How often does a new restaurant fill you with fear that something will happen to change it before you can eat your way through its entire menu? I thought I was in love after my first visit to Pomodoro. If the second was less rhapsodic-well, it eased the fear somewhat. This Italian move-in to the old Rocco/J.B.’s Diner space still has some growing and steadying to do, but if its performance lives up to its promise, Dallas diners can expect an extended affair of the heart ahead.
That first lunch was pure delight: sunny minestrone, crisp vegetable-filled and deeply flavored; a salad of caper-strewn pepper strips, red predominant, not roasted as claimed, but elegantly sautéed. Toothsome spinach linguini held a wealth of shell-free clam meat in the freshest herbed tomato sauce imaginable. Razor-thin carpaccio slices formed a cool and tender frame for a warm heart of crisp arugula under molten mozzarella. For dessert, the Italian classic tirami su took a delicious form I’d not seen before-a square cut of sponge cake, mellowed overnight in espresso, its moscarpine cheese layered on top.
The second visit’s more extensive sampling revealed a few excesses: Bresaola, the famed sun-dried cured beef, was a trifle leathery; mussels and clams cooked with garlic in olive oil were oversalted, as was the broth of the spinach tortellini soup. The tortellini themselves, though, were a joy, as were my pasta plate’s spinach ravioli with wild mushrooms. Thin-sliced calf’s liver was cooked past the rare I had ordered, but its white wine and onion sauce was delicate; rack of lamb’s half-dozen riblets ranged from overdone and rather tough to rare perfection. A Cornish game hen, herbed, split, and broiled, was perfect all the way. A fragrant bouquet of sautéed cauliflower, zucchini, and carrots completed all entrees except, incredibly, the lamb. Which brings us to service, wherein lies Pomodoro’s most noticeable need for refinement. An almost over-attentive confusion of order-taking and dish-bringing by a half-dozen different people kept our glasses filled and the addictive warm bread (homemade, topped with chopped tomato and fresh garlic in olive oil) constantly replenished. But some dishes were inaccurately explained, and one owner’s offer to prepare a sampler plate of three recommended appetizers brought us separate servings of all three, for which we were billed accordingly, not at all what we understood or would have done, as we had been interested in other selections. Never mind. Pluses outweigh minuses here by an impressive margin. Do try flown-from-Italy buffalo mozzarella rounds, drizzled with olive oil, indescribably wonderful. Do try the traditional dessert of dense little almond biscuits, served with sweet wine for unashamed dipping. And do try even the dishes I’ve found fault with here-one tends to be pickier in critiquing places as superior as Pom-odoro clearly intends to be. And native Sardinian Efisio Farris, who co-owns the place with his fiancee. Lori See-mann, strikes me as the kind of disciplinarian who will have all the kinks ironed out by the next time I go there to dine. Which will be soon. 2520 Cedar Springs. 871-1924. Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30-2; dinner daily 5 pm-midnigkt. All credit cards. Inexpensive to moderate. -Betty Cook
It would take an ill wind indeed to blow us an unrecommendable Vietnamese restaurant-the French-influenced cuisine, with its emphasis on freshness of components and lightness of sauces, has to be one of the healthiest in the world. And East Wind, Dallas’s newest entry in this category, has to be one of the prettiest places around. A surprise jewel of suavity-pale gray walls, lush carpet, slim black lacquer chairs at linen-spread tables laid with fine china, muted music of plucked strings emanating from somewhere-the restaurant would be incongruous to its Deep Ellum setting if its clientele didn’t match its smartness. Mostly it does; of a weekend evening, the dress runs to cocktail chic, and even the casually clad have that definitive Dallas siick-city air about them. Service, too, is polished, assured, and intuitive.
The food was less distinctive than its surroundings on our two review visits. Hot and sour soup was lovely-its vegetables crisp, its two shrimp meaty, and two scallopssatiny-but lacking in piquancy. Spring andsummer rolls were extremely mild-flavored,even dipped in the fish sauce that accompanied them; the latter’s carrots werethreads, not shreds, and needed more ofthose lethal little red-pepper flecks to zip uptheir spirits. The day’s special roast duck wassucculent, but hardly seasoned at all. Charcoal-broiled pork, diced and attractivelymounded on a lettuce leaf, was dust-dry;plum sauce, brought only at our request, wasunpleasantly sweet. A melange of chicken,mushrooms, scallions, and vegetablescooked and served in a hot clay pot had moreflavor, thanks more to its ingredients than toseasoning; ditto sautéed scallops, shrimp,chicken, pork, mushrooms, and vegetablesheaped on noodles too fragile to hold theircrunch under the load. Dessert-wise, friedbanana was adequate but undistinguished.2711 Elm St. 745-5554. Mon-Thur 11-11, Fri11-midnight, Sat noon-midnight. Sun 5 pm-midnight. All credit cards. Inexpensive tomoderate. -B.C.
Ralph & Kacoo’s
The great public, God bless it, is inscrutable. Both time-honored stalwarts and ambitious new restaurants are closing shop right and left in Dallas-business during the current slump just won’t sustain them. But this first Texas outpost in this Louisiana chain of seafood restaurants makes the customers line up for long waits, in the bar and out the front door. What’s the magic formula? Is it the location or the atmosphere? Hardly, since Don’s, a branch of another Louisiana chain on the identical premises, couldn’t make a go of it here. Is it the service? No, that’s harried and sometimes haphazard. Is it a bargain? No, the prices seem a bit steep for what you get. Maybe it’s the association of the name with good times-there are branches of Ralph & Kacoo’s on the most trampled block of the French Quarter in New Orleans and near the race track in Bossier City.
One thing we know for sure: it isn’t thefood that makes Ralph and Kacoo’s a hit. Theplace specializes in fried seafood and in renditions of well -known Louisiana dishes. Thefried seafood, though, from catfish to froglegs, is bland; the accompanying Frenchfries hardly edible. Fancier dishes fare nobetter. The crayfish platter offers a bisqueand an étouffée-like stew, neither distin- guished. Lots of recipes (like stuffed shrimp ;and stuffed flounder) make use of a shrimp- and-crab meat dressing that has little taste beyond cayenne. The Cajun-inspired dishes at Ralph & Kacoo’s fell victim to the fault of so many latterday Louisiana restaurants; the imain taste of too many dishes-the only taste of too many dishes-is too hot. 2361 W Northwest Hwy. 357-6111. Mon-Thur 11:30 am-10 pm, Fri & Sat 11:30 am-10:30 pm, Sun 11:30 am-9 pm. MC, V, AE. Inexpensive to moderate. -W.L. Taitte
BARBECUE ft BURGERS
Chips, Chips is the burger joint for me: I like its laid-back, not-too-loud atmosphere, I like the friendly and efficient service. I like the pig sandwich (shredded pork with relish), the chicken sandwich, and all the burgers I’ve tasted (chili, cheese, hickory, and plain). I like the skinny, sweet onion rings and the big basket of fries and I love having to choose between cold beer and an honest-to-gosh, from-scratch milkshake. 4501 N Central Expwy. 526-1092. 2445 W North-west Hwy. Suite 101. 350-8751 Inexpensive.
Prince of Hamburgers. It’s not merely nostalgia that keeps Prince of Hamburgers on Lemmon in business aftersixty years, as I discovered when a group of us celebrateda friend’s birthday there. Sure, lined up in a row with ourtrays hooked 1o the window and a waitress bearing beer andburgers heading our way, we did feel a bit of a flashback, sortof like Peggy Sue in the movie. But the burgers brought usback with a jolt: this is timeless food, even if the stuccobuilding, neon sign, and serving style are dated. Theburgers, served on a well-toasted bun in a basket withsuperlative fries, are tops; the chili dogs are served burger-style, and the old-fashioned milkshakes come in real glasses.Now, if only I had a convertible.. .5210 Lemmon. 526-9081.Inexpensive. -M.BM.
Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse. In Texas, a barbecue place is rated by the quality of its sliced beef on a bun, and beef on a bun is why Sonny Bryan’s stays on top of the barbecue heap. Yes, there are those who love the ribs and those who, inexplicably, love the inch-thick, hard-crusted onion rings. Still, the heart of the matter is the beef and Sonny’s beef is the best. Piled a couple of inches thick, the slices are a study in good barbecue-from the charred outside to the bright red smoke band to the pink-brown interior; this beef is rich and tender and simple, all at once. 2202 Imvood. 357-7120. Inexpensive.
Arcadia Bar. The Cajun dishes in this funky Little bar equal a lot of the best versions in Louisiana itself. The light-colored gumbo is unorthodox, but it and the red beans and rice are both terrific. The fried oysters are large and perfectly crisp, and the barbecued shrimp are better than those served these days at Pascal’s Manale in New Orleans, the restaurant that invented this spicy, buttery dish. Even the garlic bread, dripping with pungently herbed butter, is outstanding here. 2114 Greenville Ave. 821-1300. Inexpensive.
Louisiana Purchase. The crawfish étouffée (available in two portion sizes) was sufficiently authentic to cause our Louisiana relatives to want to come back. The fried shrimp, oysters, and catfish are as good as any place around. Lots of the dishes, though, as at other putative Cajun places, are simply too hot for most tastes-beware the gumbo and especially the barbecued shrimp. 2901 N Central Expwy at Parker Road, Piano. 422-2469. Moderate.
August Moon. Not quite the standout it used to be among area Chinese restaurants, August Moon is still mostly reliable and pleasing. The moo goo gai pan has the most carefully sliced pieces of white meat, touched with a hint of garlic. The three kinds of meat in Mongolian barbecue have a rich flavor and an attractively chewy texture. But one of our favorite dishes on earlier visits. Papa Tsay’s Magic Basket, suffered from a fried noodle basket that looked pretty but lasted stale, and the bits of lobster in the dish were not overly fresh-tasting, either. 15030 Preston at Belt Line. 385-7227. N 2300 N Central Expwy. 881-0071. Moderate. N
Han-Chu. Still one of (he handsomest Chinese places in town, with its sleek black decor, Han-Chu is one of the better purveyors of the cuisine, too. Standard dishes like the spring rolls can be a disappointment, but the golden coin shrimps proved a worthy appetizer. Among the entrees, Shanghai smoked pork stir-fried with vegetables is an unusual standout, and the tangerine beef is one of the best versions in town: tender, pillowy pieces of beef in a sauce not too sweet or too cloying. The standards of service here seem to have slipped a bit. Caruth Plaza, 9100 N Central Expwy at Park Lane, Suite 191. 69/0900. Moderate.
Plum Blossom. Chef Steve Chiang’s innovative menu hassome real successes and some dull spots. We sampled theGreat Dynasty Banquet on our last visit, and were impressedby the dish of wonton filled with shrimp and chicken andstir-fried with Chinese greens. The combination of lobster,crab claws, and prawns was enhanced by a black bean saucetreated in a style reminiscent of French cooking-the seasonings were blended smoothly together rather than leftdiscrete, as is the Chinese wont. But we were less impressedby the gamy-tasting frog legs and flabby-textured rabbit meatin orange peel chili sauce. Loews Anatole Hotel. 2201 Stem-mons FWy. 748-1200. Expensive. -W.L.T.
Szechwan Pavilion. Our favorites from a recent visit were the Charng Sha shrimp, entangled with strips of peppers, onion, and ginger and nestled in a boat of foil, and a knockout version of lamb Szechwan style. We were less impressed with the Peking duck-the skin was no crisper and the flesh no more succulent than that of the plebeian roast duck you can buy at any Chinese market. 8411 Preston, Suite 132. at Northwest Hwy. 368 4303. Moderate to expensive.
Uncle Tal’s Hunan Yuan. People in Dallas seem to have forgotten about our local branch of the restaurant the great Chinese chef, formerly a star in New York, set up in Texas. Can it be that Dallasites just don’t want to pay the admittedly steep prices, no matter how fine the food? There can be a Few slip-ups here (some crab in a seafood dish lasted a mite fishy). And the portions are smallish despite (he high cost. But make no mistake: Uncle Tai’s Beef is soaked in brine so that it is almost like ham. deep-fried, then stir-fried with hot peppers, and the results are spectacular. Appetizers like crispy quail and grilled salmon with hot oil are also out’ standing. Galleria. 13350 Dallas Pkwy, Suite 3370. 934-9998. Expensive. N
Cleo by Jean-Claude. Fans of the old Jean-Claude-once perhaps Dallas’s best restaurant-will find much to evoke nostalgia here. Jean-Claude Prevot himself is again much in evidence, and the menu has some old favorites tike the pristine, very French, lettuce-only salads, the duck in an Oriental-inspired ginger sauce, and the ethereal chocolate souffléa. The price of a four-course fixed meal is just $27.50-remarkably low for what you get. The standout appetizer is the garlicky escargots in a puff-pastry shell, and the best dessert is the hazelnut soufflé. Among the entrées, both treatments of fish we sampled were superb. The Centrum, 3102 Oak Lawn, Suite 110. 520-9264. Expensive.
Frénchy Cafe. The menu is primarily a list of hot or cold sandwiches along with daily specials: we tried the beef bourguignon, a tender, flavorful stew served over buttered noodles, and a hot ham-and-cheese on croissant. Dont’ miss dessert-the son (who waited on us) makes the excellent chocolate mousse; his dad (who walked us to the door) makes the lovely apple art. 5950-C Royal Ln. 369-1235. Inexpensive to moderate.
Le Brussels. This little Belgian restaurant in Snider Plaza is a real discovery. It’s clear from the moment you open the menu that Le Brussels has its priorities straight-following the single page of hot and cold appetizers and the page of entrees are two full pages listing desserts: everything from Belgian waffles with various toppings to concoctions made from Callebaut chocolate. We restrained ourselves and did not order dessert first, though it was obviously the most important thing. Instead, we started with a cup of the commendable bouillabaisse accompanied by pungent aioli and garlic toasts, and smoked rainbow trout with zippy horseradish cream. There’s a tempting list of Belgian beers, but red wine seemed right to go with the meat entrees we ordered: lamb chops in mustard crust, steak au poivre vert,and a mixed grill (ribeye. chicken breast, and a lamb chop).All the food was forthright, with no frills and lots of flavor:the salad was dressed with sweet union shavings, the béar-naise on the perfectly cooked mixed grill was heady with tarragon, the tangy crust on the lamb chops set off the sweetmeal perfectly. Finally, it was time for dessert. We savedourselves (be agony of decision-making and splurged onseveral to share along with our pot of Belgian coffee: theday’s special tarte tatin, with its pile of caramel apple chunksand the luscious chocolate mousse, took the prize. 6615Snider Plaza. 739-1927. Moderate. -M.B.M.
L’Entrecote. Don’t come here too hungry- L’Entrecote’s menu is ambitiously extensive; the two long pages describing the complicated and subtle dishes dreamed up by chef Michel Platz take some time to peruse. Then there are the specials to take into consideration, so that composing a dinner for two is a challenge for the curious and easily tempted. In the end. everything we ordered was delicious. exquisite, and perfectly served, leaving us wondering about all the things we couldn’t try. Endive, watercress, and tarragon salad was refreshing; a salad of asparagus, baby corn, and rose petals was good but slightly too precious, Veal in lime and sage was followed by an ideal dessert of meltingly light frozen raspberry torte. Loews Anatole Hotel. 2201 Stemmons Frwy. 748-1200. Expensive to very expensive.
The Riviera. Smoked red bell pepper soup with bacon and sun-dried tomatoes was a perfect blend of salt, sweet, and smoke; the special yellowfin tuna salad played the meaty fish against smooth avocado and balanced the combination with nutty sesame vinaigrette. Delicate halibut was given depth with a rich, though slightly salty, lobster sauce, and the suc-culently sweet loin of lamb was sparked by a green peppercorn sauce. Desserts-orangey crème brulée and a chocolate cake with almond meringue-were only a little less memorable and service was gracious throughout. 7709 Inwood. 351-0094. Expensive to very expensive.
Watel’s. Our meal began with shrimp provencal, perfectly cooked crustaceans in a sunny tomato sauce, and soothing leek soup. Grilled baby salmon and pork chops with apples were better than the grilled ribeye. which was too chewy and overcooked. Chocolate fondant-layers of white and dark chocolate-was the best dessert choice, with the apple tart running a close second. 1923 McKinney. 720-0323. Moderate.
Hofstetter’s Hofstetter’s half-dozen appetizers and seventeen entrees run a daily-changing gamut of fresh creativity applied to traditional dishes, most of them Austrian, but some straying definitely Frenchward. You might start with steamed mussels, bathed in a bracing tarragon-Dijon sauce, then proceed to rosy slices of duck breast, crisp-skinned and sided with walnuts in thyme-scented cassis sauce, with a Zinfandel-poached pear finishing off the plate. On the more traditional side, pork tenderloin medallions dolloped with Montrachet cheese in port sauce are partnered with delec-tably tender spaetzle, the classic liltle German noodles, and a marinated cucumber salad. Plaza at Bachman Creek, 3830 W Northwest Hwy. Suite 390. 358-7660. Inexpensive to moderate.
Kuby’s Sausage House Inc. Stand in line here for the requisite noontime half-hour, and you can watch the social set mingle meekly for a shot at German classics served exactly as they have been for twenty-seven years: plump knackwurst partnered with pastrami-flecked German potato salad, a brimming bowl of superior sauerkraut on the side; onion-spiked tartar steak, red as cherries (not an atom of fat in it), spread thick between rye bread slices; moist, fresh carrot cake framed in a full half-inch of butter-cream icing, with a plastic tumbler of iced tea to wash it down. 6601 Snider Plaza. 363-2231. lnexpensive.
Kostas Cafe. There is no great Greek food in Dallas; in fact, there’s still not much Greek food at all, Accompanied by a glass of retina and preceded by an order of saganaki, a combination plate at Kostas is as close us you can get to Greece, gustatorily speaking. Ail the elements are there: the dolma (meat-stuffed vine leaves) were tasty, though their tenderness bordered on mushiness; the souvlaki (grilled lamb chunks) and grilled shrimp were authentically seasoned and nicely cooked; pastitsio, a slightly sweet, tomato-laced casserole of meat and macaroni, was delicious, and the square of spanokopita (layered spinach, filo pastry, and cheese) was savory and flaky. However, everything, even the saganaki, flamed several feel before our eyes, was. too cool and the salad was short on feta. olives, and the aromatic oil [hat normally make salad one of the glories that is Greece.
4914 Greenville. 987-3225. Inexpensive.
India Palace. Part of the excellence of this restaurant lies in ambition-India Palace has a somewhat larger, more adventuresome menu than its rivals, Part lies in attention to detail: curried dishes like a superb beet”punjabi or baigan bhurta (eggplant puree) are garnished with a superfine julienne of ginger and red pepper, But finally the superiority lies in skill in the kitchen. A dessert like rasmalai (a kind of homemade cheese bathed in sweet cream) can be a heavy disaster elsewhere: here it is light and delicate and delicious. 13360 Preston Rd. 392-0190. Moderate to expensive.
Kebab ’N’ Kurry. If there are vegetarians among your friends or family members that you want to take to dinner, Indian restaurants offer some of the best options. The rice pillau that is always served blends culinarily and nutritionally with the dal or legume of the day-here we found a creamy half-puree of dark lentils. There is also always a mixed curried vegetable offered, and the puree of masted eggplant is a particular treat. Of course, for those who eat meat there are splendid dishes of shrimp in a creamy tomato sauce and lamb roghan josh. 401 N Central Expny. Suite 300. Richardson. 231-5556 Inexpensive to moderate.
Alessio’s. You know you’ve found a Park Cities favoritehere, even if you managed to beat the regulars to this intimateenclave, not spiffy but restrained in decor and tone, andsomehow rather elegantly arrested in time. Knowledgeablewaiters discreetly murmur the day’s specials, which runtoward pricey. But a fine feed they are-crab croquettes ona recent visit were gently complemented by an unusuallysubtle basil cream sauce. Crawfish with tomato bits in abuttery- Parmesan sauce lopped al dente angel hair pasta.Minestrone was absolutely the best I’ve ever tasted-a sturdystudding of lima beans, cabbage, zucchini, turnips, et al, intomato-based broth zinged with lemon. Rack of lamb ribletswere divinely rosy and toothsome in white wine saucewhispering of thyme, but highest marks have to go to theevening’s veal chop, a half-pound monster of exceptionaltenderness and flavor, barely haunted with rosemary, Lemonice was the perfect dessert, ringed with fresh blackberries,but a deep-flavored flan was a classic close second. 4117Lomo Alto. 521-3585. Moderate to expensive. -B.C.
Campisi’s Egyptian Restaurant. The only thing new about Campisi’s within living memory, as far as 1 can tell, is a fresh coat of green Hop) and red (]bottom) enamel added to the entrance recently. So wherein lies its hypnotic hold an the trend-seeking preps and yups of Dallas? Whatever it is, I have to admit it suckers me too-a companion and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit, a 1 rip back in lime if ever there was one. My crab claws, a house specialty, had undoubtedly started the evening frozen, but their lemon-butter bath was wonderful, and the platter held five dozen of the liny things. Our all-the-way pizza and butter-drenched garlic bread were quite passable, loo. 5610 E Mockingbird. 8Z7-0355. Inexpensive to moderate.
II Sorrento. Talk about your time warp-my companion,who used to frequent mis columned temple of pasta worship,walked in after an absence of some years, swept the scenewith a look, and commented: “This place hasn’t changed abit!” With its elaborate fixtures, scarlet and gold accents,and romantically subdued lighting, Mario Messina’s restaurant could pass for a Hollywood dream of the Old World,circa the Fifties. The food has some very new touches mixedin with the standards-chef Antonio Avona. formerly withMario’s, may be responsible for those I delected My routedred bell peppers with anchovy strips were fairly old-style.lavished with olive oil (1 confess 1 loved it), but shrimpdipped in olive oil and bread crumbs, then broiled, werefreshly sauced-as was the cappellini. the skinny spaghettisparked with super-fresh basil and tomato. Tortellini stuffedwith Swiss chard and gilded with walnut sauce were outstanding, and homemade tortellini baked in buttery creamsauce were redolent of fresh Parmesan. Veal scallops withcrisp asparagus were commendable, loo. but the real debauch came with dessert: a zabaglione of surpassing subtletyand rum cake, a longstanding specialty. 8616 Turtle CreekBlvd. 352-8759. Moderate to expensive. -B.C.
La Tosca. Garlicky mussels steamed with tomato and black pepper in white wine are toothsome; tomato and fresh mozzarella slices with basil in the house dressing are fresh and fine; tagliolini takes heart from a generous topping of smoked salmon, caviar, and vodka. The carpaccio was admirable, its mustard sauce perfect, although Parmesan slices served with it were near-leathery-a flaw underscored by the mozzarella’s tenderness: and breasts of chicken seemed somewhat dry, although their caper-strewn tomato sauce could not have been better. Small cavils, though, weighed against such generally consistent pleasures as fresh prof-iteroles sinfully drenched with hot chocolate and whipped cream 7713 Inwood. 352-8373. Expensive.
Lombardi’s at Travis Walk. If you can resist a pre-meal orgy of Parmesan-crusted, rosemary-scented focaccia loaves, the menu here offers a full-range Italian dining experience as fine as you’ll find in Dallas. Start with flawless carpaccio, paper-thin and mustard-sauced, or delicate soft-shell crab sautéed with garlic and tomato in white wine. Proceed with succulent rabbit in provencal sauce, or a sautéed veal chop strewn with vinaigrette-spiked amgula. If it’s your meatless day, rejoice in gnocchi, plump potato dumplings in mild tomato and bold gorgonzola sauces. Leave room for a wicked wrap-up of double chocolate mousse cake if you can. or wind down with cappuccino or espresso-both are superior. Travis walk, 4514 Travis. 521-1480. Moderat.
Mario’s. One of the oldest of Dallas’s fancy restaurants seems better than it has in a long time. Perhaps it is just that our expectations have scaled down. As long as you realize that this is basically a Continental restaurant with a few Italian touches, you can enjoy yourself in these dining rooms, surrounded with red-flocked wallpaper and Venetian glass. For appetizers, the cannelloni and the shrimp with Milanese is crisp and tender, the red snapper Mario perkyin its sauce spiked with capers. For dessert, order one of thesoufflés-but do so early, because the wait can be long. 135Turtle Creek Village. Oak Lawn at Blackburn. 521-I135.Expensive. -W.L.T.
Momo’s. The original site of this expanding group stillserves some of the best Italian food in Dallas. The wood-oven-baked pizzas are a better bet than the homemadepastas, which can be overcooked and undersauced. Betterstill are the dishes like conchiglie al modo mio (seas hellpasta baked with savory meats and cheeses) and scallopinia la Momo (veal sauced piquantly with a hint of anchovy).For dessert, try the zabaglione. if you like your custardstrongly flavored with Marsala. 9191 Forest Lane. 234-6800. Moderate. -W.L.T.
Ristorante Savino. I’ve never understood why thischarming West Henderson establishment seems relativelyunknown among Dallas diners-the pride and care withwhich food is prepared and served here arc commendable,and I’ve yet to encounter a minus on its menu. A recent visitbore out past experience-an appetizer sampler of pastas,obligingly created when we could not choose among them,included a flawless swirl of angel hair in lobster sauce, aswell as tortellini in deep-flavored demi-glace, the wholelavished with Reggiano Parmesan shredded over them at thetable. Satin-fresh mozzarella rounds with tomato in basildressing were flawless; red snapper sautéed with fresh tomato and basil was the same. My longtime favorite, roastveal slices served cold in rich tuna sauce, was not quite upto standard-the veal was a trifle dry-but still outstanding.And the single serving of chocolate mousse cake our tableshared was sin enough for all. 2929 N Henderson. 826-7804.Moderate to expensive. -B.C.
Hibachi-Ya Japanese Restaurant. Applause is due for the beef that stars on Hibachi-Ya’s menu along with chicken and shrimp, not only hibachi -grilled but in less familiar traditional Japanese dishes. Best by far was Ume steak, meltingly tender filet perfumed by marinating in plum sauce, then grilled and cubed. The best appetizers, too. were beef-notably in sirloin tataki. rare slices served with a fruity ponzu sauce, and in hibachi rolls, bite-sized bits of fresh carrot, bell pepper, onion, and pineapple wrapped in sliced sirloin, with teriyaki sauce for dipping. 3850 W Northwest Hwy, Suite 510. 350-1110. Inexpensive.
Sakura Japanese Restaurant. Years ago. when I dined at its original location, Sakura was the first restaurant where I’d ever been asked to lake off my shoes before entering. This lime, we dined to live piano music in a Western lounge furnished with cushioned rattan. The tempura-fried shrimp were almost as light and lacy as I remembered them; Shabu-Shabu. thin-sliced beef cooked quickly at table with fresh vegetables, was almost as delightful. The assortment of sushi we ordered as appetizers was impeccably fresh-tuna, jumbo clam, octopus, a salmon-and-egg standout marvelously sauced with a single quail egg broken over it. 7402 Greenville Ave. 361-9282. Moderate to expensive.
Mr. Sushi. Some restaurants lose some of their charm when they grow, and the original Mr. Sushi on Belt Line appears to be one of them. Popularity-prompted expansion has robbed the table-seating area of the intimacy that distinguished its early smaller space, and there is an assembly-line briskness now about the service. About some of the food. too-the sushi bar’s offerings may be as fine as ever, but a sushi dinner brought to the table had the look of having been made in advance and left to sit for some time before serving. The hot dishes, though, were satisfying-a creditable beef and chicken teriyaki entrée was preceded by an extra-fresh toss of crisp strings of carrot and daikon radish, ginger-sparked. And a traditional dinner called Kaiseki involved a ceremonial parade of ten sampler courses. The sweet-but-not-cloying red bean ice cream may have been the best I’ve had. 4860 BeIt Line, Addison. 385-0168 Moderate. N -B.C.
Sushi on McKlnnay. The hot foods here are purely mediocre, except for a first-class salad, but who cares? The sushi bar’s where the action is. and where the good eats are in this sociable Oak Lawn hangout. All the standards here are impeccable-dark tuna and yellowtail, crisp jumbo clam and chewy abalone, salmon roe squid. I’d heard one I hadn’t tried, mushroom sushi, was a winner; it’s only for the sushi-timid, I submit: a warmed concoction involving mayonnaise on mushrooms and rice, the fishless creation was more like one of Mom’s bridge casseroles than anything else. On The other hand, I’m no! so bold, either-sweet shrimp, highlytouted by my next-stool neighbor at the bar, turned out to bewhole creatures, flash-fried to crispness, eyes, antennae, andall. “It’s wonderful!” he said. “I believe you,” I said. Icouldn’t hack it-I hope you’ll forgive me. 4500 McKinney.521-0969. Moderate. -B.C.
Blue Mesa. Chips and dip are usually effective forecasters in Mexican restaurants: Blue Mesa serves blue and yellow tostados with a smoky chipotle-black bean salsa and a cumin-flavored tomato salsa. The chile relleno with chicken. cheese, and mango salsa was beautifully presented, and the sweet-tart fruit accented the spice and cheese surprisingly. The counterpoint was repeated in the contrasting flavors of black beans and sweet com pudding. Corn meal pasta was sauced with tomatoes, corn, and cumin and topped with pieces of chicken breast rubbed with red chili. Village on the Parkway, 5100 Belt Line. 934-0165. Moderate.
Cantina Laredo. Tex-Mex here is good, but the specialties arc better: cabrito barbacoa (barbecued goal) was rich and tender, and polio ranchera was a lender breast with a spicy sauce of tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Desserts are good here, too; apple pie is served on a sizzling fajita skillet with cinnamon ice cream, and churros- cinnamon-sugar coated fritters-are freshly fried. 4546 Belt Line. 458-0962. Moderate.
L’Asadero Monterey. The specialty here is cabrito-baby goat-but it’s not always available in forms popular with most gringos-on my last visit only the kidneys and heart were still on the menu. If you can’t get the goat. not to worry. The rest of the menu is tasty, too. Polio a la parilla was tender and juicy, its lopping of grilled onions sweet and lender. Cheese enchiladas were properly gooey and spicy; only the steak Milanesa (Mexican fried steak) was a little dry. 112 N Collets. 826-0625. Inexpensive.
La Mansion Da Blas. This is Deep Ellum’s only Mexican restaurant, and it’s a fun place to go if only because people-watching is great from the little fenced-in patio, and you’re just a hop, skip, and a jump from what’s happenin’. The food has its highs and lows (chicken molé and tamales were highs, basic beans and nachos were lows), but the hot sauce and pico de gallo are good and hot, the beer is cold, the margaritas are good, and. as I said, the location is great. 2935 Elm. 939-0853. Inexpensive. -M.B.M.
Loma Luna Cafe. The nachos we ordered were neat triangles of white cheese on blue corn tostados, we also sampled two kinds of quesadillas, one filled with cheese and green chilies. the other with cheese and chunks of grilled chicken. Both came with pico de gallo and some of the best guacamole I’ve had. Blue com chicken enchiladas were stacked, not rolled, smothered with green chilies, and layered with lots of chicken and cheese. Sandia Range chicken, from the list of grilled items on the menu, was smoked and grilled over pecan wood. The chicken was moist and tender even after its double treatment. For dessert, the flan was excellent; the vanilla ice cream covered with cajeta, caramelized goat’s milk, was a delight. 4131 Lomo Alto. 559-4011. Moderate.
Martinez Cafe. This family-run café has a comfortable, home-grown feel. The food is Tex-Mex-standard combinations, but of superlative quality and served with a smile. Outstanding chips and salsa and a plate evenly striped with rice, beans, and cheese enchiladas made me happy; flautas and guacamole were equally good. The menu here is what you expect from a good Tex-Mex restaurant: the food is what you hope for. 3011 Routh St. 855-0240. 1900 Preston Rd (Preston Park Village), Piano. Inexpensive.
Mia’s. Mia’s mystique eludes me. The Tex-Mex served here is good and dependable, the service is fast and friendly, but the ambience is elbow-to-elbow and, tor me, Mia’s success is its failure. The long lines make you think too hard about just how good those enchiladas are. Are they worth a forty-five-minute wait? Thirty minutes? Fifteen? Or shall we just go someplace else? If you’re a believer, it’s not too much trouble to call ahead and reserve your chile relleno on Tuesdays, and if you want one, that’s what you’ll have to do. 4322 Lemmon Ave. 526-1020. Inexpensive.
Tacos & Botanas. My dining companion ordered a puffed taco. chalupas. and tamales. and while it wasn’t my idea of the perfect combination plate, it was all first-raw. especially the chili-covered tamales. Pork garnachos. from the small plates list, were like scaled-down chalupas crossed with a nacho and were a little on the dry side, a problem solved by combining them with the excellent guacamole. From the regular menu of Chiquita’s time-proven specialties, we had the three -enchilada combination-chicken with chili verde, cheese with ranchera sauce, and beef with chili- which was delicious. 3810 Congress. 520-7623. Moderate.
Actuelle. The most innovative and consistently exciting cooking at any Dallas restaurant these days is taking place at Actuelle. Everything on the menu here is an adventure. but be sure to try the fish. Chef Victor Gielisse has won two national contests in fish cooking, and the evidence can be found here in the likes of the grilled Norwegian salmon-light as a puff of smoke, crisp as an autumn day. sauced to perfection in a tomato vinaigrette with fresh marjoram. The pear poached in pinot noir swathed in butterscotch sauce makes an equally glorious final touch to a meal. The Quadrangle. 2800 Routh. 855-0440. Expensive.
Beau Nash. Everything we sampled at Beau Nash this lime had an assertive and appealing taste, especially the Chinese-dumpling-shaped ravioli filled with wild mushrooms and drizzled with two sauces, but sometimes the assertive tastes competed too strongly with one another. The thick, tender veal chop, for instance, hid a bed of spaghetti squash in a sunny sauce and lay under a compote of fresh tomatoes and herbs-all surrounded by a wine-dark sea of sauce of another son. Enough already! The mimosa cake we sampled for dessert looked prettier than it tasted. Hotel Crescent Court, 400 Crescent Court. Maple at McKinney. 871-3240. Expensive.
Dakota’s. Our most recent visit brought us the most consistently fine food here to date. The appetizer sampler contained tantalizing bits of crisp calamari, succulent baby back ribs, zesty crabcakes, and tangy marinated shrimp. The veal T-bone was perfectly cooked, though the side dish of linguini with black olives and sun-dried tomatoes proved the meal’s only disappointment, since it lacked coherence and subtlety. The fish special-marlin topped with asparagus and lump crab meat-and the sensational desserts of key lime pie and white chocolate ice cream with brownies and butterscotch sauce more than made up. 600 N Akard. 740-4001. Lunch moderate, dinner expensive.
Laureis. Two things that usually bode ill tor one’s prospects of eating well in a restaurant are height and association with a hotel. Laurels, located on the twentieth floor of the Sheraton Park Central, is an exception to both caveats. The menu degusiation. with a fixed price of $38.50, changes daily and is a good bet. A la cane choices are expensive, but choices like Maine lobster, wild mushrooms, and basil with fettuccine and roasted pheasant with green apple pasta and blue cheese sauce are well worth the tariff. Desserts are killers here, especially the souffle of the day (apricot with raspberry sauce on my visit). Sheraton Park Central, 12720 Merit Dr. 851-2021. Expensive.
The Mansion on Turtle Creek. You can find therecipes to lots of menu items in Dean Fearing’s cookbook,but we’ll bet you can’t equal the results obtained in themaster’s own kitchen. In fact, it’s amazing that the Mansionmanages to stay as consistent as it does, given how often thechef is out writing or publicizing or whatnot. The classicshere are all marked by the wizardry of the Southwest’sgreatest creator of sauces: the warm lobster taco with itsyellow tomato salsa, the free-range chicken encrusted withpecans and served with the pan drippings, the Louisianacrabcakes with their sauce of smoked chilies, lobster, andorange. Don’t overlook the fabulous composed salads likethe one with pan-fried oysters in spinach or the Caesar withsweetbreads and eggplant croutons. 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd.526-2121 Very expensive. -W.L..T.
Pyramid Restaurant. With the rapid growth of fine American restaurants in Dallas, this old standby ceased to be top-of-mind. But don’t forget the Pyramid Room. Under new chef Avner Samuel, the place is no longer erratic, and some of the best dishes are the plainest ones. Salads are excellent, the pasta is fresh and homemade (served with elephant garlic, which was quite interesting and milder than the name suggests), the chicken items (one served with angel-hair pasta and a hot chicken salad) are imaginative and ample, and the service is gracious and efficient. 1717 N Akard. Fairmont Hotel. 720-5249. Expensive.
Routh Street Cafe. The muffins, salads, sorbets, and desserts here always blow away all criticism: this time even the unlikely-sounding sorbets (chocolate sapote-sarsaparilla ice?) were as spectacular as the downhome-sounding desserts (banana-cream macadamia-nut pie with fudge sauce and blackberry buckle). But the appetizers and main courses are spectacular only some of the lime; they can also be just a bit too experimental. We loved our quail with saffron fet-tuccini and our venison with a blue-corn tamale, but our black bean cake with sea scallops and our lamb with a guajillo-chili waffle (!?) didn’t entirely work. 3005 Routh at Cedar Springs. 871-7161. Very expensive.
Sam’s Cafe. After a rather shaky first few months, Sam”s has, settled down to serving some excellent food. The fried polenta smothered in sauce and cheese makes a happy beginning. The tenderloin topped with a béarbaise mildly flavored with poblano pepper is meltingly tender, and the barbecued salmon boasts a crunchy exterior and a smoky taste. Only the desserts don’t always satisfy-the Reine de Saba chocolate cake can be curiously wimpy. 100 Crescent Court. Suite 140. 855-2233. Moderate to expensive.
San Simeon. This sleek-looking spot has the undeniable cachet of chic, as well as one of the most experienced teams of maitred’ and waiters in town. But we are yet to be convinced that the Food matches the ambience and the reputation. Attempts at the flashy eclecticism of New Southwestern cooking seem halfhearted: the crab in a Mandarin pancake in a spicy sauce, for instance, seemed awfully like an old-fashioned crepe in a classic French sauce americaine (and the crab seemed limp, with too many shell bits). Fish still seems the strong suit of chef Richard Chamberlain, formerly of Ratcliffe’s; the sword fish with a black-bean citrus sauce was the highlight of our meal. 2515 McKinney at Fairmount in Chateau Plaza. 871-7373. Expensive.
Aw Shucks. The best fried things in life are fat-free, virtually, if they’re cooked right. And as far as I’m concerned. the catfish, oysters, and shrimp served here qualify on both counts. I’ve never had a better whole farm-raised (as opposed to river-caught) catfish than the cornmeaI -crusted golden beauties that are any day’s catch at Aw Shucks’s order counter, and the fillets, giant butterflied shrimp, and oysters of our latest visit were almost as succulent. If you’re crazy about crab cakes, you’ll find them here heavier on crab meal than most. And imagine my surprise when an order of buffalo wings, which I’ve always found more for fire than for food, turned out to be golden nuggets of sparkling flavor. 3601 Greenville. 821-9449. 4535 Maple. 522-4498. Village at Bachman Lake, 3701 W Northwest Hwy, Suite 310. 350-9777. 1718 N Market St. 748-4477. Inexpensive.
Café Pacific. The babel in this Mill-posh brass-and-glass place is light hearted and comfortable-reassurance that in some pockets of Dallas, at least, economic stress dares cast no shadow. Its loyal Park Cities patrons persist in thinking of Café Pacific as mainly a seafood place: actually, though, I’d term it fresh Italian, especially after our most recent visit. The star turn at our table was veal Oscar, an impressively thick, tender cut enhanced with crab meat, snappirig-fresh asparagus spears, and zippy hollandaise. Admittedly, a ceviche of lobster, baby scallops, and shrimp was opulently presented, spiked with tomato and cilantro confetti, but its lime marinade struck me as a trifle sharp. And an entree of jumbo shrimp sautéed scampi style, while fresh, was not nearly as exciting as the veal. A wedge of light cheesecake with kiwi and strawberry sauce held our combined attention, 1 must say. And the service could not have been more warmly informed and competent. Highland Park Village, Preston at Mockingbird, Suite 24. 526-II70. Expensive. -B.C.
Newport’s. Newport’s is at its best in its simplest dishes-grilled silver salmon, on our last visit, was perfectly plain and perfectly wonderful: a sampler appetizer tray of raw clams, shrimp, oysters, and ceviche could not have been fresher. Some of the trendier offerings are as delightful-a crab quesadilla, for instance. was to swoon over, tender flaked meat with cheese between crisp flour tortilla triangles-and some are not: a boned rainbow trout was eclipsed by its roasted tomatillo sauce, itself delicious but loo heavy for the delicate fish. Desserts, ranging from a flawless crème caramel to a chocolate truffle pie of surpassing richness, are exceptionally good. 703 McKinney in the Brewery. 954-0220. Expensive.
Brownie’s. The food here runs to plate-lunch daily specials (a fine, simple meat loaf, real chicken-fried steak, not-so-fine fried trout fillets on our visit, each with a choice of three vegetables, well seasoned and invariably overcooked, for $3.95) along with a broad selection of anytime breakfast and lunch standards. Desserts are downhome-admirable pies and cobblers, bread pudding too sweetly fruit-sauced. 5519 E Grand Ave. 824-2996 Inexpensive.
Good Eats. My companion’s strip steak was perfect, and my chicken pie. which looked deceptively like a lunar slab of cardboard pastry, turned out to be a miracle mix of lender chicken, new potato, carrot, corn, and green beans under its flaky crown. Black-eyed peas were blank-eyed from lack of seasoning, which we’re inclined to applaud these days (for health) even as we salt (for taste). Broccoli-rice casserole was a trifle dry but flavorful, and corn on the cob was gloriously not overcooked. 3531 Oak Lawn. 521-1398. 6950 Greenville. 739-5088. Inexpensive.
Highland Park Cafeteria. As cafeterias go. the original HPC is the mama of them all. a homey dispensary of all the revered classics (chicken-fried steak with cream gravy, crisp-battered fried chicken, sautéed calves’ liver and onions mercifully not cooked to death). Where else can you find a good country sour slaw, or the minced crunch of carrots and celery in Jello? Closest thing to a new wrinkle here is mashed potatoes lavished with sour cream and all the other trimmings you’d pile on a baked one. And closest thing to paradise is getting the all-over-frosted end piece of a fresh-baked chocolate cake, or the highest meringue-piled wedge of creamy caramel pie. Prices at HPC are upscale, but then, so’s the clientele-half of Highland Park grew up on this place, which has yet to be duplicated even in its own branch locations. 4611 Cole. 526-3801. Village an the Parkwy. 5100 Bell Line at Dallas Pkwy, Suite 600 934-8800. N downtown. 500 Akard at San Jacinto, Suite 220. 740-2400 Inexpensive.
Highland Park Cafeteria-Casa Linda Plaza. On our last visit, I assembled a fine country vegetarian meal of macaroni and cheese (the latter probably processed, but palatable), collard greens long-simmered with cubed side pork (as they should be), and sliced cucumbers marinated, by some happy miracle, in vinegar without sugar. My companion’s fried whole trout had gone dry from holding over heat, but his tomato-avocado aspic was firm. tan. and fresh, and his stewed corn was from-the-can but passable. 300 BucknrrBlvd at Garland Rd. 327-3663. Inexpensive.
Mama Taught Ma HOW. This may not be worth a long trip north to Belt Line, but this storefront luncheonette. staffed by mother and daughters, has its lures for those in the Prestonwood area. Breakfast offers thin, delicate pancakes and homemade cinnamon rolls. Lunch gives us three choices: chicken-fried steak, quiche, and a special of the day. The home-baked pies have tasty fillings. The lemon-meringue is tart with the real juice of the fruit, and the buttermilk has a homey nutmeg twang. But make sure you get a piece freshly baked so the crust won’t have gotten soggy. 14902 Preston Rd, #512 (SE comer of Preston and Belt Line) in Pepper Square. 490-6301. Inexpensive. N -W.L.T.
Theo’s Diner. Don’t fret because this landmark has changed hands and undergone a minor fece-lifting (the worn and wobbly old bolted-down stools have been replaced by movable ones). The only other visible change is a general -ly cleaner look throughout. And the little diner that could still does, making from-scratch burgers and garlic-breathed grilled cheese sandwiches as homey as any around, as well as the undisputed best skins-on fries that have ever passed my lips. A new special added to the daily lunch menu, Greek spinach-and-feta pie. must be good too: on our visit, it was all gone before we could try it. 111 S Hall at Commerce. 747-6936 Inexpensive.
Dal Frisco’s. The best steak you can buy in Dallas-if you can stand beef so laden with cholesterol and if you have the money-is Del Frisco’s ribeye. It’s lush and perfectly aged and likely to be perfectly cooked. Another plus is that the side dishes are much tastier than those usually found even in high-priced steakhouses. The shrimp remoulade. the au gratin potatoes, and the desserts are all worth ordering. The one drawback is that now Del Frisco’s is more expensive than ever. The prices of the steak haven’t gone up, but now you don’t get a potato unless you pay extra-only marvelous-ly crusty French bread and a salad are included in the basic price. 4330 Lemmon. 526-2101. Expensive.
Hoffbrau. Maybe you have to be a UT alum to appreciate this place, modeled on a famous Austin hangout. The mystique includes a particular, rigid formula for serving the steaks: they are preceded by a salad that includes lots of chopped green olives, they are accompanied by long, soggy fried potato quarters, and they are doused by a sauce of lemon and margarine. The steaks themselves really aren’t too bad, perhaps because the beef is cooked in a pan or on a griddle, rather than charbroiled. This gives a more reliable way to gauge doneness and keeps the steaks from tasting unpleasantly overcharred, the way they so frequently do at the chain beef establishments. 3205 Knox.. 559-2680. Moderate.
Lawiy’s The Prime Rib. Everything you eat at Lawry’s is accompanied by elaborate ritual, beginning with the semi-bizarre spinning salad, in which a plastic bowl of greens is set whirling in a bowl of cracked ice as it is anointed from on high by bottled Lawry’s dressing. When the beef arrives. you expect trumpets to herald the beef carl, which looks somewhat like the QE2 as it lumbers down the aisle. The cart is laden with six roasts in varying degrees of done ness. available in different size cuts; once the beef is on your plate, accompanied by unexceptional buttered peas and mashed potatoes, you understand what the hoopla is all about. No one bothers to cook prime rib like this anymore. The tender, marbled slice was raspberry-red, rimmed with fat, and flavorful to the last bite. 3008 Maple Ave. 521-7777. Expensive.
Morton’s of Chicago. The porterhouse steaks arcmagnificent chunks of beef, and they are likely to be servedjust as specified. Some of the other dishes are fine, too. Thelump crab meat is simplicity itself, perfectly fresh (thoughwith a few too many flecks of shell). The Caesar salad isrobust, and the chocolate souffle for two a fine end to a meal.For those who don’t want beef, the lobsters here areplausibly priced and nicely prepared. Our only complaintson our most recent visit were tasteless hash-brown potatoesand the style of service that recites the menu in rote fashion.50! Elm. 741-2277. Expensive. -W.L.T.
The Palm Restaurant. Garish caricatures of the famous and infamous cover the walls of the noisy Dallas branch of this New York steakhouse. The place is a circus, but the food is serious, though almost absurdly abundant. The gargantuan servings of meat and potatoes defy all rules of portion control: however tasty the food, it’s hard to believe anyone could finish a meal here. 701 Ross Ave. 698-0470. Very expensive.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Service has usually been efficient here, but this time our waitresses vanished after the main course was served. Side dishes have never been much here except for the potatoes, but this time even those lacked appeal (the onions in the lyonnaise potatoes had an unpleasant burned taste, and the shoestring fries were limp). And we have never tailed to like the heavy beef here before, but this time our sirloin strip was aged to the point of rankness and none of our three steaks was cooked to order (two were overdone, one markedly underdone). It is hard to reconcile such lofty prices with such disappointment. 5922 Cedar Springs Rd. 902-8080. Expensive.
Bagelstein’s. As you go deeper into this storefront establishment, you discover that it is more than Dallas’s best bagel emporium. Past the bakery, there is a deli, Past the deli, there is a restaurant with several levels of seating. Here you can order superior breakfast specials, complete with fresh hash browns and toasted bagels. Or you can order elaborate sandwiches made from pastrami or smoked tongue, and other deli tare tike chopped liver, lox. or knack-wurst. Or you can order one of Bagelstein’s complete dinners, including surprisingly tasty broiled fish accompanied by pilaf and fresh broccoli. Northwood Hills Shopping Center, 8104 Spring Valley. 234-3787. Inexpensive to moderate.
Crescent Gourmet. This is by far the ritziest takeout in town-cloud-painted cupolas, marble floors, lofty ceilings create a feeling of haute Paris in keeping with the Crescent location. Unfortunately, the place is so small (there are only two indoor tables) and crowded at lunchtime that you won’t have a chance to admire the finish-out. More unfortunately, the food seldom matches the quality of the setting-surprising, since Crescent Gourmet shares a kitchen with Beau Nash. In addition to the daily menu of sandwiches and salads. Crescent serves hot and cold daily specials, a soup du jour, assorted cookies, cobblers, and sweets, and even offers a wine list. But while the ingredients are of high quality, most of the dishes we tried lacked seasoning: chicken and tuna salads were mealy but bland, shrimp bisque tasted only faintly of shrimp, the brownies were more sweet man chocolate, and the stir-fry special had an unpleasant metalli ctaste. On the upside, the focaccia bread on the tasty bacon-avocado sandwich gets our vote for best sandwich bread in town, the cinnamon-spiked three-berry cobbler was summer incarnate, and the white and dark chocolate chip cookies were killers. 400 Crescent Court. 871-3223. Inexpensive to moderate. -M.B.M.
Everyday Gourmet. Everyday Gourmet established its reputation with homestyle Southern specialties-meat loaf, cobbler, fried chicken, and muffins-appropriate to owner Helen Puckett’s Mississippi roots. Lately, the dishes tend to have a Southwestern touch-perhaps a side effect of Puckett’s marriage to Crescent Club executive chef Charles Martin de France-but the food is better than ever. Recent highlights; fried catfish with smoked red pepper butler, you’ll-never-miss-the-meat meatless lasagna, rich seafood enchiladas, beef, shrimp, and vegetable skewers, rice with apples and basil, and fried corn, Not to mention a peach cobbler, still warm from the oven. There’s a selection of sandwiches and fresh salads for lunch, and don’t miss the lemonade and chocolate chip cookies. 4446 Lovers Lane. 373-0325. Moderate. -M.B.M.
Marty’s. The selection is enormous and eclectic-you can purchase all or part of any meal, to prepare at home or ready-to-heat. Everything is here, from chicken fingers to paté, caviar to potato salad. We took home supper; chicken breasts marsala, lemon pasta, marinated vegetables, and key lime pie. My immediate treat, a piece of orange marmalade cake, was the only disappointment-it was a little too moist to be pleasant. Everything else was delicious, but you get what you pay for: it’s all trés expensive. 3316 Oak Lawn. 526-4071. Expensive.
Pasta Plus. One of Dallas’s first fresh pasta shops is still one of the best, for pasta anyway. Prepared items-meat lasagna, baked ziti with three cheeses, and chicken cannelloni were our choices-were presented in Mom-style pyrex casseroles and looked delicious, but suffered in taste and texture when reheated. Salads (green, marinated vegetable, and pasta) were good, but the pasta outshines the pluses-rotelle, meat-stuffed tortellini and marinara and piselli (cream with mushrooms and peas) sauces were wonderful in any combination. Be forewarned-Pasta Plus doesn’t take credit cards, which seems odd: takeout implies convenience, and for me, convenience means plastic. 225 Preston Royal East. 373-3999. Inexpensive.
Petaluma. This terrific takeout shop is pretty enough to eat in and the food’s good enough to take home to guests-not unexpectedly, since Petaluma shares a kitchen with San Simeon. Like so many spots with go-or-stay options, Petaluma suffers from confusing service procedures, It turns out that you place the order, but a waitress brings it to you, if you take a table. Soups, salads, sandwiches, and desserts were uniformly excellent on my last visit, standouts being Oriental chicken salad, pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, potato salad with fresh dill dressing, and white chocolate “blondies.” 2515 McKinney. 871-2253. Inexpensive.
Chao Wang Thai and Chinese Restaurant. Though there are ethnic restaurants in most parts of Dallas. Thai restaurants are not so common yet that every neighborhood has one. That’s why Chao Wang seems a place to treasure, though its cooking can’t compete with the very best Siamese cuisine in the city. The moo satay-curried strips of pork grilled on a skewer-is especially flavorful here, and the Panang beef has a thick sauce in which lime leaves lurk. Sadly, the lunch buffet includes only Chinese dishes, which can be avoided on the dinner menu. Keystone fork Shipping Center, Suite 400, 13929 N Central Expwy. 437-3900. Moderate.
Thai Lanna. Thai Lanna does all the spicy, tangy Siamese specialties with pizazz, but it has a special way with vegetable dishes, such as eggplant, and noodle dishes. The soups, too, are terrific. The chicken and coconut milk soup, for instance, contains a potpourri of mysterious fresh herbs and aromatic roots-but be careful, because it’s hotter than any Mexican dish you’re likely to gel this side of Monterrey. Another plus at Thai Lanna is the friendly and helpful service. 1490 W Spring Valley. 690-3637. Inexpensive.BR>Thai Soon. Thai Soon was created to demonstrate that a vegetarian and seafood menu can work in an ethnic restaurant. Judging from the waiting lines at this tiny place on Lowest Greenville, the idea appeals to a sizable body of patrons. Almost a dozen vegetarian dishes start out the main course section of the menu. Some of these are similar to the eggplant delicacies that are among the best things at the original Thai Lanna. Others are based on tofu-the Thai green curry with coconut cream has a knockout flavor, but you may find yourself knocked out by the spiciness of the dish. Almost nothing is bland or even passably neutral in taste at Thai Soon; even dishes cooked without the ubiquitous Thai chiles-like shrimp with garlic sauce and broccoli-come with a spicy dusting of white ground pepper. 2018 Greenville. 821-7666. Inexpensive to moderate.
Mai’s. Lunch specials at Mai’s are a great, inexpensive way to be introduced to Vietnamese food if you haven’t discovered it. The garlic shrimp or the subtly fiery lemongrass chicken makes for a great lunch, especially if you follow it with Vietnamese-style iced coffee with condensed milk. You don’t come here for the atmosphere; Mai’s decor is distinctly utilitarian. 4812 Bryan, Suite 100 (at Fitzhugh). 826-9887. Inexpensive.
Mekong. Mekong’s menu gives Vietnamese and Chinese fare equal time. On the Vietnamese side, appetizers of shredded shrimp and pork rolled with lettuce in tender rice paper caught fire and flavor from the pepper-spiked carrot sauce that came with them. The hot pot soup was a stellar array of chicken and seafoods cooked barely tender with still-crisp celery, pepper, and onion strips in an ambrosial broth. I’d have bet nothing from the Chinese listings could possibly equal that soup. I’d have been wrong. An entree of roast duck almost outshone it-roasted whole in a hot stone over camphor wood chips, the golden-skinned bird was delicately scented-served with a saucer of salted lemon juice heavily laden with fresh-ground black pepper, it was superb. 4301 Bryan Street. Suite 101. 824-6200. Inexpensive.
Saigon. First time I dined here, I ordered the shrimp wrapped around sugar cane simply to see what it was. Since. I’ve ordered it every visit because the dish is so transcendent-ly marvelous-the shrimp pureed and molded around slim sticks of sweet cane, then grilled and served with lettuce and cilantro leaves, cucumbers and carrot slices, all to be wrapped in rice paper and dipped in hoisin sauce for savoring. Savory it is, and addictive, too-but we did save room last trip to find several other dishes equally stellar. Among them: chicken simmered with beer in a deep, rich tomato sauce with bread for dipping (we fought over it): a special-of-the-day fried catfish, succulent to the bone, in whisper-delicate batter; chicken done yet another way. in hot chili and lemon grass-celestially incendiary, if that’s not an oxymo-ronic appraisal. 1731 Greenville. 828-9795. Inexpensive.
LAS COLINAS/MID CITIES
Cacharel. This pretty establishment with a glassed-in exhibition kitchen has & fixed price of $10 for lunch and S24 for dinner. The fere-including such Gallic classics as green salad with goat cheese, asparagus soup, scallops with an assertive tarragon sauce, and lamb with a natural-juice sauce-would be worth twice the tariff. Brookholicm Two, 2221 E Lamar. Suite 910. Arlington. 640-9981. Moderate.
Tandoor. Tandoor offers a superior assortment of appetizers: minced lamb patties, vegetables Tried in chickpea batter, potato/chili patties, turnovers with potatoes and peas, and cheese fritters stuffed with mint chutney. A tomato and coconut milk soup provided a pleasurable interlude before our main dishes, which were a relative letdown: tough curried lamb, slightly overcooked tandoori chicken, and dull cheese and vegetable dumplings. 532 Fielder North Plaza. south of I-30. Arlington. 261-6604. Moderate.
Via Real. The appetizers include such novelties as crepa de salmone (thin slices of smoked salmon enfolded in crepes and served dry except for a garnish of pico de gallo) and rellenos de pescado (cylinders offish mousse studded with salmon and surrounded by a rich sauce). Main courses at Via Real also till toward the seafood end. Town North Centre, 3591 N Belt Line at Northgate. Irving. 255-0064. Moderate.
Benito’s. This funky little spot on the near South Side of Fort Worth serves some of the best Mexican food in Cowtown. Not Tex-Mex, real Mex. The menu features such uncommon appetizers as sopes, sort of a super-thick soft com tortilla filled with beans, cheese, and green sauce, and chiles en rajas, strips of poblano peppers in cream. Entrees follow suit: tamal oaxaqueno is wrapped in a banana leaf, and the shredded (not ground) beef tacos are fried after they’re filled. Two kinds of molé, red and green, are offered as well as a selection of guisadas. The standards are well done, but this is a place to go exploring. Benito’s serves margaritas and Mexican beer, and the service is genuinely friendly. 1450 West Magnolia. (817)332-8633. Inexpensive.
Hedary’s. They say the Lebanese are the French of the Middle East, culinarily speaking; the fere at Hedary’s bears this out. Middle Eastern cuisine is full of strong flavors-mint, onion, and garlic-combined here with finesse that makes them all balance. For a one-visit overview, order the maza, a selection of salads, and a meal combination plate. That way you can sample a little of everything: tabuli (wheat, tomato. and parsley salad), hummus (garlicky puréed chickpeas), savory fried falafel, lentils, cucumbers in yogurt, and a delicious batinjan mtabbal (roasted eggplant dip), along with puffed pita bread. The meat plate features homemade sujuk (hot beef sausage), kaffa (ground beef rolls), and a version of the national dish of Lebanon, kibbi, that compared favorably with my mother-in-law’s. 3308 Fairfield at Camp Bowie. (817) 731-6961. Moderate.
Le Chardonnay. Former Ceret chef Philip Lecoq is a co-owner of this new bistro, and its combination of serious food and an informal atmosphere is reminiscent of that late, lamented establishment. The lamb chops topped with goat cheese, served with a rosemary sauce and accompanied by herbed French fries, are a standout. 2443 Forest Park Blvd. (817) 926-5622. Moderate.
Reflections. Fort Worth’s most beautiful and most serene dining room is the scene for some of its best food. The goat-cheese ravioli, served as an appetizer, sat in a creamy sauce and was dotted with caviar. Both the blackened redfish (accompanied by Maryland crabcakes) and the juicy, pink rack of lamb were perfectly cooked. And the dessert cart offered a raspberry’ tart with a firm, crisp crust and a chocolate cake with rich buttercream frosting. Our only reservations concerned some of the sauces-both the vinaigrette poured over the salads and the sauce accompanying the lamb had touches of sweetness that were not quite subtle enough. The Worthington Hotel, 200 Main. (817) 870-1000. Expensive.
St. Emilion. Considering the four-course fixed price of S20 per person, it’s surprising that more Dallasites don’t make the trek to St. Emilion. The last time I did, the results were impressive. A thoughtfully put together salad (leaf lettuce, radicchio, watercress, walnuts, and bits of bacon dressed with walnut oil), textbook lobster bisque, rich spinach cannelloni, and creditable snails in garlic butter made for a great start. Juicy swordfish provencal and nice-ly roasted duck with cherry sauce were all one could ask for. For dessert, pass on the fluffy, lightweight chocolate mousse and opt for the extraordinary crème caramel. 3617 W Seventh. (817) 737-2781. Moderate.
Adair’s. The great old beer joint of Dallas continues to pull in its rednecks, loud-mouthed attorneys, chic city women who act country, and all-around fun-loving people who like to drink beer and spill it on the pool tables. Since Adair’s moved to its Deep Ellum location, cynics have been predicting its demise. But the half-pound hamburgers and whiny jukebox still draw a crowd. 2624 Commerce. 939-9900.
Arthur’s, If they ever raise the drinking age in Texas to forty-one, this place could be in trouble. A tastefully appointed bar offering live entertainment, Arthur’s draws a crowd that is older and sophisticated. They know that if you don’t have money, you should at least look like you do. Campbell Center, 8350 N Central Expwy. 361-8833.
Club Clearview. The centerpiece of Deep Ellurn’s alternative music and social scene. Club Clearview has been scorned and laughed at. but never ignored. Nowhere in Dallas can you find such a delightful combination of the outrageous and innovative, of modern music groups, weird shows, and nouveau fashion victims. But let none of it intimidate you. You can go in there in a business suit, lean against the wall, watch the parade, and nobody will bother you. 2806 Elm. 939-0006.
Empire. At Dallas’s latest club to the beautiful people, everyone wears black, they all look worldly, they don’t all look straight, and they absolutely adore this former dinner theater on the edge of Deep Ellum. The owners call Empire “elegnt, “classical,” “modem.” “minimal,” and “inter-national,” and the truth is it’s all these things: the most or-nate fashionable nightclub we’ve ever had. It’s worth an evening just to come look at the fixtures, let alone the peo-ple. 2414 Swiss Ave 828-1879.
Greenville Avenue Country Club. Chic. Understated-ly elegant. Exclusive. None of these words have anything to do with the GACC. and they’ll throw anyone in the pool who pretends otherwise. Despite the name, this remains one of the best beer-and-sandwich bars in town. The patio’s now covered, and the restrooms, thankfully, have been brought into the 20th century. Otherwise, this is the friendly, comfortable joint it always was. 3619 Greenville. 826-5650.
Improv Comedy Club and Restaurant. A good thing about this place is that you can get pretty good (but not great) food and then be entertained all night long at the same place. A not-so-good thing is that if just you and your sweetie go, you’ll be seated at a table for four and they’ll plunk two strangers down with you. Another good thing is there’s not really a bad seat in the house. And another not-so-good thing is that every comic in the world is not Robin Williams or Steve Martin-if you’re used to a steady diet of big-name TV comics, you may think some of these jokes are a bit thin. But. hey, drink another beer and laugh. 9810 N Central Ex-pwy (in the Comer Shopping Center). 750-5868.
Judga Beans Restaurant & Cantina. The Judge has been making its reputation of late with a “Margarita Mania” special, in which the ’rita prices gradually rise with the hour, from 79 cents at 4 pm to 99 cents at 8 pm. The concept is lethal, but the reality was no bargain for our party, even at the price. We sampled a, uh, good number of the drinks over a couple of hours and found the tequila ratio disgracefully low. At one point even our lightest drinker said she could taste no alcohol in her drink. (Perhaps they want us to leave as sober as a Judge.) Another beef: the restrooms here are straight out of the third world. Some measure of redemption was found in the tasty chicken sandwiches, but on the whole. we’d like to serve a habeas tequilas order to this Judge. 8214 Park Ln. 363-8322.
Library. Sit back in the big, cushy den chairs and sip a Manhattan or a martini or a scotch on the rocks. No strawberry daiquiris, please; this is a bar for adults. But a beer would be fine in this comfortable, sophisticated spot lucked away in a back corner of the Omni Melrose Hotel. There’s even a piano player to soothe your soul. Omni Melrose Hotel, Oak lawn at Cedar Springs. 521-5151.
The Lounge. Want to throw down a beer with young in-telligentsia? Here’s what you do; first, dress chic, but don’t let it look elegantly chic. Casual chic is the style here (unless you’re in the New Wave crowd and you come in so everyone can have a look at what they’ve been told is “gloriously outrageous” fashion). Then, you’d better see one of those foreign movies playing next door at the Inwood Theatre so you’ll have something to talk about at the bar. And you’d better show a little poise. This is as close as Dallas gets to one of those sophisticated, high-tech upper Wist Side bare in New York where you wish you could eavesdrop on the conversation at every table. 5460 W Lovers Lane. 350-7834.
Pinot’s Wine Bar. You want wine by the glass, this is the place to get it-twenty-one varieties, ranging from $2.50 to S2I a glass. (If you’re trying to check out all twenty-one, the half-glass option might be advisable.) There is a menu, and it’s more than passable, but wine, not food, is the lure here. Pinot’s setting is closer to plain than plush, which doesn’t seem to bother in the least the wine and restaurant business crowd that gravitates here. 2926 N Henderson. 826-1949.
Poor David’s Pub. Has anything changed at Poor David’s-ever? Hmm. That poster, upper right from the stage, may not have been there in 1984. Hard to say. Pitcher prices have nudged upwards a bit, but not much. Other than that. Poor David’s is happily frozen in time. Anson and the Rockets still provide straight-ahead blues several times a month; name acts like Loudon Wainright and Guy Clark still drop in. In the alcove near the restrooms, there is a new video game cleverly designed to resemble a pinball machine, if you can believe it. (Wait a minute-that is a pinball machine.) 1924 S Greeille. 821-9891.
Randy’s. You gotta love these far North Dallas/Addison clubs. Love ’em. You can be as pretentious as possible, wear spiked heels longer than stilettos, dress in shiny GQ suits, be driven to the club in a limousine, and still the bouncers will look at you as if you really don’t belong in their place. Randy’s is subscribing to the theory that you can’t be glitzy enough, and it’s working, as people are falling all over themselves to join the private club. Inside, it’s the typical pumping-music-and-twirling-light-show, but oh. what a beautiful experience (and we mean this from the bottom of our hearts) just to be a pan of it all. 15203 Knoll Trail, Addison. 907-2639.
Rusty Pelican. The large bar in this restaurant can best be described as having a California surf motif: lots of plants, wood, and surfing pictures, dancing 10 pop-music bands every night except Monday, and mind-boggling beach drinks. 14655 N Dallas Pkwy. 980-8950.
Stoneleigh P. Ask someone about the Stoneleigh P and they’re likely to describe it as one of their favorite places for a casual lunch. Ask someone else, and they’ll tell you what a great bar it is for a late-night drink. Both are right. This would be a great neighborhood bar even if it weren’t in a great neighborhood. It’s a long-time favorite of the downtown set and advertising types. 2926 Maple. 871-2346.
Video Bar. If you’ve watched MTV once during the lust year, you owe it to yourself to go to the Video Bar. They have “found music videos mat you never see anywhere else-even some absolutely weird stuff that is fraught with significant meaning and whatnot. If you consider yourself part of the new scene-and if you promise not to wear anything resembling penny loafers-this is your Deep Ellum kind of place. All the funky regulars from the old “On the Air” bar have already found their spots, so be prepared to wait in line. 2812 Elm. 939-9113.
Zanzibar. Zanzibar offers drinks and good deli food in a colorful cafe setting. The decor-neon, glass bricks, and pink-and-green walls-is odd enough to work. And even though Zanzibar looks cosmopolitan, it has a neighborhood bar feel to it that leads to discussions among perfect strangers from table to table. 2912 Greenville. 828-2250.
FORT WORTH NIGHTLIFE
Caravan of Dreams. Caravan of Dreams, which covers three floors of a chic Sundance Square building, has excellent live jazz/blues (and a bar) on the first floor, a theater with movies and live drama (and a bar) on the second floor, and an outdoor patio with a cactus garden (and a bar) on the roof. 312 Houston. (817) 877-3000.
The Hop. In three words. The Hop is warm, woody, and wonderful. It has the air of a typical college hangout (it’s just one block from TCU). but lacks the cutesy crowd or trendy atmosphere. A stage tucked in the corner features national and local bands, with music ranging from folk to reggae, rock to country. Although all the food is good, none of it can surpass the pizza. 2905 W Berry. (817) 923-7281.