Sunday, December 28, 2008


Unlike last year, I've reviewed quite a number of wines in 2008, so I've abandoned my previous format of ranking the top wines by region, and instead bring you a normal top ten selection. Aficionadoes will note that almost half of my choices are Texas wines. Let's be honest; I am a bona-fide Texophile, yet I must note that this predominance of Texas tipples would not have been possible ten years ago. I'm intensely proud that our vinos have improved by leaps and bounds over the years, and our Nation can stand tall and proud with any wine-making country in the world. With that in mind, I bring you the Food Czar Top Ten Wines of 2008.


My first Cellar Selection of the year, this wine is a worthy competitor to the great malbecs of the Argentine.


Believe it or not, this selection from the Italian-American filmmaker is the only California name on this list, not counting the honorable mentions.


This little-known varietal is usually blended into cognac. Dry Comal Creek has rightfully rescued it for general consumption.


Washington state's best-known winery is also the most beautiful winery I have visited to date.


Little-known native Texas grape produces another winning vino for Dry Comal Creek.


I've promised once, and I promise again, in 2009 I'll start investigating North Texas wineries more closely. Until then, my heart is in the Hill Country.


Proof that France is more than just Burgandy and Bordeaux.


If you were to poll Texas wine aficionadoes on their favorite Lone Star Cab, this budget-buster would no doubt rank high on their list.


Red burgundy is synonymous with pinot noir, and this wine proves that France still makes some of the best.


You'll be hearing a lot more about North Carolina wines thanks in part to the offerings of this former Vanderbilt estate.

Honorable Mentions:

-Toasted Head Cabernet Sauvignon
-Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc

Wine is meant for everyday consumption, not just for special occasions.

Develop your own wine buyers guide soon, and remember:



Perhaps it's not a good idea to present a list of the best restaurants of 2008, simply because such a list must needs engender rules, and as both my readers know, I don't particularly care for rules. For instance, do you only include fine dining establishments, or are casual places fair game as well? For me, great food is great food, and as my lovely wife the Rock Star and I have just agreed, fine dining places are fabulous for Saturday night, but where are you going to eat the other six nights of the week, not to mention lunch and breakfast? Also, some of the places I favor have received decidedly mixed reviews from other sources. Well, to thine own self be true (as Polonius would have it), and I must report on my own experience, community consensus or not. Finally, just when I had concocted a bang-up list, I realized that I had left two places from my Las Vegas roadtrip off by accident: Mon Ami Gabi and Yolos Mexican Grill. Faced with such a quandry, I made an executive-level decision: Since I actually hadn't reviewed them in 2008, but had merely dined at both establishments, I am leaving them off the 2008 list, and hope to review them and possibly see them on next year's list. So, without furthur ado, here are the Food Czar Top Ten Restaurants (and Honorable Mentions) for 2008:


When you've been in business for God-knows-how-many years, and are only open for breakfast and lunch, you must be doing something right. The Mecca does breakfast and lunch right. Don't forget the chicken-fried-steak, fabulous no-frills breakfasts, and those oh-so-marvelous biscuits. Come early (or late) to get the best parking.


Brandt Evans is the best Dallas chef you've never heard of. His Cedar Plank Tasmanian Salmon was my favorite seafood dish of the year, period. Very affordable prices as well, and a recently-unveiled brunch menu guarantees that I'll be a repeat customer in 2009.


The Rathbun Brothers show their casual side with upscale-comfort food to die for. Start with the Maytag Blue Cheese Potato Chips, then progress to the Daily Business Lunch, one of the best bargains in town. On my visit, creamy meat lasagna made me almost sing with pleasure, and my wife loved her smoked ham and gouda grilled cheese, which (pardon the pun) she thought was very gouda indeed.


Recognized by D Magazine and Zagat, our Restaurant Week choice did not disappoint with their Colorado Lamb Chops and Pecan-Crusted Mahi-Mahi. Also enjoyed a return visit in November with a very dear friend who is, alas, moving out of the area. I shall miss him terribly, but will drown my sorrows in future visits with wine from Isabella's innovative 25 Wines for $25 list, a practice other establishments would do well to emulate.


A quintessentially Texas neighborhood restaurant, Kelly's delivers all matter of fabulous fare from BBQ to juicy burgers to one of the best chicken-fried-steaks in town. Kelly's is truly a guiding light in the downtown Plano revival.


In a year of fantabulous Mexican meals, Pepe's and Mito's gets a slight nod over the worthy competition. Beef Fajita Tacos are absolutely addictive, and Brunch Tacos are a great cure for morning hangovers. I don't always go along with the crowd, but a tableful of picky food bloggers were all impressed by Pepe y Mito's cuisine, and I don't think we can all be wrong.


How can you not love an erstwhile hotel coffee shop that serves dishes which feature truffles? The Rock Star certainly does, for when she first tasted The Second Floor's Roasted Corn Chowder with truffles, she declared at once her intent to become a chef, an assessment from which she has not wavered in the ensuing months.


Yes, there are argueably better beef palaces in Big D, but if you love true campfire-tasting steaks in a pure old-school-Texan atmosphere, you'll love Dunstons. Legions of mostly gray-haired devotees obviously agree. Don't pass up the jalapeno cream soup either.


As I remarked when I composed my original review, if Bijoux isn't the best restaurant in Dallas, it sure don't take long to call the roll. Be sure to try the Crispy Pork Belly. And the English Pea Angnolotti. And the Filet of Beef. And the Veal Tenderloin. And the Chocolate Bananas. And, as Yul Brynner once remarked, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.


Folks, he's not just a Food Network staple, the Redheaded One can truly cook. Sample the Wild Mushroom Quesadilla and the Cornmeal-crusted Chile Relleno, washed down with one of Bobby's Signature Margaritas, and prepare to be won over. You must try Mesa Grill the next time you're in Las Vegas (or NYC).

2008 Honorable Mentions Worthy of Mention:

-Gruene River Grill
-Hondos on Main
-Los Cucos
-Taco Diner
-Hard Eight BBQ
-Agave Azul
-Zea Woodfire Grill

Again, if you don't agree with my opinions, please try to remember that I'm as entitled to them as you are to yours. Formulate your own list soon, and remember:


Sunday, December 21, 2008


"Be forewarned. Most experiences make you older. This one makes you wider."

In 1967, The Jimi Hendrix Experience released Are You Experienced?, the classic rock album that capped the revolution taking place in music at the time. All rock music, and indeed most music period, is judged as pre-Experience and post-Experience. Why? Because Jimi Hendrix literally stood music on its ear and introduced sounds, concepts, tone paintings, and feelings no one had thought possible. Music was the drug of choice to many people back then, the high that they couldn't get enough of, much as television was to their parents and computers/video games would be to their children.

Today, many people obsess over food, and the great chefs are literally worshipped as the Guitar Gods of the culinary universe. Fueled by the Food Network, a new generation is packing the great restaurants of today much as their forebears packed the concert halls, bars, and stadiums in search of music a decade ago, making superstars of Mario Batali, Emeril Lagassi, Gordon Ramsey, and perhaps most of all, Bobby Flay. I believe even the most jaded food aficionado must acknowledge that he has helped raised the bar and elevated fine dining to undreamed-of levels, along the way setting the example for such Dallas gastronomic icons as Stephen Pyles, the Rathbun Brothers, and Scott and Gina Gottlich. My own lovely wife the Rock Star adores Bobby Flay and has longed to dine at one of his restaurants, so when opportunity knocked for us to revisit Las Vegas at an affordable price, we answered with alacrity, and in due course made our way to Caesars Palace and Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill therein one chilly noon.


Mesa Grill is smaller than expected, semi-circular in shape, and boasts a color scheme dominated by toasty shades of burnt umber and raw sienna. Large open kitchen, Chihuly light sculptures, and seemingly endless shelves full of brightly colored jars dominate the scene. Decidedly unstuffy for the lair of a chef of Bobby's caliber, and rather fun and festive. After a very short wait in the bar, we were led to our table and steeled ourselves for the transcendental dining experience soon to follow.


Bobby Flay, like all great chefs, treats every dish that comes out of his kitchen with loving care and flavorful reverence, be it lunch or dinner. We were somewhat disappointed to learn that the $29 prix fixe lunch was unavailable on this particular day, due to the kitchen being shortstaffed, but since all of Mesa Grill's appetizers and entrees are fairly priced at noontime, we plunged right in and split a starter, then ordered individual entrees. Wine is usually our tipple of choice, but when we noticed that Bobby's signature margaritas were featured on the menu, we each decided on one. Mesa Grill's margarita recipe was invented by Billy Steel, who first learned how to pour the tart concoctions at New York's famed 21 Club, so they came with some serious pedigree. Featuring Cabo Wabo white tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and fresh limes, these babies mopped the floor with all would-be competitors, so much so that the Rock Star vowed to get her own bottles and barware and become a mixologist. But wait, that was only the beginning. The Wild Mushroom Quesadilla, with white bean hummus and white truffle oil, must surely rank as the best starter I've ever encountered, and one of the greatest dishes I've ever eaten, bar none. Every bite was sheer silken poetry, every ingredient in total, perfect string-quartet harmony, truly a Hendrix-like Experience to be savored. After these two overtures, the main body of the symphony would hopefully not disappoint, and it didn't. Cornmeal-crusted chili relleno deftly wove roasted eggplant, manchengo cheese, sweet red pepper sauce, and balsamic vinegar into a tapestry of delight, Southwestern rather than south of the border. Despite a slightly fishy taste, my wife really enjoyed her Ancho-crusted sea scallop, the crawfish-green onion sauce nicely tempering the scallop's bite. We ended our heavenly repast at this point, since Mesa Grill does not offer dessert at lunch, and indeed, none is needed.


Warm, gracious, and consummately professional, Bobby's court attendants are obviously some of the best in the business, and worthy of his and Mesa Grill's stature. Website is, where you can purchase Bobby's cookbooks, sauces, rubs, and other products.


Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Las Vegas branch is a fitting shrine to a man who has literally thrown down the culinary gauntlet to the rest of his profession and food fanatics everywhere. Become Experienced yourself soon, and remember:


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Quickie Review #37: Kona Grill

Most rock stars tour the country with a significant entourage of friends, family members, and assorted hangers-on in tow. It comes with the territory. My own lovely wife the Rock Star carries her own significant entourage, which was ready to turn out in force on the occasion of her birthday celebration, ready to obey her slightest command and have a good time in the bargain. However, there was one recalcitrant wheeler on her Iditarod team, her formidable mother. You see, my bride had her heart set on sushi, whereas The Momma cannot abide the fishy stuff under any circumstances. No amount of coaxing and cajoling could get her to change her mind. So, after some executive-level discussion, my wife and I agreed on the perfect compromise: Kona Grill, which boasts both fresh sushi and island-inspired All-American classics such as steak and pad thai on its eclectic menu. Crisis thus averted, we made our way southward one recent Saturday night, with my friend The Rock, my wife's friend Crazy Cat Lady, my wife's sister The Wild Thing, and the aforementioned The Momma safely in tow.

There's no doubt that Kona Grill features quality cuisine, yet I believe that its most impressive feature is the lively atmosphere dominated by sleek, dark woods, Asian-inspired umbrellas in the ceiling cleverly concealing fire alarm sprinklers, and that imposing 2000-gallon aquarium behind the sushi bar. Speaking of which, The Rock Star and I were in full-on sushi mode this evening and ordered three rolls to split between us, as well as salmon and yellowtail appetizers.
The Spicy Tuna roll took top honors this night, packing a more aggresive satisfying kick than usual, while the Las Vegas Roll (salmon, crab-mix, and cream cheese, tempura-fried and served with eel sauce), proved slightly underspiced, a departure from the norm from this usually spot-on specialty. Spider roll (soft-shell crab, deep-fried with crab-mix, avocado, and cucumber) fared better, as did the nicely-fresh salmon and yellowtail starters. In any case, we left few crumbs in our wake. I wish I could report on the taste of everyone else's entrees, but as no one would share their fare, I can only conclude that all were quite pleased. The Momma left little of her Kona Steak filet on her plate, while The Wild Thing voyaged to Thailand for that ever-present staple, Pad Thai, and reported a successful conquest of the chicken, vegetable, and noodle dish she loves so much. Both The Rock and Crazy Cat Lady journeyed to a similar destination with their choice of the Thai-Peanut Chicken Noodles, similar to pad thai, but featuring linguini instead, and drizzled with savory peanut sauce rather than black-bean chili sauce. Everyone raved about the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc and Danzante Pinot Grigio we selected to accompany their repasts, and our excellent waiter (whose name escapes me) crowned our joy with a crusty, creamy creme brulee for the birthday girl.
Website is, where you can get the goods on the current and upcoming locations of this ever-growing chain. Treat your entourage to Kona Grill soon, and remember:


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wine Corner Review #42: Ironstone Vineyards Cabernet Franc

Let me be perfectly frank: I love cabernet franc. I also love malbec, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and the other blending grapes that make up that mouth-shimmering classic called claret. Cabernet sauvignon and merlot, of course, have starred as their own varietal wines for a number of years, and malbec has recently gained prestige, so much so that I think most people would swear that this powerhouse grape was first grown in Argentina, not France. But cabernet franc has been like the dull, forsaken cousin in the quaff world, and only recently has started to earn a modicum of respect when bottled as varietal, such as the variety we consider today, the Ironstone Vineyards Cabernet Franc.

The robe of the Ironstone Vineyards Cabernet Franc is pure grape jelly just before it's spread on a slice of buttered multigrain toast. The nose is toasty as well, with black raspberries, and the faintest odor of truffles. Rich plums play upon the palate, along with dusky cinammon and black pepper, and finishes with key lime pie and figs. This wine will pair well with braised pork with honey barbecue sauce, or lamb chops served the old-fashioned way with mint jelly. Website is, where you can research other pairing ideas and view the entire product line. Frankly, you should pick up a bottle soon, and remember:


Sunday, December 7, 2008


Who pays for dinner? At the risk of sounding overly sexist, when couples dine out, I believe the man forks over the cash most of the time. In our cozy casa, my lovely wife the Rock Star more than holds her own with our expenses, so I have no cause for complaint. Still, when she sidles up to me and announces in her own sweet way, "I'm taking you out for dinner," and the occasion is neither my birthday nor trash day, I've learned to ask no questions, but to agree quickly lest she change her mind (which is always a Woman's Perogative). She had received a valuable tip that ZEA Woodfire Grill in Granite Park might just be worthy of exploration, and so we set out one evening Northward upon the Tollway, an avenue that so often defines our vehicular travel these days.


ZEA Woodfire Grill's name is pronounced "zee-ahh" and according to various sources, either means "grain" or "life"; taken together, they suggest the Biblical concept The Bread of Life. Bread, warmth and hearth are furthur suggested in the decor, with the taupe and beige color scheme enlightened with postmodern fixtures and warmed by wood, stone, and a fireplace with comfy couches and chairs in the bar. In short, a setting as suitable for family-night-out as for young, hip singles, who tend to gravitate toward the aforementioned bar whenever the '50's-cool jazz combo is playing. After some quick discussion, we decided our stomachs needed more attention than our ears, so off to dinner we went, where Gordon was waiting to take charge of us.


If you like Southern comfort food with upscale appetizers at affordable prices, then surely you must consider adding Zea to your list. If so, you can't go wrong by starting the meal with the Mediterranean Hummus Supreme. Sun-dried tomatoes and calamata olives make this chickpea-dip standby a standout, boasting unexpected carrot notes in its garlicky goodness.
We quickly followed this success with a disappointment: the Zeasar Salad was rather ordinary, lacking the anchovies that can make this dish memorable. Since my lovely bride and I often share our repasts, we decided that one of us should order beef and the other seafood, because I had remembered that Zea began life as a Louisiana chain, a state which thrives on the fish dishes. At Gordon's recommendation, my wife tried the Rotisserie Special of the Day: Beef sirloin steak twirled over hickory. Unlike most women (there's that sexism again!), the Rock Star is often ordering her beef medium-rare these days, and the steak that was finally presented to her was juicy and tasty, although her cut sported a bit too much gristle. My bayou gamble paid off with the Hickory Trout Lafitte, a beautiful filet which slid right out of its skin, mated expertly with a Cajun cream sauce so good that the accompanying fried shrimp were rendered almost superfluous. Slowly but surely, trout is insinuating itself back onto menus alongside the ubiquitous salmon preparations, and as I have always been a trout fan, it's a move I applaud. Don't forget to order this dish with the red beans and brown rice, which tastes of Creole goodness and lazy bayou afternoons listening to zydeco. We finished our meal with the fresh peach crackle a la mode, redolent of cinammon and nutmeg and Southern hospitality.


Gordon's dining suggestions proved spot on, and his customer service skills were quite laudable as well, taking pains to keep us abreast of the progress of our entrees. After dinner, we enjoyed bracing drinks in the bar, ably attended by Corrina and assisted by the same manager type who was so helpful at dinner. Website is for the Texas locations, or you can use, which will give you info about the chain as a whole.


No matter how you pronouce it, ZEA Woodfire Grill offers good fare at family-friendly prices, in an atmosphere as suitable for hip urban professionals as it is for the SUV crowd. Indulge in the bread of life soon, and as always:


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Quickie Review #36: Olivers Eatery

My lovely wife the Rock Star and I love to celebrate Thanksgiving. This year, we were joined by her sister the Wild Thing and her formidable mother The Momma for a day-long gorgey (in other words, an orgy of gorge) of food, wine, song, and conversation, and the hours passed far too quickly. However, our good times were somewhat hampered by my wife's sinus infection, which still gives her fits even as I write this. Although we have been able to dine out once or twice during our holiday, she has spent the majority of time at home recovering, and this morning declared that she could not leave our casa today so that she could concentrate on getting better. Since I give my bride my undying support, I somewhat ruefully cancelled our brunch plans, and instead searched online for a takeout place. Remembering a nice review from my blogging colleague Foodie Princess (of Dallas Eats fame), I resolved to give Olivers Eatery a try.

Olivers Eatery can best be described as a casual eatery, featuring soups, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, and pastas in a counter-service setting hard by the Tollway in Far North Dallas. My wife has always loved the legendary Salad Trio at Cafe Max, and noticing that Olivers offered something similar, made their Salad Sampler her lunchtime selection. She enjoyed the shell pasta, tuscany tuna salad, and pecan chicken salad tossed with homemade ranch over field greens. However, no bread was offered with her meal, and we had to substitute a leftover roll from Thanksgiving. As usual, she let me try her repast, and I thought all three selections tasted fresh but somewhat bland. My own tuscany tuna melt sandwich fared better, due primarily to the perfectly-grilled panini, yet it could have used a kick of spice as well, perhaps a nice stone-ground mustard or chipotle mayo. We really love good tea and felt that the tart black currant iced tea was the highlight of our meal. In short, a good lunch, but I feel my assessment of Olivers Eatery is incomplete until I try their pastas and perhaps a pizza. Website is, and they do now offer delivery. When you tire of your Turkey Day leftovers, please consider Olivers Eatery, and as always:


Wine Corner Review #41: Fess Parker Frontier Red

Do you remember the scene in the movie Sideways when Miles has just learned that his novel has been turned down for publication? He's attending a big Pinot Noir festival, so he immediately marches to a tasting bar, has the wine representative pour him a sample, and asks for refills time and again. When the rep refuses, Miles lifts the entire spit bucket, and guzzles it down voraciously, all the while shouting out tasting notes. (In the book, he yells, "Notes of burnt raspberries and truffles comingled with fresh dingleberries.") Of course you've seen Sideways many times, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this post, but on the off chance you're one of the three people in the United States of America who haven't watched this movie yet, I urge you to rent it at once. Please note that it is proper to pour yourself a glass or three of vino to imbibe while viewing Sideways, and since this pivotal scene takes place at the Fess Parker Winery, then it is totally apropos to select a Fess Parker wine, such as the very affordable Fess Parker Frontier Red.

