Saturday, December 26, 2009


Question: If you're dining out on a Friday or Saturday, where do you go if you're suddenly flush with cash? A Destination Restaurant? Perhaps. Breaking bread at these palaces certainly can make for some memorable evenings, plus they are good for stretching our palates. But what about Sunday through Thursday nights, or anytime your pockets are not bulging with bread? Where do you eat if you want to go out? Well, many of us turn to our favorite places close to home, the joints where the waitresses call you Honey (especially if they are old-school Texas establishments), or at least the waiter will recognize you and maybe even have your noshing habits memorized. During the past year, my lovely wife the Rock Star and I have been privileged to dine at many such places, sometimes by invitation, most often on our own dime. If we've had stellar experiences, then it is unimportant who pays. I'm going to write about it. If not, I won't. It's as simple as that. So, without furthur ado, here are the Food Czar Top Ten Neighborhood Gems (and honorable mentions) of 2009:


Classic Greek dishes delivered in a lovely gem of a location, served by perpetually happy people. Plus Zorba's is BYOB. What's not to love?


From the Cowboy Meatloaf to the Montana Legend beef burgers to the Double Cheese Potato Cakes, Red's defines comfort food for 2009. As a bonus, they serve some of the best margaritas in town, not to mention tequila flights.


Every neighborhood should have at least one New Jersey or New York-style Italian joint, don't you think? Finos ups the ante with fast free delivery, and they are BYOB as well.


Speaking of upscale, Screen Door is all about Southern comfort food with class. The free-range chicken and lamb shank were marvelous, but the grits and black-eyed peas stole the show. Plus, the milk and cookies dessert is a wonderful twist on an old standby.


Although he recently passed away, the spirit of Matt lives on in the Bob Armstrong Dip, famous chiles rellenos, and excellent Chicken Fried Steak Tampequeno Style served at his lovely Lakewood establishment.


The sushi is fresh and most beautifully plated, the space is gorgeous, and the staff is marvellously welcoming and attentive. Don't forget to try the sake boxes.


Another American Italian gem. My sister-in-law the Wild Thing has lived all over this great nation, and chooses BYOB Cafe Amore as her location for special celebrations.


Many places in Dallas tout top-notch Tex-Mex, but El Ranchito delivers, with savory caldo de res and substantial milanesa. This gem is one of the shining stars of the venerable Oak Cliff Mexican scene that deserves more support if it is to thrive and survive.


Ten miles south of Fredericksburg and smack in the middle of nowhere, this tiny cafe offers one of the best cheeseburgers ever devised by the hand of Man. Don't believe me? Texas Monthly voted it the third-best cheeseburger in the entire state in their August 2009 issue.


French bistros were some of the original neighborhood gems, and Maguire's chef was classically trained in La Belle France. As in all great French establishments, the beef at Maguires is treated with loving care, and at a price far less than many of the nearby steakhouses.

2009 Honorable Mentions Worthy of Mention:

-El Fogon (July)

-McSwiggans Irish Pub (Nov)

One final note: This list only covers establishments I've written about on this blog in 2009.
Needless to say, I'll be compiling a list of Top Ten Restaurants for 2009 very soon. Support your own neighborhood gems soon, and remember:


Saturday, December 19, 2009


Although it may seem premature to start my year-end reflection series, nonetheless I've decided to forge ahead. Looking back, it seems that every year I get to review wines that were better and better than the previous year's crop. My lovely wife and myself still spend most of our days tippling the cheaper quaffs, due to budget considerations, but I'm continually seeking better vinos, pushing the envelope more and more each year. So many wines, so little time. With all this folderol in mind, and without furthur whining, here are my Top Ten Wines of 2009:


We rang in the New Year with this classic bubbly. One sip and you'll understand why it's been chosen to toast the calendar change year after year.


For years, the rest of Texas has produced most of the award-winning Lone Star tipples. Now, it's time for the Metroplex to stand up and be counted.


Another time-tested sparkler from the first great winery to be run by a woman. If you get a chance, you should read her life story, which proves that determination can and should triumph over unwarranted convention.


If you're used to French or California bottles, the world of Italian wine can seem downright bewildering. This food-friendly delight is a great gateway into that world.


While Dallas is just really getting its act together, Grapevine has been quietly producing quality bottles for years. (Yes, Virginia, Grapevine is located in the Cross Timbers region of Texas, while Dallas is in the Blackland Prairie and Fort Worth is in the Grand Prairie. Confused? It's true.)


I seem to find many of my memorable wines from restaurant lists these days, which is no surprised since Wine and Spirits Magazine named this cab the fourteenth most popular wine by the glass.


One usually associates great pinots with the cool Pacific Northwest, rather than California. However, Chalone Vineyards is perched precariously in the Galvan Mountain Range, 1800 feet above the Salinas Valley. Moreover, it's located at the foot of an extinct volcano, which must do wonders for the terroir.


I'm a product of San Antone and so is Central Market, brainchild of the HEB company that has been selling groceries to Texans since before most of us could walk. Needless to say, I sampled this dry pleaser at a Central Market tasting.


A malbec that goes well with seafood? Really?? Yet, we paired this product with crab dip, shrimp bisque, and Julia Child's beloved sole meuniere, and this spirited red was more than equal to the task at hand.


The boisterous and magnanamous Lee Foster Fuqua is producing the tipples that have all haute Dallas abuzz from his winery near Love Field.

Honorable Mentions:

-Rutini Trumpeter Mendoza Malbec-Syrah

-Oops Sauvignon Blanc

Again, I know it's early for such a compilation, but I promise that if I encounter any more memorable wines before year's end, I will keep invesitigating them and report any favorable results after the New Year. Start your own investigations soon, and as always:


Friday, December 11, 2009

Cellar Selection #7: Fuqua Pinot Noir

Over the years, I've come to realize that many of our most talented and gifted people may be our most down-to-earth. Such is the case with Lee Foster Fuqua. A large, jovial man whose booming voice belies his broadcasting past, Lee Fuqua is currently crafting the wines that has all haute Dallas abuzz, yet he guides you around his Atwell road winery as if you are the only person that matters. Many of his best vinos are sold out at this time, but cellar-quality selections are still available, some at prices that you can afford even if the dove of prosperity has not smiled on you at present. Thankfully, one of his most food-friendly wines is still available for the thrifty shopper, and it just so happens that it's the quaff we are considering in todays post. For the record, I'm talking about the Fuqua Pinot Noir.

The robe of the Fuqua Pinot Noir is a rich, jewel-like magenta garnet. The nose is subtle and complex with spices such as cardamon and white pepper at the forefront. Luscious maraschino and Bing cherries and currants wash playfully over the palate, finishing crisply with light citrus. This wine is simply a joy to pair, and worked beautifully with both our New Jersey Italian entrees. This pinot had enough subtle spice to go with my orecchietta pasta with zucchini, broccoli, and sausage, yet also stood up well with my wife's simple dish of chicken parmigiana. Lee calls it his "cross-dresser" wine, and since his shop is located just a stone's throw from Oak Lawn, such a designation is quite appropriate. Website is, and if you come on by for a free tasting, he might just let you taste some of his over-the-top wildcat chardonnay, which if he bottles it will leave all other chards in shards. Discover your own haute wine soon, and remember:


Saturday, December 5, 2009


One of Fredericksburg's endless list of charms is the fact that, for a small town, they certainly do have an impressive roster of big city amenities. These include an excellent live music scene, a wonderful, walkable downtown filled with people and action, and a burgeoning fine dining scene, with some establishments worthy of much larger places such as Dallas. In fact, we had need for just such an establishment, because we were celebrating yet another birthday (in our family, birthday season runs from August through December), and since we have long wanted to try the Navajo Grill, my lovely wife the Rock Star and I made the short trek from our bed and breakfast to the other end of Main Street one starry, starry night.

If you like a homey establishment, then it's virtually guaranteed that you will love Navajo Grill, which must have been a private residence in a prior incarnation. Three distinct dining rooms with wooden floors and wrought metal tables and chairs. Two separate patios, including a new covered one. An elegant, rambling structure where one room seems to lead naturally to the next. In short, the whole effect resembles nothing so much as Santa Fe in the Hill Country, if that makes any sense. We were seated immediately, and a very good waiter took charge of us almost at once.

These days, I often start my meals with soup, because I've learned that in fine dining establishments, most chefs take special pride in their potage. Accordingly, my bride and I began our repast with corn soup, a sinfully rich concoction of corn, pepper jack cheese, and tortilla chips. The quality of the soup told us immediately that our night of dining would be memorable. Indeed, such proved to be the case. My wife was in the mood for something fishy and the special that night happened to be trout, so she made her choice accordingly. To me, trout is one of the most underrated and frequently forgotten eating fish, and Navajo Grill's nutty yet buttery preparation showed that it deserves to regain popularity. The accompanying white cheddar grits and side greens pleased her as well, a simply elegant dish. My own choice was the filet mignon, perfectly prepared medium rare, stuffed with bleu cheese and served with excellent mashed potatoes and toothsome asparagus. I was also determined that we should enjoy Texas wine on this occasion and the Becker Claret matched very well with both our selections. All too soon, it was time to split a chocolate dessert souffle, and we took our satisfied leave.

In the previous sentence, I may have implied that service was rushed. Instead, the pace was Hill Country casual, which is typical of these parts, a welcome change from hectic Dallas. Website is, where you can learn about the history of this establishment and the charming family that runs it.

In sum, a most delightful experience, and I believe that Navajo Grill can hold its own with virtually any restaurant in Dallas. Visit soon, and remember:


Saturday, November 28, 2009


Over the years, Texas Monthly magazine has helped my food writing more than any other source, plus given me hours of reading pleasure. Like all subscribers, I eagerly devour their Best Of issues, confident in the knowledge that they have really done their homework and have put together a quality list of delectable eateries. Their most recent such issue featured the best hamburgers in the entire Nation of Texas, and scanning the selections, I noted that one of their top choices was Alamo Springs Cafe, located near Fredericksburg, one of our favorite vacation spots. What's more, we were booked for a stay at our favorite bed and breakfast in town, and surely we could locate this place and find out for ourselves what all the fuss is about. So, after due consultation with my lovely wife the Rock Star, we made the drive ten miles south of Fredericksburg, near the Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area where flying bats do play.

Once we entered the restaurant, we were heartily entranced by Alamo Springs Cafe and its genu-wine Texas retro decor. In appearance, it resembles a retrofitted wooden private house or small store, with wooden floors, smallish rooms, and plenty of signage featuring pithy sayings. Two employees were on duty that day, our sweet waitress/cashier, and Mike, the genial owner/chef. Warning: If you're in a Dallas hurry, you'd best leave your time anxieties back in the Metroplex and discover the wonder of Hill Country time. Here, people move as slow as they talk, and if you don't find the difference refreshing, then perhaps you're better off vacationing in New York or Houston.

Alamo Springs Cafe features several lunchtime options, and boasts of gourmet specials in the evenings, but we were here on a mission, so menus weren't needed. In due course, we were presented with the justly famous Alamo Springs cheeseburger, which proved every bit as large as the tantalizing Texas Monthly cover. As soon as it was placed down at our table, Mike came over to inspect and pronounced it perfectly medium rare as requested. Indeed it was. In Texas Monthly, Patricia Sharpe lamented the fact that many of the state's top burgers were gourmet, with toppings to match. By contrast, Alamo Springs cheeseburger was classically old-school in flavor and preparation, each bite yielding shards of silken, hearty beef flavor. We split one between the two of us, as it was quite large, and also split a large basket of crispy crunchy homemade potato chips. We paired our repast with very good iced tea, which is the national drink of Texas, and grabbed a couple of German beers from the cooler to enjoy on the patio. (Since Fredericksburg was settled by Germans, brews from the Old Country are widely available here.)

Service was leisurely paced, of course, and Mike came over to tell us a little about the history of his little venture. Seems he opened Alamo Springs as a cafe and general store awhile back, promising a menu that served some upscale dishes in the evenings, along with deli food. Basically, he put the cheeseburgers on the menu to keep the kids happy, but in the first days of operation, he noticed that he sold virtually nothing but burgers, so he instantly junked the deli and general store idea and tripled his order of hamburger meat. Alamo Springs has been successful ever since.

In short, Alamo Springs Cafe serves a cheeseburger well worthy of all the acclaim, and my lovely wife is already badgering me to go back. Discover your cheeseburger paradise soon, and as always:


Sunday, November 15, 2009


A restaurant entices with intrigueability, perhaps an unusual logo or interesting location, particularly so if it's one you pass by on a regular basis, and when you see it you exclaim, "That place looks interesting; I've always wanted to try it out!" But you continue to motor on, bent on achieving your appointed tasks, until one day curiosity gets the best of you and you determine to investigate. Maguires Restaurant, hard by the Tollway and Restaurant Row in North Dallas, is one such place, because I've always been intrigued by the logo and signage and because I've never been able to successfully figure out what kind of restaurant it is. Steakhouse? Bistro?? Upscale lounge??? Finally, spurred by a positive review from one of my colleagues and driven by the necessity of a birthday celebration. I loaded my lovely wife The Rock Star, her sister The Wild Thing, and their formidable mother The Momma into my conveyance and made the trip up Tollway one recent Saturday eve.

Atmospherically, Maguires is set up on the circular concept: A ring of booths on a sort of raised platform around the perimeter, interspersed with staff areas where waiters conduct their business, bisected by lines of tables and a central aisle. Stylish decor, not overly trendy or stuffy. We were seated by a window in the perimeter, where the energetic Joanie took charge of us.

At Joanie's insistence, we began our meal with the flatbread appetizer. Crispy sesame lavash with Buffalo chicken and sauce toppings, it was the perfect size for sharing and disappeared quickly. Breaking with convention, The Wild Thing decided to make a meal of starters with the tenderloin crostini, the baked, stuffed artichoke, and Maguires mixed greens salad. She let me try the tenderloin, a filet medallion with bearnaise. The menu promised melt-in-your-mouth goodness, and the crostini delivered, the meats silken bite playing perfectly with the tang of the bearnaise, and the crispness of the crostini. The mixed greens salad proved a delicate blend of bleu cheese, greens, apples, roasted pecans and Maguire's poppyseedish dressing. A nice, light prelude to the repast that followed. The Rock Star adored her massive, double-cut pork chop since it was prepared similar to pork tenderloin and not at all greasy, with excellent Southwest creamed corn, wilted spinach, and an unusual but effective champagne mustard seed gravy. Very nice, and not too dry. The Momma's request for a medium well done filet was rewarded with a medium well done filet. It was prepared to her liking and what more can be said? I love steak au poivre and was presented with a pepper-crusted filet perfectly medium rare as requested, sided by white mashed potatoes, toothsome asparagus spears, and cognac peppercorn sauce. While researching this post, I discovered that chef Brahmi was classically trained in his native France. That fact certainly showed in his beef treatment, as the beef was prepared with loving care. Throughout our lengthy stay, we washed our respective meals down with a good pairing pinot grigio, and very good claret, and an especially good bottle of Layer Cake Shiraz, which we will no doubt purchase for home consumption. Finally, we split a chocolate lava cake and took our leave.

Joanie proved quite attentive throughout the evening, and her enthusiasm was truly infectious.
Website is, if you're at all interested in that sort of thing.

Overall, a good time was had by all (there's a classic Texas saying), and we have definitely satisfied our curiosity about Maguires Restaurant and plan to return soon. Satisfy your own curiosity today, and remember:


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Quickie Review #43: McSwiggans Irish Pub

Irish pubs are some of the best and most fun establishments in the world. They make no bones about what you are there for (to drink, watch sports, and comingle with fellow pubbites) and deliver what you need accordingly. Every neighborhood should have one. My lovely wife the Rock Star and I have been making the drive for years to Lochrann's Irish Pub in downtown Frisco, and the Irish Rover Pub, which is a bit closer, but we not-so-secretly longed that someone would build one in our neighborhood. Well, our wait is finally over, as we now have our very own pub straight from Boston, McSwiggans Irish Pub.

Walking in (taking special care with the extra-heavy door as you enter), you will notice that McSwiggans wears its pub heart proudly on its sleeve with the authentic-looking decor featuring a forest of dark wood, blackboards featuring the numerous Irish beers on tap, and the expected profusion of flat-panel TVs. What you won't see is an excess of sit-down space; McSwiggans may hold 30-40 people tops and you may be hard-pressed to find a place to squat on weekend nights. Still, you may want to go there early for dinner and a pint (or three), as the food is quite good. Bangers and mash feature savory sausages straight from the Old Sod, and Shepherd's Pie is the ultimate comfort food, with warm ground beef and veggies under its whipped potato crust. Most recently, I sampled the Fish and Chips, which consists of Icelandic Haddock filets served in a crispy batter and accompanied by good steak fries, which went well with my Magic Hat and Murphys Irish Red ales, both on tap. (They serve the fish with tartar sauce, but also bring along a condiment caddy including malt vinegar, Tabasco, and Colemans and Dijon mustards.) My lovely wife the Rock Star is a fan of the Kobe sliders, which are served char-grilled to order (if you want pink in the middle, you get pink in the middle) on tiny brioche buns. Service is very accomodating, whether you sit at bar or booth, and McSwiggans opens early on the weekends to serve the Premier League, college, and NFL football fans who care to enter. (Needless to say, they are serious Red Sox and New England Patriot fans.) Website is Discover your own swatch of the Old Sod soon, and remember:


Friday, October 30, 2009

Wine Corner Review #57: La Mano Mencia Roble

In the all-consuming search for wines that won't bust my budget, I've learned to leave America behind at times and investigate the rich terroirs of such far-flung places as Argentina, South Africa, and Spain. Until recently, Rioja Spanish wine garnered all the press, but lately such stalwart seekers as Robert Parker have kept up the quest for other values from the Iberian peninsula. The astute Mr Parker has awarded 90 points to today's selection, and while I think that may be a tad generous, I still have to put forth my own recommendation on a value-conscious tipple of Espana, namely the La Mano Mencia Roble.

The Robe of the La Mano Mencio Roble is burgandy onyx, in other words, quite opaque until you swirl it a bit in the glass. The nose suggests dusky plum, cherry, and minerals. Black cherry and currant wash over the palate, finishing ever-so-slightly with mint. As you quaff, you'll probably note the similarities between mencia and cabernet franc; in fact, mencia was once thought to be distantly related, but that notion has been disproved with DNA testing. Mediterranean cuisine would be a natural match; spicy kabobs, gyros, and souvlaki would play well against La Mano's somewhat muted flavor profile. In an all-too-familiar turn of events, I could find no website, but I did discover some usable info at Put forth your own recommendation soon, and remember:


Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Celebration day. My lovely sister-in-law The Wild Thing has a new job, and most of her family and friends have descended upon Richardson to wish her well in her new endeavor. Many of the usual suspects in my previous posts were there: The Wild Thing, of course, her sister aka my lovely wife The Rock Star, her formidable mother The Momma, Beaners the nonstop niece and her husband, and a veritable plethora of lifelong friends too numerous to name. So, where did my sister-in-law want to go for her celebration brunch? The Mansion? The French Room?? Abacus??? None of the above. You see, despite her Troggs-inspired nickname, The Wild Thing is rather a simple sort of girl, and wanted a restaurant with a great, inexpensive food and homey ambiance. So it was that we piled ourselves into various and sundry conveyances and drove the few short blocks to Cafe Amore, an Italian restaurant that has often filled the bill for celebrations and such.

Speaking of places like The Mansion, if you want ultrachic, Art Deco-inspired decor and the like, you will not find it at Cafe Amore. Everything about this neighborhood gem speaks volumes of homespun, from the open brick kitchen to the rather simple scenes of Italianesque life plastered on the walls. We were quickly shown to a table for a dozen near the front of the establishment where we immediately engaged in copious conversation and leisurely menu perusal.

Leisurely is indeed the word of the day at Cafe Amore, and the decidedly slow service is one of our only ongoing quibbles with the restaurant. Our waitress proved quite capable throughout, yet it was obvious that she was assigned too many tables, probably half-a-dozen in addition to our party of eleven. Luckily, it was Sunday brunch, and none of us were in a hurry. The Wild Thing insisted that everyone start their repast with the Mozzarella and Tomato ala Caprese. We've had this appetizer on many occasions in the past and have always enjoyed the simple blending of flavors: fresh mozzarella, basil, fresh tomato, red onions, extra virgin olive oil and cracked black pepper pleased our crowd; oddly enough, I found it a bit drier than usual. One couple ordered the Seafood Fritte and urged me to try it. This was better, and the fried calamari and baby shrimps served with aoli constituted a simple pleasure, as it was not redolent of frying oil. I wondered for a moment why more restaurants don't serve this satisfying combination, but it was soon time to move on. Basic yeasty rolls with butter were brought, good for sopping up juices, a great pairing for the entrees to come. For our main courses, my wife and I decided on the Cremora preparation; hers with shrimp, mine with veal. Sauteed jumbo shrimps and veal scaloppini respectively were served with fresh mushrooms, green onions, and chopped tomatoes in a brandy cream sauce that was plate-licking good, the delicate cream bathing the tender meat and seafood with a light, gentle kiss. I wish I could tell you some of the other entrees we enjoyed, except that by this time both the wine and the conversation were freely flowing and my thoughts were engaged elsewhere. I can only report with accuracy that Beaners and her husband ordered something with mussels, because I remember eyeing them enviously, and that The Momma ordered lasagna because she always orders lasagna when dining Italian. This seems as good a time as any to tell you that Cafe Amore is BYOB, and that we took full advantage, which to me is an excellent selling point for this neighborhood gem. My wife and I concluded our repast with the Cappucino Pie, a coffee, ice cream, and pastry bomb that reminded us just how much we enjoy basic Italian desserts when done right. Again, I can't report on this course for anyone else, except that I kept hearing contented sighs of "heavenly tiramasu" emanating from the other end of the table.

Service improved throughout the course of the day, as lunchtime diners departed, and as noon bled into afternoon, no new ones took their places, so our waitress was better able to keep pace with the needs of our large party. No website per se, but you can go to, which will give you the menu and at least some of the essentials of Cafe Amore.

Overall, Cafe Amore did an excellent job of providing great food and ambiance that served as the backdrop for The Wild Thing's celebration day. Stage your own party there yourself, and as always:


Monday, October 12, 2009


There's no doubt that I'm a proud Texan. I love the people, the atmosphere, and most of all, the cuisine. Yet, I once left the state for a couple of years and had to do without my beloved barbecue, Tex-Mex, and chicken-fried steak, and even though my destination city had its own culinary charms, most notably much better pizza than we had at the time in DFW, still I suffered serious withdrawal pangs. As you can probably tell, I've since moved back to the Lone Star State, and while I often harbor dreams of living in such wonderful places as Seattle or Las Vegas, I'm sure I would miss Texas dishes. But as I delve more and more into exploring the cuisines of other states and countries, I'm finding many similarities to our native specialties. For instance, do you know that while chicken-fried steak is in many ways uniquely Texan, it actually closely resembles dishes in other countries, such as German wiener schnitzel or Italian cottolette alla Milanese? In fact, milanese is a generic term that applies not only to the pride of Milan, Italy (hence the name), but also the breaded-and-fried beef, chicken or veal treat that is actually quite common in Europe and South America, not to mention Mexico. Therefore, to make a (very) long story short, I discovered that El Ranchito Restaurant in Oak Cliff serves one of the best milanesas I've ever encountered under any name. Unfortunately, my lovely wife the Rock Star was attending to other business when I pointed my vehicle and made the long journey south to Jefferson Street.

First off, you should know that parking in Oak Cliff can often be a tricky situation. Therefore I would suggest if you go there for lunch, you get there very early or late. I got there well before noon and the smallish lot was almost full. Luckily, one space was left. Upon entering, I found that there was no need to worry about finding an empty table, as El Ranchito is quite large. I was quickly seated within site of the in-house Torterilla Sanchez (the lovely lady who actually makes all the tortillas used by El Ranchito) where I began to peruse the colorful array of murals, fiesta decorations, and other trinkets.

In this case, I really did not peruse the menu, as I knew what I wanted. Mondays at lunchtime, El Ranchito serves milanesa, and I had determined in advance that I must have it. First, very good chips and salsa found their way to my table, the latter a red variety with just enough kiss of fire to make for good eating, but not so much that I had to reach for my ice tea glass every few seconds. Next I was presented with an excellent cup of caldo de res, with zucchini and other vegetables floating in a savory broth with fork-tender stew meat. A bowl of this soup would make a marvelous meal by itself, particularly on a cold day. Then, the daily special was brought, a substantial slab of milanesa pounded very thin and served under fried papas and alongside some of the best rice and beans I've encountered in this fair city. Coupled with the in-house-made corn and flour tortillas and a small salad, this lunch proved to be a Tex-Mex meal to remember, as I savored every luscious, slightly peppery bite of the fork-tender beef. I spooned on salsa instead of cream gravy and noticed how easily the breading melted away at my touch. Soon enough, I boxed my leftovers and left.

Service was quite nice and accomodating, and I noticed a great variety of patrons, from families to business partners to solo diners. Website is, and I fully intend to return to try some of their more exotic fare such as cabrito.

Overall, I think that El Ranchito Restaurant served me one of the best lunches I've had all year, and at about ten dollars for all that food, one of the best bargains as well. Discover your own reason to stay in Texas soon, and remember:


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wine Corner Review #56: Oops Sauvignon Blanc

Bordeaux has long been recognized as one of the worlds premier wine growing regions. Six noble grapes established its reputation as a haven for great red wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere. Sadly, the phylloxera aphid attack in the 1860's wiped out the great grapes, and while the others were replanted with the help of Texas root stock, only the Carmenere could not be resurrected, so it is rarely found in Bordeaux today. Luckily, Carmenere had been sucessfully transplanted to Chile, where it thrived so well that it was mistaken for Merlot. Then, in 1994, viticulturist Jean-Michel Boursiquit discovered the grape deception. Oops! Carmenere contines to make great wines today, sometimes bottled solo, but more often used as a blending grape, such as in this affordable little quaff we are considering today, the Oops Sauvignon Blanc.

The robe of the Oops Sauvignon Blanc is pale gold with touches of peach. The nose suggests many citrus fruits, tangerines and nectarines, and a whisp of minerals. The taste suggests some of a typical sauvignon blanc's grassiness, but more complex and rounded, with parsley and clove thrown in, and resolves in a peachy finish. This blanc would be equallly at home with picnic foods such as ham as well as the more usual seafood, particularly fresh fish. Website is, where you can read the entire history of Carmenere on its wordy label. Discover your own happy wine mistake soon, and remember:


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Adventures in Tasting #3: Fearing's Restaurant

Dean Fearing. Rock Star chef. One of the original Gang of Five who basically sat down in a kitchen over the course of several evenings with fellow chefs and food writers Stephan Pyles, Anne Greer McCann, Avner Samuel, and Robert Del Grande and, in an Algonquin Round Table, Rat Pack style summit meeting, pretty much invented Southwestern Cuisine. Winner of more food and cooking awards than you can shake a stick at. The man who elevated lobster tacos and chicken tortilla soup to an art form. Recently, I was invited to dine at his rather new Ritz-Carlton establishment as a part of the Go Texan week celebration, and since my lovely wife is also known as The Rock Star, I knew she should be included in the festivities. So it was with high hopes and eager palates that we motored down the tollway one recent evening to Fearings Restaurant, near where uptown meets downtown and shakes hands.

After leaving our car with the valet (How can you not valet park at the Ritz-Carlton?), we were guided through the stately hotel lobby to Fearings endless series of bars and dining rooms. The main room with its open kitchen beckoned, but we heard the word "patio" and knew our choice had been made. After all, it was a crisp Fall evening with temperatures in the 70's, and Fearings patio resembles a lush English garden, so we quickened our step and were soon seated in a prime spot to begin our usual menu perusal ritual.

Actually, not too much perusal was needed on this evening as we were presented with the tasting menu. We started with an amuse bouche of a poblano shooter, which tasted just like a chili relleno in a shot glass. Next, Dean's "million-dollar baby" chicken tortilla soup, paired with Seven Hills Riesling. The acidic-crisp sweetness of the wine offset the tomatoey bite of the soup perfectly. Then, the Barbecued Shrimp Taco, loaded with sweet baby shrimp and Southwestern zing, played off against a Bret Brothers Pouilly Vinzelles, a thankfully-unoaked chardonnay that was quite up to the task. After that came the Peach Barbecue Glazed Bob White Quail (from Texas, of course, as this was a celebration of local products), served with an iceberg wedge and Cider Braised Bacon, which turned out to be pork belly. Just a whisper of peach sweetness offset the quail and bacon nicely, with help from the Zeni Teroldengo Trentino, a varietal not usually planted, and one which added a nice wisp of smoke to the dish. At this point, we went full throttle with the Dublin Doctor Pepper Braised Short Ribs, brushed with just enough old-fashioned soft drink goodness to remind me of my beloved grandmothers Coke salad. Most often, beef short ribs are not a favorite of mine because they are too tough, these were braised into fall-off-the-bone submission and presented to us with Robert Foley Charbono, another vino made from an uncommon varietal. Already, we had eaten one of the best meals of our lives, then we were presented with the crowning touch: English Cut NilGai Antelope on Jalapeno Wild Game "Bangers and Mash", the spicy bite of sausage matching beautifully with the antelope's lean lushness. We were equally pleased to see an old friend poured with this dish, the Inwood Estates Texas Tempranillo-Cabernet, which proved to be the highlight pairing of the evening. (Nice to see the Texas tipples giving the boys from Napa and Washington state a run for their money.) Then, like all fine establishments, Fearings presented us with a cheese course, San Pedro cheese from Lucky Layla Farms in Plano, matched with Gruet Brut Rose. Finally, sweet relief in dessert in the form of a warm blueberry crisp with vanilla ice cream, and a fried lemon pie that should make all state fairgoers jealous, and another wine highlight, Quinta Do Noval Silval port. We finished up with several cups of Fearings excellent coffee and a vow to visit again soon.

Throughout our evening, we were assisted by a veritable army of waiters and graced with a visit from The Man Himself. In particular, baby-faced Wine Captain Jeff Bradley stood out for his enthusiasm for life, his job, and food and wine in general. He will go far in this business. Website is Once again, the Go Texan website is, and you still have the rest of this week to take advantage.

In sum, if this was not our best meal of the year, rest assured that it is firmly placed at or near the top of a very short list. Conduct your own tasting soon.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Adventures in Tasting #2: Blue Mesa Grill

Let's face it: I'm a proud Texan. I believe that our country of Texas is a special place, and that anything I can do to advance our local food and wine purveyors will benefit us all in the long run. Texas has a long history of great food and wines, but the secret to continued success is to always improve upon what we've got. So, when a lovely lady contacted me on behalf of the Go Texan non-profit organization and asked if I could be of assistance, I was quick to respond. Sadly, my usual partner in crime, my lovely wife the Rock Star had a scheduling conflict and could not make the journey with me, therefore, I dutifully hitched up my pants and drove to the wilds of northernmost Plano, bent on exploring the flavors of Blue Mesa Grill.

If you've spent any time in Dallas whatsoever, you know about Blue Mesa, and have probably had occasion to dine there in the past, for they are rather famous, particularly for their Sunday Brunch. The north Plano location overlooks a pretty fountain, and I was shown through their rather spacious postmodern interior to a prime view. In short order, I was handed a menu, and my delightful waitress explained that for each purchase of a Go Texan entree from the special menu, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to area food banks. While I was thus perusing, a bowl of sweet potato chips, tortilla chips, and two kinds of salsa were brought for munching purposes. I particularly enjoyed the rich, full-flavored brownish salsa and the oh-so-slightly sweet potato chips, which resembled plantain chips in flavor and texture, and washed both down with passionfruit tea. In due course my entree appeared: Baja Shrimp, wrapped in bacon and fired on the grill, arrived atop rice and was served with delicious, smoky black beans, pico de gallo, and mixed seasonal vegetables including, summer squash, tomatoes, and onions. I augmented the creamy, garlicky dipping sauce with salsa and really liked how they helped bring out the flavor of the shrimp and bacon, and I would be very happy to have the seasonal vegetables alongside any entree, as they are too often treated as an afterthought. At Blue Mesa, they are good enough to stand alone. I declined dessert and took my leftovers and an extra cup of tea home, as I had really enjoyed its fruity flavor. Websites are for Blue Mesa Grill and for the Go Texan Movement, which this year runs through Friday, October 2nd so you have a few days left to enjoy it.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009


When do you celebrate special occasions? It seems like most people wait until prime time (7-9 PM) on Friday and Saturday nights and make reservations at their favorite restaurants accordingly. However, I've found that it pays to remember that just like trying to fly out of the airport between 3-6 PM on Friday afternoons before a Monday holiday, everyone else is trying to do the same thing at the same time and therefore chaos may ensue. So, why not try to plan your celebration a little earlier, say 6:30, or better still, on a weeknight? That way, you're much less likely to encounter the "churn and burn" syndrome that can overtake even the best and most gracious of establishments at peak times. So it was that when my lovely wife the Rock Star and myself had just such an occasion to celebrate this past week, we made plans accordingly and drove to Coast Global Seafood in the burgeoning Shops at Legacy one recent Monday eve.

The interior of Coast Global Seafood is soft whites and beige, with touches of wood and splashes of color. Art work, glass fixtures, and what appears to be a large reddish screen of plankton run amok dominate the dining rooms. Whether you choose to sit inside or out, please do yourself a favor and make sure that you get a great view of the Bellagio-style fountain in the center of Legacy's drive. Just like Old Faithful or the real Bellagio in Las Vegas, this fountain is guaranteed to perform on cue, delighting children and adults alike who it seems are always gathered nearby to watch.

Some of us with long memories and longer lifespans may remember when it was virtually impossible to get good, fresh seafood in Dallas. That has changed in the last few years with the proliferation of sushi bars and the demand for something other than fried shellfish. Our delightful waitress steered us toward the Daily Excursion special on the menu, a three course prix fixe bargain that is only available during the week. (Herein lies another advantage of off-peak dining: Better prices.) My lovely bride decided to begin her repast with the Creamy Green Chili Crab Dip. Excellent balance of flavors with just a touch of spice, although the accompanying tortilla chips tasted somewhat stale. I started with the Creamy Shrimp Bisque, with chive creme fraiche, so it was quite the creamy beginning for me as well. Again, a very good soup, but it could have used a bit of heat to offset the silken texture, and I was beginning to worry that maybe this was just another very good establishment in a city that needs great ones. However, the best was yet to come. My entree was the dish that helped set Julia Child's feet firmly planted on the road to greatness: Atlantic Lemon Sole Meuniere, here prepared with Meyer lemon and French butter sauce and served with fingerling potatoes. Each bite of this sweet silken seafood reminded me why this dish has stood the test of time for decades and made me understand what the hype for this place was all about. My wife had the Roasted Halibut atop sweet corn, cherry tomatoes, and smoked bacon. This dish succeeds when the fish is fresh, and roasting it brought out all the cakelike texture and flavor for which halibut is famous. In short, she adored it. For dessert, she was glad she had chosen to end with a simple Mixed Berry Cobbler with vanilla ice cream, which brought her back down to earth nicely. I concluded with chocolate, specifically the Chocolate-Espresso Profiteroles, an ice-cream-filled cream puff that deftly wove cocoa and hazelnut tastes into a satisfying concluding tapestry of flavor.

Our waitress enthusiastically assisted us throughout the evening, helping to steer us toward the Hess Sauvignon Blanc and the Elsa Bianchi Malbec which became our partners for the night's feasting. Website is, where you will notice that they've recently expanded their hours to include lunch.

Overall, we concluded that Coast Global Seafood is indeed worthy of special occasion status, whether you chose to dine during quiet weeknight or more lively weekend evenings. Set sail on your own excursion soon, and remember:


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wine Corner Review #55: Elsa Bianchi Malbec

I must admit that every time I try to pair malbec with food, I'm constantly amazed by its versatility. Oh sure, like most wine lovers, I really appreciate a good cabernet sauvignon, but for the most part, you know what foods cab will pair with (red meat, steaks, some game, BBQ). Similarly, you know that sauvignon blanc is pretty dependable with seafood, particularly fresh fish, and that chenin blanc is the perfect summer picnic wine. But lately, it seems that whenever I uncork a good malbec, it seems I find a new dish to go with it. Malbec with seafood? Who would have guessed?? However, if you have just the right wine with just the right amount of fruit and suppleness, you might be surprised at the result, as I was last night when I found a great vino to go with my fish, the Elsa Bianchi Malbec.

The robe of the Elsa Bianchi Malbec is black cherry cola. The nose suggests all sorts of berries: here a whiff of black, there a scent of blue. Vanilla, more berries, and plums play tag with your palate, with a surprising finish of Delaware Punch. I paired this little malbec with crab dip, shrimp bisque, and sole meuniere, and it stood up to all three dishes, and was particularly playful with the brown butter notes of the sole. Julia Child once described her first meal in Rouen of sole meuniere as a revelation; wonder if she would have found this malbec to be a soul pleaser as well. I googled for an Elsa Bianchi winery website in vain; but found some good info at, and you might drop in there for a virtual visit also. Be surprised with Elsa Bianchi Malbec yourself, and as always:


Monday, September 7, 2009


Neighborhood gems. What would the Dallas dining scene be without them? Woefully incomplete in my book. Sure, I know that both of my readers would love the thought of being able to dine at Stephan Pyles or Pappas Bros every week, if not every night. However, there are certain economic realities that most of us face, which is why Restaurant Week continues to thrive and expand every year. Besides, do you really relish the thought of driving to a destination restaurant every night of the week? I thought so. Most of us prefer to spend the bulk of our time searching for places close to home that serve excellent food and a measure of comfort in realizing that the drive home will not be a long one. Unfortunately, suburbia still continues to be dominated by chains, which are usually more wallet-friendly than palate-pleasing. Thus, it is exciting news indeed when a restaurant the quality of Fin Sushi & Sake Bar opens so close to mi casa, and my lovely wife the Rock Star and myself have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Now Open sign on its exterior. When it finally arrived, you can rest assured that we lost little time in judging the finished result for ourselves.

One caveat, however, before we continue. As of this writing, while the restaurant itself is indeed finished inside and out, construction on the nearby streets may be taking place. Not to mention the fact that there is no direct entrance from Windhaven and you will have to turn down the next side street heading west from the Tollway and drive around the back to find Fin. Press on, however, for once you find it, I believe you might agree that the results are worth the effort. Inside, you will most likely be greeted enthusiastically by the sushi chefs, as their domain is immediately to the left of the main entrance, while a faux-ice bar presided over by the genial Gaylan awaits you on the right. The interior is quite striking and the Japanese pop music will no doubt be pumping over the sound system. On our latest visit, we were seated on the patio which is an option to consider in the cooler fall evenings in the coming months.

Let me just begin my culinary assessment of Fin Sushi & Sake Bar by noting that the chefs plate their food quite marvelously indeed, and my beautiful bride was frequently taking photos with her trusty phone camera, as it was all quite lovely. There are, of course, many different types of dishes available at Fin, but my wife and myself are fresh fish fiends, and with the expansive fill-in-the-blank sushi form staring us quite boldly in the face, we felt as if we had no other choice. We began our most recent repast with Scottish smoked salmon sashimi eagerly touted by our waitress. Very fresh, at least to my tastebuds, and delightfully washed down by both Kirin Light beer and the nutty, warm house sake. (I must confess I'm becoming more and more of a fan of the rice wine brew these days, and I really must attend a sake tasting soon to broaden my horizons.) As I suggested earlier, budget considerations played a part in this evening's feast, but luckily the portions at Fin are rather generous, so we were quite sated by the sashimi and by the Tornado Roll which followed in due course. Tempura-fried and consisting of sumptuous yellowtail, eel, and fresh jalapenos (which were served on the side at my wife's request), this roll was one of the best I've had all year, and I look forward to future creations of the eager chefs. On this night, an additional round of brew took the place of dessert quite nicely, thank you.

Service is very attentive, and Gaylan the bartender even pitched in to make sure we had plenty of water. Unfortunately, he also confirmed that their website is still a work in progress; the URL will be, but if you log on, it may or may not be fully operational at this time. More good news, however, is the fact that Fin is open until 2am on weekends, should you need a latenight fish fix.

Overall, Fin Sushi & Sake Bar and Restaurant is certainly worthy of neighborhood gem status, and just might pay dividends for you if you care to drive in from hither and yon. Sample Fin's pretty-as-a-picture sushi soon, and remember:


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Go Texan Restaurant Round-Up Sept 28 - Oct 2nd: More News

I really want to help Texas restaurants and wineries, so once again I'm breaking my reviews- only vow to write about the Go Texan Restaurant Round-Up which is set for the week of Monday, September 28 and runs through Friday, October 2nd. More than 200 restaurants are participating statewide, offering fixed-priced meals spotlighting Texas foods and wines, with proceeds benefitting food banks, similar to Restaurant Week.

Here in the Metroplex, the list of participants is growing steadily and currently includes such stalwarts as Pappas Bros Steakhouse, Eddie V's in Ft Worth, Fearings, Sullivans, Love & War in Texas, and Blue Mesa Grill. Their proposed menus look positively appetizing. For instance, Eddie V's is offering gulf red snapper, Texas gulf black grouper, and Texas tomato and fresh mozzarella salad, while Fearings is featuring Mesquite-grilled Nigali antelope from South Texas on basil pepito pesto with Texas hierloom tomatoes, shaved vella dry jack, and barbecued field peas. Indeed, how can you resist?

Again, here's the website for all the info:


Friday, August 28, 2009


Amidst all the hoopla, shouting, and all-around carry-on about this year's Restaurant Week, I've been hearing a few whispers of disappointment. Apparently, some restauranteurs are using the Churn and Burn approach to get through the week, turning over their tables as fast as possible in their quest for profit. While Steve Dublanica of Waiter Rant fame and other industry professionals have confirmed that this can indeed be the case on such high-pressure holidays as Mothers Day and Valentines Day, I submit that Restaurant Week should be different. True, there are still going to be a lot of bad tippers and bargain-shoppers out there looking for a five-star experience, and there's really nothing to be done about such folk. However, these weeks should be retitled Restaurant Showcase Weeks because this presents new opportunities for an establishment to make customers for life out of curious newbies. Happily, I can report that Stephan Pyles Restaurant was quite up to the challenge, at least as far as our experience was concerned, and we will definitely be back.

Atmosphere? Well, rather than use my own words, please allow me to quote from the restaurant's own website at "(The design) sensually melds ultra-modern geometric shapes in metal and wood with vivid regional accents--Southwestern sunset and desert colors, stacked Texas flagstone and terra-cotta brick." There, I couldn't have said it any better myself. Walking in, my lovely wife the Rock Star and I immediately saw something that put our minds at ease; there in the open kitchen was The Man Himself, sampling dishes and directing traffic. Coupled with the warm welcome we had received from the staff, we knew we were likely in for a very special evening.

We were right. My beautiful bride began her repast with the local heirloom tomato salad. Tart and tangy with a touch of sweetness, she adored it even though she was perplexed by the balsamic gelee. No matter, it was a successful dish. For myself, I was determined to sample the dishes which I felt were the most South-of-the-border in nature, so I stared with the scallop and pork belly carnitas. The scallop was properly charred and the belly had lots of bacony flavor, so this starter worked quite nicely, particularly when paired with the delightfully unoaked Catena chardonnay. On our most recent trip to Central Market, we were careful to pick up copies of their Fourth Course certificate, so we were primed and ready for the Red Snapper in Thai-red curry masa, paired with Van Duzer Estate Pinot Noir. I was happy to see that chef is not afraid to served red wine with fish, and this slightly spicy snapper whetted my appetite to see what he could do with it as an entree. In fact, my wife's entree of pan-seared salmon proved no match for the snappy fourth course; although it was sided by very good black beans and corn griddle cakes, it was a somewhat uninspired choice, and I think that restaurants would do well to start pushing snapper and trout, the seafood stars of my youth. My own choice fared somewhat better: the wood-fired rotisserie chicken was full of juicy flavor, particularly the crackly skin, and the accompanying tamale was quite tasty if a tad dry. Again, two excellent pairings: the Latour Domaine Valmoissine Pinot Noir and the Morgan Cotes du Crows Syrah-Grenach (a blend I love dearly, I must confess). By the by, forgive me for not mentioning this sooner, but the tiny artisan breads served throughout were some of the best in town; my wife positively swooned over the potato foccacia, while my own favorite was the blue cheese scone. Simply marvelous. Dessert was another highlight: Mexican chocolate fondant rich with caramel and Kahlua crema, while my bride fell in love with the Deep Ellum goat's (cheese) cheesecake served over cherries jubilee, and stated that she wanted to have cheesecake prepared in precisely that fashion forthwith.

Service was delightfully paced and our waiter was properly apologetic when he had to leave us for extended periods to attend to the large party dining nearby. The Man Himself stopped by to wish us well and was quite nice, although he seemed rather perplexed when I informed him that I chose the most quintessentially Southwestern dishes for my meal. Since he is a pioneer of the genre, and all the cuisine that night reflected Southwestern influences in some form or fashion, I'm not surprised by his confusion. Again, the website is, and we long to return some day for ceviche and cocktails.

In sum, we were two happy campers for our Restaurant Week choices, and find it hard to choose which was better. Needless to say, we'll be back to both. Discover your inner Southwesterner soon, and remember:


Tuesday, August 18, 2009


What constitutes the best? When it comes to restaurants, most people would immediately say "great food". Others would put service or atmosphere a little higher on the list. May I offer another consideration? Attitude. Treat all customers as important, regardless of their dress or financial or celebrity status. Oh sure, we all know that anyone with a black American Express card or name-droppable name may get better treatment than the average Joe, and I for one have no problem with that. My simple request: Don't forget about me or treat me as if I'm not here. I'll never forget many years ago traveling to a well-known restaurant on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, the kind where all the waiters wear tuxedos. My family was dressed in touristy clothes, myself in T-shirt and shorts. Still, we were treated like royalty. I've never forgotten that night, and I still often use it as an example that to be recognized as the best, a restaurant must always remember that every guest is important. In this regard, I'm happy to report that Pappas Bros Steakhouse treated my lovely wife the Rock Star and myself like first-class citizens, even though we were KRLD Restaurant Week guests, and that the food, service, and decor all played a part in delivering one of my most memorable meals of the year.

I've seen reports that describe Pappas Bros atmosphere as clubby and masculine, befitting a traditional steakhouse. My report is that yes, it is very much like a steakhouse, with the requisite woods and black chairs and things, but that the plum booths, yellow circular columns, white ceiling, and plants soften the look somewhat. Although the place was about half-full when we arrived, it filled up nicely as we continued to dine. Such is the power of Restaurant Week to fill such a good-size establishment on a Monday evening in the dog days of summer. (The guests may or may not have been regulars, but my lovely bride was quick to note that these people did not have the look of expense-account diners.)

When dining during Restaurant Week, I've always felt that it pays to take careful notice if the establishment offers wine pairings and that if they are fairly priced, you should take advantage. They were, and we did. We started by sharing the Central Market fourth course, a silky, sensuous lobster bisque with good-size floating chunks. I knew right away that we were in for a special night. For her next course , my bride chose the house salad, which was distinguished by a supremely tart vinagrette dressing and full rashers of bacon on top. Quite lovely, even though said bacon was a tad undercooked for my crispy-loving wife. Mine was the Caesar Salad, and while I felt anchovies might have made it even better, still the fact that premium Parmigano-Reggiano cheese sat astride the leaves of lettuce made for one superbly delicious salad. (If that wasn't PR cheese, I'll eat my hatte!) These were paired with Rocca Pinot Grigio from Italy, which added the slightest whisper of lemony sweetness. On to the main course. My baby loves beef and since she had first dibs, she declared that the char-broiled flatiron steak medium-rare would be a perfect fit for her on this night. (At the risk of sounding sexist, there is no law that says that ladies have to order fish or chicken in a steakhouse. I've checked.) Served with a rich, triple-peppercorn sauce and blue-cheese potatoes, this dish was positively swarthy in its robust appeal. (I know because she actually let me have a taste. She does that sometime.) For myself, I've found that at premier steakhouses, rare beef is the best way to go, and the dry-aged, prime New York strip was both beefy and buttery, clearly not needing an extra adornment of sauce. Sided with excellent mashed potatoes, this dish sated my taste buds quickly, an indication of its high quality. Pappas Bros paired all beef entrees with the Finca El Portilla Syrah from Argentina, a very wise choice which met the needs of both palate and price point quite well, thank you. Finally my wife finished up with a nicely tart lemon sorbet, while she inveigled me into spending $5 extra for the chocolate peanut butter cake with chocolate ganache just so she could have a bite. Garnished with real pieces of peanut brittle, this dessert was so sublime that the accompanying glass of Moscato d'Asti Sarocco was almost unnecessary.

Service was quite excellent as well, attentive as needed but not intrusive, and in no way were we made to feel like second-class citizens. Website is, where you will note that Restaurant Week is prominently advertised, proof of the restaurant's deep commitment to hospitality for all.

In all, what can I say? Again, one of the best meals of the year, and my wife and I will definitely be back, reinforcing the idea that Restauant Week serves as a spotlighting showcase for participating establishments, not to mentioned its espoused charitable function. (I would feel remiss if I did not mention the latter, as RW raises a lot of money for worthy causes The North Texas Food Bank and the Lena Pope Home.) Discover your own Restaurant Week nirvana soon, and remember:


Monday, August 10, 2009

Wine Corner Review #54: Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc

I'm so happy. My lovely wife the Rock Star has rediscovered the joy of cooking. Not the age-old kitchen-staple cookbook, but instead the real pleasure that can only come from preparing your own meals and cooking superbly. You see, my favorite gal has never liked her own cooking. No matter that everyone else frequently raved about it; according to her, all she could taste in her dishes were the flaws of imperfection. So, since I'm her number one fan, and since I'm an alleged food writer myself, I cannot tell you how deeply it moves me that she has rediscovered culinary passion for her own preparations. Recently, we've taken to cruising thru Central Market once a week looking for fresh meat or fish that she can prepare that night. Just yesterday, we were making the rounds and had just retrieved a lovely Yukon River Keta salmon filet from the in-store fishmonger, when lo and behold, we entered the wine section and spotted a lovely miss with tasting samples. We dutifully tried what she was pouring, then as we were ready to leave, she confided, "If you think these were good, you should have tried the Dry Creek Chenin Blanc we were serving yesterday!" Since we adore good chenin blanc, and since we were in possession of fresh fish, we thought that nothing would go better, and so that very night tried the wine that both she and her customers had been raving about just the day before, the Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc.

The robe of the Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc is citrine blended with pale peridot. The nose is most definitely dry minerals with a faintly floral essence. Tropical fruits, apricots, and peaches ply for the palate's attention, finishing with the slightest touch of mango. This deliciously dry tipple paired very well with our salmon, which had been marinated for hours in Meyer lemon and zesty spice rub; without these additions, the pairing would not have worked nearly as well. Website is, where you will note that the previous vintage was rated a Top Value by Wine Spectator magazine. Descover your inner chef soon, and remember:


Monday, August 3, 2009

Quickie Review #42: Cobb Switch Barbecue

Neighborliness is a time-honored Texas tradition, yet will only take you so far in the increasingly crowded world of Dallas restaurants. When I first read about the lofty pedigrees of those involved with the new Cobb Switch Barbecue in Carrollton, my hopes soared that maybe we would finally gain an establishment equal to Louis Muellers or Coopers in Central Texas. Failing that, maybe their bbq would at least be as good as Hard Eight's or Rudy's, two of the better practicioners of the art in the Metroplex. Sadly, my lovely wife the Rock Star and I must both concur that Cobb Switch isn't even as good as the local chains, much less the sainted denizens of Taylor and Llano.

Housed in a ramshackle building in a location that has clearly seen better days, Cobb Switch is all about being family friendly. The welcomes from countermen and family servers are all genuine, and they work hard to give you everything you need. Also some dishes are quite good, particularly the cheesy potato casserole and the grilled-to-order Texas toast. However, there is no evidence of a wood fire in use, so I must concur that the rumors I've heard about them using a gas grill are probably true. The meat is certainly fall-off-the-bone tender, and that's a plus as well. However, the flavor of everything we tried, from pork ribs to brisket to sausage to turkey, lacked the true smoky punch that makes great barbecue such a religious experience. Worse yet, the sauce was frankly terrible, tasting much like ketchup, even the spicy version. Probably the ribs fared best of all. Coleslaw had good crunch, green beans were fine, and the jalapeno pinto beans rather pale and uninviting. In sum, not the best of meals, although if you and your family are not true 'cue connoisseurs, you'll probably make out just fine. No website either, and the whole effect suggested that the owners wanted to get it up and running as soon as possible rather than take the time to get things right. Still, I don't enjoy dumping on people's dreams, and they do seem to be sincerely likeable folks. Therefore, given what I've said above, at least consider Cobb Switch soon, and as always:


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Go Texan Restaurant Round-Up Sept 28 - Oct 2nd

Rarely do I blog about upcoming events. I feel the best way for me to serve the restaurant and dining community is to dine at places and review them after the fact, plus discuss interesting wines and other products. However, I'm breaking my rule just this once to mention the Go Texan Restaurant Round-Up, scheduled from September 28th through October 2nd, 2009. During this week, participating restaurants around the state will offer fixed-price meals featuring locally produced Texas foods paired with Texas wines (and hopefully beers and liquors as well). Similar to our beloved Restaurant Week, but this time with a Texas twist. The founders of Go Texan hope to raise awareness of Texas products and perhaps a little cash for charity to boot. Last year, more than 200 restaurants around the state participated in some form or fashion. This years list of North Texas participants includes such heavy hitters as Fearings, Pappas Brothers Steakhouse, III Forks, and Blue Mesa Grill.

I support this project for the same reason I support Restaurant Week. As a native Texan and longtime Lone Star resident, I believe in growing the Texas economy. If more people can dine at great restaurants at affordable prices, plus learn about the wealth of Texas growers and winemakers that continually pop out of the woodwork, it becomes a win-win situation for all. Hopefully, we can get a full slate of North Texas participants to keep our economy flowing like wine, proving that Texans are always true pioneers who keep inventing new ways to succeed.
Here's the website for all the info:


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Quickie Review #41: 15th Street Eatery

Assembly lines are great vehicles for building cars efficiently, not so much for dining. Oh sure, if you see dinner as something to be endured rather than enjoyed, by all means go to the local branch of your "neighborhood" whatever and pretend you're having a good time. And yes, these days many chains are rather good, which was not necessarily true in days of yore. My lovely wife The Rock Star and I just dote on true neighborhood joints, so when we got the word on a new place called 15th Street Eatery opening up near our casa, we decided to investigate. True, the place has only been open a short time, but so what? I believe that a blogger serves the function of a modern town crier and that one of his principal duties is to get the word out, however that may be. Hopefully, if the experience is good and the post is positive, others will flock to check out the newby as well, before financial and culinary realities combine to put the kibosh on the owners dreams. So it was that we set out to find 15th Street Eatery one recent Sunday for lunch.

In a word, 15th Street Eatery is tiny. Tiny with a capital T. There are exactly seven tables in the storefront interior, plus another half-a-dozen stools at the counter next to where kitchen magician Sharon McGrath performs her cookery. Enticing smells of baking solicit your nose as soon as you enter, for she is a pastry chef as well as chef du cuisine. White wood-panel walls with dried and fresh flowers and coffee paintings for decorations. Cruise on up to the counter to order. If you're a first-timer, it's best to get one of the smallish menus and have a seat while perusing your choices, the better to let more experienced customers order quickly and efficiently. In fact, have a complimentary cup of coffee while you browse. In any case, place your order and prepare to wait. Remember, true goodness takes time and Chef Sharon does everything herself, except for two youngish assistants who take orders and expedite them to the table once they are prepared. Also, she gives out free samples. My bride adores eating breakfast at all hours, so she selected the Heavenly Hots. A short stack of nonuniform, made-from-scratch hotcakes sided with crisp, applewood-smoked bacon and home-fried potatoes and excellent eggs added up to one outstanding (and, for her, overly large) breakfast. That's OK, if you weren't born during the Depression, you know that it's not a crime to leave food on your plate. For myself, I had been craving a BLT, and the aptly-named BBLT (Best Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato) more than filled the bill, the crunchy toast, iceburg lettuce, and tomato marrying perfectly with the bacon and Hellmans mayo. (I know it was Hellmans because I saw her dress the sandwich myself; have i mentioned how tiny this place is?) My lunch was accompanied by a cup of earthy mushroom soup and a simple spring mix salad featuring grape tomatoes and "secret recipe" house dressing featuring cilantro and lime vinagrette. We dined heartily yet leisurely, our repast accompanied by glasses of excellent, fresh brewed ice tea. (Be sure and order lemon and extra ice; as it is fresh brewed hot and will melt the ice quickly.) Soon enough, we were quite stuffed, but couldn't resist ordering a piece of the luscious-looking yellow cake with chocolate frosting for future consumption at home. I will be sure to update this post to let you know how good it was, provided I don't have a brain freeze and forget. Website is, but is a work in progress at this point, without menu or hours. Not to worry, the joint is open from 6:30 am to 8:30 pm during the week and from 7 am to 3 pm on weekends. Discover the delights of non-assembly-line dining at 15th Street Eatery yourself, and remember:


UPDATE: My wife and I enjoyed our dessert in the cool of the evening. The yellow cake was so moist it was positively dripping and the frosting was fudgetastic. We also solved the age-old problem of how to divide our slice. My cake-loving wife got the larger piece with less icing, while the smaller piece with more icing went to myself, the certified frosting lover. Everyone was satisfied, and we vowed to get another pastry selection soon.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Quickie Review #40: El Fogon

June is busting out all over, even if the calendar says July. By that, I mean that Latin restaurants are appearing everywhere, especially in the North Dallas/Addison/Carrollton area near mi casa. I have to call them Latin restaurants because they aren't all Tex-Mex, nor Mex-Mex. Surely, these qualify as Latin too, but I'm specifically referring to establishments featuring cuisines from farther south of the border, namely Central and South America. Many of you are no doubt aware of Gloria's, the pride of Salvatex (Mexico plus El Salvador) cuisine, but rest assured, there are plenty of others as well. Since I've been searching lately for new taste sensations (whether or not they have been sweeping the nation), and despite the fact that my lovely wife the Rock Star was temporarily unavailable to assist me in my quest, I decided to explore El Fogon Restaurant one recently Sabbath for lunch.

According to legend, El Fogon started life as one of the only Ecuadoran restaurants in Big D, but since they have added numerous Peruvian and Tex-Mex dishes, their food now can be best described as Latin. I received a very warm welcome from the family/staff, with no fewer than half-a-dozen people attending to my needs. They started to grill me on what types of dishes I usually liked, but I already had my answer. Outside temperature was 110 in the shade, and I knew that one of the best light lunches on such a day would be ceviche. El Fogon boasts several types, but when I discovered the Ceviche Ecuatoriana, I knew I had a winner. Tomato puree was combined with bell peppers, red onion, cilantro, fish (tilapia, I think), and shrimp into a pastoral delight that was cool as the proverbial cucumber and much more satisfying. Served with fresh lime and remarkably good plantain chips, it was infinitely pleasing, and made me eager to try the many other dishes on the menu. Don't worry, there are plenty of familiar menu items for the uncurious, such as quesadillas, nachos, and taquitoes. These came in handy, too, as the owner's family was dining at the next table and the ninos wanted burritos. Service? Ask yourself this: In how many high-end places will the owner interrupt his own family's repast to refill your tea glass? Not many, I'll warrant. Website for this smallish place can be found at, where you will find out that Saturdays are Ladies Nights. I'm sure this information will come in handy someday. Discover El Fogon soon, and remember:


Monday, July 6, 2009

Wine Corner Review #53: Chalone Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir

I'll wager that few vineyards here in the US can boast of a location at the foot of an extinct volcano. Yet, that is the exact address of one of the prides of Napa, Chalone Vineyards, perched precariously in the Gavlan Mountain Range 1800 feet above the Salinas Valley. More important, they are also one of the few wineries growing their grapes in limestone-based soils. You see, kiddies, limestone is also an important component of the terroirs of Burgundy, where most of the world's best chardonnays and pinot noirs call home. Today, we will be concerned with the latter varietal, as we sample a glass or three of one of the stars of Chalone's fine wine line, namely the Chalone Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir.

The robe of the Chalone Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir is garnet skillfully blended with royal robe purple. The nose suggest definite strawberries, spice, and that old pinot standby, cherries. Lots of said cherries and berries work the palate into a frenzy, with a peppercorn finish. Good pinots are among our most versitle reds; we enjoyed ours with steak and were quite pleased. Prime rib and ahi tuna would be even better matches I suspect. Website is, where you can check out their entire line of Burgundian beauties, to say nothing of other varietals. Discover how limestone can improve your pinot soon, and remember:


Monday, June 29, 2009

Tales From The Bar Side #4: Firefly Modern Asian Grill & Sushi

I've always said that the best lunch in the world is free, and if you can't get it free, then the second best lunch is cheap. That applies to dinner as well. My lovely wife the Rock Star and I are always on the lookout for good, cheap eats, and we do love our Happy Hour. So, whilst idling by the pool one recent Sunday, an ad in the Observer caught my eye which promised both good Happy Hour prices and cheap dining in the bar. I looked at my spouse and we both said, Hey, what have we got to lose but an hour or two and a few bucks? Plus, we might just can score a really neat new hangout. So, with little to lose, and potentially a lot to gain, we decided to roll down Midway to Firefly Modern Asian Grill & Sushi in Addison that very evening.

If you've ever spent time in Addison, you know that the space occupied by Firefly has had several previous restaurant tenants including Randy White's BBQ, Good Eats, and a Texan-themed place whose name escapes me. Decor is actually a bit heavy-handed, almost gloomy in places, but the couches in the bar are comfy and the staff is warm and welcoming, frequently taking time from their prep work to come chat with us. We decided on a whim to start with saki bombs, two drinks combined with a bar game that's quite adventurous. Our sweet redheaded waitress showed us the ropes. Basically, you balance a shot of saki on two chopsticks over a short beer and chant, "Saki, saki, saki," while simultaneously banging on the table. Presto! The chopsticks roll away, depositing the saki shot into the beer glass, not to mention spilling some on the table as well. Great fun, the most enjoyment I've had at this sort of thing since I last played Quarters. Since Happy Hour drink and food prices were so reasonable, and since Happy Hour at Firefly lasts from 4PM to close, we decided to indulge ourselves. We started with Spicy Edamame, the wok-steamed soybeans that are a staple in every sushi joint. Quite tasty, if a bit heavy on the hot Asian spices. After that, we were planning to move straight into sushi, but our staff kept raving over the fried calamari, so we finally obliged. Served with scallions, jalapenos, and sweet chili sauce, it was one of the highlights of our meal, better than versions I've had in some high-dollar establishments. (Some places emphasize the squid too much for my taste; this version was more nicely balanced.)

Appetizers only, we moved on to sushi, selecting a California Roll (my wife makes it a personal rule to have either a California Roll or a Philadelphia Roll virtually every time she enjoys sushi), a Spicy Tuna Roll, and a Cajun Crawfish Roll, all Happy Hour Sushi specials. The California Roll was quite good but pretty basic; the real joy came in devouring the Spicy Tuna Roll, which tasted quite fresh, and the Cajun Crawfish Roll, replete with delicious fried crawfish and spicy mayo. Very satisfying, and our dinner check, with all that food, the saki bombs, two beers, and two mixed drinks, came to just over $30, about half the usual price. Needless to say, we left a sizeable tip. As I mentioned above, the staff was quite personable and down-to-earth, making for a truly enjoyable bar experience. Website is, where you will note dinner options that are quite a bit more substantial than our modest Happy Hour fare. Score a cheap meal yourself at Firefly Modern Asian Grill & Sushi soon, and as always:


Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Sometimes I believe that restaurants are capable of human speech, and that their vocabularies can be quite extensive. Yet in my experience, I've found most say one of two things to us once we've been properly introduced. The first type of establishment, be it fine dining or hole-in-the-wall, is quite Texan in their approach, saying "Howdy! Come on in!!" The second type tends to be much louder and practically screams, "You Don't Belong Here! Please Vacate Our Premises At Once." Whether it's the decor, the hostess, or just the general vibe, you instantly get the impression that you are not one of their preferred customers and you'd be better off dining somewhere else. Does this sound familiar? I'm sure many of you particularly feel that way about French fine dining establishments, what with their (to our ears) peculiar mode of speech and pronunciations, and general all-around Frenchness. Some of you would immediately feel put off, as if you have entered the second type of restaurant noted above. Well, pardner, let me assure you such is not always the case. Many French restauranteurs can be downright warm and effusive once you get to know them, and food can be actually quite unpretentious and enjoyable. My lovely wife the Rock Star and I actually confirmed these findings recently at Mignon, a thorougly French, totally unpretentious establishment located in the wilds of West Plano.

Atmospherically, Mignon is very bistro-like, a concept I wish more places would embrace, invoking the spirit of 1960's Paris. This means, of course, lots of casual French posters and artwork. Square tables sporting green chairs and semi-formal glass-and-silverware. Curvy booths. Separate patio set with metal chairs overlooking a small fountain. In other words, as informal as all-get-out, like a friendly French place should be. We were seated at once and began to peruse menu and wine list.

Foodwise, our repast was outstanding, once we got past our initial disappointment concerning the wine list. My lovely wife and myself love French wine, but sadly, Mignon stocks mostly California vintages and the French vintages they do stock are on the expensive side. So, after some consideration, we decided on Caldwell Flame Jumper by the glass, which proved to pair quite well with our cuisine and had a bit more spice then most French-style syrahs. I have to admit that when in Paris (so to speak), I usually bypass other Francophilic dishes and head straight for the steak. Let's face it, I'm a true Texan, and I definitely appreciate how the French prepare their beef, generally choosing only prime or top of the choice, and showing particular reverence toward sauces. Such was the case at Mignon. Their steaks are prime, and my wife really enjoyed her New York strip, presented precisely medium-rare (she's my kind of gal!) with Yukon potatoes and grilled asparagus, topped with a blue cheese and sherry reduction. Delightfully old-school stuff, as was my Prime Filet Au Poivre (a retro peppery presentation that was big back in the day), topped with peppercorn brandy sauce and sided with forest mushroom, spinach, and red wine risotto. I requested mine rare, and they delivered as promised. (I've learn to order rare in fine dining establishments for best flavor; if I'm in a second-tier place, I stick to medium rare.) The steak was fantastic, the risotto lovely, although I would have preferred potatoes. Even though we took plenty of leftovers home, we somehow found room for chocolate ganache cake, with raspberry coulis and creme anglais. After eating this delectable goodie, I now know why ganache is all the rage.

Service was unstuffy, unpretentious, and thoroughly helpful, not to mention unobtrusive unless you needed them. Website is Once again, I found a delightul French establishment and we'll definitely be back. Please listen to your restaurant soon, and remember:


Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Mediterranean diets are all the rage. And why not? Fish. Olive oil. Garlic. Healthy, healthy, healthy. These civilizations have lasted for thousands of years and their people are happy and their cultures vibrant. They must know something we don't. I would love to say that my lovely wife the Rock Star and I were determined to seek out Turkish food this lovely Sunday morn, but truth is, we were looking for a nice brunch place at The Shops at Legacy before our afternoon matinee at the Angelika, and were on our way to another place nearby. Alas, the place we were seeking was on the sunny side of the bullring, so to speak, and we had determined to sit on the patio, when suddenly blue banners caught our eye, and noticing that Cafe Istanbul was closer to the Bellagio-like fountain than our intended destination, we made the decision to dine there at once. (Well, almost at once. Restaurant owners, learn this lesson, please: Much potential business is to be gained by posting your menu with prices outside your establishment, for if customers see what they like and the price is right, they may choose to dine with you there and then. And so it was with us.)

I would like to report on the interior decor of Cafe Istanbul, but alas the fountain was in full bloom when we were there and we did not want to miss a single performance. (It erupted every 10-15 minutes.) Pictures from the Dallas location are on the website, and they show metal folding chairs on the patio there. Luckily, such is not the case in Plano, and sitting on the patio was quite lovely indeed. I was concerned that perhaps alcohol would not be available, but our request for a wine list was met with a ready response. It seems that Turkey has a strong secular tradition. In this case, I'm glad.

On their website, Cafe Istanbul posts a quote from a book called The Historical Evolution of Turkish Cuisine, in which author Navin Hallci states that Turkish food is "one of the three foremost examples of culinary art in the world." (For the record, French and Chinese are the other two.) Quite a bold statement indeed. Yet, after sampling chef Erol Girgin's wares, I think that Hallci may be on to something. We began our repast with Kisir (Tabuleh), cracked wheat lightly flavored with tomato paste, parsley, and onions. Very nice, although I would have preferred more paste and spice. So many appetizing goodies were featured on the menu that my bride had trouble making up her mind, finally deciding on a chef's special featuring ground beef and lamb served with rice pilaf and yogurt. Spices in this dish were seemingly restrained at first, then suddenly popped up and surprised her, which prompted her to quell the fires with yogurt and her glass of New Zealand Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc. (Yogurt is served in these countries precisely for its quenching abilities. Not to mention flavor.) The same late-blooming zing was forthcoming in my entree, the Terbiyeli Sis Kebap, a charbroiled delight of lamb marinated in hot sauce and spice that would make any pepper-loving Texan proud. My personal conflagration was doused with Efes Pilsen, a good Turkish brew in the style of Dos Equis. After such an eventful meal, we decided to split a simple dessert. Kayisi Tatlisi proved to be dried apricots filled with light cream and served with walnuts, and was a nice, light ending to a wonderful meal.

Service was leisurely paced in the best brunch tradition, but was not at all inattentive. Our waiter even managed a hearty laugh when I amended my usual saying of "When in Rome, do as the Romans do," and changed the city in question to Constantinople. I did not want another great schism on my hands.

In sum, I'm not sure I'm ready to declare that Turkish is one of the world's three greatest cuisines, but after such a meal, I feel more research is in the offing. Again, website is Discover Cafe Istanbul for brunch yourself soon, and remember:


Monday, June 8, 2009

Wine Corner Review #52: Hook & Ladder The Tillerman

In 1970, San Francisco firefighter Cecil De Loach got smitten by the grape growing bug, and went off in search of a winery to purchase. At the same time, winemaker Louis Barbieri was looking for a buyer for his old-vine vineyard west of Santa Rosa. Those two entrepreneurs struck a match and lit the fuse on the De Loach line of fine wines. Just a few years ago, De Loach sold off his namesake brand and went on to found Hook & Ladder, a smaller project that would focus on the best products of his Russian River Valley estate vineyards. Today, Hook & Ladder Wines are attaching themselves to wine lists of some of the best restaurants in town, and one that you should definitely consider is Hook & Ladder's red blend, known as The Tillerman, which is a term for the driver of the back end of a hook & ladder fire truck.

The robe of the Hook & Ladder The Tillerman is violet garnet. The nose reveals subtle spice, such as white pepper and nutmeg. Berries and more spice punch their way across the palate, and the finish is lingering. This blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, and sangiovese works well with all manner of red meats and game, yet is not too snobbish for pizza. Website is Get bitten by the grape bug yourself, and remember:


Monday, June 1, 2009


I've said it before and I'll say it again. Diners with limited financial means need not rule out the better restaurants, even in times of financial turmoil. Sure, at some restaurants, a dinner tab can easily run to $300 or more, so some people might shy away from such places. However, as I've discussed previously, there are many ways to sample a chef's cuisine. One method is to go to dinner, but stick with appetizers, soup or salad, and maybe see if you can split an entree. Another way is to go for lunch or weekend brunch. But wait, you ask, won't I end up with an "inferior" meal. Not on your steakknife. If the chef is any good and particularly if he has any reputation, he would not allow the simplest bowl of potage to leave his kitchen without measuring up to his exacting standards. It is both a matter of personal pride and professional reputation. In such a spirit of adventure, and wishing to try the cuisine of renowned Food Network guru Tom Colicchio at the Dallas outpost of Craft Restaurant, my lovely wife the Rock Star and myself ventured down the well-worn path of the Tollway one recent Sunday for brunch.

From the first glance, it was readily apparent that no expense was spared designing the interior of Craft, as is true with most of the Victory Park development where it resides. Very tall ceilings with seemingly thousands of exposed-filament bulbs hanging from them. Exposed concrete pillars. An enormous glassed-in wine cellar. (Our genial waiter later confirmed that there are no wine angels on staff at Craft; servers must instead climb stepladders to reach the desired bottle.) We were seated quickly, the better to peruse both decor and menu.

So, how does Chef Tom's cuisine stack up? Very well, thank you. Unlike FN cohort Bobby Flay, who is fond of putting his own spin on things, our brunch at Craft suggested that both Tom Colicchio and recently-departed Chef de Cuisine Anthony Zappola prefer the more traditional approach. In other words, let the ingredients speak for themselves. My lovely bride decided to begin her repast with a glass of her beloved prosecco, in this case, the Bisol Jeio Brut from Valdobbiadene, Italy. Very clean-tasting, with a crisp finish. I decided to bypass the bubbly and instead ordered a bottle of our brunch wine. The Can Blau, a Spanish blend of carignan (mazuelo), syrah, and garnacha, proved to be an excellent pairing for our beefy entrees. Solidifying her reputation as one of the world's great burger fanatics, the Rock Star ordered the Craft Burger. Featuring white cheddar and applewood bacon, the Craft Burger is nonetheless quite conventional and cooked precisely medium-rare. (So hard to get a burger in any preparation but well done these days; such are the advantages of a fine-dining establishment.) The fries were quite perfect as well, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, they were no doubt properly blanched before frying. She was enormously pleased. For myself, I decided to see what chef could do with the diner classic New York Strip Steak and Eggs. So exquisitely simple was the presentation that my lovely bride and myself couldn't resist posing it for pictures before I devoured same. The beef was topped with just the slightest touch or bordelaise and was again perfectly prepared medium rare. The eggs were over easy and made the perfect foils for all that beefy goodness. Coupled with my own order of those marvelous fries, I must confess that this was the most delightful brunch since our Valentines repast at Al Biernats.

Service was leisurely paced but not at all inattentive, it was after all a lazy Sunday afternoon. Our waiter even joined in our lively discussion concerning the merits of modern architecture, and the names Le Corbusier, Frank Geary, and Frank Lloyd Wright were bandied about freely, as we were no doubt inspired by Crafts impressive interior. (My wife and I are devoted Frank Lloyd Wright fans; in fact the highlight of our Arizona vacation was the trip to his old studio Taliesin West in Scottsdale, and we long to someday visit Fallingwater.) Website is, where it is a simple matter to link to the Dallas page.

Once again, my thesis is proved that a great chef will provide world-class cuisine, whether for brunch, lunch, or dinner. Discover the postmodern experience of Craft for yourself, and remember:


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wine Corner Review #51: 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon

Deep in the Pacific Northwest, down near the base of Washington State where it joins forces with the forests of Oregon, lies the winemaking appelation of Horse Heaven Hills. Not surprisingly, wild horses once roamed these hills, frolicking in the dry, windy meadows, drinking from the mighty Columbian River and generally just doing what horses do naturally. Recently, the Horse Heaven Hills appelation was carved out of the much larger Columbia Valley appelation which still surrounds it. In appreciation of the tough little horses that once populated this region, a new line of wines was created, named after their approximate height. (Horse heights are always measured in hands, and 14 hands is considered quite small.) You know, I could continue to horse around some more and talk about boring stuff, but maybe I should proceed directly to the discussion of the bottle or glass of vino at hand, specifically the 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon.

The robe of the 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon is magenta flecked with a touch of maroon. The nose suggests minerals, black cherries, and currants. Berries, cherries, and more currants wash playfully over the palate, finishing lightly with Melba toast points. Cabernets are often notoriously difficult to pair with food; not so this one, for by blending the cab sauvignon grapes, with cab franc, merlot, and a touch of syrah, winemaker Keith Kennison has created a quaff that can stand up to most red meat and pork, yet is quite fruit-forward and friendly enough to enjoy on its own. Website is, where you will learn that Wine and Spirits Magazine has named 14 Hands Cabernet the fourteenth most popular wine by the glass in restaurants, which suggests a double dose of good luck to me. Horse around with a glass yourself soon, and remember:


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Quickie Review #39: Jakes Hamburgers

In mi casa, the after-concert feast is a Food Czar tradition, and I bet it's a tradition in your household as well. There's nothing like live music and beer to bring on a serious case of the heart-attack munchies, so we usually follow up with a nice, leisurely meal; that way, we can unwind and swing a lot of cats, so to speak. My lovely wife the Rock Star, her sister the Wild Thing, and myself had just wrapped up Sunday afternoon at the Wildflower festival (for my money, the best festival in the entire Metroplex), and as usual, our thoughts turned to food. Also, I don't know why burgers always seem to hit the spot in times like these, but I guess it's the serious comfort factor. At any rate, since the Wild Thing wanted to dine close to her casa, and since we love her company so much we usually let her pick, we decided on Jake's Hamburgers, and duly made the rather short drive over there posthaste.

Jakes interior is one of those "C" shaped jobs, with tables and booths arranged in a semicircle pattern around a central bar, but since alfresco season is almost over, we decided to dine on their expansive patio. When I check out a new place, I often try the unusual to see what a place has to offer that's unique, but after carefully considering the Jake's Special and the Texas Chili Burger, I opted for the single cheeseburger, substituting chipotle mayo from the daily special for the mustard. Jake's burgers are rather large (that's an understatement) and the bun tops are literally peppered to death with sesame seeds, but it was quite tasty and worthy of award-winning status. Yes, it was cooked too long for me (I'm liking my beef rarer and rarer these days), but it wasn't dry, and I loved the tater tots as well. (French fries are not all they could be in this city because most cooks refuse to blanch them before frying.) The girls ordered the same burgers (with mustard instead of mayo) and quite enjoyed them. (I love to see women who enjoy beef; it means they just don't follow the herd, so to speak. Or maybe they do.) We chatted happily into the night, and enjoyed the fireflies when they came buzzing 'round. Website is Start your own post-concert tradition soon, and as always: