Thursday, December 2, 2010


Once limited to burgers, tacos, and chicken, the diner-on-the-go has more choices available these days than just going through the nearest drive-thru. Fast casual is still one of the hottest new segments of the restaurant game, with sub sandwich shops, delis, and build-your-own burrito places racking up impressive business. Even Asian food has entered the fray with places such as Pei-Wei and Roti Grill. Now, Mama Pita Mediterranean Grill has joined the battle as well, promising fresh ingredients assembled into a tasty feast right before your very eyes.

The Shops at Legacy can sometimes be daunting to navigate, yet Mama Pita is easy to find, clearly marked and located on Legacy Drive itself just East of the Tollway. The décor of this box features dark woods, bricks, and photos depicting everyday life in the Mediterranean. Merely make your way to the back, where your smiling hostess stands at the Chipotle-style assembly counter ready to tell you how Mama Pita works.

Basically, there are four different styles of meals at various price points, and each meal contains two or more categories of eats: salads, dips, mains and sides. Prices start at $6.95 for a simple Pita Wrap, progressing all the way up to $9.90 for the Combo Platter with shrimp. At these prices, I decided that I could easily afford to try a little bit of everything, so I splurged for the Combo Platter. My sprawling salad was Fattouch, which combined lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers with a deft touch of pomegranate molasses, and a sumptuous olive and lemon dressing crowned with toasted pita chips. A little heavy on the dressing, but this salad sported good, fresh produce and was a sign of things to come. My dip was Mama’s Homemade Garlic Paste, which was intensely flavored garlic overload and was a great accompaniment to the other dishes when used sparingly. I chose Kafta and Falafel for my mains, and these were a bit disappointing: The Kafta, grilled minced lamb and beef, was slightly underdone and definitely underseasoned (my garlic dip came in handy here), but the Falafel was better, two crispy pucks of garbanzo and minced fava beans, nicely spiced indeed. Both mains were on the smallish side, but I sure couldn’t quibble about the price. Mama’s Patatas proved to be the star of my platter, wonderfully crisp potato bits seasoned with parsley and spices, and better than three-fourths of the French Fries you can get around town. Finally, I had asked for a pita to wrap my ingredients, and these proved to be quite tasty and large, the size and shape of your basic manhole cover.

The serving ladies at the counter were quite cheerful and eager to explain the process, and they did a wonderful job of speeding me through the line without feeling rushed. In short, Mama Pita is no Café Istanbul, but with low prices, quick service, and fresh food, they present quite an intriguing alternative to the burgers, tacos, and chicken joints that make up the usual fast options.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Savvy Dallas food folk know their taquerias. They can see through the folderol of twelve-dollar fajitas and the folly of enchiladas antisepticas offered by far too many chains. They know that great Mexican food can be found just about anywhere in our fair city, be it strip mall, hole-in-the-wall, or gas station. In the latter category, longtime aficionados wax rhapsodic about Fuel City’s tacos, while the Lake Highlands crowd knows all about Good 2 Go Tacos. Believe it or not, north Plano sports an excellent gas station establishment, Chitos Mexican Restaurant, tucked in behind a Chevron station on Legacy Drive. I first visited Chitos about a year ago amidst rumors that they had some of the best tostadas in the Metroplex, and I decided recently to see firsthand if they were still holding down the quality fort.

Gabriel and Sandra Correa bought Chitos just over a year ago, and immediately set out to make warm, familial service a hallmark of the place, while maintaining excellence in the culinary category. After greeting and seating me, I was handed a menu, where I was delighted to find that the prices were still quite low, with most offerings under $10. I knew that Horchata Agua Fresca would make an excellent accompaniment to the spicy fare, and I ordered one. Loaded with cinnamon and spices and generously portioned, this fresca was large enough to sustain me throughout the meal, and I took home plenty besides. Chips and salsa tasted fresh, and the salsa had a delightful tang. After due perusal, I decided to order a pollo tostada and my waiter’s recommendation of Asado De Puerco Rojo. I was also considering a sopa, but my genial waiter stopped me by asking, “Are you sure? This is a lot of food. You can always order it later if you are still hungry.” I really appreciated his honesty, and decided to wait.

In short order, my tostada was brought, and I was delighted to find it still piled high with freight: fresh chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, beans, crema, and queso fresco. All these ingredients served quite well to highlight the chicken rather than mask it, particularly the queso fresco. I also used the jalapeno and tomatillo salsas my waiter brought to good effect, sparingly so that just a touch of heat was added. Very large and crunchy, it would have made an excellent lunch if I had eaten the whole thing, but I wanted to save room for the Puerco. Outstanding pork with a pastor flavor was presented in a fiery red sauce with excellent rice and beans, making for one of the most savory, sumptuous Mexican meals I’ve had in a long time. No salsa necessary for this dish, as each bite was full of roasted sweet heat. Again, portions were quite generous, so there was a lot to take home, and as my waiter suggested, I didn’t need to add a sopa.

Service throughout was family gracious, and the chef herself stopped by to make sure I had enjoyed everything. This meal was proof that at Chitos you can fill your stomach as well as your car, and both will be quite content.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Go To The GO TEXAN Wine Garden At The State Fair of Texas

On a busy weekend at the State Fair of Texas when teeming throngs of teens and folks of all ages are crowding the corny dog stands and other concessions, the Go Texan Wine Garden stands like a little Hill Country oasis near the Food and Fiber Pavillion. There's a large shade tree and covered tables, plus more open seating facing the smallish stage where excellent jazz and blues groups hold sway on weekends. (When we visited, the featured acts were the Jeff George Band and Miss Marcy.) Three tasting booths await your business, featuring tipple samples for two or three tickets each, plus full glasses at 16-17 tickets. Full bottles can be had as well, and there is a small Bistro that serves beer, soft drinks, a few other wines, and light snacks.

Come on in. Relax. You deserve it. Linger for an hour or so. Try a sample or three. Listen to the wonderful music. Hear wine talks from featured Texas winemakers, as this year the garden features all Texas tipples. Even on the most crowded days, my lovely wife and myself found room to sit. Recharge your batteries. Experience the magic of life and the sense of temporary community that wine tastings with music can bring. Then, a little reluctantly but fully recharged, take your leave. Most important, please visit before the last day of the fair October 17. Hopefully, this sweet oasis is not a mirage like Brigadoon but will reemerge from the mists again about this time next year.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Note: I had written this post to appear in another space right after Restaurant Week, but alas, it was not to be. Still, better late than never. Enjoy!

Many critics and bloggers alike don’t think much of Restaurant Week. They bemoan the fact that newbies have crowded them out of their favorite tables during prime dining hours, and the fact that some establishments, even some with stellar reputations, have taken on an assembly-line, move-‘em-through quality that ensures maximum turnover of tables.

Happily, such is not the case at The Place at Perry’s, one of Dallas’ better steak palaces that prides itself on Niman Ranch beef, fresh seafood, and quality ingredients. Still, while the food was mostly excellent and the wine outstanding, service can often make or break a place during RW. In this case, our server came through with flying colors.

Kristen seems to have learned the fact that the fine art of service comes through correctly reading the table---that is, to be able to tell by often-subtle nonverbal cues whether to keep everything moving at a brisk pace, or slow it down just a tad if the customers seem to want to linger. My dining companion and I clearly showed that we were fine with a goodly pace early in the meal, but wanted to take it easy for a bit after dessert.

The Place at Perry’s denotes simple elegance, with basic foursquare tables, wall sconces, and tasteful celebrity photos on the walls for decoration. We especially liked the semi-enclosed, high-walled booths that conveyed intimacy without making us feel squirreled away from the rest of the room.

Wisely, we decided to order our RW repasts with wine pairings at $65 a person. Perry’s wine list is one of its most impressive features, designed to sate the palate without busting the budget. We began with salads (I wish Perry’s had offered a soup option, but such was not the case); my dining companion choosing a very good wedge with Maytag bleu cheese and crispy bacon bits. The salad was not overdressed, which is often a problem with a wedge, and it paired wonderfully well with Piper-Heidseick Brut champagne. My Classic Caesar sported some of the best house-made croutons I’ve had in a long time, and my companion so enjoyed her sip of my glass of accompanying Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc that she chose it as her nightcap later.

She also was delighted with her entrée, the Herb-Encrusted Rainbow Trout, which proved both flaky and buttery, paired with an old friend, Masi Mansianco Pinot Grigio. Meanwhile, my Niman Ranch New York Strip Au Poivre (an old-school preparation currently enjoying a comeback) was quite good although a bit fatty and cooked just a tad beyond the requested medium rare. In this case, the steak was saved by the gorgonzola topping and the outstanding Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine worthy of Shakespeare. Best of all were the desserts: A simple chocolate fudge cake for my companion and a creamy house made cheesecake with espresso topping for myself.