The robe of the Fess Parker Frontier Red is misted magenta from a sunlight-strewn stained glass window. The nose suggests red bell peppers and plum for days. Black and white pepper, currant preserves, vanilla, and definite notes of cinnamon and cardamon will assault your palate, with a finish that lingers. This ravenous blend of syrah, grenache, petite sirah, mouvedre, cinsault, and carigname is fabulous with flatiron steak and barbecued pork steak and burnt ends. Website is, which also contains Fess Parker's fan site, for those of you old enough to remember when this University of Texas graduate played both Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett ("King of the Wild Frontier") on television. Get a little sideways yourself soon, and remember:


Sunday, November 23, 2008


When my formidable mother-in-law The Momma summons me, I know it's best to answer right away. Recently, she called me with a dilemma. She wanted to host a family celebration, but she didn't want to spend an arm and a leg, just an arm, and she noted that the guest of honor preferred steak as their repast of choice. However, she could not afford Pappas Brothers or III Forks or any other high-end beef palace; in short, did I happen to know of a mid-level steakhouse that would serve no-frills, top notch quality in a warm and cozy setting? My response was immediate: Dunston's. Since 1955, Gene Dunston and his family have been mesquite-broiling beef to your exacting specifications, first at their Harry Hines facility and later at their Lovers Lane location, which was where we would be dining on this evening. (Some of you may remember their Forest Lane operation fondly; regrettably, it has since closed.) So, fortified with the knowledge that we would be enjoying the hospitality of a family with half-a-century of expertise in their field, we set off. My lovely wife the Rock Star, her sister the Wild Thing, The Momma, and myself picked our way down the Tollway one recent Saturday evening.


Most of you youngsters out there would probably call Dunston's kitschy, but I prefer to think of it as old-school Texas charm circa 1969, which was when the Lovers Lane branch opened its doors. Wood paneling and carpets with diamond patterns. Pictures of old movie stars and the 1977 Dallas Cowboys lining the walls. A fake parrot and a man in a hammock hanging from the ceiling. A full bookshelf and coatrack adorn one wall, while a complete salad bar stands ready in a central location. Trend-followers probably wouldn't be caught dead in such a place, but the very attractive, mostly gray-haired regulars felt right at home and so did we. After a short delay, the attentive Jose found his way to us and took excellent care of us the rest of the evening.


For those of us with long memories, Dunston's evokes dining from days of yore, when such establishments as Night Hawk, Hoffbrau, and Cattlemen's ruled the steak scene. We decided to start our repast with that old Southern classic which inspired a movie, fried green tomatoes. Like its kissing cousin fried okra, I feel that this dish is an acquired taste and was actually somewhat rubbery, but the accompanying remoulade was redolent of spice and the turnip greens were fresh. Next, we decided on a bottle of Louis M Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, and the fruit-forward style of this wine was an unqualified success, even for such dedicate white-wine imbibers as the Wild Thing and the Momma. The ladies soon decamped for the salad bar, while on Jose's recommendation, I tried the jalapeno cream soup. Surprisingly mild and creamy, I could really taste the firmness of the pepper in the potage and not just the heat. The old-school assault continued when baskets of paper condiment containers filled with cheese, sour cream, and bacon bits were dropped on our table, in anticipation of the baked potatoes and entrees soon to follow. The Rock Star and The Momma were quite content with their ribeye and filet respectively, both cooked precisely to order and full of mesqute goodness. Feeling somewhat more adventurous, The Wild Thing and myself upgraded to the prime tenderloin. Beef served at the high-end places such as Bijoux is often silken and buttery, here the emphasis was on campfire texture, more firm and chewy, and in my case, perfectly medium-rare. Bread pudding proved light and not too sweet or cloying, an appropriate ending for this meal.


Once he found his way to our table, Jose was quite adept with recommendations and special requests, even ringing a large hand bell to single out those patrons with special occasions. Website is, where you will be treated to the delightful history of this venerable establishment, complete with photographs.


Dunston's prides itself on serving "honest" drinks and steaks in a setting "as close as you will get to home without being there." Discover their downhome hospitality yourself, and remember:


Friday, November 21, 2008

Wine Corner Review #40: Biltmore Estate House Red Wine

Here's a surprising fact: The most visited winery in the United States is NOT located in either the Napa or Sonoma valleys of California. Instead, it operates near the largest private house in North America (not actually at the house, but just down the road in a separate facility), specifically The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Built by George Vanderbilt in 1895, the Biltmore house and legacy are preserved today by great-grandson William Cecil, who is also direct descendant and namesake of Lord Burghley, Lord Chancellor to Queen Elizabeth I of England. If all this talk of history and royalty muddles your head, then William Cecil the younger might have an excellent solution: Try a glass or three of one of the Biltmore Estates renown wines, in this case the Biltmore Estate House Red Wine.

The robe of the Biltmore Estate House Red Wine is deep garnet, the perfect color of January's birthstone. The nose is musty plum, with light touches of blueberry. Black currant, blackberry and black pepper play softly upon the palate, resolving themselves into a surprising finish of ginger. This very approachable quaff is marvelous when paired with pork chops and grilled meats, but is also uncomplicated enough to be served with pizza. Website is, where you will learn that there is much more to Biltmore than just a big house. Imbibe your history lesson soon, and of course:


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quickie Review #35: The Counter Custom Built Burgers

As Americans, we pride ourselves on individual freedoms. Freedom to worship, work, and speak in any manner we see fit, as long as we're not yelling "Fire" in the proverbial crowded theatre. We particularly cherish freedom of choice. By God, we will shop, eat, and drink wherever we choose, whenever we choose, for as long as our precious dollars last. The Counter, a year-old denizen of The Shops at Legacy in Plano, has built a burgeoning burger empire on this very idea, giving patrons the opportunity to construct their own burger any way they so desire, as well as offering a limited number of sandwiches, bar food (there is a full bar, if you're so inclined), fountain shakes, and other goodies for the intrepid adventurer. My lovely wife the Rock Star has long been intrigued by the concept, and since she always intrigues me, we decided to scoot our metaphorical boots northward one recent Saturday lunchtime.

Parking in the front of the restaurant is competitive, and patrons are limited to one hour, so please plan accordingly. The Shops at Legacy does have a central parking garage and that may be your best bet if you plan on lingering and don't mind a brisk walk. Interior is Spartan minimalist, with clean lines, high ceilings, and simple metal chairs. Walking in, we were quickly handed a clipboard by one of the Surfer-Dude-esque waitstaff, who politely explained the concept to us. Basically, The Counter works like your standard sushi joint, where you mark your own selections on said clipboard, then wait patiently for the (hopefully) magical results to arrive.
Scanning the options, we both decided not to partake of the premade burgers, but rather jump off the deep end into the build-your-own waters. The Counter offers four choices of protein (beef, chicken, turkey, and veggie), which can be customized by a dizzying array of sauces and toppings, resulting in literally thousands of possible combinations. Also, you can have your burger on a bun or in a bowl, with lettuce or baby greens substituting for the bread, very convenient if you're watching you carbs. My wife decided on the traditional approach, with beef, Tillamook cheddar, hard-boiled eggs, lettuce, fried onion strings, dill pickle chips, and ranch dressing astride a rather conventional bun. She was quite happy with the results, although I tasted it and felt it needed a kick of spice. The beef is custom-grilled Angus, medium unless requested otherwise, and was indeed quite tasty although the patty seemed premade and slightly tough texturally. I decided to forego the bun, and instead had my beef in a bowl of baby greens, with Danish bleu cheese, Bermuda red onion, roasted corn and black bean salsa, pepperoncinis, and roasted red peppers, served with a side of Southwest Caesar. Personally, I found this approach more successful than my wife's choice, the Danish cheese adding richness to the dish, balanced nicely by the beef, salsa, and Caesar kick, resulting in a seductive burger salad that I devoured happily. We also ordered cheese fries, and they were good, particularly when dipped in the Caesar and not the accompanying ranch, which was rather boring. Service was pleasant but preoccupied and forgetful, and we were left alone for rather long stretches of time. Website is, where among other things, they feature a Counter Culture Community, which gives you the opportunity to interact with like-minded burger fans, and perhaps win a gift card in the bargain. Exercise your freedom of choice soon, and don't forget:


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wine Corner Review #39: Campo Viejo Crianza Tempranillo

When you ask most red wine conesseurs to name their favorite varietals, most would respond with cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, syrah/shiraz, or maybe merlot. I posed the question recently to my colleague Classy and Sassy (a Wine Chick known to readers of D Magazine Sidedish blog and her own Dallas Eats blog), and she responded with tempranillo as one of her choices. I knew, of course, that tempranillo was practically the most important wine grape of Spain, and that the Rioja region, in particular, was known for producing quality tempranillo tipples of good value. After a little internal consultation, I decided some further research was in the offing, and the upshot of all this folderol was the wine I bring to you today, the Campo Viejo ("old friend") Crianza Tempranillo.

The robe of the Campo Viejo Crianza Tempranillo is regal rust. The nose suggests plum, raisins, and white chocolate. The palate is cleansed with black cherry, leather, maple wood, and more plum, finishing nicely with vanilla. This tempramental tempranillo can best be tamed by pairing with saucy veal, pork tenderloin, or tuna tartare, and will also work well with dishes featuring beans. Website is, but unless you're fluent in Spanish, I would not suggest this option; you'll have to go further afield to such websites as to get your questions answered. Enjoy a bottle of this classy tempranillo today, and as always:


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Quickie Review #34: Scardello Artisan Cheese

My colleague Donna Chen founded the blog Donna Cooks, which should be essential reading every day for all Dallas food lovers. As my lovely wife the Rock Star so eloquently puts it, she has her finger planted firmly on the pulse of the Dallas food scene, and so when she reports that Scardello Artisan Cheese opened in Oak Lawn, we were quick to respond to her call. In particular, we were taken with the final line of her review, which suggested that a tasting at Scardello's was "a lovely way to spend an hour or a relaxing afternoon," and since we are staunch defenders of the concept of weekends that feel like vacations, we eagerly pointed the car down the Tollway in search of fromage one recent Saturday afternoon.

