The shortcut name of this new knox-Henderson restaurant—what you’ll call it when you meet there for drinks—is Aló. As in, “I’ll see you at 7 at Aló.” But go to the “subhead”—Aló Cenaduria and Piqueos—to get a glimpse of the latest culinary direction taken by Dunia and Espartaco Borga, the husband-and-wife team behind La Duni Latin Cafe and its sibling, La Duni Latin Kitchen and Baking Studio.
With La Duni, they’ve already won accolades for having the best desserts in town, mastered the concept of a dining experience both intriguing and affordable, and created two of the most vibrantly urban rooms in the city. La Duni customers come from all walks, from society ladies to tasteful penny-pinchers to savvy émigrés who know sophistication when they see it. In Dallas, it doesn’t get much more cosmopolitan than this. (Let’s not even get into the fact that the pair also seem to have achieved that enviable state of “having it all,” of finding the perfect balance of work and family, and doing all of the above with grace and humility. Because then we’d really have to hate them.)
“Cenaduria” comes from the word “cena,” which means “supper,” and refers to a strata of mom-and-pop restaurants found in the west-central states of Mexico, particularly Sinaloa and Jalisco. They are the ultimate neighborhood spot. “Piqueos” are Peruvian appetizers or “small plates.” Working with the Borgas on all this fusion-ing is chef Julia Lopez, a rising young star who attended El Centro College and worked at the Marriott and the Mansion on Turtle Creek.
Their mix of homey, authentic Mexican and Peruvian food offers Dallas diners another lesson in Latin cuisine, along with the Peruvian-themed SushiSamba and authentic Mexican places such as Cafe San Miguel, Trece, and Tradicion. Aló also hops on the bandwagon of Mexican street food, along with Tecole Taco House and Urban Taco.
Exhibit A: elote, steamed corn on the cob, sold on street carts in Mexico and Central America. Aló uses white corn on the cob, cut into chunks and thankfully cooked until soft but not mushy, then sprinkled with white cotija cheese and chile powder. During Aló’s first few weeks, servers offered this gratis, along with the addictive complimentary snack: roasted whole Peruvian kernels, crunchy on the outside, soft inside, served warm and sprinkled with salt.
The menu can be tough to navigate. Its many side dishes and appetizers and lack of traditional categories can overwhelm. You’re sort of supposed to “go tapas” and share, which can be disconcerting if you’re not prepared. The foursome at my table ordered what they thought would be entrees, only to get dishes one or two at a time, with an order from the dashing young server to go ahead and share.
Peruvian dishes include those both familiar and novel, from anticuchos (skewered grilled meats served with a spicy dipping sauce) to tiraditos (thinly sliced raw fish that feel like an exotic spin on sashimi).
Causas, Peruvian mashed potato casseroles, were cute: three bitty mounds of mashed potato lined up on a plate, with bits of meat perched precariously on top. Neat idea, but it looked better than it tasted, with the potatoes rather cool and grainy, and the toppings—smoked salmon, shrimp, calamari—served in portions too meager to make an impression.
Gringas made for ideal sharing. Somewhere between enchilada and panini, they consisted of a tortilla enclosing a meaty, cheesy filling and pressed until hot. The filling of chicken, grilled onion, spinach, and goat cheese had an upscale, wholesome lightness. Other options included shrimp or ribeye and mushrooms.
If you long for a more traditional entrée experience, go for asadas, grilled items served on an iron skillet. Bypass the steak and seafood for lamb chops with buttery-good texture and flavor, served with excellent sweet potato “camote” fries sprinkled judiciously with kosher salt. Or try saltados, a Peruvian stir-fry of meat and vegetables. Seasoning was superb, spicy hot but not scorching, with a thrilling flare of heat that subsided quickly enough to make you want to take another bite.
The biggest letdown was tacu tacu, a Peruvian dish made from leftover rice and beans that’s been adopted by Creole cooks. Yay for its use of black beans, but the flavor seemed dim. Maybe the problem was getting it with seafood, which turned out to be little more than calamari tentacles. The classic version with fried or scrambled egg is probably the way to go.
The slew of sides brought many moments of greatness, especially sweet plantains, with crisp brown edges and a deliciously starchy, tender center. And there were two kinds of rice—one with butter and white corn, another with tomatillo and cilantro.
Of course Aló has Dunia’s legendary cuatro leches cake, drizzled with caramel and served here with berries. Warm Belgian chocolate pecan tart was dark, intense, and not too sweet. Not so crazy about the chocolate mousse and orange Bavarian cream napoleon, but “ice cream bowls” were sloppy good, like something you’d make at home, with all sorts of ice cream—banana, coconut, white chocolate—topped with chocolate sauce, apricot preserves, and candied roasted nuts.
Aló has a major commitment to cocktails, following the current trend toward bold drinks with chunky fruit. An entire set of flaming drinks involves fires being ignited at the bar. If the Yawar is representative, with its overdose of cherries, they can put out the fire. But the piercingly flavorful, slightly floral martini-like Shaken Mariana, made with exotic lychee fruit, merits a trip on its own. Speaking of piercing, the place is LOUD. Décor is a showstopper, stylishly retro-modern with whimsical upholstered ottoman stools in the bar. See you at 7 at Aló.
Get contact information for Alo.