True to her calling, Kristen let us linger longer at the end, while we enjoyed glasses of the sauvignon blanc and the superb Bodega Norton Malbec Reserve. She also managed to work in a subtle pitch for Slider Saturdays, Perry’s promotion featuring gourmet mini-burgers, without making us feel like we were being sold. In any case, we were sold on The Place at Perry’s, and figure that we might just have to take her up on the offer.


2911 Routh Street

214 871-9991

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

State Fair of Texas Wine Garden to Feature All Texas Wines

One of the least known and appreciated attractions at the State Fair of Texas every year is the Wine Garden. Now in its fourth year, the garden offers free tastings, and in the past poured mostly California tipples. This year, it seems Kroger has withdrawn sponsorship, leaving the Texas Department of Agriculture firmly in charge, and they have made the exciting decision to serve only Texas wines, from two to four wineries per day, for a total of 24 Lone Star producers with quaffs. Here are the details:

This decision makes complete sense, and if I'm not mistaken, underscores the original purpose of the State Fair: To showcase Texas agriculture and the complete bounty of our wonderful state. Nothing wrong with California wines, of course, I drink a few myself. But this is a Texas product showcase, and will hopefully introduce legions of new fans into the ever-growing, ever-improving world of Texas wines.

Monday, July 12, 2010

KRLD Restaurant Week 2010 - August 16th Through August 30th at Select Dining Establishments

Several friends of mine don't celebrate Christmas in a major way. They would rather spend their money in August during KRLD Restaurant Week. The official duration is from August 16th through the 22nd, but many participating establishments are extending it through the 30th, and some even celebrate Preview Weekend starting August 13th. Here is a list of the current participants:

During this promotion, special three-course prix fixe menus are $35 a person, with a portion of the proceeds going to charity. Note that the list includes many high-end establishments, places where the entrees themselves often exceed $35. Also, should you attend the Preview Weekend at your favorite bistro, be advised that the price is $42, which includes a specialty cocktail.

Savvy diners know about the Central Market Fourth Course, available to those persons bearing a certificate obtained by spending $25 at any Central Market location. Also, really savvy persons reserve their tables through the Open Table system, where you build up points toward redeemable dining cheques. Here is their website:

Finally, many participating places offer 1000 Open Table dining points if you reserve your table during certain hours. Caution: You MUST reserve these tables using the special 1000 point dining link at Open Table. Otherwise, you will likely receive the usual 100 points.

This is a win-win situation for almost everyone. Charities benefit, diners benefit, and restaurants have full dining rooms during a traditionally slow month. The servers and staff may feel rushed by the increased business, but I'm happy to report that in most cases, I've received excellent service.

Reserve your tables now.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


First call. I realize it's still early to be thinking about something that happens in late September, but you might want to make a mental note of the third annual Go Texan Restaurant Round-Up, which is scheduled for Sept 27 through October 1st, 2010. This program spotlights locally grown foods and wines, and is held throughout the Lone Star State. According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, some 500 establishments already participate in Go Texan.

If last years celebration is any indication, some well-regarded restaurants may be involved, including Pappas Bros, Blue Mesa Grill, and Fearings. Of course, there are no guarantees for 2010, but if enough Texas diners keep stepping up to the plate, then my hope is that this kind of program can become more like our beloved KRLD Restaurant Week and help our local growers, meat producers, and winemakers improve the quality of our local product. We've already got plenty of intrepid Lone Star producers producing excellent foodstuffs, and more would certainly be welcome.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Wine Corner Review #60: Mirassou Chardonnay

Question: What's America's oldest winemaking family? Gallo, you say? No, I'll give you a hint, it starts with an M. Ah, Mondavi, you reply. Wrong again, it's Mirassou, the California clan that has been crafting excellent yet affordable wines since 1854. Recently, my wife and I were guests at a superb dinner at Stephan Pyles Restaurant, where we had a delightful chat with sixth-generation winemaker David Mirassou. During our discourse, we bemoaned the fact that too many affordable chardonnays were overly oaky, thus tasting so much of tree that all the subtle flavors were lost. Affable David put our fears at ease: his chardonnay, he said, just contained a touch of oak, and he promised that we would enjoy a balance of flavors. Such proved to be the case, so without further ado, I invite you to try a glass or three of Mirassou Chardonnay.

The robe of the Mirassou Chardonnay is misted gold flecked with wheat. Nice apricot and vanilla on the nose. Swirl it around in your mouth and let the soft flavors of nectarines, vanilla, and citrus play across your palate, finishing with toast points and, yes, just a slight whisper of oak. At Stephan Pyles lovely dinner, this chard was paired with butter poached lobster with corn milk - green chile custard, harts of palm and black garlic cream. Very successful, but trust me, it will work just as well with plain old mac and cheese. Website is, where you will learn about the family's history, among other things. Learn about America's first family of winemaking soon, and remember:


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Delish Dish 5: Bottomless Frites at Lemon Bar

Want a cheap Happy Hour? Well, your in luck if you live in the West Village. Lemon Bar has just been opened a short time, yet it's already packing them in to the rafters with no signs of slowing down. Why so crowded? Well, prices for one. When beers start at $3, all day, every day, and your joint happens to be located in such a hip part of town, with a comely waitstaff to boot, well, guys and gals are very likely to show. The food is also worthwhile. Of course, there are the usual bar suspects, like wings and nachos, but also trendy fare, such as hummus or flatbreads. Yet, one of the very best dishes at Lemon Bar is also one of the humblest, a basket of bottomless frites. These fries are ultra-crispy and addictive, and a positive steal at four bucks. Actually, the biggest issue at Lemon Bar is parking; you shouldn't drive endlessly around the block looking for an empty spot, merely head for the West Village garage located smack dab in the middle of all the shops and restaurants. Website for Lemon Bar is, but it's still a work in progress.
Go barhopping sometime soon, and remember:


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Wine Corner Review #59: Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc

Do you know that Robert Mondavi invented Fume Blanc? In the late sixties, sauvignon blanc had a poor reputation in California due to its aggressive grassiness, so Mondavi, ever the savvy marketer, coined the term Fume Blanc to connote sauvignon blanc made in the French style with barrel ageing, reminiscent of Pouille-Fume from the Loire Valley. Nowadays, the term has been exported to such places as Texas where such vintners as Becker also make Fumes. Rather than reminisce further on this fume folderol, why not just grab a glass and join me on the patio, so to speak, while we indulge in a glass or three of one of my new finds, the Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc Sauvignon Blanc?

The robe of the Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc is pale golden misty dawn. The nose reveals crisp melon and a slight wisp of tangerine. Tasting reinforces the crispy freshness, bringing grapefruit along for the ride. A very versatile wine, just great with virtually anything, especially pizza, bruschetta, and seafood pastas. Oh, and don't forget salads. Website is, should you care to investigate. Invent your own reason to celebrate soon, and remember:


Sunday, February 21, 2010


My lovely wife The Rock Star and I have made no secret of our desire to someday move to Fredericksburg, that lovely Germanic hamlet just about an hour's drive from both San Antonio and Austin. We love the charming, very liveable and walkable downtown, the burgeoning music scene, and the delightful restaurants, most of which feature good, honest, unpretentious cuisine that warms and pleases the soul. However, we sometimes wish that this rather smallish town would add a few fine dining establishments that would not only please but thrill our palates. Luckily, this need has been anticipated and is being met, little by little. First, Cabernet Grill (formerly The Cotton Gin Restaurant, so named because of the restored building where it resides) set the bar quite nicely with a mostly surf and turf menu on one of our first visits. Then, on an expedition late last year, Navajo Grill pushed the envelope a bit farther, delivering excellent nouveau Texas food in a charmingly ramshackle house. Finally, on our most recent trip, we discovered August E's, which may be most praiseworthy of all. Since Fredericksburg is, after all, quite the little place, it was only a short drive from our favorite bed and breakfast to our newly discovered cathedral of consumption.

August E's is housed in a warehouse-type structure that would make Le Corbusier proud. Exposed metal beams and concrete walls give an Elmer Rice feel to the place, made warmer by excellent postmodern artwork hanging from said walls. White tablecloths and black-clad waitstaff add a touch of elegance to the place, a very urban feel unlike any other to be found in the Hill Country outside of Austin. Since we had Valentine's Day celebration reservations, we were shown right to our table and were taken charge of almost at once.

We began our repast with salad, specifically the Ebers Haus Green Salad, a fetching blend of field greens, tomatoes, spiced pecans, and a delightfully tart Dijon honey balsamic vinaigrette with parmesan cheese. A salad designed to whet rather than totally sate the appetite. Since August E's is a sushi house as well as a formal restaurant, we decided to attack a sushi roll appetizer next. The Jimmy Walker featured a shrimp tempura roll with cucumber, avocado, and caviar. Very good, but not quite as dyno-mite as I would have hoped; a bit more heat might just have punched this palate pleaser to the next level. Luckily, our entrees took the dining experience to that level. In most class establishments, getting the Fish Du Jour is often an excellent choice, and my wife's entree was very fresh fish, simply grilled and served with creamy marscapone whipped potatoes and sauteed sugar snap peas with herb butter cream. Light yet rich and very satisfying. My own choice was Beef Wellington, very rare tenderloin topped with pate and duxelles and served with more of those marscapone potatoes and seasonal mixed vegetables. Again, quite filling but light at the same time; chef Leu Savanh really knows how to sate his guests without stuffing them to the point where movement becomes difficult. We paired our dishes with Castle Rock Pinot Noir, a great food wine with plenty of berries and spice. Dessert was another knockout, flourless chocolate cake with chocolate sauce, more like cheesecake than cake cake, again, quite satisfying without being overwhelming.

Service was excellent and perfectly paced for a leisurely celebration that nonetheless moved along in timely fashion. Website is, and reservations are recommended, particularly on busy evenings.

Overall, August E's Restaurant is another Fredericksburg establishment which, if it were moved a couple of hundred miles north, could easily give Dallas chefs a run for their money. Discover your postmodern place soon, and remember:


Monday, February 15, 2010

Delish Dish 4: Beef Brisket at Inman's BBQ Kitchen & Catering, Llano, TX

Many years ago, a writer at Texas Monthly wrote an article in which he scoffed at the idea of Lockhart, Texas as the Holy Mecca of Barbecue. In his view, Llano barbecue was even better, delivering more of the true Texas campfire flavor and texture that made a diner feel like eating from a chuckwagon on the open range. Over the years, I've managed to venture several times to two of these three eateries, the justly-famous Coopers and the lesser-known Lairds. Both, particularly Coopers, deliver stellar barbecue, but I just felt that Louis Muellers in Taylor was a tiny bit better than both when it came to brisket. Recently, my lovely wife the Rock Star and I were enjoying a wine tasting at nearby Fall Creek Winery when the discourse happened to fall upon barbecue. The proprietors said they indeed enjoyed both Coopers and Lairds, but the best of all was Inman's Kitchen, a locals favorite that just happened to be the third place mentioned by Texas Monthly long ago. Since it was lunchtime, my wife and I determined to check out Inman's for ourselves, and duly made our way there when said tasting was completed.

Housed in a former hospital, Inman's may not have the delightful vibe of either Lairds rambling house or Coopers open dining room, but the welcome was quite warm. We placed our orders for two meat plates, the better to sample it all, including turkey breast, turkey sausage, ribs, and brisket. Inman's is justly famous for their turkey sausage, which delivered a peppery kick, and the ribs, turkey breast and sides, particularly coleslaw, were excellent as well. But the undeniable star of both plates was the brisket. One bite of that juicy, savory masterpiece gave me the campfire flavor and texture I was searching for, simultaneously tender and chewy, with an impossibly long, slow smoky finish that stayed on the tastebuds for a long time. In short, a brisket to rival anything I've had in Lockhart or Taylor, or at Coopers for that matter. Website is if you should wish to journey to Llano, and finding Inman's is easy in this town of 3500; heading West, it's just down the street from Coopers, on the right. Find your own campfire fixin's tonight, and remember:


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Delish Dish 3: Judias Verdes con Jamon Serrano en Salsa de Mostaza at Si Tapas

We Americans like to think we have the best bar food in the world. Our wings, nachos, and cheese sticks certainly provide filling fare, and they are generally hearty and satisfying. However, other countries have intriguing pub grub as well, from English fish and chips to Irish corned beef and cabbage to Germany's renowned bratwurst. Surprisingly, Spain just might have them all beat with tapas. Varieties of dishes are endless, from cold cuts like chorizo and lomo (sausage and pork loin), to marinated olive plates and salad dishes such as Tomato al Ajillo (tomato garlic salad), to a procession of hot plates including Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp in garlic), Pincho Moruno (beef on skewer), and Pollo en Cerveza (chicken sauteed in beer sauce). All are devoured eagerly by hungry patrons, who use the smallish portions at Happy Hour to tide them over until dinnertime, or who may arrive a little later, order more, and use them to stand in for the evening meal itself. They also make a fabulous brunch repast, as my lovely wife the Rock Star and I found when we motored down to the State-Thomas area of Dallas one recent Sunday noontide.

Si Tapas Restaurant is housed proudly in a restored casa amongst the delightfully quaint streets of State-Thomas, and the equally delightful owner assured us our car would not be towed if we used the Notre Dame Cathedral parking lot. Dodging omnipresent construction equipment, we soon entered a little corner of Valencia, with ramshackle rooms such as the former garage where we were seated. Flamenco guitar music completed the illusion, and we soon commenced to order. All of the tapas we tried were excellent, but for my money the Judias Verdes con Jamon Serrano en Salsa de Mostaza was the standout. This dish translated into fresh, French-style green beans with Serrano ham, which is salt-cured and similar to Italian prosciutto, all served with righteously spiced mustard sauce which really fused the ham and green beans together into a completely new twist on a combination of two picnic standbyes. Unlike Easter dinner, this combination was light and refreshing, yet surprisingly hearty, as were all the tapas we tried that day. Service was very good as well, and the whole effect was like dining with an Iberian family in their private abode. Say yes to Si Tapas soon, and remember:


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Delish Dish #2: Pizza at Cafe Gecko

Oh, the pizza conundrum! Marriage is, of course, the ultimate conundrum and involves many challenges daily between my self and my spouse. For example, we both love pizza (who doesn't?), but we have two distinctly different pizza philosophies. My lovely wife the Rock Star grew up in an age when doubling or tripling meats and piling on tons of extra cheese was the norm. Unfortunately, this type of pie doesn't work for me; I prefer the old-time pizza parlor variety featuring balanced ingredients, great crust, and most of all, great sauce. Needless to say, it's like pulling hen's teeth to find a joint that will give us both what we want on one pie. Luckily, since we have discovered Cafe Gecko and cooks that will give us what we want, we are both quite content.

Although Cafe Gecko sports a few premade pizzas like the sweet and spicy Chichinitza and the seafood-friendly Pizza Del Mar, we usually opt to build our own. After numerous attempts that were only partially successful, we've hit upon a favorite that works for us: Double pepperoni with extra sauce. You see, Gecko puts enough cheese on their pizza that you don't need to order extra, and if you were to load a pizza with extra cheese, meat, and sauce, the resulting mess is usually a cumbersome disaster. Plus, the cooks here truly understand sauce and add just enough extra to give the pie a saucy flavor profile that is far from messy. Instead, the slightly sweet, spicy sauce plays perfectly with savory pepperoni and crunchy chewy crust. We seldom leave leftovers. Toss in a wonderfully convival atmosphere, and waitresses who know our drink preferences when we walk in, and you can see why we're regulars. Website is if you care to investigate. Solve your own pizza conundrum today, and remember:


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Delish Dish #1: Enchiladas Suizas at Veracruz Cafe

"Few places have had a history as stormy as that of Veracruz, Mexico." So ring the stentorian tones of the website of Veracruz Cafe. This little bistro is located in the ever-evolving Bishop Arts District, which is a kind of Hispanic Deep Ellum, if you will, where newly-renovated buildings welcome the adventurous. I made my way to this quaint little corner of Oak Cliff in search of Enchiladas Suizas, a rich, creamy chicken concoction I first sampled in Austin many moons ago.

Veracruz Cafe sits next to Cafe Madrid in one of these refurbished gems, with plenty of free parking in the back if you just turn the corner and drive about twenty steps down the sidestreet. The ochre interior bespeaks Mexican Coastal, although the chairs are fairly straightforward. The Cafe's dish is part of its Authentic Blue Corn Enchiladas series, three largish tortillas stuffed with marinated chicken and topped with Huasteca red sauce, queso fundido, and cream sauce. I'm getting smarter in my adventuring and asked for an off-the-menu salsa. Happily, Veracruz Cafe has one of the best in town, and the molten, slightly oily picante fused the dish into a silken, caliente delight. In all, the Enchiladas Suizas at Veracruz Cafe were the stars of one of the better Mexican lunches I've had recently. Website is, if you're suitably intrigued. Set off on your own adventure soon, and remember:


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Wine Corner Review #58: Wilhelm Bergmann Eiswein

Contrary to what many people believe, ice wines did not originate in Canada, although our northern neighbor crafts some very nice ones. The phenomenon dates back to the Romans, but Germany is said to have crafted the first modern ice wine in the late 18th century. Production really took off in Germany in the sixties and in Canada in the eightes leading to the iced vino craze of the past decade or so. Today, some twenty or so countries produce the frosty fetish, and the one we are taking under consideration today hails from the mother country of Germany herself, the Wilhelm Bergmann Eiswein.

The robe of the Wilhelm Bergmann Eiswein is minty straw and hay. The nose can be quite off-putting, reeking a bit too much of nail polish, old rags, and Gewurztraminer-like turpentine. The patient tippler, however, will be rewarded with meade and honey on the palate, finishing nicely with mown grass. Like all fortified wines, Bergmann Eiswein is best enjoyed after dinner, probably with a nice plate of nuts and/or cheese. Good luck finding a website; after sifting through three or four Googled pages, I gave up. Still, I know some stores in this area carry it, as I received my bottle as part of a belated Christmas present. Discover your own icy treat today, and as always:


Saturday, January 9, 2010


Lawrence L Frank and Walter Van de Camp opened the original Lawry's The Prime Rib on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills in 1938. You might know Franks legacy better as the creator of Lawry's Seasoned Salt (and Pepper), cococted specially for the restaurant and an adornment of virtually every pantry in America since. Frank also designed the famous silver carts, which are brought tableside so the chef can personally cut the rib roast to suit the diner's exacting taste. Lawry's now sports ten locations worldwide, four in the States and six overseas. The Dallas location is actually now in Addison, having moved from Turtle Creek in the late nineties. My lovely wife the Rock Star has always loved prime rib since her Steak and Ale days (as a diner, not an employee). I've always had a penchant for prime myself, so it was one recent night that we decided to investigate Lawry's for ourselves.

The atmosphere at Lawry's is decidedly old-school, so much so that you will likely see as much silver atop the diner's heads as you will see it on the famous carts. Nonetheless, the dining room features white tablecloths, tall-back wooden chairs, and is guarded by lions, a combination that still connotes elegance. In fact, the decor is described as English Edwardian, but since Edward was not present to confirm this rumor, we must instead take it on faith.

Old school was in session with the menu as well, so we decided to make the most of it. My bride had seen the special program on the Travel Channel featuring Lawry's as one of Chicago's famed meat palaces, so she wanted to start with the famous spinning bowl salad. The presentation was indeed impressive, as our waitress spun the bowl, then raised the dressing bottle above her head to coat the greens from on high. Featuring crisp romaine, baby spinach, beets, chopped egg, croutons and iceberg, and topped with the dressing that reminded me of Green Goddess spiked with sherry, the salad was quite good if not as spectacular as the presentation. I fared much better with my shrimp cocktail: Five jumbo tiger prawns with a horseradish cocktail sauce that packed plenty of punch, reminding me of the days when a great steakhouse was the ultimate dining experience. The shrimp, salad, and all our dishes paired quite nicely with Greg Norman Shiraz, which added cabernet boldness and a touch of spice. In due course, the silver carts arrived. My wife and I have smaller appetites these days, however I wanted to try a bone-in cut, which is usually designated for the larger portions such as the Diamond Jim Brady. Luckily, our waitress assured us that they do have some smaller bone-in cuts, and that if one was available, we could certainly have it. My wife selected the California Cut, which was specified for lighter appetites. I assume they mean a portion designed more for a quarterback than a defensive lineman, because her slab was still quite large. I selected the traditional Lawry's Cut, and received a generous-sized portion with a bone. One bite told us instantly why Lawry's has managed to survive and thrive for over seventy years, because this was without question the most beefy tasting slab of prime I've ever tasted. The whipped cream horseradish added just the right touch of creamy burn to the meat, and the mashed potatoes were very good as well. Lawry's also serves Yorkshire pudding with every prime rib entree, which is not a dessert but rather a scorched batter meant to be served with drippings or gravy. The generous portions reminded me that Lawry's still hosts the Beef Bowl dinner to honor the two combatants in the Cotton Bowl every year, and in fact the Dallas cut is their largest cut, "as served to the Cotton Bowl teams." Ours was quite sufficient, thank you. After such a meal, how could we find room for dessert? However, we could not pass up a hot fudge sundae, made with Blue Bell ice cream and CC Brown's Hot Fudge Sauce, also sold by the restaurant if you wish to take home. After such a meal, we had no choice but to box up what was ours and leave.

Service was very accomodating and professional, as evidenced by Lawry's wish to honor my rib bone request. Website is, if you wish to make reservations or order products.

