Thursday, October 25, 2007

Quickie Review #9: Tin Star

My lovely wife the Rock Star and I have long wanted to try Tin Star, but were confused by the name. What kind of place would this be and what food would they serve: Texan, American, Mexican? Well, after several visits to various locations, I can give you a definitive answer: Texican! Translated, that means dishes that borrow from all three cuisines, fun food for good times with a delightful, unique twist of freshness, resulting in a fine, new entry in the fast-casual arena, with new locations popping up all over like meerkats in their manor.

Just place your order at the counter in one of the earth-tone, family friendly locations, grab a beverage, brew, or margarita, and settle in to one of the booths or tables for your food to be delivered. While waiting, be sure to load up on chips and salsa at the complimentary salsa bar, with three zesty choices of dip. If you have kids, they are sure to love the Cheeseburger Tacos: soft flour tortillas filled with ground beef, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onion and mustard, just like your local drive-in burger, and sumptuously crunchy. Even better are the Signature Soft Tacos, in beef, pork, or chicken: the number 6 with roasted pork, honey chipotle barbecue sauce, shredded lettuce, and jack cheese and the number 1 featuring grilled steak, avocado, grilled onion and jack cheese are packed with fresh, fajita-like flavor. Other choices include a first-rate chicken fried steak, chicken scallopini, or fire grilled salmon. Brunch, lunch, and dinner are all offered and the URL is Make plans to visit soon, and as always:


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Wine Corner Review #5: Becker Vineyards Texas Fume Blanc

Most people don't realize that Texas wine industry has grown so rapidly that the Lone Star State is now one of the top five producers in the whole country! Yet, even though there's a lot of quality out there, I've been faced with a pleasant but persistent dilemma: What to write about for my first review of a Texas vintage? Should it be from Fall Creek, that fabulous, value-oriented producer in tiny Tow, Texas? What about Fredericksburg winery, the undisputed king of Texas sweet wine, whose head honcho, the one-and-only Cord Switzer, is a genuine Lone Star character whose pithy sayings are the stuff of legends? In the end, I decided to go with a bottle from argueably the most award winning Texas winery of all, and, to that end, my lovely wife the Rock Star, her sister the Wild Thing, her nonstop niece Beaners, and myself gathered for an early evening tasting one recent Friday.

The robe of the Texas Fume Blanc (basically, a Fume Blanc is a Sauvignon Blanc with upwardly mobile aspirations) is the gentle gold of a Hill Country summer morning. The nose evokes honeysuckle and only the slightest touch of spice. Crisp apples and the distinct taste of ambrosia salad spread slowly across the palate, leaving a light,dry lemony finish. Beaners notes that it would be perfect for pasta and shrimp, not to mention chicken, and of course the Rock Star, being the Queen of Sauvignon Blanc, decreed that a bottle should be added to our collection immediately. You should do so yourself, either from your local wineshop, or if your state or county allows it, directly from In any case, remember:


Sunday, October 14, 2007


Dining on fresh seafood is rather difficult in a landlocked city like Dallas. The good seafood isn't cheap and the cheap seafood isn't good. Oh, how I wish sometimes I lived in that marvelous metropolis known as Seattle, where every restaurant, dive, bar, brewpub, and hole-in-the-wall joint sports excellent fish, and you can dine like King Neptune for under $10. To fill this void, some partners joined together about a dozen years ago to create Half Shells Oyster Bar. One group split off and morphed into the chain called Rockfish. The other is known in seven states as Fish City Grill, although two locations still retain the Half Shells moniker. My lovely wife the Rock Star and my best friend The Rock journeyed to our local Half Shells location on a recent Sunday lunch visit. (For purposes of clarity, I will henceforth in this review call the chain Fish City.)


The atmosphere of Fish City Grill practically screams "neighborhood bar." Very narrow, strip-shopping-center locations, only seating perhaps half-a-hundred patrons. Wood and exposed brick, with a couple of TV's, and numerous blackboards offering the daily specials. In other words, a very inviting joint, but quite small, so be prepared for a wait at peak times. Luckily, the three of us were seated immediately and started perusing the simple menus, which are conveniently left in a box on every table.


Most entrees are under $10 and taste very fresh, and if you're a longtime resident of the Metroplex like me, you wonder how can this be, since most Dallas seafood establisments won't even let you open the menu for less than $10. Just after being seated, I noticed one of the ubiquitious blackboards offering a daily special: Blackened Tilapia for $6.99. 6.99! In Dallas! Are you kidding me? And it's fresh? I opted for it there and then, while my two companions decided on fried seafood baskets. (Fried seafood is a longtime Texas tradition, probably started to mask the lack of freshness.) The baskets came with waffle fries and hushpuppies (another Texas seafood tradition, the balls of fried cornmeal are quite delightful), but the Rock wisely substituted excellent, spiced rice in place of potatoes. Both left few remnants of their repast. My tilapia was served with the same wonderful rice and a medley of fresh steamed veggies (zucchini, carrots, and broccoli) and I happily devoured it, plate and all. (OK, I left the plate, but not much else.) On other visits, I have quite enjoyed the generous fish tacos (which are really wraps, but fish wraps sounds more like something you would throw into the trash), and the incredibly delicious Tabasco-infused shrimp pasta (keep plenty of water close at hand for this one, you'll need it!)


I wish I could say that speedy, friendly service was a highlight of our visit, but not on this occasion. Michael, our server, seemed indifferent or preoccupied, repeatedly getting our order wrong, and otherwise in a hurry to get rid of us. To be honest, I think there was a communication (language) problem afoot, or maybe we were just a victim of SDS. (Sunday Dining Syndrome: On Sundays, the owner or manager is frequently absent in restaurants, often resulting in uncaring service.) Let me stress that such service is not the norm for the Fish City chain, as I have visited three different locations on at least a dozen occasions. This was definitely an abberation from the norm.


The Fish City Grill website can be reached at You'll note that there are now locations in seven states, hopefully one near you.


Despite the service gaffes, the Rock Star and I (and perhaps The Rock) will dine again at Fish City / Half Shells again in future, and you should, too. Visit soon, and remember:


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Wine Corner Review #4: Robert Mondavi Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc

Not many grandsons can boast that their grandma actually worked at a liquor store well into her 80's. Yet my best female friend (at least until my lovely wife the Rock Star came along) could find no other employment so she took the job and stayed almost a dozen years, often outworking her much younger coworkers. You should have seen G29 (my pet name for her, indicating her age of choice; she was 29 for some 55 years) lifting heavy wine cases that the 20-something males could barely move, and doing it all cheerfully and with a ready smile. She developed a taste for the grape, and Robert Mondavi was her tipple of choice. So it is in tribute to her that I raise a glass of Robert Mondavi Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc, a stellar selection from the winery's value line.

The robe is a pale, straw color, indicating the delicate nature of the goodness which awaits. The nose opens just as gently, with lemon, lime and grapefruit spreading like a bouquet of fresh summer citrus blossoms, but not quite as fruity. Crisp Granny Smith apples spread like clover over the palate upon tasting, leaving just a finishing kiss of mineral. Like all sauvignon blancs, the Mondavi is just heaven-sent to accompany seafood, particularly grilled halibut and tilapia, and can pair well even with robust sauces (try it on chicken as well).

Robert Mondavi actually has more than one website: accesses the main one, leads you to the Private Selection line. The company also owns Woodbridge and La Famiglia; C K Mondavi is totally separate, an outgrowth of the Charles Krug winery which was purchased in the 1930's by the Mondavi family. Pick up a bottle of Robert Mondavi Private Selection Sauvignon Blanc soon, join me in toasting my dear, sweet grandmother, and remember:


Quickie Review #8: Planet Burrito

These days, build-your-own burrito places seem as ubiquitous as pessimists at a Sylvia Plath convention, what with Freebirds, Qdoba, and Chipotle enticing the hungry diner with tortilla-and-sauce confections. All are excellent, but in my mind, the standout in the bunch is Planet Burrito, the new Texas-based chain that has only two locations at this time, with more hopefully on the way. Just like the other chains, you order at the counter (or call ahead if you like) and they build your very own culinary creation right before your eyes.

My lovely wife the Rock Star likes to build her own, and her choice of a small grilled steak burrito with corn pico, lettuce, and rice was very tempting indeed. She wanted queso blanco to tie the whole thing together, but was given white cheese instead. Not to worry, she reports that the accidental switch didn't cause much of a falloff in flavor, as the finished product was still quite tasty. Planet Burrito has specialty burritos as well, and one of my favorites is the Southwestern, a fetching amalgam of carnitas (pork), cheddar jack cheese, pepper pico de gallo, pinto beans, tomato chipotle rice, cilantro, and corn. Normally, Diablo sauce is used as sauce, making for an unforgettably fiery experience, but the superhot sauce is a little too warm for my tender tummy to take, so I opted to substitute salsa del norte instead, and while the burrito was still quite good it did not give me that transcendental torrent of taste I've come to expect from the Southwestern. Nonetheless, the quality of the ingredients shone through, making for a fabulous lunch. On other visits, I've really enjoyed the Texan: Picante beef brisket, braised in red chili sauce, with refried beans, tomato chipotle rice, cheddar jack, roasted garlic, pico de gallo, and chipotle BarBQ sauce. I'm a barbecue fanatic, so this delicious combo of Tex and Mex really rocks my world.

Planet Burrito also features tacos, salads, quesadillas, and nachos, if you're not into burritos, and boasts breakfast as well. (Note to self: must try breakfast, as it's hard to beat migas or bacon and egg burritos in the morning!) Planet Burrito is a very eco-friendly place, with Planet Responsibility as their mantra; find out all the particulars at Do yourself a flavor and visit soon, and as always, remember: