Category: Restaurants


Los Jalapenos

May 8th, 2011 — 8:00am

Pechuga Rellena

It will probably seem strange talking one day about one of the best and priciest restaurants in Dallas and the next time talking about one of the best bargains around with some of the best Mexican food. One restaurant housed in one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in Dallas, the other in a strip mall in Carrollton. I am a believer that a review should be based on the value received. If the food is expensive it had better be over-the-top good much like Abacus. If it is less pricey you can give a bit of leeway for cutting some corners as long as the food is still good. At Los Jalapenos the food is very good. The value received remarkable given the price.

I have done a lot of griping about Tex-Mex not really being authentic Mexican food. I will not go into that again here. Although the menu at Los Jalapenos says that the Mexican food has a Texas influence, I think that is more because they do not want to scare any gringoes away by telling the real story. That the food is about as Mexican as you can get. The only ingredient missing is the total chaos of a real Mexican restaurant. Perhaps things are more organized the further away we get from the border.

Pollo Poblano

The menu has the usual suspects enchiladas, tacos in a variety of formats. However, for about a dollar more you can get something from the Especialidades de la Casa menu which will bring you into the authentic Mexican territory. I highly recommend the Pollo Poblano, which is a chicken breast in a poblano cream sauce and topped with monterrey jack cheese. And I enthusiastically recommend the Pechuga Rellena a rolled chicken breast filled with ham, cheese and pico de gallo covered is what is called Francis’ special sauce. There is just enough heat in the sauce to match up with the cheesy filling. If you want some satisfying food this is a great choice. While I have not ordered anything else from this part of the menu everything looks very authentic and freshly made.

The good news is unlike Abacus you will not need an abacus to tally up the bill. For about $8 to $10 dollars you can get a great, filling, satisfying meal. And if you add a couple of glasses of wine like me, you may get your bill up to about $15. Not a bad deal considering the quality of the food.

Los Jalapenos
3615 N. Josey Lane (at Rosemeade)
Carrollton, TX 75007
972-394-7600
www.los-jalapenos.com/

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Abacus

May 6th, 2011 — 7:59am

Happy Birthday Menu

There are those restaurants you hear about that you approach slowly. The rave reviews seem a bit overwhelming. In Dallas you are never sure if it is the fad of the month or something really good. And at a certain price point you worry is there enough there to make it worth a sizable investment. In Dallas, let’s face it, you can spend a lot of money on some not so very good meals. Luckily the worrying was taken away from me when Will took me to Abacus for my birthday. The investment was his problem at that point.

I am very happy to report that the rave reviews are correct. The service was of a level not seen anywhere else in Dallas, except perhaps at the French Room. The great food, and the the great service, were complemented by some very wise wine pairings. All I can say is “Wow.” Let’s dig in.

We opted for the six course tasting menu. We put our evening in the very capable hands of Scott (ask for him he does some magic tricks with the wine), we sat back and just relished the whole experience.

First course: Wood grilled Hawaiian Walu, with sugar snap peas, and Wagyu beef dumplings in a white soy and lemongrass broth, served with the Pine Ridge Viognier-Chenin Blanc. I always enjoy creative fish and meat pairings. This was just an incredible combination. With the wine, it was a perfect first course.

Second Course: Pan roasted Alaskan ivory salmon, sweet corn puree, spring peas, grilled ramps, drizzled with a Tahitian vanilla maple syrup, served with the Franciscan chardonnay. When I thought about this the whole maple syrup and salmon idea really did not thrill me. When I tasted it I finally got it. It was an interesting combination of sweet and savory leaning way over to the sweet side. All I can say is that the whole dish works well. Another remarkable course.

Third course: A bit or sorbet to cleanse the palate.

Fourth course: Niman Ranch pork tenderloin, ancho honey glaze, grilled jalapeno-potato hash, cilantro pesto broth served with a MacMurray pinot noir. Pork tenderloin is not something I would usually order at a restaurant. This was perfectly cooked (pink is a good color for pork) and the touch of sweetness with the bit of heat worked very well.

Fifth course: Spiced buffalo with fava beans, wild mushrooms, white asparagus, and spicy carrot puree served with a Rombauer Cabernet. I guess every Dallas tasting menu has to have that piece of meat. While this was the least remarkable of the courses it was perfectly cooked and the carrot puree was great.

After the first five plates the dessert was a very simple custard with a raspberry sauce served with a bit of sherry. It was wonderfully simple yet still a bit decadent.

I have to admit the whole evening was definitely a wonderful dining event. And I do mean event. With all the plates and different wines and not one person missing a beat in the kitchen or dining room it was really a treat to see it all unfold. There was minor pause in the service which Scott graciously filled with a bit more wine. Who can complain about that.

You will need an abacus to tally up the bill. Such food and service does not come without expense. For a special occasion or event this is really an investment well worth making.

Abacus
4511 McKinney Avenue
Dallas, TX 75205
214-559-3111
www.kentrathbun.com/abacus/dallas/index.php

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Nonna Dallas

April 22nd, 2011 — 7:31am

Nonna

With all the good press and generally great comments from anyone who has ever eaten there I have tried to get to Nonna Dallas for a couple of years. For four months I drove by it on the way to work thinking that “this week I am definitely going to go.” Well a few weeks ago I actually made it.

I have read many interviews with Chef Julian Barsotti about how Nonna was about being a neighborhood restaurant. Being on the border between Highland Park and the City of Dallas also would require a bit of sophistication. The food and ambiance capture both the neighborhood and the sophistication very well. On our visit we opted not to fill up on the extensive menu. I opted for the pappardelle bolognese and Will opted for the grilled lamb chops. Not being overly hungry we split the grilled hearts of romaine salad with pancetta, avocado and parmigiano.

It was clear that this was going to be a meal of Italian treats influenced by some Texas flair. The romaine with the avocado and parmigiano was a great start. Perfectly grilled, the romaine was still quite crisp and the combination of ingredients made it into an interesting first course. The pappardelle bolognese was made of perfectly cooked fresh noodles in a bolognese dominated by beef brisket. The sauce was in perfect proportion to the pasta and the brisket twist once again added a bit of Texas to a lot of Italy. The lamb chops were once again perfectly cooked, medium rare, with a delicious sear on the outside while remaining cool and pink on the inside.

The ambiance is distinctly neighborhood. The rooms are understated and while we were there used some of the natural light available from the longer spring evenings. The place seemed to be populated with mostly Highland Park regulars enjoying a weekday evening out. It would work for a special occasion as well. It is just that the restaurant has clearly caught on strongly with the neighborhood.

I would definitely add my highest recommendation to Nonna. Not that it really needs it will

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all the great press and all the locals who find it a great place to dine even on a not so special occasion.

Nonna
4115 Lomo Alta Drive (Across from Whole Foods)
Dallas, TX 75219
521-1800
www.nonnadallas.com

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Almost Mexico

March 27th, 2011 — 6:23pm

El Paso at Night From Franklin Mountains

I spent the weekend in El Paso last weekend. I have been there so many times for work and have spent very little time wandering about the city. In the past I have stuck to venturing out as far as the hotel shuttle will take you. This weekend I was a bit more adventurous, and with a little bit of free time, and some assistance from my friends Lionel and Emmanuel who live in Juarez and El Paso, respectively, I was able to get a better sense of the place.

It would be easy to overlook the city. The brown sand, blends with the brown mountains, which overpower the senses. The vast expanse of the barrios of Juarez largely dominate the view from the airport to the downtown area. It is hard to figure out where El Paso ends and where Juarez begins until you get close to the border and see the border fence. You can almost touch the relative poverty of Juarez while standing in the prosperity and safety of El Paso. It is of course this duality that makes El Paso so different. The city has its feet firmly planted on both sides of the border. It could not survive without Mexico and yet it aspires to be something more American. Living in these two worlds creates a very special vitality.

The food scene is dominated largely by the major American chains. I noticed this trend when I was living in Monterrey, Mexico in the 1990’s. The Mexican culture was embracing the concepts of “Red Lobster” and “Chili’s” much to the detriment of the local culture and cuisine. To that end El Paso is clearly an American city. But there were signs that not all is fast food sameness in the city. One good example, Mi Piaci (not to be confused with the restaurant of the same name in Dallas) clearly was making some excellent Italian cuisine, sometimes with a bit of a Mexican twist. In my case my Penne Diavola was spiced not only with the traditional red pepper flakes, it was also spiced with some chipotle peppers, lending the dish a bit of a smoky flavor. While not exactly authentic Italian it worked well. My friend Emmanuel opted for a more traditional pollo parmigiana, which was prepared with a Latin-influenced pollo milanesa, topped with the usual sauce and cheese. The milanesa was so thin and the crust so perfectly browned it really did not need any sauce. The dish was perfectly executed and incredibly satisfying.

I suppose you are wondering about the Mexican cuisine. I have only eaten at two Mexican restaurants in the city. I can honestly say I have had better Mexican food in Juarez (when it was safe to go there) and in San Antonio (La Fogata). For some reason the border cities like McAllen and El Paso rely too much on American convenience and go for the canned rather than the fresh foods. Unfortunately they are too much like the restaurant “On The Border” and not enough like the fresh-cooked food you can get at any roadside stand in Mexico. I can recommend “Los Bandidos de Carlos and Mickey’s” or more commonly “Carlos and Mickey’s.” The food is very good and simply prepared. You can order all the usual Mexican food dishes. It adds a note of festivity with a lively bar scene, and live music every night. And of course my favorite Mexican ingredient, chaos. There is nothing like sipping a drink while watching a bunch of people try to manage a crowded restaurant with no one really in charge and no one responsible for doing anything. Honestly, those moments are priceless.

The most important aspect of the food scene would be seeing the influence of Mexican culture on the dining environment. The evening meal is a time for enjoyment with friends and family. It is generally eaten much later and much slower than the typical American restaurant meal. While I have often written about the enjoyment of a quiet meal alone, dining alone here would elicit stares and I am sure more than a few comments about the fact that that poor man has no friends. It is not uncommon to see six to ten people enjoying a meal together eliciting their own subculture of chaos and of enjoyment, experiencing a time of food and camaraderie. To that end maybe it really makes little difference where you dine. It may be more important with whom you dine. Last weekend the camaraderie was very good.

2 comments » | Musings, Restaurants, Travel

The Safe Bet

March 11th, 2011 — 9:30am

The Warwick Melrose Lobby

In the fast pace of the past few months we have often forgotten to just have an evening for ourselves. We had time for a Sunday night tapas dinner at Maguire’s a few weeks ago. This week we decided to make a little time for a quiet evening out. Something we have not had the energy or time to do in a long time.

Selecting where to go then becomes an issue. I usually try to opt for something new. Will on the other hand usually prefers the tried and true figuring you know what you will be getting when you get there. We decided to go for the tried and true and ended up at the Landmark Restaurant at the Warwick Melrose on Oak Lawn Avenue. I have not eaten there in ten years so it also sufficed for a new dining experience as well.

I used to stay at the hotel frequently when it was just called the Melrose. The restaurant was a good place to eat if a bit uninspiring. Most of the action always seemed to be concentrated in the Library Bar, which was once one of the more trendy places to see and be seen in Dallas. I even celebrated my 40th birthday in the restaurant. An evening that devolved into all night pub crawl down Cedar Springs. One of the best reasons to stay at the hotel is to be able to walk home after an evening out.

In general I was pretty impressed with the menu changes. I am not sure they are trying to tackle any one cuisine. There is a quite a bit of Asian influence, mixed in with some Northern Italian, and everything else seems to be a safe American choice. There is a fair amount of ingenuity in the offerings. Although being a hotel restaurant there have to be a few of the standards available to meet the needs of the traveling public. I write a much longer review of the evening. If you have not been back to the Landmark in awhile I definitely think it would be worth a second look.

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Updates…

February 17th, 2011 — 8:00am

La Fogata - San Antonio, TX

After you have been writing a blog for awhile you realize that a few things on the site really need some updating. In rereading some of the early posts I also realized that a good editor would have been helpful in the beginning. A conversational writing style works well to a point. If you do not know me that well, my conversations can be a bit chaotic at times. Ergo the blog was a bit rambling in the beginning. I was thinking about reediting some of the entries. I then quickly reconsidered as the early entries were sincere attempts at finding a writing style. So the ramblings will stay.

As to the other updates we have two. I recently revisited La Fogata, the Mexican restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. I also found a better way to make the leek gratin. As to La Fogata I have to say that my original review was quite accurate. This is a great place to enjoy authentic Mexican cuisine. Now I know you are saying, “What does the old gringo know about Mexican cuisine?” (Or perhaps “El gringo viejo no entiende la comida Mexicana!”) But the old gringo does know a thing or two about Mexican food. And with the help of two people who were born in Mexico, my friends Lionel and Emmanuel, I was able to get a “si o no” about the place. Both said “si” and I did as well.

The last time I was there it was a very slow Sunday night. I did not get a really good feel about the restaurant when it is full. The second time I went on a Saturday night. Wow! It was like being in some chaotic Mexican mercado, with people, food and drinks flying everywhere. This type of atmosphere only made the evening more enjoyable. The staff was very attentive despite the crowds. The food was very good, this time I had pechuga poblano, a grilled chicken breast in a poblano cream sauce and topped with thin strips of poblano pepper, and my companion had the tacos campesinos, corn tortillas filled with chicken and refried beans. Both dishes were so simple and satisfying. This is not a place for a quiet date. But if you want some good, simple Mexican food I highly recommend it.

Leek Gratin Revised

I was also able to make the leek gratin the other night with my filet mignon. When I was at the store the leeks were of the very thin variety. It turns out that this is a much better way to make the leek gratin. The thin leeks seemed to be more tender and a bit sweeter than the larger option. And the portions are much more manageable than having some gigantic leek covered in cheesy goodness. I know most times you have to buy the leeks in bundles. If you are making the leek gratin try to get the leeks as thin as possible. I think it makes a big difference in the taste.

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Back to Reality

September 12th, 2010 — 11:13am

Sunrise Near Tracy Arm Fjord Alaska

We are back from our Cruise to Alaska and British Columbia. It was a mixture of awe inspiring and disappointing. The natural beauty of Alaska and Western Canada is hard to describe especially in the areas that are relatively untouched by the tourism industry. We were fortunate enough to traverse the length of the Tracy Arm Fjord and see the Sawyer Glacier give up large chunks of ice (referred to as calving). It is an amazing sight that very few people ever see due to restrictions on the types of vessels allowed into the area. Our ship also struck a very large ice berg inside the fjord, causing the ship to shudder and shake, prompting the captain to announce that it “barely scratched the paint.” Good thing the ship is heading to dry dock soon.

The behavior of our fellow humans when they are in close proximity to unlimited food and tourist trinkets was nothing short of depressing. Most of the people on our cruise ship of 2,000 people never even got close to an outdoor adventure unless you consider shopping in Juneau a reason to go to Alaska. I do not know when traveling became such a passive activity. Spending all that money to look out at all that Alaska and Canada has to offer from the deck of a ship is a bit off-putting. I think cruising will once again drop to my least preferred method of travel as it did in the 1980’s.

Before we left on the cruise we did have a day to explore Seattle. We stumbled upon Café Campagne on our way to the Public Market. This was a very lucky find and led to the most memorable meal of the trip. I wrote up a review under the restaurant section. If you are ever in Seattle this is a stop worth making. We also had a nice dinner at Red Fin, which was primarily sushi, the less adventurous maki variety. I am not an aficionado of sushi so I did not write a review. It all seemed quite good to me. I also followed up the next morning with a breakfast at Red Fin, which was attached to our hotel, the Hotel Max. The breakfast was an interesting “hash” of sausage, chicken, and pickled vegetables complemented by a red pepper coulis; an unusual but delicious combination. I highly recommend the Hotel Max; funky, modern, chic and not so very expensive.

I also could not pass up the opportunity to write about the food on the cruise ship Celebrity Infinity. With the way people were consuming the food you would think the place had five Michelin stars. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although the concepts for the food were interesting the actual food itself made Olive Garden look good. Oh well. At least I got to see a few whales along the way.

6 comments » | Musings, Restaurants, Travel

“I’m Busy”

June 15th, 2010 — 1:26pm

The Ham Museum - Buenos Aires

I have been a bit remiss in adding new post for the past few days. I, unfortunately, have a real job, and I have actually been busy writing my guide to Buenos Aires. I know most of you will be heading there soon so I will get it done just as soon as possible.

I did find out when we were in Buenos Aires that guide books, restaurant reviewers, and (surprise, surprise) the people on the Travel Channel are not always very honest. I get a sense there is a little payola involved, especially at the Travel Channel. So you do not make the mistakes we made, I will give you “The Busy Gourmand” version of a review. Because I actually paid for all this stuff on my own. The overview of the guide is published. The rest will come out in dribs and drabs.

I just finished the “Restaurant” section of my guide. It has a nice overview of what to expect and I provide in depth reviews of six restaurants. Four of the restaurants are definitely “Highly Recommended,” one is a “Maybe,” and one is a “Do Not Bother.”

They break down as follows:

Highly Recommended:
Brasserie Petanque, French Cuisine, San Telmo
Omm, Bar and Tapas, Palermo Hollywood
Impetu, Porteňo, Palermo Viejo
El Timon, Porteňo, Palermo Hollywood

Maybe:
Campo Bravo, Parrilla, Palermo Hollywoood

Do Not Bother:
Café Tortoni, Café, Congreso

Tonight I am making tomato sauce from scratch. Wish me luck!

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Little Gems

May 11th, 2010 — 9:07am

Birmingham, Alabama

I travel extensively throughout the United States for work. The traveling part is pure drudgery with all the new rules, regulations, and extra charges. You can sometimes make up for the drudgery by finding places to eat that offer you food that you can only get in certain parts of the country. Most of them are not fine dining establishments. I have eaten at a bowling alley in Fort Wayne, Indiana (great burgers) a truck stop in Oklahoma (great fried chicken), and a gas station on the way to Austin, Texas (great bratwurst). You just never know when you will find something that really perks up the taste buds.

This past weekend I was working in Birmingham, Alabama. The city was a very pleasant surprise. It is clean, compact, and easy to walk around. The natives are all very friendly and willing to turn you in the right direction. I find that charm is inversely proportional to sophistication. The city is definitely charming but I get a sense that they hide their sophistication well so as not to be too pretentious.

I did find one of those little dining gems while there. John’s City Diner was a very nice surprise. Located in the middle of downtown it is a very unpretentious local hang out that had the menu of a sophisticated restaurant infused with those southern trifles like choosing from a list of side dishes and of course homemade cornbread. You can get a nice Malbec for $6 per glass or spend $110 on a vintage cabernet. You can enjoy your wine with meatloaf or perhaps a crispy duck would suit you better. If you find yourself in Birmingham it would be worth wandering down to see John’s City Diner.

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Dining and Learning

May 1st, 2010 — 8:00am

Wine Dinner Menu

As you have probably figured out I like to talk about food. There is nothing better than a conversation about how raw ingredients come together to form a nice dish. And I can hold my own in an argument about grilling, searing, or baking. I am decidedly at a loss when it comes to the subject of wine. I know what I like. But leading someone in a conversation about what makes a good wine a good wine, well let’s just say I am more on the listening end of that conversation.

Last night was my birthday (Don’t ask!) and I decided instead of the usual gorging on an expensive dinner that we would go to a wine tasting dinner instead. A local restaurant, Maguire’s, has been offering these dinners for the past couple of years. The concept is a four or five course meal with each course paired with a different wine from one specific winery. The menus always appeal to me and getting to taste a variety of usually expensive wines, all for under $100 per person, really appeals to me.

The only way to describe it is delicious, fun, and educational. I am not sure I have ever used those three adjectives in one sentence. The food ranged from safely traditional to innovative. A sea bass wrapped in prosciutto laid out on a sun dried tomato pesto won the night. The Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc (2007) and the Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon (2007) carried the evening on the wine side of the menu.

More importantly we lucked out and shared a table with two couples who were fun, and knowledgeable about wines and travel. What else could you ask for at a wine dinner? We are definitely going to try these dinners again. It also gave me a reason to add Maguire’s Restaurant to the section on restaurant reviews.

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