In sum, we felt we graduated magna cum laude from Lawry's The Prime Rib, and we now understand its considerable reputation. Attend your own culinary old-school yourself, and remember:


Saturday, January 2, 2010


I have to admit that I've been very lucky this year in many ways. My nonblogging writing activities have picked up steam considerably, plus I've gone to many top-notch restaurants in quest of the transcendent experience that is food at its best. Fortunately, I've not sought the Holy Grail alone, my lovely wife and partner-in-crime The Rock Star has accompanied me on all these journeys. When I consider this past year, the quality of truly superb restaurants has been staggering, and I look forward to many such endeavors in the New Year. So, again without furthur ado, here are the Food Czar Top Ten Restaurants of 2009.


At Mon Ami Gabi, the steaks are quite thin, but the sauces are quite rich. The Steak Roquefort and the Steak Bearnaise are classic examples of French saucery, and I wish more Dallas restaurants served wafer-thin frites like Gabis. The late-nite dining hours are a bonus as well.


Our Valentine's repast continued our recent brunch tradition. If destinations are too crowded and expensive at night, how about a nice, relaxing brunch? My wife's giant Lobster and Scrambled Egg Burrito was absolutely stuffed with fresh seafood and crispy bacon, while my Sliced Filet with Crab and Asparagus boasted a swarthy bite of smoked tomato hollandaise. The tender medium-rare beef reflected the endless hours Al spent toiling away at The Palm before opening his own place.


More fabulous French beef, with classic Prime Filet au Poivre prepared perfectly rare, and New York strip medium-rare with blue cheese and sherry reduction. After the main course, we were very wise indeed to save room for chocolate ganache cake.


Turkish cuisine makes good use of the grill, and Terbiyeli Sis Kebap sported charbroiled lamb marinated in hot sauce and spice, guaranteed to appeal to peppery Texas palates. Kayisi Tatlisi, dried apricots filled with cream and served with walnuts, proved that light desserts can be very satisfying after a hearty meal.

CRAFT (June)

"Let the flavors speak for themselves," is an oft-heard, much-misunderstood cliche in the restaurant business. Chefs Tom Colicchio and Anthony Zappola truly understand this concept, with a brunchtime feast of medium-rare Craft Burger with white cheddar and applewood-smoked bacon and exquisite New York Strip Steak and Eggs. The wine list is very well chosen, and we spent as much time talking about the establishment's unique architecture as we did devouring our food.


Steven Pyles is the once and future master of Southwestern cuisine, so why not enjoy a repast that showcased said mastery? Scallop and pork belly carnitas and red snapper in Thai red curry masa proved the evolving, adaptable nature of this cuisine to modern palates. Artisan breads such as blue cheese scone and potato foccacia are highlights, while desserts nearly stole the show with Mexican chocolate fondant and Deep Ellum goat's cheesecake. Himself was also onhand to meet and greet while making sure the food held up to his exacting standards.


Pappas Bros is often touted as the best steakhouse in Dallas. When former Dallas Morning News food writer Bill Addison was given a farewell party by his adoring colleagues, where do you think they dined? Perhaps they enjoyed the sensuous lobster bisque, the swarthy, char-broiled flatiron steak with triple peppercorn sauce or the dry-aged, prime New York strip that was both beefy and buttery in nature. Possibly they ended their feast with the tart lemon sorbet or the decadent chocolate peanut butter cake with chocolate ganache. If so, they truly dined as well as we on this hot August night.


My lovely wife and I were invited to this Ritzy hotspot as a part of the Go Texan celebration. For our efforts, we were rewarded with course after course of sheer bliss. Poblano shooters. "Million Dollar" Chicken Tortilla Soup. Barbecued Shrimp Taco. Peach BBQ Glazed Bobwhite Quail. Dublin Dr Pepper Braised Beef Short Ribs. English cut NilGai Antelope. Cheese courses. Matching wines and port. Finally, Fearings excellent coffee. One of the best meals we've had in 2009. Period.


Coast's Daily Excursion is a three-course delight offered during weekdays, and ours featured splendid Roasted Halibut and Julia Child favorite Atlantic Lemon Sole Meuniere. Desserts were a highlight, and the stunning view of the Bellagio-style fountain is always a special treat at night.


The restored private house is a charmingly rambling setting for rustic fine dining, and the nutty, buttery trout and perfectly prepared filet made for a memorable celebration indeed. Corn soup was a sinfully rich concoction, made thoroughly Texan with pepper jack cheese and tortilla strips.

2009 Honorable Mention Worthy of Mention:

-Yolo's Mexican Grill, Las Vegas, Nevada (Jan)

Thus, I must stick a fork in 2009 and call it done. Possibly my finest year of dining bliss ever. Hopefully, 2010 will be equally well disposed. Discover your own dining bliss soon, and remember: