s where we do 60 percent of our business.”
I’ve dined at Rosemont four or five times and it has never been crowded. I’d love to see this restaurant, and more like it, succeed in Deep Ellum. Go. Eat. Report.
Chef/owner Tracy Miller has spent the last nine years creating refined and stylish American food at Local, her dinner-only restaurant in the BoydHotel. At Rosemont, she offers the same sensibility for breakfast and lunch. If you hit the sophisticated white-on-white dining room early on a sunny morning, keep your sunglasses on, and order a strong cappuccino topped with frothy steamed milk and flecks of cinnamon as you take a seat because it could take awhile for a menu to arrive. The service at both breakfast and lunch is disorganized. Our dainty plate with a small (but filling) oatmeal waffle with mascarpone cream and figs arrived almost hot, but scrambled eggs topped with wilted spinach and cherry tomato sauce were hard and barely warm. The two gentlemen in expensive suits across from us were living it up.5 Comments »
Anybody been to Bowery for a hot dog? Todd Johnson has eaten most of them and he files this report.
It looks like gourmet burgers have moved aside to make room for hot dogs as the next comfort food to get its trendy haute cuisine moment in Dallas, as evidenced by a number of planned openings by restaurateurs such as Phil Romano (Hofmann Hots) and Sarah Lombardi of Lombardi Family Concepts (Dog House). Add Tiffanee and Richard Ellman of Oak and John Paul Valverde of the recently shuttered Campo Modern to that list. The threesome partnered to open Bowery Uptown in mid-July. The original menu was dominated by dogs of all kinds, from the Chicago style to a savory beer-braised bratwurst to a duck sausage topped with seared foie gras. That last one cost $18.
My first thought: a hundred reasons and more than a dozen years would prevent me from reviewing Monica’s Nueva Cocina & Mi Lounge. I have known the owner, Monica Greene, since before I became a restaurant critic. Despite my closet full of disguises, I figured there was no way I could sneak in without being recognized.
One late-September morning, though, I called Greene to ask her how the restaurant was doing. She outlined many of the changes she went through during the year it took to open. Her original plan for the space was to create a 70-seat, chef-driven, regional Mexican restaurant called Tajin. At the time, Greene was itching to get back in the kitchen and cook the food she grew up eating. She chose the name to honor Mexican history. At the El Tajin ruins near Veracruz, archaeologists uncovered relics from the Olmec people, the first major civilization in Mexico.
After neighboring restaurant Sushi Axiom closed, Greene changed her concept. She incorporated that space and geared her food to a more mainstream audience. She doubled the original fl oor plan to 7,600 square feet that include two dining rooms, two bars, room for 200 guests, and the sushi bar left by Sushi Axiom. She changed the menu from fried grasshoppers, venison carpaccio, frog legs, and no chips and salsa to “real Mexican food with a respect for Tex-Mex.” Greene hired chef Hector Hernandez from Alma and Hibiscus, and she put herself in the front of the house.
Near the end of our chat, Greene said something that I now wish she hadn’t. She told me she was leaving forNew York in a couple of days and, after that, she was taking a vacation inTurkey. I decided to write the review. I could eat anonymously, and, if it came to that, I figured our friendship could survive a negative review.
Last night I fell in love with HumBotanical, a sexy 70 proof herbaceous liqueur made with organic rum, fair trade hibiscus, organic ginger, green cardamom and kaffir lime. The drink was featured as the Seasonal Smash at FT33. If it isn’t on the ever-changing cocktail list when you go, ask them to make you one. It’s a gorgeous concoction of Ketel One Oranje, Hum, muddled cranberry, lemon, and habanero simple syrup, apricot, and fresh thyme poured over clear cubed ice (my favorite!). The drink is made with organic rum and is pungent with pepper, fragrant with lime, and finishes with a slightly sweet and spicy kick of cardamom. One of my very experienced dining partners said she’s never seen it for sale in Dallas and wondered how FT33 managed to smuggle the booze in from it’s epicenter in Chicago. However, one quick visit to Hum’s website informed me the spirit is alive and well at Pogo’s. BTW, the bar at FT33 opens at 4:30PM. See ya later.
Uppity Date: Jasper Russo of Sigel’s says: “Hum Botanical was introduced to the Dallas retail market by Sigel’s in April.It has been stocked in at least 4 of our stores continually since that time ($44.99): Greenville Ave, Fitzhugh, Addison, The Quadrangle. We are also the class B wholesaler responsible for supplying FT33.
Twelve months ago, only a few hard-core diners were aware of chef Jason Maddy’s culinary capabilities. Back then, he was just the former chef de cuisine at The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek. Now he is nationally recognized as a trend-bending genius. In August, Oak was named one of the 50 finalists for Bon Appetit’s list of the 10 best new restaurants in the country.
What a banner year for new, creative restaurant concepts in North Texas. Octopus emerged as the “it” dish from the sea. Fried chicken replaced gourmet burgers, and fancy hot dogs pushed gringo tacos back to the street. Champagne and locally brewed craft beer now quench our thirst. As we went to press, fine dining was sneaking back into the scene. Three high-profile chefs—Matt McCallister, Stephan Pyles, John Tesar—were still working on their hyper-focused restaurants. In the meantime, grab a shot of Fernet Branca and open wide for a marrow luge.
The top ten are Oak, Off-Site Kitchen, Boulevardier, Driftwood, Mr. Mesero, Urban Rio, Sissy’s Southern Kitchen, Woodshed, Mi Dia, and the long shot, Zio Cecio. I left some mighty fine restaurants on the cutting room floor. It was a great year. Looking forward to an even better 2013. Here’s the story. Read it and eat.3 Comments »
In the November issue of D Magazine, I review Nora Restaurant and Bar. I’d eat there once or twice a week if it was in my neighborhood. Lucky for me owner Matt Pikar’s Afghan Grill is in my wheelhouse. I can’t live without it.
Chef/owner Matt Pikar’s successful Afghan Grill in North Dallas draws a faithful crowd of international diners. When he decided to open another restaurant with a similar menu, he smartly assessed that he would encounter too many fussy, Archie Bunker-style diners on lowest Greenville, so he named his new outpost Nora Restaurant and Bar. The name doesn’t imply that you will find a menu filled with exotic concoctions created from various combinations of pumpkin, eggplant, leeks, spinach, chickpeas, lamb, meatballs, and chicken. If you can get your meat-and-potato-minded friends in the front door, they will leave satisfied and enlightened. Start with the kadu, thick slices of sautéed pumpkin covered with a slightly sweet and spicy yogurt meat sauce laced with onions, tomatoes, garlic, cloves, turmeric, cardamom, and mint. If that is too much of a leap, then pick more familiar items such as grape leaves, hummus, or sambosa goshti, a savory baked pastry pie. Entrées include qabili palao, tender bits of lamb sautéed with a handful of carrots and raisins. Meat dumplings are steamed and served beneath yogurt meat sauce with a swift kick of mint. The Archies in your group will gravitate to a grilled rib-eye or beef kofta (ground beef sausage) kabob served with saffron rice.
I’m not sure what the difference between a wine bar and a wine dive is, but I do know one thing: this minichain with the “Fried chicken andChampagne?! Why the hell not?” slogan whipped up a howling tornado of pre-opening publicity. When they opened the doors, the 50-foot bar and 175-seat dining room and 85-seat patio filled to capacity. The left side of the menu, Max’s Classics, is the same in all locations (Houston,Austin, andSan Antonio). The right side is determined by the local chef. InDallas’ case, it’s Patrick Russell, a former sous chef at Craft Dallas. The classics include deliciously crisp deep-fried chicken battered in jalapeño buttermilk. It pairs perfectly with a bottle of Henri Billiot Brut Rose Champagne.
[Max's former GM, Paul Pinnell, has, once again, disappeared from Dallas.]
Dallas is octopus crazy. It’s the exotic protein of the moment, popping up on menus all over the city. Chefs love it. Foodies brazenly order it, as if the photogenic cephalopod is some culinary badge of courage. But many local diners are still skeptical. At least that was my take when the waiter delivered my entrée at new Oak Cliff restaurant Driftwood.
“Nuh-uh,” said my tablemate as he wrinkled his nose. A nearby couple leaned in for a closer look. “Is that the octopus?” asked a well-coifed woman. I nodded. “Hmmm,” she replied, intrigued yet still leery. “Well, it certainly looks interesting. Let us know how it tastes.”
Though she recently opened new breakfast-and-lunch-only spot Rosemont a few doors down from Local, chef/owner Tracy Miller’s original restaurant hasn’t changed much since debuting in Deep Ellum’s historic Boyd Hotel in 2003. Local still has a lounge-like vibe that feels downtown cool. Miller’s cooking was and still is an exercise in delicious simplicity. But over the past nine years, the Dallas dining scene has changed. Farm to fork is de rigueur. Glam has been replaced by rustic decor. Chefs are daring diners with organ meats and oddities from the sea. In its own steadfast way, Local seems a bit dated. That is, it did until we revisited it recently and remembered why it’s one of the city’s best restaurants. On our last visit, we arrived early to hang out in the sleek lounge area, sipping Local’s signature Champagne drink dotted with a ball of rosemary grapefruit sorbet. Once seated, we surveyed what Miller refers to as a Modern American menu. We found nothing revelatory or challenging, not that it mattered. Continue reading "Restaurant Review: Local in Dallas"2 Comments »