Scardello's interior leisurely evokes a small town downtown vacation, with exposed original brickwork in its narrow 1920's storefront (with extra parking in the rear.) High ceilings create an open, airy feel. Large display case of said cheese and a cooler for wine stand along one side of the store, while a wine shelf and salt bar/bookshelf dominate the other, with a scattering of tables at the back. In short order, Rich The Cheesemonger and his sidekicks explained the setup. We decided to purchase a sampler plate of four cheeses and an accompanying pair of white wines to make a light lunch. Soon, we began our repast with Hoja Santa, a young goats-milk Texas cheese (a mere kid, as it were) wrapped in the Hoja Santa leaf, which imparted touches of pepper and sassafrass with a slight finish of mint. Next, we progressed to the Marin (California) Yellow Brick, a cows-milk Camembert which was similar to brie but with a slightly stronger, more nutty flavor that really pleased my lovely bride. Then, we moved on to the Idiazabal Raw, a sheep's-milk selection with a slightly smoky bite reminiscent of Gouda, which made it very gouda to a smoked cheese lover like myself. Finally, we finished with Bosque Blue, a raw cows-milk number as salty as an old vaudeville trouper like Irene Ryan and twice as intense. Throughout, we paired our bites with Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc, and a blanc de blancs sparkling wine with pear notes which worked well with each of the cheeses, not to mention olives and almonds, which added nice savory touches. Thoroughly sated, we soon took our leave. Website is, where you will note that they have already started having tasting events; please log on if you wish to secure reservations with your credit card. Finally, they will not only take your email address for their mailing list, if you so desire, they will also record your cheese preferences in their database, so you won't have to worry about remembering what you ordered last time if you wish to enjoy it again. Next time you wish to spend a lovely afternoon on vacation, please consider cheese, and remember:


Sunday, November 2, 2008


Bijoux defines Dallas dining in a very literal sense. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary notes that bijoux is the plural of bijou, which means jewel or trinket. More specifically, this term refers to "anything small and of elegant workmanship". Bijoux Restaurant, the pride of Lovers Lane, sparkles like a polished gem in the noonday sun, offering unparalleled French food in a delightful jewel-box of a setting situated just behind the Inwood Theatre. My lovely wife the Rock Star and I jumped at the chance to experience this often-misunderstood cuisine one recent Saturday evening. If you decide to venture there yourself, keep in mind that you will have to drive behind the Inwood, looking for the valet stand and the lovely, scripted letter B emblazoned on the entrance awning, located at the rear right corner of the shopping center as you face south.


Bijoux's interior is lover-intimate, without quite the overt sexiness of the assignation. Taupe and turquoise curtains. A dozen or so tables arranged strategically so as to avoid crowding. That marvelous chandelier focussing your attention like the Star of Bethlehem over the goodness that awaits within. Some might call it oh-so-slightly-stuffy, but interaction with the staff will soon suggest otherwise. Chef-owner Scott Gottlich and sommlier wife Gina have prioritized elegance paired with approchability, and they diligently orchestrate staff, food, and atmosphere into a symphonic whole of top-notch quality. Upon our arrival, we were graciously welcomed like old friends, even though we had never dined there before, and were guided to a table managed by Doug's assured yet comfortable care.


Best in Dallas? Maybe, maybe not, depending on your proclivities, but to paraphrase an old saying, if Bijoux isn't the very best, it sure don't take long to call the roll. Bordeaux? Mas oui, and the 2003 Chateau Sisson that we chose displayed the perfect, gravel-washed characteristics that would accompany our celebration of red meat. The three course, prix fixe menu screamed affordability, and we took careful note of its siren song. After an amuse bouche featuring apple and pear, my wife started with the English Pea Angnolotti, a carefully crafted ravioli creation of boure noisette, Parmigiano-Reggiano and her beloved black truffles. Light and layered with fresh cheese and flavor, I was quite fortunate to get just a taste. Despite being tempted by the East Coast Oysters, I bowed to the crowd for once and selected Crispy Pork Belly, with corn, tomato, rich bacon fat, and fava bean succotash (no, Hannibal Lecter was nowhere to be seen), seared to the point of pig deliciousness. Pork belly means bacon, and I truly wish I could dine on this every morning with eggs and coffee. The Rock Star, like many real women, loves red meat, and her veal tenderloin displayed melt-in-the-mouth silken layers of lusciousness. This begs the question: Why order red meat in a town full of great steakhouses? Because the French prepare beef like no other culture, with an almost bishop-like reverence of sauces and flavors. My dish reinforced this fact: Filet of beef, seared perfectly medium rare, and served with haricots verts (green beans) and baby carrots proved possibly the best beef dish I have ever enjoyed in this city's confines. Chocolate bananas without the Foster were light and refreshing, and a simple preparation of French cows-milk cheese was stimulating and almost wholesome, particularly after such a decadent dinner. Finally, a dish of chocolates was offered to us, and we especially enjoyed the peanut butter fudge and the dark chocolate truffle.


Although most male patrons wore a jacket, Bijoux does not require one, and Doug and his colleagues treated all patrons with the same level of respect, which greatly diminished any aura of stuffiness. Website is, where you can get a good idea of the cuisine, even though as Doug emphasized, both menu and preparation are subject to change nightly.


Bijoux rises to levels of greatness that most other Dallas establishments can only imagine in their wildest dreams. Discover this magical ruby yourself, and remember:


Quickie Review #33: The Fillmore Pub

The Fillmore name conjures up acid-washed memories of the sixties to many classic rock fans, when the San Francisco sound was king and bands such as Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service played the Fillmore venue managed by rock emprasario Bill Graham. Today, The Fillmore is still hosting live music events in its San Francisco digs, while closer to home, The Fillmore Pub quenches the thirst of many a visitor to the burgeoning downtown Plano scene. My lovely wife the Rock Star and I were searching for sustenance after a morning spent wine-shopping (always a pleasant pastime), and were making a beeline straight for Kelly's Eastside for lunch, when we spotted The Fillmore Pub, made a quick revolution in our plans, and decided to investigate at once. We had never dined there previously, but since it was on D Magazine's most recent list of Best Neighborhood Restaurants, we knew that it came well recommended.

Inside its classic, oblong-box structure, The Fillmore Pub sports an intimate and quite masculine, pub-like interior, with dark woods, chalkboard specials, and the requisite TVs. (It is an obscure Texas law that flat-panel or big-screen TVs must be available for viewing within 100 feet of the public consumption of alcohol. Would I lie about somthing like this?) Fish and chips and great burgers are always pub favorites, and my bride and I saw no reason to deviate from the norm. The fish was fresh-fried and served with slightly spicy tartar sauce and good malt vinegar, and I was lucky to get a couple of bites of their silken deliciousness before they all disappeared down my wife's gullet. The fries basically came along for the ride, fine but nothing special. I loved my Guiness-Cheddar burger, with tasty meat juices flowing freely, needing just a touch of mustard and pickle to pull the dish together. Most often, I prefer homemade chips to fries, and The Fillmore's were excellent, making for a perfect noontide repast when paired with a robust glass of Stone Smoked Porter. (My wife loved her usual Black Velvet as well.) Service was friendly and well-paced. We dined well, enjoying a brief mini-vacation of sorts, and in due course went happily about our business. Website is Discover your own dining venue soon, and as always:


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wine Corner Review #38: Trapiche Mendoza Argentina Malbec

Hear, hear! We must salute the star that has stepped out on her own. Malbec has been overshadowed for many years as just one of the primary blending grapes of the esteemed Bordeaux claret. In your above-average claret, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot also struggle to make their voices heard. Well, a few years back, Argentina heard malbec's frantic call for attention and came to the rescue, so much so that this noble blending grape assumed primacy in that South American country, rather than be allowed to rot on the vine, so to speak. You are cordially welcomed to consider such related topics as claret, Argentina's colorful history, or whatever your mind fancies, but when doing so, please do so with a glass or three of one of the stars of the pampas, the Mendoza region's own Trapiche Mendoza Argentina Malbec.

The robe of the Trapiche Mendoza Argentina Malbec is regal navy plum. The nose contains definite notes of black raspberry and black cherry. On your palate, you should notice definite dark chocolate overtones as well as raspberry, currant, and Concord grape, with a slightly chewy finish. Malbec can stand up to all spicy red meats and chicken, and always works well with game; in fact, try it with steak in garlic butter sauce tonight. Website is, but in all honesty, I did not find this website very user-friendly, even in its English language version. Heed the call yourself soon, and remember:


Sunday, October 26, 2008


When you go down on Deep Ellum,
Put your money in your socks,
Cause them Women on Deep Ellum,
Sho' will throw you on the rocks.

The above lines are from a song entitled "Deep Ellum Blues". In case you didn't know it, Deep Ellum was a hotbed of blues activity in the 1920's, with Blind Lemon Jefferson literally wandering the streets, and Ledbelly, Robert Johnson, and Bessie Smith playing the clubs. Robert Johnson made his epochal blues recordings just blocks from here in downtown Dallas in the 1930's; Cream's cover of his "Cross Roads Blues" is considered one of the seminal recordings in rock and blues history. If you desire more information on this pivotal place, you must purchase Deep Ellum and Central Track: Where the Black and White Worlds of Dallas Converged, by Alan B Govenar and Jay F Brakefield. Deep Ellum (the name an approximation of the African-American-pronounced "Deep Elm") reached its zenith in the 1980's and 90's, when nightspots such as Video Bar, Art Bar, and Club Dada ruled the scene. Since then, high rents and crime rates have put a damper on the action, but you can still get a good meal in this now-uncrowded scene. A sweet lady named Margie, who toils on behalf of the blog Eating in Dallas, decided to host a Rat-Pack-like Summit Meeting of Dallas food bloggers not long ago, so my lovely wife the Rock Star and I joined several others in making the trip south to this lovely and still (if you look carefully) vibrant historical district, specifically meeting for brunch one Saturday at Pepe's and Mito's Mexican Cafe.


Hole-In-The-Wall is not just the name for a great blues-and-burger place on Harry Hines, nor is it just the name for the hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. You can accurately describe Pepe's and Mito's this way. Historical marker out front. Metered parking on the street and a small adjoining lot (Be sure to feed the meter!). Dim, bar-like lighting indoors. Surprising numbers of tables and chairs crowd into its three dining areas. This father-and-son place has been in business for ages, and does a brisk business during the week due to nearby Baylor Hospital, but weekends are rarely crowded. We entered, and were seated in the bar area with host Marge and husband Hubbard (Eating in Dallas), and were soon joined by Classy & Sassy and Foodie Princess (Dallas Eats), and later by Donna and her Better Half (Donna Cooks), ready and willing for a leisurely brunch.


Handmade and homemade with fresh ingredients, this repast started with bracing, lime-infused margaritas, cold and well-made. Hubbard played the genial host and ordered deep-fried, savory beef and chicken taquitos as appetizers. Both versions, like Elvis, left the building quickly. Salsa and chips were full of bite but not obnoxious and complemented our meals perfectly. Everyone ordered different entrees, and I'm not completely privy to their taste, but I must comment on the few I was able to sample. The Rock Stars Fajita Quesadillas were grilled-cheese heaven, with fresh chicken and tortillas, and thoroughly delightful. My own entree, Brunch Tacos with chorizo, rice and beans and papas (fried potatoes), was a great cure for morning hangovers. (Donna felt the same way, as she ordered and devoured them herself.) I'm usually completely satisfied with my own order, but Margie made the mistake of letting me try some of her Beef Fajita Tacos, seasoned with poblano wine sauce. Luckily, she had already eaten her fill, otherwise there would have been a confrontation. Brunch, as I said, was leisurely, and we filled up two plus hours with delightful companionship and conversation. We all declined dessert, boxed up what was ours, and in due course took our leave.


Well-paced and none, respectively. I've come to expect that Mom-and-Pop Tex-Mex joints will not always have a website. They have not needed it all these years, so why start now? Call 214 741-1901 with any questions or concerns.


Pepe's and Mito's will satisfy su familia for special occasions as well as the run-of-the-mill lunch. Discover this bluesy slice of historic Dallas soon, and remember:


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wine Corner Review #37: Bouchard Aine & Fils Bourgogne Pinot Noir

In our last thrilling episode, I discussed Bordeaux, that 800-pound gorilla winemaking region of France which has served as the industry's benchmark of quality for centuries. Yet, many quaffers would challenge that assumption, specifically naming another great region on the other side of Gaul: Burgundy. In 1750, Michel Bouchard and his eldest son set up shop in Beaune and have been making quality wines ever since. Just as red Bordeauxs most frequently feature the cabernet sauvignon grape, giving the wines a great deal of power, so Burgundys spotlight the pinot noir, resulting in more finesse. All this history is grist for the mill, I suppose, so after sufficient contemplation, you would do well to pour yourself a glass or three of a good burgundy (bourgogne) and see for yourself. If you were thus inclined, you could use the wine we're considering today, the Bouchard Aine & Fils Bourgogne Pinot Noir.

The robe of the Bouchard Aine & Fils Bourgogne Pinot Noir is nighted ruby (and if you were Hamlet, you should be casting your nighted color off before indulging). The nose is dusty cassis, with touches of Bing cherries. Black cherry is dominant on the palate, with notes of mint and currant, and a slight kiss of lime on the finish. Pinot noir is heaven-sent for prime rib and any sort of beef roast, and also works well with seared ahi tuna or any other red game fish. Website is, which should be in English; if you need translation, simply call the French embassy. Get involved in the Bordeaux vs Burgundy bout today, and as always:


Sunday, October 19, 2008


How on earth do the Russians figure into the very French concept of bistro? Well, according to French legend, the Cossacks who occupied Paris during the Napoleonic wars of 1814 demanded fast service in restaurants. (When you're conquering a country, it seems, you want your food and you want it NOW!) To expedite the waiters, they would shout, "Bystro!"("Quickly!") Apparently, the term stuck around after the Russians left, and over time, evolved into the modest, mid-scale French restaurants we know and love today. Food, of course, is a national obsession in France and their ethos demands that even the simplest places serve soul-satisfying fare. My lovely wife the Rock Star and myself recently decided to investigate this Russian/French axis of art form one recent Saturday evening, located at the Westin Galleria hard by the Tollway, and esconced just off the lobby escalators on (you guessed it!) the hotel's second floor.

Before you begin your own trek, I feel I must issue a warning: The parking garage entrance to the hotel is currently under construction, requiring you to schlep your spouse a hundred yards or so to a back staircase. Never fear, as said staircase opens outside to the valet entrance, and you can then ascend to the restaurant proper with only a minor loss of dignity.


Much has already been written and discussed about The Second Floor's environs, but I feel my bride put it most succinctly and accurately when she declared, "It's a hotel restaurant, people!" Indeed it is. If your not careful, you may mistake its unprepossessing external appearance for some place not worthy of your time, and give it a pass. My advice: Don't. Once you enter, you discover a beautiful long bar which dominates the front room, complete with premium bottles of potent potables lining the wall. Beige tones, sophisticated light fixtures, and rather smallish tables, unless you have a group of more than four. In short, a vibe of relaxed edginess, as suitable for two businessmen consummating a deal at the bar as for a family of tourists enjoying a late breakfast. After some initial confusion, we were seated in the smaller back dining room, where the genial and intelligent Doug took care of us.


Again, it is most helpful to remember that bistros serve simple, modest food, and The Second Floor achieves this with both technical and taste precision, reminding the diner that they are related to Bijoux, that five-star bastion of Gallic excellence located just a little farther down the Tollway. In fact, one of the simplest dishes made the greatest impression. Roasted corn chowder, garnished with truffles, sent my bride into paroxysms of ecstasy, more so that her beloved butternut squash soup from Gregory's in Plano. Now that the weather is turning cooler, a marvelous bowl of potage will not come amiss and this chowder would be worth a trip to The Second Floor alone, never mind the rest of the menu. After sampling as much as my wife would let me, my own cup of duck soup with saffron, though well-flavored, seemed almost ordinary by comparison. When pressed, Doug confessed that Executive Chef J Chastain was giving the chowder a dry run to see how it was received. Chef, the experiment should be ended at once; the soup's a keeper. The Rock Star yearned for scallops and was very pleased with the nightly special of Day Boat Scallops with tomatoes, cauliflower, and pearl onions, served with tender risotto. Deliciously balanced, although slightly fishy at first, until I sampled them with a swig of her Clayhouse sauvignon blanc, which accompanied the dish beautifully. I opted for a much simpler dish: Pork tenderloin sandwich, with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles between foccacia, and served with stone-ground mustard and pomme frites (very tasty, true French fries), and washed down with a simple French burgundy (pinot noir) that brought out the pork's marinade quite nicely. We did not even consider dessert after such an elegant repast and instead, opted for more drinks, another sauvignon blanc for her, a Glenlivet scotch with Speyside sparkling water for me.


Doug was tireless, effecient, and talkative in just the right way, deftly straightening out issues with the bill with aplomb. Which reminds me: Make sure you have a clear understanding of your bill and what's on it, otherwise a $12 scotch can turn into $22 if your not careful. This was cheerfully rectified. Website is


You don't need a Cossack to take over Paris to find your own little slice of Gallic heaven in the Galleria. Investigate The Second Floor soon, and remember:


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wine Corner Review #36: Chateau Rival Bellevue White Bordeaux

Bordeaux. The name connotes the classic be-all-and-end-all of what red wine should be to most aficionadoes: A supremely aged claret blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc, and/or petit verdot. For centuries, this 800-pound gorilla of vino has cast a King Kong shadow over the rest of the wine world, impressing and even intimidating the most seasoned sommlier. Yet, Bordeaux is not all red wine; some lovely white wines are crafted as well, with sauvignon blanc as the principle grape. Some judicious searching in your local wine shoppe may yield some excellent finds of surprising values, such as today's quaff, the Chateau Rival Bellevue White Bordeaux.

The robe of the Chateau Rival Bellevue White Bordeaux is pale pewter with highlights of fool's gold. The nose gives the classic washed gravel and mineral aromas, with light touches of nectarine and pear. Lots more pear and subtle peach in the taste, with a light, dry finish. Like any sauvignon-blanc-based wine, this blanc is great with spicy seafood; in a fit of whimsy, I tried it with candy corn and it actually worked, the dryness playing against the corn's sweetness quite nicely. I was unable to locate a website anywhere, yet I was finally able to read a rather interesting article on, which taught me much about the grape that I did not know. Discover your own white gorilla soon, and remember:



When you think of quality dining in Dallas, what area first pops into mind? Downtown? Uptown? All around the town?? Everyone has a different standard, but I bet neither one of my readers think first of Downtown Carrollton when making that assessment. Yet, in this revitilized Mecca, there is a case to be made indeed. Amici Signature draws a steady throng of patrons with its French-inspired Italian fare and BYOB policy. Babe's Chicken Dinner House pulls in fans of true, downhome cookin' with its almost-all-you-can-eat policy (meats excepted). And Cafe on the Square brings in the lunchtime crowds with signature dishes like braised ribs and horseradish mashed potatoes and is a D Magazine Best Neighborhood Restaurant selection. And just on the edge of downtown stands a Mexican outpost of culinary distinction, quietly carving out a niche in the statue of Dallas dining, Agave Azul Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar. Always looking for good south-of-the-border sustenance, my lovely wife the Rock Star and I made the drive into the wilds of greater Downtown Carrollton one recent Saturday eve.

Before we begin the review proper, I must take a moment to remind both my readers that downtown's parking situation can be tricky even in the best of times. Like Dallas and other cities, Carrollton features limited street parking, so please allow for extra time when planning the evening's festivities. There is a large central lot, but during crunch times and special occasions, it may be full. Still, there is usually parking aplenty, but you may have to hunt and walk. Luckily, on this day, we arrived early enough so that there was still plenty of parking near the restaurant's entrance.


Agave Azul stands hard by Interstate 35 in a large building which apparently has or will have lofts above the restaurant. (Despite my best Googling, I was unable to clear up the mystery.) Lots of high ceilings, exposed ductwork, a separate, glassed-in bar, and earth tones. Roomy and quite family friendly as well, as there were lots of large families with children enjoying their dinners when we arrived. We were seated immediately, and Guadalupe took charge of us.


If you like a place that does everything well, particularly the little things, then Agave Azul may be a perfect fit for you. Chips were delivered with two excellent salsas, the red was warmed and steamy and had a great balance of flavor and thickness, while the green was room temperature and tart. Chips were fresh, but a few had that unappetizing fryer-sheen that you see at times, luckily they were still tasty. Faced with a rather intimidating list of more than 150 tequilas (you read that correctly), the Rock Star and I decided to play it safe and ordered the Margarita of the Month. Good choice. Agave Azul has rightly earned praise from such learned sources as Chowhound for its margaritas, and ours were bracing, not too sweet, and served in old-fashioned glasses. Made with Cazadores Silver Tequila and light on Triple Sec, they were the perfect accompaniment to an outstanding repast. My wife and I both ordered fajitas, chicken for her, beef for me. Marinated in tequila-lime-pepper, these may very well be some of the best in Dallas, at least according to my spouse, who has devoured literally thousands of them in an eternal quest for the best. For myself, I would have to agree, especially when paired with the outstanding sides: A smoky, soup-like cup of charro beans, good guacamole, and fresh-made flour and white corn tortillas, not to mention those fabulous salsas and the margarita, all added up to one of the best Mexican repasts I've had all year. Completely stuffed like a Christmas goose, we declined an order of Agave Azul's famed sopapillas (served with agave nectar rather than honey), and in due course, boxed the few remaining leftovers and went off in search of fresh adventures.


Despite being situated near a large family party, Guadalupe still managed to care for us quite well, deftly fielding requests and questions about margarita preparation. Website is


Justly famed for margaritas and sopapillas, Agave Azul Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar may well be one of the most underrated gems of the Dallas collection of south-of-the-border dining jewels. Make the trip to Carrollton's downtown soon, and as always:


Monday, October 6, 2008

Wine Corner Review #35: Su Vino Syrah

Syrah or shiraz? What's the difference?? Well, depending on how you look at it, not much or considerable. Basically, shiraz and syrah are the same grape, but as with all grapes, it takes on the characteristics of the soil it's planted in. Shiraz is pretty much only found in Australia, although some producers elsewhere have hijacked the name for marketing purposes. It is chocolatey, spicy and bold in taste. Syrah is planted elsewhere in the world and is peppery and more delicate in nature. So-called petit sirah is actually a cross between syrah, durif, and/or peloursin, all very similar grapes, and its taste is more delicate still and usually requires ageing to bring its flavors to full fruition. All of this noble rot is grist for the mill, I suppose (as we freely mix our metaphors here), but you should consider doing a tasting yourself to experience the difference, and you can start with a very nice Texas version, the Su Vino Syrah.

The robe of the Su Vino Syrah is blackberry jam, just pulled off the shelf and opened for enjoyment. The nose is pencil erasers, mixed with light touches of pepper and fruit. More pencil chewing, leather, berries, and white pepper are found in the taste, with a finish of nutmeg. Pork tenderloin or seared Ahi tuna would pair well with this varietal, as it just begs to work with food. Website is, where you can check out how many awards this Grapevine winery has won. Debate the syrah/shiraz difference yourself, and remember:


Sunday, October 5, 2008


Everyone's going locavore these days, which in layman's terms means eating food grown within a hundred-mile-or-so radius from your homestead, if not from your actual foodshed. When it comes to restaurants, I'm all about "local-vore"; in other words, where do the locals like to dine? Fortunately, a few months back, D Magazine made the process much easier when they came up with their extensive list of the Best Neighborhood Restaurants. You can rest assured that your most knowledgeable food critics dine at these places. I'm referring to the bus drivers, local constabulary, and hotel personnel who don't have the time or money to waste on mediocre food.
When planning my Grapevine road trips, I first consulted this learned missive, then made my selections appropriately. Speaking of which, I still refer to these lengthy, twenty-minute drives as roadtrips because as my lovely wife the Rock Star so succiently put it, "Every time we go to Grapevine, I feel like we're on vacation!" So true. And so, by her special request, we once again made the grueling trip to historic Main Street Downtown Grapevine.


Yes, it is possible to visit Grapevine without stopping by a winery. But, in my view, it is as unthinkable to do so as to travel to Boston or Seattle and not eat seafood. Parking can sometimes be an issue when visiting downtowns; not so at Su Vino, which has a smallish lot behind its historic-strip-mall location. When we walked inside, we immediately noticed the dim lighting. As it turns out, this was not mere ambience, the power was out. (It was restored about twenty minutes into our visit, much to our chagrin.) After waiting a bit for spots to open up at the bar, we perused the "Five wines for $5" tasting menu and began making our selections. Su vino means "your wine" and they advertise themselves as the first custom winery in the Southwest. They are set up on the D'Vine Wine concept, which allows patrons to make their own, if they are so interested. If this sounds too time-consuming and labor-intensive to you, do not fret, as they have a number of ready-made, award-winning selections as well. My wife and I tried five wines each, everything from an almond champagne (What a tasty idea!) to a ruby port, and each selection was delightful for both of us. (Well, almost: My bride thought that Su Vino's malbec "smelled and tasted like feet" whereas I thought the nose was merely a little musty, but the taste was rather light and spicy for this usually-intense varietal.) Our favorites were the Island Paradise, a fruity-but-dry sauvignon blanc infused with kiwi, and a fabulous syrah, which will be dealt with in an upcoming review. The tag-team service was very knowledgeable and friendly, and we bought a bottle of the Island Paradise for leisurely consumption on the premises, a practice I really enjoy and highly encourage, as it's a most pleasant way to spend an hour or two. Website is

Both relaxed and energized from our tasting, my wife and I took a leisurely walk down Main Street, watching the people and gawking at all the buildings with historical markers. Soon enough, we were ready for dinner.


Even though I prefer to judge a place as unique and standing on its own merits, it's hard not to notice the similarities between Big Fish and the Rockfish/Fish City Grill chains, from the narrow storefronts right down to the ubiquitous waffle fries. When we entered, there was plenty of space available, but the place quickly filled up with both tourists and locals as we dined. We started with crab cakes and they were the standouts of our repast: Plenty of crab with little filler, and a truly flavorful olive aioli to accompany it; the remoulade which was also offered was merely very good, not spicy enough in my opinion. The Rock Star selected a combo dinner with very good grilled shrimp (plus the usual cocktail-and-tartar accompaniments) and excellent, tempura-tasting fried catfish which was delightfully light and crunchy. She was less enamoured of the jalapeno hushpuppies, preferring the old-school plain variety, and enjoyed her waffle fries.
I selected the shrimp marinara, which was also light and full of fresh zucchini, squash, and peppers, as well as shrimp and linguini. It was very good, however I found the marinara a little watery for my taste. Service was efficient, and I boxed up my leftovers for later consumption; my bride had not left anything on her plate worth boxing. Website is

Overall, a marvelous day, and of course we vowed to visit Grapevine again, as there are wineries, restaurants, and charm enough to warrant furthur roadtrips. Have your own local vacation soon, and remember:


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wine Corner Review #34: Lorca Fantasia Malbec Syrah

Sometimes I get frustrated by the fact that most of my wine reviews are about vino from Australia, France, and the United States. Not only do these reviews reflect personal preference, I find that these countries most consistently provide the quality and value I look for in quaff. However, many other countries produce outstanding wine as well, and Argentina has taken the classic Bordeaux blending grape malbec and turned its wine into a national obsession. Coupled with syrah, one of my personal favorite varietals, and you have a truly irresistable blend, in this case, a marvelous import from South America, the Lorca Fantasia Malbec Syrah.

The robe of the Lorca Fantasia Malbec Syrah is red violet, which you may remember from childhood as coming straight out of a Crayola box. In true (neo-) Bordeaux fashion, the nose reveals lots of minerals and washed gravel, as well as various and sundry berries. Cherries, blueberries, and delicate touches of pepper and spice wash across the palate, resolving themselves into a silken finish. Malbec is best served with any and all red meat and game, and I would not care to deviate from that assessment. Website is, but you may have some difficulty with it if you cannot read Spanish. Discover this delightful blend today, and as always:



Grapevine? Czar, how can you have a roadtrip to Grapevine?? After all, it's in the Metroplex and only a short drive away from Su Casa. Well, it's like this. One recent warmish Saturday, my lovely wife the Rock Star announced that she was bored. Bored out of her gourd. So bored, in fact, that when I suggested a movie, she immediately declined, and since one of her titles is the Empress of Movies, this is serious boredom indeed. She also expressed interest in the State Fair, but as it was Saturday, and thus sure to be crowded, we decided to postpone our trip to a possible weekday in the near future. Suddenly, I was hit with a major inspiration (no, I was uninjured): Why not a roadtrip to visit a winery? Why not indeed? After a lot of Googling and a little cogitation, we decided that a trip to Grapevine would fill our bill, so we motored south and west to a suburb old but ever new.

Grapevine, Texas actually dates back to the time of Sam Houston and the Republic of Texas, and is named for the wild mustang grapes that grew in the area. Luckily, the city fathers (and mothers) have shown a strong interest in recent years in historic preservation and revitilization. Main Street is slowly coming into its own as a destination, with restaurants, bars, and apartment lofts joining the classic buildings to create an ambiance that is positively Fredericksburgian in nature. (Now, there's a ten-dollar word for you!) After walking the lovely downtown, we felt the call of lunch, and decided that an iconic Texas spot would serve our needs just fine.


