FAST FOOD and the Moral Majority have this in common: both are often neither.
There is no apparent reason why fast food should be synonymous with junk food or bad food, but too often it is. This is unfortunate because even the fattest of fat cats on an expense account sometimes has occasion for a meal on the run – the night before the annual budget is due, say, or some such pressing obligation when there simply is not time for the usual interlude at Calluaud.
Then there is your average, hypertensive Type A, who always has too much to do in too little time, and can be heard making White Rabbit-like noises as he falls further and further behind.
If this person is part of a working couple with, God forbid, children to deal with, it is exceedingly hard to find (a) the time to cook at home or (b) the money and the time to eat out in a “regular” restaurant. (Although no one ever believes it, restaurant reviewers for this magazine report that after a few months of eating out almost nightly at plush establishments, the thrill begins to pall.) The main reason is time: In any such restaurant, you are looking at a minimum of two hours for dinner – not including transportation time if you live in North Dallas and want to eat on McKinney Avenue or if you live in Oak Cliff and want to eat anywhere. One gets tired of having one’s life eaten up while waiting for indolent waiters to deliver the check and allow one to get the hell out of the establishment in question.
This means that the family unit is going to be seeing a lot of the Colonel, or Ronald McDonald, or Jack in the Box, or Burger King. Most children are genuinely crazy for fast food, anyway. They love the very characteristics that give discerning adults the willies: the blandness of the food, the unreal brightness of the surroundings. The only subject of parental guilt should therefore be nutritional. (According to nutrition-writer Jane Brody in “Jane Brody’s Nutrition Book,” fast food provides plenty of protein, too much fat and sodium, and not enough fiber, vitamins or minerals.)
Clearly, the rationale for fast food is valid. Given that, the only issue becomes developing a strategy of eating well on the run, and the only question is “Where?”
When we set out to examine fast food in Dallas, we turned to the phone book and were dizzied (and a little nauseated) by the multitude of fast food possibilities. How can we limit our report to a manageable scope in terms of space and the R1F (reviewer’s intestinal fortitude) factor?
We decided to concentrate on the franchises with the largest number of outposts. Bigger may not necessarily be better, but ’the big guy wins’ is a classic tenet of American business, and good enough for us. Also, the more extra-crunchy Burger Whops in the area, the more likely it is that one is around the corner from you.
Our methodology was simple and unscientific: a fast flip through the phone book. We determined that four franchises were most widely distributed through Dallas: Burger King, Jack in the Box, McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Originally, we wanted to time our fast food adventures. But we soon discovered that waiting time varies wildly at different locations of the same chain and even at the same location, depending on time of day, number of patrons, mental alertness of the personnel and other variables.
We discovered one truth, though: The speed with which one’s food is produced is in direct inverse proportion to how desperately in a hurry one is. That is to say, we waited 21 minutes one morning after already oversleeping and finding it 1m-perative to stop at the cleaner’s, buy cat food and gas up the car. Conversely, our food appeared in something like 90 seconds on a lazy weekend night at 11 p.m., when we would have been perfectly content to wait a couple of hours.
We noticed that a lot depends on the frame of mind of one’s (usually teen-aged) order-taker. With a few rather frighten-ingly cheerful, efficient exceptions, fast-food personnel tend to be unresponsive and a little out of it. Of course, minimum wages and no tips are not the best of motivators. And you might be surly, too, if you had to wear one of those polyester uniforms.
Burger King. We won’t say we didn’t like Burger King, but on the occasion of our fourth visit in as many days, we tearfully pleaded, “No, no, anything but that.” The standard Whopper (with cheese, $1.55) tastes mainly of tomato; the meat is nondescript and the lettuce is limp and pale – almost certainly the result of being chopped hours before. The bun is exceptionally aerated and tasteless.
Fries (55￠, 65￠) are okay, neither as salty or tough as Jack in the Box’s nor as good as McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken’s. The chocolate shake (70￠) was the best of those we tasted, though mostly by default. It looks more chocolatey than the competition, and it tastes stronger, but it still doesn’t taste like chocolate.
Burger King’s specialty sandwiches and breakfasts are no great shakes, either. The veal parmigiana sandwich ($1.79) tastes just like the Sloppy Joes that you used to be served in your grade-school cafeteria, except there’s also cheese. Not bad, if you like Sloppy Joes. It’s hard to tell the chicken from the bun in the chicken sandwich ($1.75). The ham and cheese sandwich ($1.65), served cold, is more bad news. (There’s something almost scary about processed cheese just sitting there, not melted.)
As for Burger King’s breakfasts, we’d rather be in Philadelphia. There are several biscuit-with choices: steak (chicken-fried steak) and egg ($1.15), ham and egg (99￠) and sausage and egg (99￠). These are uniformly horrible because the biscuits are sodden and greasy. The scrambled-egg platter with sausage ($1.59) consists of tasteless eggs; a burned, greasy sausage patty; a greasy biscuit; and a greasy hash-brown square. There is also – if you have the courage – a French toast platter with sausage ($1.59).
Jack in the Box. God knows it has its detractors, but Jack in the Box was one of the two places we’d voluntarily return to. (Kentucky Fried Chicken is the other.) True, a Jumbo Jack (with cheese, $1.55) has nothing more appealing than does a Whopper or Big Mac. Ours tasted primarily of gloppy orange sauce and pickles. But for another 24 cents, you can get a Bacon Cheeseburger Supreme ($1.79), the only burger we tested that actually tasted like meat. The texture and taste of the poppy-seed kaiser roll are commendable; and the bacon and cheese bring out the flavor of the meat. Lettuce and tomato complete our burger of choice.
We also like the Club Supreme ($1.65), an addictive combination of ham, American cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, bacon, tomato and sprouts on a whole wheat bun. The Chicken Supreme ($1.75) appears to be made of processed chicken food – it is not recommended; neither is the Hot Beef and Cheese ($1.75), which just tastes salty. The Hot Ham and Cheese ($1.69), for some mysterious reason, consists of nothing else- no lettuce, no tomatoes. And no dice – it doesn’t work.
Jack in the Box fries (52￠, 66￠) are pretty bad. True, they’re not greasy, but they are too salty and have no potato flavor whatsoever. And the chocolate shake (75￠) is the pits: overpoweringly sweet and full of ice crystals.
The Breakfast Jack ($1.10) is served all day, a thoughtful concession to slug-abeds. (Franchise breakfasts are unavailable as of 10:30 a.m.; every day at about 10:35 a.m. annoyed people can be heard trying to obtain breakfast. Why doesn’t someone in Franchiseland get wise?) The Breakfast Jack is ham, melted American cheese and a fried egg, served on what appears to be a regular hamburger bun. In spite of that, we prefer it to the Egg McMuffin, because Jack in the Box consistently does a better job of frying the egg. The scrambled-egg breakfast ($1.69) – eggs, two ham links, a hash-brown patty and an English muffin – is well-prepared and a good buy compared to the competition. Pancakes and ham links ($1.35) and French toast and ham links ($1.45) are also good news.
Some, but not all, Jack in the Boxes, have added salads to the menu, a commendable step in the direction of fresh fast food. There is chef salad ($2.29), chicken salad ($1.99), taco salad ($1.99) and garden salad ($1.69). Something needs to be done about the salad dressing, though. We tried reduced-calorie Italian with our garden salad; it tasted like sweet and sour sauce.
McDonald’s. McDonald’s big seller is the Big Mac ($1.25), which we consider unspeakable, since “secret sauce” and tasteless hamburger buns (three of ’em) predominate. That leaves the McFeast (with cheese, $1.40), which is a Quarter Pounder (with cheese, $1.25) with lettuce and tomato – an improvement in terms of taste and nutrition. But the meat is still tasteless. Chicken McNuggets ($1.25) aren’t the answer, either. These bite-size pieces of white meat have a noticeably unpleasant texture and are quite greasy.
Where McDonald’s succeeds admirably is with its fries (55￠, 69￠), which are tender, fresh and usually not oversalted. The chocolate shake, though, is a washout -a pale, sickly sweet version that foams distressingly as it melts.
McDonald’s breakfasts are very good, indeed. Our only complaint about the Egg McMuffin ($1.15), an English muffin with a fried egg, melted cheese and Canadian bacon, is that the egg is always cooked into a vulcanized state. But still, one of these and a hash-brown patty – which McDonald’s has a way with – is a good, manageable breakfast on the way to work. Hot-cakes and sausage ($1.45) and scrambled eggs, sausage and hash-browns ($1.80) are even better, but not in the car.
Kentucky Fried Chicken. Cause for celebration in the french fries department: Kentucky Fried Chicken, at some point in the several years since we last visited one, has introduced truly praiseworthy fries (59￠, $1.89). These are large, skins-on versions that taste like potatoes. The chicken itself is a little too salty and greasy, but within the acceptable range. We suggest ordering your chicken in the “snack” version (just the chicken) with an order of fries. “Dinner” versions come with tasteless rolls and other needless trappings. We also suggest getting your chicken extra-crispy; regular seems to mean soggy. The disappointment was the chicken filet sandwich ($1.59), which is just as flavor-free as those of non-chicken specialists.
These restaurants represent the best in Dallas and Fort Worth dining.
These listings are revised and supplemented periodically. Visits by our critics are made anonymously to avoid preferential treatment. Inclusion in this directory has nothing whatever to do with paid advertising.
The pricing symbols used are categorical, not precise. They indicate only a general price range.
$ Generally inexpensive. Usually indicates a good value.
$$ Middle ground and very general. Usually indicates a menu with a wide price range.
$$$ Expensive. You can expect to spend more than $15 for a complete meal excluding wine and cocktails.
$$$$ Very expensive.
Unless otherwise noted, all restaurants have full bar facilities.
Credit card notations: MC/MasterCard, V/Visa, AE/American Express, DC/Diners Club, CB/Carte Blanche. “All credit cards” indicates that all five are accepted.
(Serendipitous Experiences From Off the Beaten Path)
Holy Cow. At last! A restaurant devoted to dessert freaks. We could have easily spent all day here sampling the bu-odd desserts, stopping only when we split a seam. Instead, we resisted the temptation and stuck with one dessert per person, a decision we regretted when the first hollow rumbles eruptea from empty stomachs many hours later. Among the many noteworthy selections are the honey crunch parfait (chocolate pieces laced with honey, layereo between cookies ’n’ cream ice cream and toppec with hot fudge), amaretto ice cream pie (a choc olate-wafer crust filled with chocolate almonc marshmallow ice cream and topped with amaretto) butterscotch bombe (a gingersnap crust filled with coffee crunch ice cream and topped with butter scotch sauce) and the specialty of Holy Cow, ho fudge pie, served piping hot and a la mode. Holy Cow also serves sandwiches and salads, but going here for anything but sweets is absolutely unthink able. (9100Caruth Plaza. 696-2865. Sun-Thur 11-11 Fri & Sal 11-1 am. No credit cards; personal checks accepted. $)
Newcomer: Café de Paris. Sheer lacy curtains, lots of sunshine and bright silk flowers make this a cheery and comfortably sophisticated lunch spot; elegant service and romantic furnishings insure an enjoyable dinner. And the food: The beef bourguignonne was tender with just enough spice and sauce; the salmon béar-naise was blessed with a sauce good enough to overcome the unspectacular salmon; la poitrine de poulet au cognac (breast of chicken in cognac sauce) was a little dry and gristley for this caliber of restaurant, but the French onion soup was easily one of the best in the area-big chunks of onion and bread in a rich onion broth smothered under a layer of gooey cheese and served steaming hot. The fruit tart, served warm with fresh whipped cream, the chocolate mousse and the praline pie were all fitting conclusions. (2800 Routh, The Quadrangle. 653-1027. Lunch: Mon-Thur 11-2:30; Dinner: Mon-Thur 6-11, Fri & Sat 6-11:30. Reservations. All credit cards. $$$)
Café Royal. The surroundings here are as exquisite as the Mozart played by the pianist on duty during dinner. As for the food, scallops in pepper sauce are a fine opener, and a better choice than the thin, too-briny lobster soup. Classic entrees like sirloin with béarnaise sauce are safe bets; but the more adventurous nouvelle cuisine-inspired choices are the point here: among them, flavorful duckling supreme with mustard cream sauce and tender, piquant veal steak with lime butter. Minor shortcomings are dull salads, limp vegetables (which, at $3.50 a la carte, should taste as good as they look) and occasionally burnt coffee. Service can be very slow. But all is forgiven with the extraordinarily refreshing strawberry bavaroise. (Plaza of the Americas, 650 N Pearl. 747-7222. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-3; Dinner: Mon-Thur 6:30-10:30, Fri & Sat 6:30-11. Jackets required for men. All credit cards. $$$$)
Calluaud’s. Calluaud’s is open for lunch, and that’s good news for connoisseurs of class, since the place effectively defines class for Dallas restaurants. The lovely terracotta and cream-colored surroundings and the service are as quietly elegant as always. And the food continues to hold its own. While the entrees are never less than good it is in the areas of appetizers and desserts that Calluaud’s truly shines. Two equally fine openers are scallops in white wine and cream sauce and mellow tomato soup that banishes all memories of the Campbell’s version. To finish, you can’t go wrong with any of the souffles or fruit tarts. (2619 McKinney. 823-5380. Lunch: Tue-Fri 11:30-2:30; Dinner: Mon-Thur 6-10:30. Fri & Sat seatings from 6-7 and at 9:30. Closed Sun. Reservations. MC, V, AE. $$$$)
The Chimney. We found we’d been underestimating this understated place. While the service was slow and the appetizers unappetizing, the entrees were, in a word, wonderful. We began with the appetizer of the house-a mélange of crab, scallops and white fish in a crepe topped with hollan-daise-and found it heavy and dull. Our escargot a la bourguignonne arrived overcooked to the point of being almost burnt. These were followed by salads in the pungent dressing of the house, a light and clear Italian that was very good. After a considerable wait, the main course arrived, and we were humbled. Since 10 of the 18 listed entrees are veal dishes, we expected the veal forestiere to be good; it was better than that. The brandy, white wine and cream sauce was enhanced with real morels and seemed the perfect companion to the buttery slivers of meat underneath. And the Rehsteak Chimney- tournedos from Montana venison-was breathtakingly tender and the kind of thing you find yourself talking about for days afterward. At lunch, The Chimney seems to become a ladies’ place where bridge-clubbish meals are prepared as though the chef is distracted by the preparation of evening offerings. We enjoyed the chicken Marco Polo and New England scrod, but the light broth laced with sherry that appeared unannounced beforehand was our favorite touch. (Willow Creek Center, 9739 N Central at Walnut Hill. 369-6466. Lunch: Mon-Sat 11:30-2; Dinner: Mon-Sat 6-10:30. Closed Sun. Reservations. All credit cards. $$$)
Ewald’s. Less pretentious and flashy than most other continental restaurants in Dallas, Ewald’s ranks in the highest echelon when if comes to the quality of its food. Those willing to forego the standard continental fixtures-tuxedo-clad French waiters and brass candelabras-will find treasures of tenderloin and veal awaiting them. One of the standouts on the menu is the tournedos St. Moritz (beef tenderloin with artichoke hearts, béarnaise and tomato concasse with sautéed mushrooms). We also found the veal steak au moulin (veal sautéed with mushrooms, cognac and cream) to be up to its usual tasty excellence. But the star of the menu continues to be the veal Pagallo (veal stuffed with Canadian bacon and Swiss cheese, covered with a piquant sour cream sauce), Ewald’s has a credible pepper steak and a respectable Chateaubriand; but the beef takes a back seat to some of the house specialties like shrimp du chef (broiled shrimp in a delicious barbecue-like sauce), which is available in either appetizer portions or as an entree, or the snapper bonne femme (served in a white wine sauce with mushrooms). Desserts are superb, especially the Black Forest cake, strawberries Romanoff or the cream caramel. (5415 W Lovers Ln. 357-1622. Mon-Fri 6-10:30, Sat till 11. Closed Sun. Reservations. MC, V, AE. $$$)
D Revisits The Enclave. Here you expect all the waiters to be named James and to be gentlemen’s gentlemen in their moonlighting hours. This continental restaurant well lives up to its name, which the menu defines as a place that “adheres to its own standards and customs, regardless of what may be the prevailing manner of the surrounding country.” Our tab was reasonable, considering the plush elegance in which we dined-amid crystal and gleaming silver. Our filet was a bit dry, but still very good. The pepper steak flambé was tastefully presented, as was the lightly breaded veal Oscar. We were only disappointed by the house vegetables. The service was attentive, and the strawberry cheesecake with whipped cream ended the meal nicely. (8325 Walnut Hill Lane. 363-7487. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30: Dinner: Mon-Sat 6-10; Sat 6-10:30. Reservations. All credit cards. $$$)
The Grape. Everyone loves The Grape, but the people who seem to love it most are lovers. This is a great place to propose marriage by candlelight. The atmosphere is also conducive to conversations about bad poetry or good dance. You’ll overhear people confessing that their fathers have intimidated them all their lives or that they’ve been painting in acrylics on smaller canvases for the past three years. In other words, this is the best of the thinking people’s places; it’s a mecca for hungry degree-carrying intellectuals and their emotional basket-case friends contemplating a trip to New Mexico. The people waiting on tables are young, bright and probably living lives far more fascinating than your own. And the food is excellent. The menu varies with the season and the chef’s whims. Quiche Lorraine is a staple, as is the homemade mushroom soup and soft, buttery Boston lettuce dinner salads. We’ve tried a variety of chicken, scallop and pasta dishes recently, and all were well-proportioned and well-presented. The pates are consistently noteworthy. The only problem we’ve had is with the tape deck: The last time we visited The Grape we heard Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” three times. (2808 Greenville at Goodwin. 823-0133. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2; Dinner: Sun-Thur 6-11, Fri & Sat 6-11. AE, MC, V. $$)
Jean Claude. The only bad thing about eating at Jean Claude is the demand it places on one’s short-term memory. There is no menu; instead, the waiter recites for you first the available appetizers, then entrees and finally desserts. Given that there are often 10 or more entree choices, you may feel exhausted by the time your drinks arrive. But once you’ve ordered, all is well, with Jean Claude himself chopping and sautéing in the open-air kitchen. For appetizers, we’ve enjoyed the scallops in cream and garlic sauce, the salmon mousse, and the warm crab meat and lobster salad. Only the pates have disappointed. Jean Claude is particularly successful – and imaginative-with fish entrees, among them swordfish with grapefruit sauce and poached trout wrapped in lettuce. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with the intensely chocolate mcusse or the fruit tarts. (2404 Cedar Springs. 653-1823. Tue-Sat seat-ings at 6 and 9. Reservations only. MC, V, AE. $$$)
Jennivine. Thank goodness Jennivine is only “a little bit of England,” or it would be without its lovely selection of French wines, pates and cheeses from various countries A combination plate of cheese and pate makes a good lunch. (Try the English ched-dar or double Gloucester, a Cheddar flavored with chives and spices.) The cheeses are always served at the proper temperature and are never chilled into tastelessness. We had a good cold cucumber soup and a spinach salad that had too many sprouts for most people’s tastes. The dinner menu varies ac-cording to the fresh seafood that is available and is written on a blackboard. We had tender sea scallops cooked with mushrooms, olives and onions. The crab meat imperial was too bland, but a filet of sole with fresh dill was just right. A side dish of mashed potatoes flavored with nutmeg was also good. The house white burgundy was excellent and modestly priced by the glass or bottle. In the evening, a guitarist played softly, sometimes accompanied by a skillful penny whistle player. Service is friendly and casual and sometimes English-accented. English bottled beer is also available. (3605 McKinney. 528-6010. Lunch: Tue-Sat 11:30-2:30; Dinner: Mon-Thur 6-10, Fri & Sat 6-10:30. Closed Sun. Reservations. MC, V, AE, DC. $$)
L’Ambiance. This may or may not be in the ranks of the best continental cuisine in town, but it is definitely the best you’ll ever eat in a converted gas station. Inside the uninspiring exterior is a first-rate restaurant that could well be characterized as full-service. The hosts greet patrons at the door as if welcoming house guests. And although the surroundings are standard cut-glass-and-starched-linen, the atmosphere is easy. Salads are impeccable, and soups are fresh and flavorful. Of the entrees we tried, we especially liked the tender medallions of veal with mushroom puree and the pepper-sauced filet mignon flamed with cognac (an exception to our rule of avoiding flamed dishes, which tend to be long on flash and short on flavor). The pastry selection is varied and gorgeous. (2408 Cedar Springs 748-1291. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2; Dinner: Mon-Fri 6:30-10:30, Sat 6-11. Closed Sun. All credit cards. $$$)
D Revisits Valeriane’s. We can never understand why the venerable Valeriane’s, a classy newcomer to the continental food business in Dallas is almost never crowded. Could it be that this quiet, plush little restaurant is overwhelmed by Jean Claude, which is only a couple of blocks up the street? (Ironically, Jean Claude started in the small frame house where Valeriane’s is now doing business.) Or maybe it’s just that the Cedar Springs area is saturated with continental restaurants. Regardless of the reason. Valeriane’s still could be considered a relatively undiscovered restaurant, and for the discriminating diner looking for a good meal, Valeriane’s obscurity constitutes a good deal. The chef does good work with such standards as rack of lamb; the sole with crab meat, which we’ve sampled on several occasions, is simply excellent. We suggest trying the souffle for dessert; it’s among the lightest offerings in the city. (2520 Cedar Springs between Routh and Fairmount. 741 1413. Mon-Sat 6-10:30. Closed Sun. Reservations. All credit cards. $$$$)
La Vieille Varsovie. The Old Warsaw is in danger of becoming a restaurant in which food no longer holds center stage. The waiters serve with flair and theatricality, and for the first time in many years, we heard ’Malaguena played on the piano. But something is wrong in the kitchen. In two visits we had a tough duckling with kiwi fruit and raspberry vinegar, a mushy filet of sole stuffed with crab, salads swimming in dressing, fresh asparagus ruined by overcooking and green beans with far too much garlic. The fish pate was graced with a delicate lobster sauce, but the mersault had not been properly incorporated into the other sauce, giving it an alcoholic taste. The champagne sauce for the poached salmon was better, but the fish was dry. Nothing we ate merited the expense of the high-priced wine list, which began (with few exceptions) at $25 and averaged $65 a bottle, or half the price of a dinner for two. We had been advised to try the fresh lobster, the Dover sole with lemon butter and the rack of lamb-dishes that are not the test of French cooking, but are probably more manageable. Twice, we were seated beside the huge cabinets on which the waiters perform their handiwork. Surely more of this work could be done in the kitchen, where someone should be tasting and checking the food. (2610 Maple. 528-0032. Sun-Thur 6-10:30. Fri & Sat 6-11:30. Reservations. Jackets required for men. All credit cards. $$$$)
Le Rendez-Vous. This is one of the most comfortable continental restaurants in Dallas. It’s not as pretentious as some of its competitors, but it’s formal enough to make you feel like you are getting your money’s worth of pomp and ceremony. We’ve long enjoyed the lunch specials, which always include a homemade soup and usually a fresh fish or veal entree as well. Le Rendezvous has an extensive seafood selection, including an excellent grilled salmon with béarnaise. poached filet of. sole, shrimp, snapper and trout. There’s also a good cold salmon plate served with fresh raw vegetables. This place does a good job on two dishes that have become standards in Dallas continental restaurants: veal in lemon butter and pepper steak. And for those who like to venture outside the culinary mainstream, there’s roast duck in peach sauce or rabbit sautéed in wine sauce. (If you like duck or rabbit, you’ll find the versions served here to be quite acceptable.) If you can wait until 11 am (when the place opens) tor breakfast, you couldn’t do better than the omelets served at Le Rendezvous. We’re especially partial to the piperade basque (tomato, onion and green pepper omelet). Service is still consistently good. (3237 McKinney at Hall. 745-1985. Tue-Sun 11 am-2 am. Closed Mon. Reservations. All credit cards. $$$)
Newcomer: Francisco’s. Formerly home to Calluaud (now ensconced on McKinney Avenue) and Chops (now a memory), 2917 Fairmount has become home to Francisco’s. Comparisons are inevitable and unfair, but nobody ever said life, especially in the restaurant business, would be fair. With some fine-tuning in the kitchen, this could be a very good, reasonably priced continental restaurant. But without an investment in ambiance, the place will never rival Calluaud or Cafe Royal. Francisco’s is small, but not intimate, because of the peculiar waterlily-print wallpaper in one room and the nondescript decor of the other. Photos of the owner with dubious celebrities don’t contribute to a feeling of classiness; neither do the menus, which are laminated and more suited to Denny’s than a fine restaurant. As for the food, soups are the high point. Clear mushroom soup, with mushrooms floating in consomme, topped with light pastry, was superb. Minestrone, a soup of the day, was almost as good. Entrees were more than passable, but less than perfect. Veal Norway was slightly overcooked and totally tasteless. Poulet saute a la maison (chicken scallops sautéed with ham and Swiss cheese) was entirely edible, but lacked pizzazz. Among lunchtime entrees, chef’s salad was commendable; avocado filled with crab meat tasted too much of oversweet mayonnaise. Desserts are not a forte here: Homemade chocolate cake turned out to be sliced, sodden chocolate mousse. Cheesecake was heavy, and neither the peach-raspberry sauce nor the ice cream in our peach melba was what it should have been. (2917 Fairmount. 749-0906. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30; Dinner: Mon-Thur 6:30-11, Fri & Sat 6:30-11:30 (seatings at 7 & 9). Reservations. MC, V, AE. $$$)
The Mansion. One of the pleasures of the carefully calculated decor of the Mansion is its golden lighting, which enables the diner to see not only his perfect green salad, but also the contemporary nobility on the terrace-visiting movie stars and international financiers. Noble is the word for the Man-sion’s peasant dish, tortilla soup. It should be exported to the restaurant’s parent company. New York’s 21 Club. But, we wouldn’t mind at all if the New Yorkers took back their bland chicken hash with Mornay sauce. In other sauces, the Mansion excels. The béarnaise sauce that came with the grilled red snapper was so light, smooth and tasty you could put it on cardboard and swear you’d had a good meal. The lobster sauce with chicken and the wine sauce that dressed the shrimp saute appetizer called for mopping up with a piece of French bread. And the duck served with a brown, not-too-strong garlic sauce was topped with a slice of duck liver pate that deserves a place of its own on the menu. A too-lemony veal sauce was disappointing, given the subtlety of the other sauces. Service is brisk, efficient and French, without annoying theatrics. If only the desserts were as good as they looked. The raspberry torte was a chaotic mixture of sour raspberries, brick-like chocolate and bland whipped cream. The restaurant encourages the smoking of line cigars from its 21 collection, a problem if you are inhaling the enticing aroma of a |uicy breast of pheasant with chanterelles, and your neighbor lights up, (2821 Turtle Creek Blvd. 526-2121. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-1:30; Brunch: Sat & Sun 11-2; Dinner: Sun-Thur 6-10, Fri 6-10:30, Sat 6-11: Supper: Mon-Thur 10-midnight, Fri 10.30-midnight. Sat 11-midnight. Reservations. MC, V, AE. DC. $$$$)
D Revisits Les Saisons. Here you’ll get what restaurant critics call a “dining experience.” The food is French, the waiters are French (or are at least good impersonators) and the decor is set roughly in turn-of-the century suburban Paris (after all, who really knows?). Meals at Les Saisons are traditional, expensive and predictably excellent. There are very few surprises, and they come only when an appetizer or entree is exceptional instead of just top-notch. If you’re searching for nouvelle cuisine or traces of its influence, don’t make your reservations here. The menu at Les Saisons is a testament to the theory that good things come to those who like to dine out and order the same old thing. There are some interesting twists like roast Cornish hen with tarragon sauce, braised sweetbreads, sirloin saute with Roquefort cheese and green peppercorns. Among those, we found the sweetbreads suffering from a case of mistaken identity. They were cooked to the consistency of boiled chicken livers and covered with tomatoes and mushrooms; the whole concoction was lacking in poignancy and zap. We enjoyed the rack of lamb, the shrimp Les Saisons (which is an appetizer at dinner and a main course at lunch) and the combined seafood dishes. The most pleasurable course was actually the first -we sampled sumptuous escargots bour-guignonne and a most memorable Caesar salad. The desserts were pretty terrible, but if you must have something sweet, you’ll have 10 traditional choices to anticipate here. Avoid the profit-eroles maison, mummified puff pastries with chocolate sauce on inexpensive vanilla ice cream. (165 Turtle Creek Village. Oak Lawn at Blackburn. 528-1102. Sun-Thur 11:30-10:30, Fri & Sat 11:30-11:30. Reservations. All credit cards. $$$)
Patry’s. This can be an excellent place to have a quiet and elegant continental dinner, provided you arrive when the place is not too crowded. Entrees are generally reliable; on a recent visit we had an excellent pepper steak and a middle-of-the-road version of duck a I’orange. On other visits we found the lamb chops to be consistently tasty. And the old continental standby, veal in lemon butter, is well up to par. Patry’s offers some fine homemade soups, including a cream of broccoli that is among the best in the city. One of the stronger points of this place is the extensive wine list, which complements the menu. (2504 McKinney. 748-3754. Sun, Tue-Thur 6-10:30, Fri & Sat 6-11:30. Closed Mon. Reservations. All credit cards. $$$$)
Three Vikings. Weekend diners are still lining up to try the city’s only samplings of Swedish cuisine, but we’ve been irritated by several things here lately that render our recommendation less than wholehearted. Our marinated cucumbers were saturated beyond definition, the roast duck with almond sauce was roasted to a cardboard-like state and the wild mushroom sauce on our beautiful lamb chops tasted as though it had been simmering too long and too strenuously in an old Black pot. Similar dark brown sauces appeared on many of the entrees: we thought they systematically detracted more than they contributed. On the happier side, there’s no nicer way to begin a meal than to nibble on Three Vikings’ relish tray. Our veal Oscar was excellent, and we loved the use of dill on the potatoes and grilled salmon steak (which was the finest of the entrees we tried). But the background music piped into the dreary, dimly lit rooms is sometimes objectionable. (2831 Greenville at Goodwin. 827-6770. Mon-Thur 6-10, Fri &Sat 6-11. Closed Sun. Reservations. MC, V, AE, DC. $$$)
D Revisits the Pyramid Room. With its potted, leafless trees, high, bare brown walls and bland, green, high-backed chairs, the Pyramid Room is the most austere room in Dallas. When we visited, the staff was short-handed and apologetic for delays, but despite the strain, was courteous and thorough. The Pyramid specializes in flourishes of service and display. A huge piece of fresh matzo cracker was set in a holder made of fresh banana bread, guaranteed to set your teeth on edge if you are made uneasy by conspicuous consumption. The name of the person who made the reservations is embossed on the books of matches on the table. The captain plucks the napkin from the table and settles it on the lap of each guest. The Italian wine steward is charming and funny. The house pate of fish and lobster with two sauces was delicate yet flavorful, as was the sauce with a 2-inch thick steak au poivre. But the mushroom hors d’oeuvre, cassoulet dordonaise, was bland and flavorless, not up to the $7 charge. Perfection, of course, is what is expected at the Pyramid Room’s prices. The veal in the pauppiette de veau Bonaparte was tender, but also coarse and grainy, although again, the sauce was successful. The asparagus had been cooked to soft, baby-food texture. For lunch we had a few fine slices of Irish smoked salmon, but the oysters Kirkpatrick were cool and our side vegetables were under-cooked. Still, the cocquilles a la vapeur (sea scallops) were tender and juicy in a light wine sauce. The Pyramid is struggling and is sometimes very good, but the time has gone when it dominated continental dining in Dallas. (Fairmont Hotel, Ross and Akard. 748-5454. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2; Dinner: Daily 6-10. Reservations. All credit cards. $$$$)
India House. Lets face it: Not that many Dallas diners know the difference between alu tikki and tan-doori chicken. Selections like these are not exactly part of the American culinary mainstream. But even if you don’t know what you are eating at India House, you’ll discover one thing quickly: It’s very good. Both the tandoori chicken and beef, marinated delights served with a shovel-sized portion of fluffy rice, are tasty, if extremely filling. And the appetizers, such as chicken chat (chunks of chicken served with mint chutney) are superb. Abundant fresh-from-the-oven breads are excellent, India House also offers a lunch buffet, which sometimes gets a little unorganized when the crowd starts to outnumber the waiters by too large a ratio. Dinner service, however, is extremely attentive. Save room for dessert: the cheese balls in sweet milk are delightful. (5422 E Mockingbird. 823-1000. Lunch: Daily 11:30-2:30; Dinner: Sun-Thur 5-10. Fri & Sat till 11. Reservations. MC, AE, V, DC. $$)
Sahib. We can think of no better introduction to the pleasures of Indian food than dinner at Sahib. On visual terms alone, the place is commendable: Gauze canopies float over a lovely teal and peach color scheme. Happily, the food equals the decor- if you know what to order. What to order is Maharaja Patiala Sahib’s Dinner, an assortment of Sahib’s specialties that includes wonderful preparations of chicken, lamb and shrimp. What not to order is Lord Curzon Sahib’s Seafood Dinner, an assortment of overcooked, flavorless seafood. The $6.95 lunch buffet (which is somewhat misleadingly referred to as “brunch” on weekends) seems to have dropped in quality. The variety of Indian salads is still tasty, but the main courses we tasted were overcooked. Service is somewhat abstracted. (9100 Caruth Plaza. 987-2301. Lunch: Daily 11:30-2:30; Dinner: Daily 5:30-11. MC, V, AE. $$)
Bugatti. Although the name of this North Dallas pasta place sounds like an Italian sports car and the interior looks like somebody’s basement rec room, the food at Bugatti is the real thing: excellent Italian cooking. If the menu looks like a Xerox of the old Lombardi’s bill of fare, that’s because it almost is. The chef at Bugatti, Setimio Carrelli, ana the owner, Mario Peres, are both Lombardi’s veterans. Basically, what they are doing at their new Walnut Hill restaurant is serving up exactly what you would have found at the old Lombardi’s on McKinney. And if that constitutes culinary plagarism, so what? Bugatti has not only copied the old Lombardi’s cuisine, it has done a better job of it than has been accomplished by the new Lombardi’s (La Trattoria Lombardi on Hall Street). The tortellini alla crema (called tortellini alla panna at La Trattoria Lombardi) is tastier at Bugatti and also cheaper-$6 at dinner vs. $9.50 at La Trattoria Lombardi. Saltimbocca alla romana will cost $8 at dinner vs. $13.25, and eggplant par-migiana will run you $5.95 vs. $11.95. Cost comparisons like this would be crass and useless were it not for the fact that both restaurants are offering dishes that over the broad range of the two menus taste almost identical. If you miss the crab can-nelloni that seemed to disappear when the old Lom-bardi’s burned, rejoice; it’s back again and just as good as ever at Bugatti. (2574 Walnut Hill. 350-2470. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11-2, Dinner: Mon-Thur 5:30-10:30, Fri & Sat 5:30-11:00. Closed Sun. AE, V, MC. $$)
D Revisits Campisi’s. First you wait in line. Then you’re seated at a bare table in a dark, dingy, crowded room where you’re surrounded by photos of various Campisis and celebrities. Then you order a glass of burgundy-and discover it’s chilled. But then your food arrives and you know why this joint is such an institution. The veal dishes would be excellent even if they weren’t such bargains. The veal marsala, with its rich mushroom sauce, is one of Dallas’ best dining deals at $6.95. The pizza, crisp-crusted and packed with goodies, is justifiably famous, but best when covered with the Campisis’ excellent homemade sausage. The fettucine is likely to be a large overcooked lump, but the thick, cheesy sauce that covers it makes up for the sodden texture. The garlic toast and an-tipasto are run-of-the-mill, as are the desserts, Black Forest cake and cheesecake, though if you must have a sweet, go with the Black Forest. If you just want solid, no-frills Italian at reasonable prices, and don’t mind early K-Mart decor, then Campisi’s is worth the wait. (5670 E Mockingbird. 827-0355, 827-7711. Mon-Fri 11 am-midnight, Sat till 1 am, Sun noon-midnight. Reservations tor six or more. No credit cards; personal checks accepted. $$)
La Trattoria Lombardi. Sometimes success can ruin a good restaurant. Management, intoxicated by the length of the crowd in the waiting line, gets overconfident. Quality plummets. Prices climb beyond what is reasonable. Recent visits convince us that while it would be premature to conclude that La Trattoria Lombardi has been ruined by its past success, the undeniable fact is that the place is slipping. The signs of culinary complacency are beginning to manifest themselves in the pasta. It is frequently overcooked; it is universally overpriced. We recommend avoiding the maleficent manicotti and the languid linguini; instead go for the veal (the veal with lemon butter, veal marsala and saltimbocca alla romana are all excellent), the homemade soups (the minestrone is one of the best in the city) or the frit-tata (great little Italian omelets with ham, cheese, mushrooms, peppers and a tangy tomato sauce). We also recommend the sole with lemon butter, although we’ve been disappointed in some of the other fish selections, such as the mussels with marinara sauce, the clams with white wine sauce and the linguini with clam sauce. Desserts can be superior, especially the homemade ice creams (there are five to choose from). And while the food has slipped a notch, the service definitely hasn’t. It’s among the most hospitable found in Dallas. (2976 Hall. 823-6040. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2, Dinner: Mon-Thur 5:30-10:30, Fri & Sat 5:30-11. Closed Sun. All credit cards. $$$)
Mario’s. About as far from the spaghetti-and-meatballs, red-checked-tablecloth stereotype as an Italian restaurant can be, Mario’s is elegant and. of course, expensive. Appetizers are somewhat disappointing: Minestrone is boring, escargots are heavy and sautéed shrimp is bland. But the main dishes- especially the many variations on veal and the homemade green lasagna-are consistently excellent and served in generous portions. And the souffles equal those at any French restaurant in town. Service is friendly and efficient. (135 Turtle Creek Village, Oak Lawn at Blackburn. 521-1135. Daily 6-7 7, Sal till midnight. Reservations. Jackets required for men. Alt credit cards. $$$)
Sergio’s. The recently completed remodeling of Sergio’s has transformed what was once little more than a hole in the wall in a corner of The Quadrangle into an elegant, formal dining establishment. The management is to be complimented for resisting the urge to jack up the prices in order to pay for all that new carpet and wallpaper. But if the transformation is an architectural success, it was something of a culinary failure. The worst result is that the once wonderful homemade pasta is now a bit on the doughy side. Most of the chicken and veal dishes- which have always been standouts-have survived the remodeling. And Sergio’s still makes one of the better omelets available in Dallas, as well as one of the better appetizers-Sergio’s version of marinated crab claws. (Even though the crab claws are obviously only marinated for the time it takes the waiter to walk to your table after the kitchen staff has covered them with a tangy sauce, they are still excellent.) Sergio’s fine track record during the past couple of years makes us confident that the restaurant will soon get its pasta problem in order. But until then, we recommend sticking with one of the seven reliable veal selections on the menu or opting for sole saffron or chicken Florentine. (Suite 165, The Quadrangle, 2800 Routh. 742-3872. Lunch: Mon-Sat 11:30-2, Dinner: Mon-Thur 6-10, Fri & Sat 6-10:30. Closed Sun. Reservations. All credit cards. $$)
D Revisits La Tosca. With its black and white checked tile floor, expansive archways and soft lighting, La Tosca exudes stark elegance. Fortunately, the food is up to par with the lovely, understated surroundings. An excellent inclusion on La Tosca’s menu is the octopus salad, tender slices marinated in lime juice and spices. Another flavorful appetizer from the ocean is the pepata di vongole or cozze (clams with tomatoes, garlic and black pepper). La Tosca offers an extensive selection of pasta, including a spicy orecchiette all’ arrabbiata (ear-shaped macaroni with red pepper, garlic and tomato sauce). As far as veal entrees go, we relished the scaloppine al marsala-tender, buttery veal that practically melted in our mouths. The in-voltini nicola (veal scallop filled with prosciutto, cheese and herbs) will be appreciated by those with a taste for spicy Italian ham. which overpowered the veal. With the exceptions of the profitterol al cioccolato (a cream-filled puff pastry dribbled with chocolate) and ice cream with Strega (an Italian liqueur), desserts should be forgotten. Service can be intimidating and out of sync with the elegance of the restaurant. (7713 Inwood. 352-8373. Sun, Tue-Thur 5:30-10:30, Fri & Sat 5:30-11. Closed Mon. All credit cards. $$$)
Café Cancun. We’re happy to report that Cafe Cancun has tightened its attention to culinary detail, and the food is once again the equal of its lovely tropical surroundings. Among the highlights of the imaginative menu are jicama (a crunchy apple-like appetizer), tacos filled with pork and cooked in chile ancho sauce (be sure to ask tor the avocado and tomato salsas) and chicken enchiladas mole. Entrees are accompanied by the best rice and black- not pinto-beans in town. Two soups have been added to the menu, a wonderful chicken/vegetable soup and a corn soup that’s a bit too reminiscent of canned creamed corn for our tastes. Another innovation is the lunch specials-at $3.45, an ideal way to sample Cafe Cancun’s delights. (4131 Lomo Alto. 559-4011. Mon-Thur 11-10, Fri 11-11, Sat 5-11. Sun 5-10. All credit cards. $$)
Guadalajara. If you believe in the sleaze postulate of the Tex-Mex dining theory (that the more hell hole-like a restaurant is. the better the food will be), then you’ll experience love at first sight when you enter this charming establishment. After midnight. Guadalajara can look like a cross between a biker bar and Dante’s “Inferno”. We can’t make judgments as to whether there is a corollary between the border-town bordello ambiance and the fact that the food is good at Guadalajara; but it is true that the food is memorable. Among the consistently good offerings are the enchiladas, tacos, tamales, chiles rellenos and frijoles. We’ve also found a good version of chicken mole, as well as some decent chalupas. If you prefer that your fellow diners be dressed in Hickey-Freeman suits instead of sleeveless blue-jean jackets and chain belts, simply go at noon, when the downtown banker crowd packs the place in pursuit of good guacamole. Service can be a bit slow, since management obviously knows it has a good thing going and loyal customers are willing to wait. (3308 Ross. 823-9340. Tue-Sun 11 am-3:30 am. Closed Mon. No reservations. No credit cards. $)
D Revisits Escondido. If you stick to the original eatery on Butler Street and forget the new place on Maple, you’ll find substantial stick-to-the-ribs Tex-Mex, with the chicken nachos among the best in town and the other entries up to standard no-frill, reasonable-bill Mexican food. The combination platters rate A’s for tacos, F’s lor the tamales. Both salsas, red and green, get A’s. Atmosphere-wise, the place looks like a Hell’s Angels habitat on the outside, and inside, the decor is late New York Subway, with spray-can graffiti all over the ceiling. So, forget the surroundings and order the chicken nachos. (2210 Butler. 631-9912. Lunch: Mon-Sat 11 -2, Dinner: Mon-Sat 5-9. Closed Sun. No credit cards. $)
Herrera. The management of this little dump of a restaurant on Maple Avenue must have a difficult time resisting the urge to become cocky. After all. it must be a great feeling for a culinary entrepreneur to see all those gringos lined up outside, ready to sweat in the summer and freeze in the winter for an opportunity to sample some of the tasty Tex-Mex that waits inside. But despite the fact that Herrera has more customers than it can possibly serve, the food and service at the restaurant have remained consistently good. Once you’ve elbowed your way to a table (you can expect a minimum half-hour wait at peak dining hours), we suggest you go for one of the eclectic dishes like the Jimmy’s special or the Pepe’s special, both of which are virtual Tex-Mex smorgasbords. They include everything from chicken enchiladas to guacamole. Most of the mainline Mexican dinners on the menu are no-miss propositions, although we’ve had mediocre experiences with some of the fancier dishes like guizo de res and carne asada. If you like to drink beer with your meal. Herrera offers the classic good news/bad news situation. The good news is that you can bring beer and drink it in the parking lot while you wait in line; the bad news is that you’d better bring enough to drink with your meal: Herrera has no liquor license. (3902 Maple. 526-9427. Mon, Wed. Thur 9 am-8 pm, Fri-Sun till 10. Closed Tue. No reservations. No credit cards. $)
Mario & Alberto. The dinner ritual at this place includes a 30-minute wait that is made somewhat more pleasant by the tangy goodness of the frozen margaritas that are purveyed by the pitcher in the waiting area. The secret to this place is that Mario Leal has taken a proven Mexican menu from his other restaurant (Chiquita) and transported it intact to Preston and LBJ. Leal is literally miles ahead of his competition. North Dallas diners obviously don’t mind queuing up in crowded quarters to wait for a sample of the reliable staples like enchiladas, guacamole, tacos al carbon and carne asada. They are all essentially the same as the high-quality items you find at Chiquita. But in addition to the standard Tex-Mex, Mario & Alberto offers some more unusual delights like pescado marinero (fish filet filled with spinach and topped with oysters and shrimp), cala-bactias rellenas (zucchini stuffed with sirloin and covered with white cheese) and carnitas adobadas (thin pork strips marinated in a piquant sauce and skillet fried). (425 Preston Valley Shopping Center. LBJ at Preston. 980-7296. Mon-Thur 11:30-10:30, Fri & Sat till 11. Drinks with $5 membership charge. MC, V, AE. $$)
Raphael’s. It may be that Raphael’s has slipped somewhat from its longtime position as one of Dallas’ best Mexican restaurants, or it may be that the growing competition from ambitious upstarts has simply overtaken this established enchilada outpost. Regardless, nobody’s bothered to tell the hungry hordes constantly waiting for tables When a second location opened on Greenville Avenue, we thought it might be the answer. So far there is no waiting at the Greenville Raphael’s, but perhaps that’s because it doesn’t live up to the somewhat slipped standards of the original Raphael’s. The Greenville menu is not identical-some items, like the superb strawberry or peach sopapillas, are missing, and some, like the dry. underseasoned soft pork tacos, are present that aren’t available at the original. Therefore, we still recommend the Raphael’s on McKinney, if you have the stomach to wait. Once seated, head for the specialty dishes, many accompanied by wonderful pico de gallo Two sure bets are the authentic combination plate, an assortment of specialties, and the tacos al carbon. (3701 McKinney. 521-9640. Mon-Fri 11:30-10:30. Sat noon-10:30. Closed Sun. Reservations Mon-Thur only. All credit cards. $$)
Asuka. You may feel as though you’ve waltzed into a tourist trap when the kimono-clad waitress shuffles over to your table and presents you with the menu: a photo album filled with 3 x 5-inch glossies of the food you’re about to consume. Nevertheless, eating at Asuka is a soothing experience that will transport you 1,000 miles away from the construction and congestion 50 yards outside the door. For dinner, sit Japanese style (the setup here is easy on American lower backs) and try any one of the Kaiseki dinners. If you order something large, such as the Asuka Kaiseki, there’s no need to order sashimi or sushi (raw fish is included with the meal) We’ve also sampled the Ishiyaki Kaiseki-beef and vegetables served over sizzling stone pebbles-and found it delightful. At lunch the service is slow, but the food is just as palate pleasing and pretty. (7136 Greenville. 363-3537. Lunch: Tue-Sun 11-2; Dinner: Tue-Sun 6-10:30. Closed Mon. Reservations. AE, V, MC, DC. $$$)
August Moon. As the lines at dinner time attest, North Dallas has an appetite for high-quality Chinese fare. Large and lavishly decorated, August Moon fills the bill with a vast menu featuring specialties of Taiwan, Young Chow, Shanghai, Peking, Szechuan, Hunan and Canton. Soups are nothing special here, but the pu pu tray of assorted appetizers makes for a good start. Mongolian barbecue (marinated sirloin, pork and lamb stir-fried with vegetables) and kung-po chicken are two of the best choices for main courses. Shredded pork in garlic sauce, Shanghai steak and diced chicken with almonds are less successful. Portions are generous, and service is extremely fast and accommodating. (15030 Preston at Belt Line. 385 7227. Mon-Thur 11-10:15, Fri 11-10:45, Sat 4-10:45, Sun noon-10:30. Reservations. Bar by membership. AE, MC, V, CB. $$)
Monkok. Monkok won’t change your life, but it offers reasonably priced Chinese food that, if you order wisely, can be very good. We tried the pu pu tray of assorted appetizers and found the egg rolls and butterfly shrimp to be the best components. Both can and should be ordered a la carte, in order to skip the overcooked rumaki, tough spare ribs and too chewy cho cho beef also on the pu pu tray. Won-ton and hot and sour soups are respectable versions; skip the egg drop, which is exceptionally bland. Among the entrees, try Monkok Delight (juicy chicken, shrimp and ham with mushrooms and vegetables). Chicken with peanuts (marked with a star as hot and spicy) is a passable but more pallid version than usual; it doesn’t earn its star. Cantonese roast duck is a tasty version Only pork lo mein with vegetables and homemade noodles is irredeemable; it’s greasy and, worse, a strange orange color. (2150 N Collins Blvd, Richardson. 644-0404. Lunch: Daily 11:30-2:30; Dinner: Sun-Thur 5-10, Fri & Sat 5-11. MC, V, AE, DC. $$)
D Revisits Bo Bo China. Alas, our “Bests” seem to be the culinary kiss of death. Several months ago, we named Bo Bo China the best Chinese restaurant in Dallas. It was at the time. But obviously the management at Bo Bo has been reading its own press The quality has plummeted in recent weeks. On recent visits. we’ve been served lukewarm kuo-teh (pot stickers), hot and sour soup that was neither, and garlic chicken that was distinctive only in its blandness. We found that some dishes have survived the attack of complacency that has apparently struck the kitchen. The sizzling rice soup still is excellent, as is the smoked tea duck and the sautéed happy family (a combination of scallops. abalone, mushrooms and miniature corn in hoisin sauce). Servings are still large enough to fill up the average linebacker. Will Bo Bo get its act back together? Will quality continue to drop as Bo Bo management basks in the restaurant’s folk legend status? Will D magazine drop an old favorite from its listings? Watch this space to find out. (10630 Church Rd at LBJ Fwy. 349-2411 Lunch: Tue-Sat 11-2:30: Dinner: Sun. Tue-Thur 11-10, Fri & Sat till 11. No liquor license. BYOB. No reservations. MC, V, AE. $$)
Sakura. What with the geisha dancing in the tatami room, the schmaltzy piano bar music downstairs battling the koto music playing in the rest of the place and the slashing, clanging and sizzling of the chefs upstairs, the diner at Sakura feels transported to a three-ring Japanese circus. The only trouble is that you want a table at a restaurant, not a seat in the big top. But for feats of skill and daring, the sushi chef didn’t disappoint us. With the deft hands of a master, he sliced perfect pieces of impeccably fresh raw seafood and served them atop rice. We were disappointed only by most of the more standard Japanese offerings, with the exception of chicken kara-aga, deep-fried sesame-coated morsels. The sushi bar is definitely the center ring at this circus; the side shows are best avoided. (7402 Greenville near Walnut Hill. 361-9282. Sun-Thur 6-10:30, Fri & Sat till 11:30. Reservations. All credit cards. $$$)
Siam. Siam was briefly closed for remodeling, but for the life of us, we can’t figure out what they did to the place. The decor is still comfortably shabby; the Thai food is still reliably terrific But every time we venture away from our tried-and-true list of tavorites. we’re sorry. Nothing on the menu is bad, but few entrees live up to the excellence of the handful of Thai dishes we like to order. By number on the menu, they are: 103 (marinated, broiled pork on a stick, with peanut sauce and cucumber salad), 127 (rice noodles with pork, shrimp and a panoply of aromatic ingredients) and 137 (rosy chicken curry with coconut milk, green pepper, bamboo shoots and fresh mint). The limited lunch menu changes daily. (1730 W Mockingbird near Harry Hines. 631-5482. Mon-Thur 11-10, Fri & Sat 11-11. Closed Sun. All credit cards. $)
Szechuan. This oasis in the Lemmon Avenue fast-food strip offers reliably good, if never great, Szechuan and standard Chinese dishes. Lunch specials (served Monday through Saturday), at $2.50 to $3.75, are bargains, and there’s an unusually large number to choose from. Soups are not a strong point here; crab meat and corn rice soup is the best choice. Main-dish standouts include shredded pork with garlic sauce, moo shi pork, chicken with cashew nuts, and the chicken and shrimp combination. Sliced beef with orange flavor, however, tastes too strongly of anise for most western tastes. (4117 Lemmon near Douglas. 521-6981. SunThur 11:30-10:30, Fri & Sat till 11:30. MC, V, AE, DC. $$)
D Revisits Hunan. Judging from the crowded bar and waiting room on weekends, Hunan is among the most popular of Dallas’ Chinese restaurants. It shouldn’t be. This is clearly a case of an establishment’s prime location becoming the key to its success. The food at Hunan, we’ve decided, is just mediocre enough to coax un-discriminating customers back time after time. Thai’s a shame because Hunan’s devotees are being conned into thinking this is the way Chinese food is supposed to taste. There’s something limp, canned, prefabricated, stale and gamey about almost every entree on the menu. Few of the dishes have any of the light, bright and crunchy qualities that come from a quick stir fry and a light ladle with the peanut oil. The champagne chicken, crab velvet and cashew chicken are nice, mild dishes to try if your friends insist you dine here. Spicy items worth sampling are the shredded beef with garlic sauce, the beef with snow peas and the hot and sour soup (the latter being the only thing we sampled that we can enthusiastically say was good). The egg drop soup and the pu pu tray are unacceptable versions of the selections that go under the same name for the same price at better Chinese places. To top it all off, our fortune cookies repeated themselves-a true sign of the restaurant’s insincerity. (5214 Greenville at Lovers Ln. 369-4578. Mon-Thur 11:30-10:45. Fri & Sat till 11:45. MC, V, AE. $$)
Taiwan. This restaurant is dressier and a bit more expensive than a lot of Chinese places in town, but it stands head and shoulders above most of them when it comes to food. Owner-manager Scott Sheu is said to have brought his staff to Dallas straight from San Francisco, and there is a certain sophistication and California-like vastness to the menu. The choices, particularly in terms of appetizers and soups, are more varied here. We tried the Kuo-Teh meat dumplings and found them well worth the 15-minute wait they take to prepare. Of the seven soups. we tried the hot and sour (which was a good interpretation of its namesake), and the sizzling rice soup for two. The flaming pu pu platter is among the best we’ve tried in town, and the spare ribs are unusually large and lean. The kitchen is at its best with the hot and spicy Szechuan dishes. But even our tender-mouthed friends found the unspiced entrees rather bland. We liked the Peking beef and princess shrimp and chicken. We also tried the beef sizzling iron plate and a wonderful vegetable dish of crisp snow peas, water chestnuts and peerless mushrooms The service ranges from nerve-wrack-ingly overattentive to somewhat absent-minded (during one visit we ordered steamed rice and got fried, another time we ordered sweet and sour fish slices and got a bony whole fish instead). (6111 Greenville. 369-8902. Mon-Sat 11-3 am, Sun 11-11. Reservations. MC, V, AE. $$$)
Yunnan Dynasty. By virtue of its illustrious pedigree. Yunnan Dynasty is an automatic contender for the title of Dallas’ Best Chinese Restaurant. As a sibling of the Austin restaurant of the same name, Yunnan Dynasty does its heritage proud. Unlike most Chinese restaurants in town, where you can get good soup, appetizers or main dishes, here you can have an entire meal that is peerless. Egg rolls are delicate and fresh, and soups are a no-miss proposition, although the mellow crab meat and corn soup is particularly noteworthy. When it comes to the entrées, the only caveat is simple: Order the spicy dishes marked with a box on the menu. The standout is steamed whole fresh fish with garlic and black bean sauce, a low-cal dinner that Weight Watchers never dreamed of. The contemporary surroundings are a pleasant change from the standard Chinese restaurant decor. (9100 N Central Expy, Suite 191. 739-1110. Sun-Thur 11:30-11, Fri & Sat 11:30-midnight. AE, V, MC. $$)
Charley’s Seafood Grill. Amazing, these Addison eateries. A year ago Charley’s was a vacant lot, Now it’s a first-class seafood emporium complete with everything from shrimp to swordfish on a skewer. And, as is the case with many of the new establishments along Belt Line Road, Charley’s has developed an instant following: throngs of Izod-clad diners eager to sample some of the 27 kinds of imported beer (served at arctic temperatures) and munch iced shrimp while waiting a customary 15 to 30 minutes for a table. In truth, the fish is not on quite as high a par as the ambiance. Charley’s is smartly decorated in what the designers are probably calling “Old New England Lighthouse Contemporary.” And while we found the selection of char-broiled fish (red snapper, swordfish steak, trout) to be excellent, some of the fried offerings like the shrimp and oysters were simply so-so. The one negative is Charley’s chowder, truly bland on numerous samplings. The overall dining experience, however, is definitely worth the minimal investment in time and money. (5348 Belt Line. 934-8501. Sun noon-10, Mon-Thur 11-10, Fri 11-11, Sat noon-11. MC, DC, V, AE. $$)
Fausto’s. The only thing Fausto’s has going against it is that it is located in the same hotel with an expensive, bad restaurant: Antares. First-time visitors to the Hyatt Regency Hotel try Antares because of the spectacular view atop Reunion Tower and come away disappointed with the food. Hotel patrons assume that if Antares can’t serve a good meal, neither can Fausto’s. That assumption is wrong. The menu is ambitious: Tender and sweet frog legs, juicy swordfish steak, a tasty shark gumbo, poached salmon steak topped with a luscious green peppercorn sauce and an excellent version of duckling in lingonberry sauce are among the broad range of culinary triumphs available. And attention is paid to the supporting cast of items that surround the entrees: marbled black and rye bread toast with Parmesan cheese that arrives before the menu, homemade pear sorbet perched atop an orange half that is served to clear your palate before the main course, fresh strawberries stuffed with chocolate mousse served after the dessert and a fine assortment of homemade soups and chowders at lunch. All this caloric decadence is served up in a darkened dining room that is one of the plushest eating areas in the city. Service is attentive but not hovering. (Hyatt Regency Hotel. 651-1234. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11-2; Dinner: Sun-Thur 6-11; Fri & Sat till midnight; Sun brunch: 10:30-2:30. All credit cards. $$$$)
Jozef’s. Jozef’s hasn’t made up its mind to get everything right, so choose carefully. Begin with smoked freshwater trout with horseradish sauce, though you may want more horseradish in the sauce. The mushrooms stuffed with crab meat imperial are peppery enough, though, as was the fish soup The crab meat Remick was delightful. The bouillabaisse, a Mediterranean seafood stew, was reminiscent of Marseilles, where it was invented, but possibly it was a mistake to follow a seafood recipe from an inland, mountainous region like Grenoble. Filet of sole Grenobloise was machined into a perfect triangle, too geometrical for the eye. and the capers and croutons added little to the dish. The potatoes and vegetables, sodden with butter, were awful. Avoid the shrimp in soggy beer batter with an orange sauce that resembles marmalade. You’re better off sticking with the basics, like live Maine lobster or char-broiled fish of the season. We had a seafood luncheon salad that seemed to have been prepared hours in advance and was bland from refrigeration, very much like the piece of Roquefort cheese we were served. For dessert we had a tasty blueberry cheesecake and an ordinary parfait, and were warned to stay away from the chocolate mousse by a helpful waiter who was attentive but never overbearing. (2719 McKinney. 826-5560. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11-2:30; Dinner: Sun-Thur 6-10, Fri & Sat 6-11. Reservations. All credit cards. $$$)
Oyster’s. A simple menu, reasonable waiting times and an enthusiastic staff make Oyster’s an oasis in the fast-paced neon jungle that has sprouted in the Belt Line/Dallas Parkway corridor. Oyster’s doesn’t rely on any menu or decor gimmicks to keep its regular customers, just promptly prepared seafood that lives up to the menu’s boast that the food is served only when available fresh. Interestingly, the filet of flounder and fresh Boston scrod filet are preferable to the restaurant’s namesake, although the fresh oysters on the half-shell are no slouches. Avoid the lackluster shrimp, but make sure you sample the eggplant or zucchini appetizers. Surprisingly, the staff takes as much care in preparing the hamburgers and sandwiches as it does in preparing the seafood. The hamburgers are big and juicy, and the bread is fresh-a rarity in a seafood restaurant. Unfortunately, the desserts taste like the Sara Lee variety, and the beer and wine options are uninspired. (4580 Belt Line. 386-0122. Mon-Thur 11:30-10, Fri till 11, Sat 5-11, Sun 5-10 MC, V, AE. $$)
D Revisits Ratcliffe’s. Since there, at the top of the menu, boldly sits a quote from our June issue that suggests that Ratcliffe’s “may have earned the title of best seafood restaurant in Dallas,” we wanted to be sure before we said anything otherwise. Sadly, and after numerous visits, we now must retract our previous praise. The bad news includes shrimp and crab in white wine sauce. Served in a puff pastry shaped like a fish, the content was of the same consistancy as the thick, heavy clam chowder we were served as an appetizer. The shrimp were the tiny frozen kind, and the crab was made apparent only through an occasional crunch. The seafood saute was horribly fishy-we left it almost untouched. The scampi mediterranean (scampi cooked in lemon butter, wine, garlic, olives and tomatoes) should have had a truly distinctive taste considering its components-in fact, it looked scrumptious-unfortunately, it lacked any taste whatsoever. The sophisticated dress of the clientele and the classy (if somewhat mismatched decor seems a waste amid the noisy family-style atmosphere. Our opinions differed on the saffron rice-one night it was plasticized; another, “nice.” The straight-from-San Francisco sourdough bread and soothing raspberry mousse were the best-the only memorable- parts of the evening. We hope Ratcliffe’s surfaces again soon. (1901 McKinney. 748-7480. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11-2:30; Dinner: Mon-Fri 4:30-10, Sat & Sun 4:30-11. No reservations. AE, V, DC, CB. $$$)
Seascape Inn. The owners of Old Warsaw, Les Saisons, Mario’s and Arthur’s have acquired this admirable addition to the Dallas seafood scene housed in what used to be an unfortunate place: The Baked Potato. The best place to sit for lunch is by the geranium-garnished north windows. At night, the church pew booths with lace partitions are softly lit and romantic. We’ve yet to be disappointed by a meal here, and the service is helpful to the point of being self-effacing. Our sommelier, Johana Ewing, was the best we’ve run across in a long time. Not only was the wine she recommended superb, it was also less expensive than the one we had requested. We did, on one occasion, find what seemed to be an excessive amount of crab cartilage in the crab ramequin, an appetizer made of lump crab meat and tiny mushrooms in a white sauce that otherwise seemed just fine. Other appetizers we’ve enjoyed include the seafood gumbo, New England clam chowder, baked oyster Seascape in a tomato sauce and the ceviche. The remoulade served with a generous serving of lump crab meat seemed more like a tiresome Thousand Island than what it was supposed to be, but the other sauces were all quite nice. We’ve sampled the salmon in puff pastry, sautéed sea trout with lemon and capers, cape scallops in lemon and butter, and a lovely fried flounder. Everything is so light here you can find room for dessert, and the homemade pies are excellent. (6306 Greenville. 692-6920. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2; Dinner: Sun-Thur 5:30-10:30, Fri & Sat till 11:30. Reservations recommended. AE, V, MC. $$$)
D Revisits S&D Oyster Company. Never mind the ever-escalating number of posh seafood restaurants in Dallas, S&D could easily survive for years just on its substantial assemblage of regulars who would much rather fight the ever-present crowds than switch. And understandably so; S&D consistently provides seafood cultists with uniformly superior fare. Sure, the interior isn’t quite as snazzy as many of its newer competitors, and S&D’s desserts rank right down there with the worst of the lot, but when it comes right down to it, who cares? S&D has some of the best fresh seafood in Dallas. Period. The broiled whole flounder we had (which our waiter deftly carved before us) was light and fluffy-and most important-fresh. Even the fried shrimp, which was cooked in an incredibly flavorful batter, was worth coming back for again and again. The oyster loaf sandwich (fried oysters served on a buttered bun with tartar sauce and ketchup) is a good idea, but is almost too messy and complicated to be worth the hassle. And unfortunately, it doesn’t even come with S&D’s great sides: crunchy hushpuppies and french fries and crisp coleslaw. And don’t forget: Forget dessert. (2701 McKinney. 823-6350. Mon-Thur 11-10. Fri & Sal till 11. Closed Sun. No reservations. MC, V. $$)
STEAKS, BURGERS, ETC.
Hoffbrau. Once again we’ve found the atmosphere at this delightfully Austinesque steak shop to be its primary charm. Sink into the deep vinyl (deep because the springs are shot) booths, put your elbows on the table, have a beer and listen to the genuine Texas accents of the polyester-clad cowboys (the real kind that let you know. In case you doubted, that this is a real steak restaurant). You’ll leave as full as your Levi’s can handle for less than $10, and if you’re into real and beautiful self-abuse, there’s a Haagen-Dazs two doors down for dessert. (3205 Knox at Cole. 559-2680. Sun-Thur 11-11, Fri 11-midnight, Sat noon-midnight. All credit cards. $$)
Kobe Steaks. This plush Japanese steak house offers combinations of steak, seafood and/or chicken. Beef is the featured attraction, and it is of the highest quality. Dinners come with delicious beef broth, a piquant shrimp appetizer and smooth green tea as well as salad and rice. But the seating arrangements, with groups of diners around the surface where the cook chops and sautes, offer all the privacy of a bus station. (15000 Quorum Drive at Belt Line off Dallas Pkwy, Suite 600. 934-8150. Sun-Thur 5-11. Fri & Sat till midnight. All credit cards. $$$)
Nostromo Bar. By the time this high-tech bar/restaurant opened its unmarked door, it was in the higher echelon of “in” places to see and be seen in Dallas. Reason: This is the restaurant version of the Eight-0. But there is no juke box; a xylophonist plunks out soothing melodies instead. Since the place has opened, we’ve noticed that the “in” atmosphere has become so thick that it’s sometimes almost nauseating. Late-night patrons seem to be trying to out-New Wave each other with their apparel. Meanwhile, management has come up with a limited but strong menu that includes a good steak and a new homemade soup each day. (4515 Travis at Knox. 528-8880. Mon-Sat 11:30-2 am. Sun 6 pm-2 am. Reservations. AE, V, MC. $$)
Celebration. This is the closest thing to a home-cooked meal you’re going to find in a Dallas restaurant. Entrees include old standbys like meat loaf, pot roast, baked chicken and fresh trout. And the vegetables are served family style, along with a massive bowl of tossed green salad. The food has been consistently reliable on numerous visits. The only problem, however, is that most of Dallas knows about Celebration. Consequently, the crowds can be hectic, especially if you have to undergo the ordeal of being asked to wait next door in the Celebration leather shop until your name is called over a loud speaker. If you don’t have the patience for a half-hour wait, we suggest you either get there shortly after the place opens or try some of your own home cooking. (4503 W Lovers Ln. 351-5681. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11-2; Dinner: Mon-Thur 5:30-10, Fri & Sat 5:30-11, Sun 5-10. No reservations. MC, V, AE. $$)
Sonny Bryan’s. At Sonny Bryan’s the entire interior is color-coordinated to remind you that the room is a giant flue. Everything is the color of smoke: the walls, the floors, the windows and the flies. You either have to sit on a plank bench or in your own car after you give your order to a humorless person who responds with “What initial?” as her only spoken words, leaving you to stand with a gang of fellow barbecue zealots waiting to hear your name called. You want it? Suffer for it. Any Sonny Bryan freak will fight you to the grease-stained floor in its defense as the greatest barbecue joint in town. The beef is excellent, with a generous serving at $1.80 per sandwich. The place is grimy, the clientele strange, the staff surly. But the beer is cold and the barbecue is at its earthy best. Just like the good ole days-1910 to be exact-says the barely visible sign, when the first Bryan barbecue was served up. Probably the same year they washed the windows. (2202 Inwood. 357-7120. Mon-Fri 7 am-5 pm, Sat 7 am-3 pm, Sun 11 am-2 pm. No reservations. No credit cards. $)
FORT WORTH RESTAURANTS
Angelo’s. If Chrysler could turn out autos the way Angelo’s assembles and delivers lunch-hour sandwiches, there would be no need for a bail-out. The coordinator takes your order, dabs sauce on a bun and spins the bun onto a precise spot in front of the cutter. The cutter loads the bun with juicy tender meat, crowns it and passes it back to the coordinator, who wraps if without looking. The counter help hands you your sandwich, takes your money and yells “large.” A 12-ounce frozen mug of draft Budweiser costs 70￠; an 18-ounce mug of the same costs 80￠. That’s why the counter keeps yelling “large.” There is no better barbecued beef in Fort Worth than at Angelo’s. And there are a couple of sleepers here, too, known only to the regulars. There hasn’t been a bargain around like the $1.20 hot link sandwich with sauce, pickles and onions since the demise of the nickel Coke. And the chili (steaming in temperature but not seasoning) is the best west of Tolbert’s. (2533 White Settlement Rd. (817) 332-0357. Mon-Sat 11-10. Closed Sun. No reservations. No credit cards. $)
The Carriage House. This old standby offers a refreshing retreat from area steak houses that are big enough to accommodate basketball tournaments. The atmosphere in the two small crystal-laden dining rooms is not quiet, but it is relaxed nevertheless. The steaks are still the safest selections, and ours were prepared exactly as ordered. The tenderloin won best of show. The South African lobster tail was indeed large, as advertised, as was the price ($21.95), which was not advertised. Asparagus and broccoli were fresh, crisp and boring, the kind we used to eat to obtain permission to leave the table. The sauteed mushroom appetizer was delicious, but the entry on the menu should have included a warning label alerting hungry diners that consumption of the item would involve only two bites. The brandy ice, a successful blend of brandy and ice cream, is a nice winder-upper, especially for those who have difficulty choosing between dessert and after-dinner drinks. (5136 Camp Bowie Blvd. (817) 732-2873. Luncn: Mon-Fri 11:30-2; Dinner: Mon-Sat 6-11, Sun 6-10; Sun brunch: 11-2. Reservations. MC, V, AE. $$$)
Cattlemen’s. There are ups and downs here, but the prime steak is definitely an upper. First-time visitors are usually excited at the rustic Texas-style setting in the heart of the old Stockyards area. The restaurant exterior with its weathered facade promises a return to the days when this was the gathering point for the journey up the Chisholm Trail. But the interior is a letdown. There’s nothing much to see except for pictures of blue-ribbon beeves that are displayed to document the superb quality of meat that has been devoured here. (There’s one picture of a horse that is undoubtedly displayed for some other reason.) But when the steaks arrive, all else becomes incidental. The prime cuts of rib eye and K.C. sirloin are delectable, and the 18-ounce prime boneless strip is a third-degree sin. The Saturday night service reminded us of the service on the Braniff flight to Oklahoma City: frantic and elusive. You wouldn’t miss anything if you ate nothing but steak, though the lamb fries will likely appeal to those who are psychologically attuned. (2458 N Main. (817) 624-3945. Mon-Fri 11-10:30, Sat 4:30-10:30. Closed Sun. Reservations. MC, V, AE, DC. $$$)
Crystal Cactus. On the outside, this place still looks like the old Texas Hotel that it once was, but on the inside-which was gutted and completely redone- it’s strictly Hyatt Regency. It’s like walking into the chapel of the First Baptist Church and finding the galactic bar scene from Star Wars. But the Crystal Cactus, which gets its name from the etched-glass room dividers, is a pleasant repose and an admirable effort to provide quality dining in downtown Fort Worth. The service is proficient and attentive, and the offerings are attractively presented. For openers, our rock lobster salad with tarragon dressing was delicious, and the beef tenderloin was equally well-prepared, yet the entrees did not prompt applause. The veal we tried was rather bland. We also regretted paying $19.50 for a gummy scampi and veal fettuccine that included only three scampi. Interesting luncheon specialties are featured during the week, including a spicy fisherman’s stew, replete with chunks of swordfish, red snapper and scallops. (Hyatt Regency Hotel, 815 Main. (817) 870-1234. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11-2, Dinner: nightly 6-11; Sunday brunch: 10:30-2:30. Reservations. Jackets required for dinner. All credit cards. $$$)
Edelweiss. Edelweiss is a big. joyous beer hall with food. It’s ersatz Texas German food, but who cares? It sounds German and the food comes in portions large enough to please any aspiring Burgermeister. And always, on the tiny center stage, is Bernd Schnerzinger, with an Alp-sized voice and the proper oom-pah backup. Hokey, no doubt, but Bernd is a charmer-he kissed seven ladies during one song while we were there. Of course, there are German wines and beers, and a cheese soup as thick as we’ve ever tasted. For entrees, we tried sausages in mushroom sauce and cordon bleu Kartoffein (schnitzel stuffed with ham and cheese), which is reputed to be the house specialty; it wasn’t sensational, although the potato pancakes spiced with onion made a tasty side dish. (3801-A Southwest Blvd. (817) 738-5934. Mon-Thur 5-10:30. Fri & Sat 5-11. Closed Sun. Reservations for 10 or more. MC, V, DC. $$)
Jimmie Dip’s. For a while, it was easy to forget this longtime Chinese restaurant. But Jimmie Dip’s is still in business: The food remains excellent, the service superb and the decor unassuming and tasteful. We began, of course, with fried wonton all around, and then opted for the Chinese vegetable soup. Both were supreme appetizers. Our main dish was the almond gai ding, diced white chicken meat with snow peas, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and mushrooms-so good, we hated sharing. Other dishes we sampled included the war sui har (breaded jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon), the sweet and sour pork, the ginger beef and the Jimmie Dip special, a mixture of chicken, chicken livers, Virginia ham and vegetables, sautéed in chicken broth-an unlikely dish that was the best of the evening. This restaurant knows what it’s doing. (1500 S University. (817) 336-4333. Tue-Thur & Sun, 4:30-10, Fri & Sat 4:30-11. Closed Mon. Reservations for 5 or more. DC. MC, V, AE. $)
Newcomer: L’Oustau. Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth may sound like a piece of the Old West, but developer Sid Bass has seen to it that a little bit of France is tucked into the corner. L’Oustau is a Provencal word for “home.” and its proprietor, who is from the south of France, has created a pleasant, open room with lots of green appointments and skylights and waiters with French accents. They bring food in continental rather than Texas-sized portions, and may encounter opposition from people who are used to being stuffed to the gills. L’Oustau brings just enough to satisfy, enabling you to make it through all the courses. We had a fine pair of small lamb chops one night with a delicate sauce, but the rock bass in crust (loup en croute) was a little oily and flat in flavor. For lunch we had a peppery vegetable soup and a subtle and also peppery paté. Ironically, the shrimp Provencal with tomato and garlic sauce was ordinary, while the coq au vin evoked memories of real country cooking in burgundy. Delicious. The waiters will tempt you. and you might as well give in to the strawberry tart, which comes with a layer of custard and a thin crust of chocolate. Fresh raspberries were sprinkled around the plate for good measure. If you don’t have room for dessert, you will want at least one of their fresh strawberries dipped in chocolate. (300 Main St. (817) 332-8900. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2; Dinner: Mon-Thur 6-10, Fri & Sat 6-11. Closed Sun. AE. $$$$)
London House. London House was once the place to take your wife or prom date for a big steak dinner. Times change and so did this favorite, into a dumpy,dusty-cornered, old restaurant with unreasonablyhigh-priced, tough steaks. However, fortune smiledupon London House and sent the former manager ofMac’s House (another fondly remembered FortWorth steak restaurant) to help out. The improvement is enormous, from the spruced-up surroundings to the better cuts of meat. Prices have risenwith the quality. The steaks and chicken we hadwere tender and flavorful. The crab, too, was tenderand moist, unlike the dried-out lobster tails servedwith another diner’s steak. The soup and salad bar,alwavs a strong point here, has gotten even betterwith the addition of items like watermelon chunksamong the greens. Avoid the broccoli, served withwhat looks like microwave-melted Cheez Whiz overit. London House will probably never return to itsformer splendor, but the food has regained itsformer virtues. (4475 Camp Bowie Blvd. (817) 731-4141. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30-2:30; Dinner: Mon-Thur 5:30-11. Fri & Sat 5:30-midnight. Closed Sun. Reservations. MC, V, AE, DC. $$$)
FAST FOOD and the Moral Majority have this in common: both are often neither.