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DINING NEW ARRIVALS

The hottest new restaurants in the Metroplex
By D Magazine |

The Verandah Club. (American Nou-velle) Dean Fearing, formerly of Agnew’s, may be the most talented chef in town, so it was good news to hear that he has a kitchen to work in again. The Verandah Club is a sports-and-spa establishment on the grounds of the Loews Anatole Hotel. On the second floor is a plush restaurant that’s airy with its light-colored wainscoting and summery fabrics. Here, Fearing produces some of the New Southwestern Cuisine dishes that made Agnew’s so distinguished, as well as some further innovations in the American nouvelle style. Although The Verandah Club is private, it is open to non-member diners who want to give it a try. For those who join the club just to eat in the restaurant, the dues are unique: $35 a month, waived for members who charge a meal of at least that amount.

There’s no doubt that the food is a relative bargain; these may be the lowest prices in town for meals of this caliber. Fearing remains the great Dallas master of sauce-making. Even the names are spectacular: “Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon and fresh horseradish sauce,” “roast yellow bell pepper curry sauce,” “pear, honey and thyme sauce.” In proper nouvelle fashion, the grilled or roasted meats are served on top of the sauces, accompanied by lavish fans of eight or 10 crisp-cooked vegetables. Only two things keep these main courses from being consistently perfect. Occasionally, the meat is not as delicious as the sauce (we’ve had slightly overdone pheasant and lamb that seemed underseasoned and juiceless). And the sauces sometimes seem insufficiently matched to the things they accompany (an appetizer of lobster served with black beans, corn and roasted garlic sauce seemed to be rather a hodgepodge). But usually these creations work wondrously: You couldn’t have a better dish than the grilled salmon in a jewel-like golden sauce.

Most of the appetizers are salads of one sort or another, although the Southwest vegetable soup and the shrimp sautéed in sesame oil with soy sauce are fine hot choices. The smoked turkey and Virginia ham salad-a familiar appetizer from the old Agnew’s-is a lovely tangle of julienne meats and vegetables surrounded by a pool of pomegranate dressing. The green salads reflect some of Fearing’s most brilliant ideas. The one of chiffonade spinach and iced cucumber with a tomato-shallot vinaigrette and the one of watercress, endive, dried apricots and roasted walnuts are both masterpieces. Desserts are not quite at the same level, although the homemade maple ice cream, the flourless chocolate cake and the white chocolate mousse are all excellent. The service is hospitable and efficient, and a 15 percent gratuity is added to the check. (Loews Anatole Hotel, 2201 Stemmons Frwy. 748-1200. Daily 6-9 p.m. MC, V, AE. Lunch $$, dinner $$$$) 8.5

Chez Gerard. (Country French) Guy and Martine Calluaud backed this new place in the belief that Dallas needs a less fancy, less expensive French restaurant than the one they run farther down McKinney Avenue. They installed French associates Gerard Rousset and Pascal Cayet as chef and manager, respectively, at this tiny new establishment, which seats about 50 people inside and has a few outdoor tables.

There’s nothing nouvelle about the menu. The food is hearty country fare, French-style. The appetizers include snails in garlic butter in a flaky crust, scallops and leeks in a cream sauce and a fairly strange combination of large shrimp and grapefruit sections tossed with a pinkish mayonnaise and served in the grapefruit rind. There is also a soup du jour (we tried the leek and potato), and a green salad comes before each entrée. None of these sturdy dishes stands out, but all are competently prepared.

The entrees display more distinction-and more problems. The swordfish grilled on a skewer is marvelously cooked, but the portion seems rather small. The casserole of rabbit braised in red wine has a very hearty taste, but it can be a bit chewy. A similar problem mars the roast pork stuffed with prunes; the excellent flavor is spoiled by its toughness. The pepper steak (filet in a creamy black-peppercorn sauce) is an excellent version of this standard dish.

Desserts strike the same high average as the rest of the food. Our favorite is the Floating Island, with the cappuccino mousse not far behind. The strawberry cake and the praline ice cream are less flavorful. Chez Gerard also offers a light lunch menu with omelettes, sandwiches and salads. (4444 McKinney. 522-6865. Lunch: Mon-Fri 10:30-2:30; dinner: Mon-Sat 6-11. Closed Sun. MC, V, AE. Lunch $$, dinner $$$$) 6.0

Capriccio. (Northern Italian) Of all the remodeled old houses that have served for restaurants in Dallas, this one may have kept its character best and turned out loveliest. Much care was obviously expended on the wood paneling, the fireplace and other elements of the house. There’s also a patio outside for dining in nicer weather. Some care has also been given to the food, although it’s not as exciting as the look of Capriccio. The appetizers are fairly routine-the snails topped with pastry is found almost everywhere these days, and the shrimp in garlic butter are ordinary-but the pastas are more original. The duck ravioli are served in a sauce made from duck stock that has a lot of character. The spaghetti topped with chicken livers is an interesting choice for those with a taste for giblets, and the angel-hair pasta in tomato sauce has a lively taste of fresh basil. The entrées we’ve tried have been pleasant but unexceptional. The best is probably the tournedos in a light wine sauce. The veal with artichokes needed fresh artichoke hearts to be more than routine, and a lunch-time special of scrod was dull. But desserts at Capriccio are something special. The za-baglione has a hearty Marsala taste, and both the Concorde cake (of chocolate and meringue) and the rum cake (something like a cheesecake in texture, with lots of raisins) proved memorable. (2616 Maple. 871-2004. Lunch: Mon-Fri 11-2; dinner: daily 6-11. All credit cards. Lunch $$, dinner $$$) 5.5

Palermo. (Italian) This new Italian place occupies the site of Shannon Wynne’s shortlived restaurant, Mexico, and uses some of the same decor. The putti still dangle from the ceiling, but the jalapeno-shaped Christmas lights are gone, replaced by red-checked tablecloths. You can tell by the name-it ends in “o,” after all-that Wynne is one of Palermo’s owners; another owner is the proprietor of St. Martin’s. Even with all the experience behind Palermo, the initial impression the place creates is slight. The specialties include some authentic and (for Dallas) unusual Italian recipes, but so far the talent in the kitchen is underwhelming.

Some of the notable disappointments wehave had here include a tasteless stuffed artichoke, pasty cauliflower soup, grossly oilyprosciutto served with cantaloupe, gummycappelletti (essentially tortellini) and rumcake with no flavor of spirits. Among thespecialties, the salmon a la stimpirata has noflavor other than the capers in the sauce, andthe veal suprema, although the bordelaisesauce gives it a nice flavor, is tough andsabotaged by a rubbery topping of bakedcheese. The best dishes at Palermo are thespaghetti with meat sauce and the silk pie.Our regrets about the food can’t be overcomeby the cheerful, well-meaning service. (2911 Routh at Cedar Springs. 871-5083. Mon-Thur 11-11, Fri & Sat 11 a. m.-1 a.m., Sun 5-11p.m. All credit cards. $$) 5

Boulevard Café. (Steaks/Burgers) Thispioneer in the Jefferson Boulevard renaissance only vaguely resembles any place onLower Greenville: There are plants around,but the place isn’t really trying to be chic.This is urban populism at its most appealing,with diners of every description. They comefor the sandwiches (good burgers and grilledchicken) and thin, honest steaks at reasonable prices. But we wish the menu wouldbranch out a little. At present, the homemade chili is the best thing on it (filled withbig, ragged chunks of meat, just enoughgrease and lots of flavor-the real Texasthing); a few Tex-Mex dishes to go alongwith it could be great. We hope that the service we experienced here was atypical: It wasinattentive and extremely spacey. (367 W. Jefferson. 941-2812. Mon-Thur 11 a.m.-9p.m., Fri & Sat 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Closed Sun.MC, V, DC. $) 4.5

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