Frank X Tolbert Sr must receive the lion's share of credit for raising cultural and culinary awarness of chili in Texas, so much so that the Texas Legislature named the simple Bowl of Red the Official State Dish of Texas. (Fans of barbecue or Tex-Mex might object, but that's the way it stands to this day.) His downtown Dallas predecessor to this location was recognized by Texas Monthy as the best old-school chili parlor in the state, and more than a few tears were shed when it finally closed. Today, his daughter Kathleen has breathed new life into an old downtown Grapevine building and recreated Tolbert's for a new generation of chiliheads. Inside, exposed ductwork and lots of brick and wood connote authenticity, a feeling reinforced by the stellar cuisine. My wife ordered the chicken-fried chicken and it was very good, particularly the cream gravy, and accompanying French-style green beans were excellent, with plenty of bacon. But let me say with confidence that it's doubtful I've had a better old-school bowl of chili. Made without tomatoes and with lots of peppery spice, and topped with cheese, onions, and a fresh chili pepper, Tolbert's bowl of red is the essence of true Texas authenticity. I can't wait to return in a few months and devour a bowl in really cold weather. Service during this late lunch was rather leisurely, but Barbara tended to our needs quite well, and said she hoped to see us later that evening when live music started. Website is

One of the joys of Grapevine is that many of the sites, including some of the wineries, are within easy walking distance of downtown. Forsaking our conveyance, we hiked back down Main Street, then headed East on College to one of those fine vintners that promised afternoon live music.


For more than a decade, La Buena Vida Winery has been slaking the thirst of travelers and locals alike from their converted college building just off Main Street. The building has a decidedly romantic feel with lots of fountains, and is now owned by the lady who started La Bodega Winery at DFW Airport. (You read that right: A winery in an airport. Great concept!) The Grapevine location of La Buena Vida is used primarily as a tasting room, with the main winery being located in Springtown. The charming and effusive Al conducted one of the best tastings I've ever experienced, proving that the personal touch is essential to understanding a winery and its product. (Not to mention it's a great way to boost sales.) Their tastings feature not only their own wines, but also offerings from other wineries for comparison and contrast. We sampled three marvelous wines and even purchased a bottle for consumption (and forthcoming review) on the beautiful patio.

Walking back outside, we were pleasantly surprised that old friend Andrea Dawson of the Andrea D Blues Band was leading the afternoon's entertainment. Andrea can spin Tracy Chapman, Bill Withers, and Bobby Blue Bland like no other artist, and we enjoyed more than an hour of first-rate music and a pleasant conversation afterward. The winery was closing early that day for a private wedding, so we reluctantly took our leave and motored back home. Website for the winery is, and for Andrea Dawson,, where she can be reached for bookings, if you are so inclined.

After relaxing for a few hours at home, we decided to take Barbara up on her kind offer, and we returned to Tolbert's for dinner and more live music. This time Ashley took care of us, deftly maneuvering through the crowd all evening to do so. The Rock Star loved her cheese-and-onion enchiladas, a daily special with Central -Tex-Mex-style seasonings, and tasting very much like classic soft cheese tacos. These were served with good rice and refried black beans, the latter redolent of smoke and bacon, resulting in some of the best black beans I've had anywhere. I had heard wonders of the chicken tortilla soup, homemade with smoky grilled chicken breast, corn tortillas, avocados and Monterrey Jack cheese, and I happily devoured every last bite. Wine accompanied our lunchtime repast; this time, we paired our food with Dos Equis and Shiner Black Beers. Dinner was even more satisfying than lunch, particularly because the live music was provided by Voodoo Blue, an outstanding Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute band. (I should know, as I saw The Man Himself perform live on several occasions before his untimely death.) After more than an hour of pure Austin music, we motored home happy and satisfied. Their website is Descover the joys of a short roadtrip to Grapevine soon, and remember:


Monday, September 22, 2008

Wine Corner Review #33: Mirassou Cabernet Sauvignon

For the most part, I try to go my own way when deciding which wines to buy, but I must admit that sometimes I'm susceptible to what I read in the wine press. (Question: Can you read a wine press, when it's not busy crushing grapes?) Recently, I read an article online that named the Top Ten Wine Values Under $10 (or some such rot....Have you had enough grape puns for one day?) . Since I'm all about quality and value, I knew that I had to investigate, so I promptly visited my local Wine Shoppe, and was able to locate and purchase one of those wines; in fact, it just so happens to be the quaff we're considering today, straight to you from one of California's oldest winemaking families, the Mirassou Cabernet Sauvignon.

The robe of the Mirassou Cabernet Sauvignon is rusty plum. The nose is slightly vegetal, but also contains distinct whiffs of blackberry and vanilla. Lots of blackberry, black current and dark chocolate roll across the palate, finishing with more vanilla and spice. You can hail this cab if you need it to accompany such humble fare as lemon-pepper chicken wings (and I did), but it's even more comfortable with pot roast and barbecue. Website is, where you can read all about the Mirassou family and their lengthy history. Make it a pressing matter to obtain a bottle soon, and remember:


Sunday, September 21, 2008


Every Texan should know the truth: To get world-class, campfire quality barbecue, you must smoke your meat over wood. Period. Nothing else will do. Oh, sure, you can barbecue over gas or charcoal, but the best you can expect with these approaches is a very high level of mediocrity, and a pot-roast-esque flavor and finish. True, smoking over wood will sometimes yield inconsistent results, but when the fire is right and the wind is at your back, the finished product will often raise to the stratospheric heights that only great cuisine can achieve. Recently, a colleague of my lovely wife the Rock Star informed her that Hard Eight Barbecue in Coppell was "just like Coopers". Since Coopers is one of the sainted Barbecue Meccas of central Texas, and since its meat was once served by Lyndon Johnson at a state dinner, this statement was high praise indeed. Eager to try this year-old joint, my lovely wife and I made the drive one recent Saturday for lunch.


Hard Eight BBQ does indeed resemble the pride of Llano, Texas in many ways. The new wooden structure features outdoor pits, from whence you select your meat and have it weighed and priced before you venture inside. There, you encounter another serving line to select sides, then pay for your repast and search for a table. Also like Cooper's, Hard Eight features a pot of complimentary beans, flavored with onions and peppers and resembling a Mexican bean soup, and mostly communal seating at long wooden tables with attached, backless seats. (If you desire privacy, do not despair, as there are several fourtops you can nab unless the place is really crowded.) After selecting our self-serve soda and tea (the latter you can get sweet or unsweet, just you sense a theme here?), my bride and I selected space near the smallish central bar, and got down to business.


As good as Coopers? Not quite, although Coopers has been serving for over fifty years, and thus had a chance to perfect their art. My wife loved her brisket, which was indeed moist and tender. (Dry brisket can be an unfortunate byproduct of an improperly-tended fire.) She enjoyed the turkey as well, since she is a fiend for the gobbler, but felt it did not match Rudy's or Louis Mueller's turkey for quality. Pork ribs were the standout for me, thick, meaty and thoroughly tender, although they could have used just a bit more smokiness. However, the campfire quality and texture was very much in evidence, and we dined heartily. Potato salad was thick as well and loaded with mustard, which may be too much for some, although we devoured every last bite. We also tried the cornbread dressing, also loaded with peppers, and found it pleasing but slightly dry. Hard Eight's standard sauce is their weakest link, being overly sweet, but a little exploration of the condiment tray yielded a bottle of Hard Eight Pepper Sauce, which delivered much more flavor and a sizeable kick. Use with caution. After dining under the watchful eyes of mounted game heads, we wrapped up leftovers and took our satisfied leave.


Self-service is Texas-friendly and quite charming, and the pit boss (and owner?) stopped by himself to wish us a happy Saturday. Website is, but cannot be accessed at this writing as the site owner has temporarily exceeded his available bandwidth. Hopefully, this will soon be rectified. Hard Eight, unlike many bbq joints, is open throughout the day and into the night, and even features some very attractive Happy Hour specials, if you are so inclined.


Little by little, North Texas barbecue is hopefully coming of age, and Hard Eight Barbecue gives it a gentle nudge in that very direction. Discover its wood-fired goodness for yourself, and remember:


Monday, September 15, 2008

Quickie Review #32: Red Brick Pizza

We sure have come a long ways from the days when the word "pizza" was automatically followed by the word "hut". (Or, "inn" if you're a native Texan.) These days, pizza palaces are popping up like so many gophers after a storm, and better still, most are quite good too. It's definitely a buyers market these days for the intrepid pie fan, with many of them featuring fancy ovens, fire-roasting techniques, and fresh ingredients. Red Brick Pizza (the name refers to the terra-cotta stones used in classic pizza-roasting ovens in Italy) combines all of the above so successfully that they've recently been named one of the Top 50 Franchises by Entrepreneur Magazine. One has just opened nearby, so I called for takeout recently to check out their freshly-prepared gourmet goodies.

If you desire a trencherman-sized (translation: big) pie, then Red Brick Pizza is not the place for you. Their smallish pizzas deliver quality, not quantity and are seared at 1000 degrees in their special ovens for just three minutes. I tried the pepperoni, mushroom, and Italian sausage version, and could taste the fresh tomato and mozzarella in every chewy bite. The ingredients were well-balanced, still I could have used just a touch more sauce. Salads can be ordered small, medium, or large like the pizzas, and the chopped garden featured romaine, tomatoes, carrots, red onions, cucumbers, fire-roasted croutons, more mozzarella, and a creamy, slightly garlicky house dressing. The medium was easily enough for two people, and was quite satisfying. Service seemed slightly confused on this Sunday evening, with more attention being given pizza preparation and the nearby gelato bar than with greeting new customers. Red Brick also features said gourmet gelato as well as Fhazani sandwiches, which look intriguing if your in a lunch sort of mood as well as dinner. Website is, where you can read their story and find out what all the fuss is about. Have them fire up some gourmet goodies for you soon, and as always:


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wine Corner Review #32: Becker Vineyards Iconoclast Cabernet Sauvignon

Google the terms iconoclast and iconoclasm and you're likely to receive quite a shock. The term iconoclasm refers to one culture's destruction or desicration of that culture's religious icons, usually during times of political or religious upheaval, and an iconoclast is someone who practices said destruction. Not to worry, I'm sure that venerated Texas winemakers Richard and Bunny Becker are not advocating such practices, rather they are using the term in its more mundane definition: An iconoclast these days simply refers to someone who breaks or disdains established conventions. Any Texan knows that being born in the Lone Star State automatically makes him or her an iconoclast by definition, and quite a few of them will want to quaff the Becker Vineyards Iconoclast Cabernet Sauvignon.

The robe of the Becker Vineyards Iconoclast Cabernet Sauvignon is a careful blend of squid ink and magenta. The nose reveals muted blueberries and a dash of nutmeg. Open your mouth and here come the berries: Blackberries, dewberries and acai berries play tag with Bing and black cherries, finishing nicely with black grape. Grab yourself a juicy Porterhouse for two to grill and you'll be in business. Website is usually, but unfortunately it was down when I tried to visit it recently. (Why must a website choose to be disabled at the very time I'm trying to visit it? How rude!) Destroy some old-fashioned rules today, and remember:


Monday, September 8, 2008

Wine Corner Review #31: Yellowtail White Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine or champagne? What's the difference? Well, it's a legal matter, baby (as The Who would have it). You see, all champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne. Under French law, sparkling wine labeled as champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region of France. However, the good old USA didn't sign that agreement, so you will see many bottles produced in California, Washington state, and elsewhere labeled "champagne". (To make matters worse, they even taste like champagne! What nerve!!) These days, lots of countries produce sparkling wine, often labeled Spumanti in Italy, Cava in Spain, and just plain Sparkling Wine in Australia, the home turf of today's wine, Yellowtail White Sparkling Wine.

The robe of the Yellowtail White Sparkling Wine is "pale gold, glazed and shrunken". (Thank you, Jim Morrison!) The nose is pure Granny Smith apples, such a fabulous fruit for fall. The taste reveals more apples and a bunch of tropical fruits such as bananas, tangerines, and lemons, and the finish is clean as a whistle. This wine should be served ice-cold with oysters or shrimp with a spicy remoulade; we even had it with hot dogs just for fun. Website is, where you will be asked to submit your age and country of origin. Pick up a bottle legally soon, and you know:


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Quickie Review #31: Snuffer's Restaurant and Bar

Ancient philosopher Mae West once wryly noted that "marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution." (My lovely wife the Rock Star might have something to say about that.) Speaking of institutions, there's no doubt that in Dallas, Snuffer's Restaurant and Bar qualifies. Started by Pat Snuffer in 1978, the mini-chain has grown to eight locations as of this writing, giving customers all over the Metroplex access to their fresh, simple fare. Over the years, they've expanded their menu to include wraps, salads, and home-cooking offerings such as Black Angus chicken-fried steak, but let's face it folks: When you think of Snuffer's, you think of their legendary burgers and cheddar fries. It was in search of this award-winning fare that caused my wife and I to journey to the Plano outpost one recent Saturday.

Besides the food, what I love about Snuffers is that all the locations are different, but they all feel like Snuffers. Lots of wood and natural materials and old pictures literally covering the walls. They were in seat-yourself mode when we arrived (another nice touch) and since college football was in full swing, we took a booth close to one of the many TVs so we could take advantage. We were intrigued by the thought of the mini-cheeseburgers, but since they come only with regular fries and not their famous cheddar variety, we decided to stick with the classics. All their burgers are prepared fresh-never-frozen, and the Rock Star really appreciates the fact that they shred their lettuce, which makes for easier handling. (We both wish they would consider doing the same for their tomato and onion as well.) Her half-pound Bacon Cheeseburger was prepared medium as requested and was absolutely huge and juicy. Wisely, she took her knife to it and chopped in in half, the better to eat you, my dear. (I love breaking the rules of grammar. It's my blog, you know.) My Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger was literally studded with the French stuff, as well as bleu-cheese dressing, red onion, lettuce, tomato, and lots of crispy bacon bits and was prepared medium-rare. (Two signs of a quality burger joint: No freezer burn on the patties and beef fixed the way you like it.) We split a small order of the famous cheddar fries and they were gooey and tasty as always, with melted cheese, bacon bits, chives, and jalapenos on the side. How can you resist them? Wisely, we did not. Our waitress Krystal managed to be sweet, efficient, and (I believe) Canadian, although I'm not sure about the latter. Website is, and they promise to sell Snuffer's logo gear and other swag in the near future. Enter your nearest burger institution soon, and as always:


Saturday, August 30, 2008


Finally, we get to enjoy Restaurant Week! Well, it's still officially called Restaurant Week, although so many places are extending the three-course-meal-for-$35 deal, I guess it should now be properly called Restaurant Month. In any case, the first part of the month, my lovely wife The Rock Star was on tour in North Carolina (where she wowed 'em, as always), then later on when she came home we both got sick and had to trade white linen for Styrofoam takeout. Well, last night after numerous made-and-canceled reservations through the Open Table system (; you should try it, they are very convenient), we finally were able to saddle up the ponies and head north to a place that has been reviewed by both Zagat and D Magazine, with D Magazine naming it a Best Neighborhood Restaurant earlier this year.


The website ( reports that upon arrival, "guests get the sense that they are arriving at a private estate. " That is true, particularly when you consider that like many private estates, Isabella's Italian Restaurant can be a little tricky to find. (Hint: It's behind Silver Fox Steakhouse, immediately to the left of the fountain.) The front entrance may be a mystery as well; the sign in the parking lot does not point to the entrance, but to the back of the restaurant. A little daunting at first, but press on and you will find it. The interior is very clean and warm, with tangerine-colored curtains and original artwork on the walls. Good mix of customers. Very elegant and unstuffy. Neighborhood upscale. My kind of place. We were seated by the window with a view of the fountain and the efficient Nick soon presented us with menus and wine lists. (You know you are in an upscale establishment when you don't have to ask for the wine list.) We scanned the abbreviated Restaurant Week menu and made our selections rather quickly.


Note to other RW-participating establishments: Please offer optional wine pairings with your repasts, as Isabella does. That way, food and wine can be enjoyed together, just as the chef intended. Isabella's is a wine-friendly establishment: Markup is very low, and they even feature a section entitled "25 @ $25," a very enticing price point indeed. My bride's meal began with the Insalata Mista di Campo, a house salad with a mixture of mesclun greens, Roma tomatoes, and balsamic vinaigrette. Very good, but I think she prefers her beloved raspberry walnut vinaigrette that she usually enjoys. She really enjoyed the well-balanced sauvignon blanc, proving that our decision to go with wine pairings instead of a single bottle was the correct one. My own salad was the arugula, tomatoes, and Gouda cheese with pancetta red wine vinaigrette. You must eat the Gouda for the salad to work together properly, as the buttery flavor of the cheese adds the proper note of spice to the mix, and the fruity Masi Masianco Pinot Grigio tied the whole thing together very well. I almost forgot that complementary focaccia bread is served with two kinds of olive oil, a regular extra-virgin, and one with an orange spice that tasted surprisingly of peppers and cilantro. Very nice, and we requested more. The kitchen was out of the sea bass, but my wife was really pleased with the Pecan-Crusted Mahi Mahi with risotto they brought instead. (She's from Texas, so she loves pecans. That's how it works, people.) The Hawaiian fish brought just a kiss of fishiness (not unpleasant) before melting into a clean finish. They served a chardonnay/sauvignon blanc blend with her entree; luckily, it was not overly oaky. (Over-oaked chards are the bane of our existence.) I raved about my Colorado Lamb Chops with mint and a smoky white bean polenta, accompanied perfectly by a Concannon syrah. In fact, it was one of the best dishes I've had all year, and I enjoyed it so much I was literally gnawing the meat from the chop like a rib bone, a behavior which brought a rebuke from the Rock Star. (She loves to rebuke my behavior; it's a wife thing.) We finished up with a good tiramasu with sparkling wine for her, and an absolutely delicious chocolate/caramel Budina al Caramello for me (basically an Italian creme brulee); the limoncello drink I selected to accompany was a bit too sweet for my taste. As usual, we had leftovers boxed up. (I cannot bring myself to let such lovely food go to waste. Besides, leftover lunches are the best.)


Nick was efficient and quite charming, always ready with useful ideas when called upon. (It was he who suggested the Budina.) Website is, where we took note of their excellent pricing structure. (All prices are under the $31 mark for food, and only a half-a-dozen wines top the century mark.) Clearly, a place that wants repeat business. They'll get it.


Restaurant Week may have ended by the time you read this, but Isabella's Italian Restaurant is clearly a bargain for neighborhood upscale cuisine any time of year. Visit yourself soon, and remember:


Monday, August 25, 2008

Quickie Revisit #30: Tin Star

Illness can strike you down any time, any place, totally without warning. When it happened to my lovely wife the Rock Star over the weekend, the timing could not have been worse, as she had just started her vacation. Plus, it was Restaurant Week, and her infirmity coincided with our reservations for one of the Metroplex's finest high-end establishments. What to do? Luckily, Restaurant Week continues through next week, so we were able to cancel and reschedule at an equally-promising place for the following weekend. I was feeling slightly under-the-weather myself, so takeout food was in order, and with a little brainstorming and a phone call, I was soon happily motoring along to an old friend of a place featuring quality eats at a reasonable price.

I've said it before and I will say it again: I waited too long before trying Tin Star, the place of "salsa, smoke, and sizzle". I mean, I could not figure the place out: Is it Mexican, Texan, Texican, what? Well, the answer is all of the above, and Tin Star is as All-American as cheeseburger tacos and apple flan. Those tacos are stars of the menu, and my bride can rarely resist them. Prepared medium (isn't it wonderful to have a place that cooks ground beef anything other than well-done?) and served in fresh-grilled flour tortillas with cheddar cheese, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickle relish, they were truly a dish to relish. The fabulous fries that come as a sidecar are crispy and skinny and perfect for dipping. Tin Star has joined the ranks of Chipotle, etc., and they now offer bowls. These are tortilla-less tacos, and I selected one with marvelously-marinated grilled steak, rice, black beans, blended cheese, shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, and sour cream. The steaks grilled flavor married very nicely with the smoky beans and was delightfully cooled by the sour cream, so I thoroughly enjoyed devouring it. Accompanying salsa was wonderful, only the chips were a bit stale. (I have been to Tin Star several times and can assure you stale chips are an exception, not the rule.) Website is, and they feature curbside takeaway. (It's great to be able to stay in your car, particularly when you're not feeling your best.) Find your own All-American meal at Tin Star soon, and as always: