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: