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: