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 http://www.fearingsrestaurant.com/. Once again, the Go Texan website is http://www.gotexan.org/, 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 http://www.bluemesagrill.com/ for Blue Mesa Grill and http://www.gotexan.org/ 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 http://www.coastglobalseafood.com/, 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 http://www.pullthecorkout.com/, 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 www.finsakebar.com, 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: