WHAT MAKES A SUCCESSFUL RESTAURANT? WHO decrees that polenta is in and Cajun is out? Are Dallas restaurant-goers more fickle than most? How can restaurants stay alive in a soft economy?
These are questions D posed in a roundtable discussion with seven venerable Dallas restaurateurs: Phil Cobb, co-founder of The Black-eyed Pea, now owner of St. Martin’s, San Francisco Rose, the Chaste Lounge, and Tejas Cafe; Patrick Colombo, owner of San Simeon and Sfuzzi; Jack Knox, founder of Café Pacific; George Toomer, consultant and interpreter of the public taste; Ron McDougall, president of Chili’s; John Dayton, co-owner of Routh Street Cafe and Baby Routh; and Lori Holben, chef at The Riviera.
D: These are tough times in Dallas and restaurants are going down one after anoth-er-Mr. Peppe, Genaro’s Tropical. Ratcliffe’s, Patout’s, Cafe Cancún, and so on, just in the last year. What causes some to fail and others to thrive?
Toomer: Well, one thing that is happening is that restaurants aren’t owned anymore by people who know about food. They’re all owned by professional in-vestors, or lawyers, or financial types.
McDougall: That’s probably true, but I think the stronger restaurant companies do a lot of listening to their customer base. At Chili’s, we talk to them a lot-formally and informally. They can’t really tell you what they want, but they can tell you what they don’t like. We’re looking at the Nineties now because you can’t look at what worked in the Seventies or Eighties. You gotta say okay, the baby boomers are maturing, but where are they going?
D: What kind of adjustments have you made for baby boomers so far?
McDougall: When I first came to Chili’s, we had a lot of four-top tables but most of our customers were coming in twos. We reconfigured a lot of our space and were able to seat more people. But now a lot of the boomers are married and we can tell we have a new problem-we don’t have room for the highchairs.
Cobb: Back to the earlier assertion about owners. I’ve really never thought of myself as a restaurateur, but primarily as a businessman. When my partner and I formed our company seventeen years ago. what we did was look for a marketing niche. That’s really what our strength was: finding a void and filling it. When we got smart enough at one point to figure out that The Black-eyed Pea was making us more money than the other concepts, we kept rolling with it.
D: Are Dallas restaurant-goers more fickle or less fickle than those in other cities?
Toomer: I think when you have old-line restaurateurs where there’s quality built in, you have a loyal clientele. But in this city, you have a food trend-say, for example, the Ca-jun craze. One person does it, then ten others come along and copy it and they accelerate the thing’s demise. When you’ve got corporations running restaurants, the difference is like the difference between a babysitter and a parent with a kid who’s got diaper rash. The babysitter just looks at the problem and thinks. “Hell, the parents will be home at 10 o’clock.” But the good news is that the old-line restaurateurs are strong enough to shake out some of these new guys who don’t know what they’re doing. If that means we’re fickle, then I guess we are and that’s good.
Holben: I think the Cajun trend died because it was strange food.
Dayton: Cajun cuisine is a legitimate and serious and longstanding method of cooking. I think if you could do a serious and legitimate Cajun restaurant it would be successful.
McDougall: Yeah, but for 1 percent of the population. It’s just a cuisine that doesn’t travel well.
Cobb: Your question was about fickleness, though, and we got away from that. Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have seen Mexican restaurants in Minneapolis. Now you’re beginning to see Italian chains. It’s a mystery to me why someone didn’t take Italian and package it and run with it big-time a long time ago. Everybody loves it. As for Cajun, I think the problem was in its price value. I mean, jam-balaya for $7 to $12 just doesn’t cut it for me. One of my favorite foods is Chinese. It’s my view that the only reason Chinese hasn’t taken off on a national scale is that no one has come along and packaged it. As for fickleness, Dallas is number two or three in the number of restaurants per capita. Fickleness is directly related to demand and supply. There are just too many damn restaurants. And in this economy, people aren’t going out to eat as often as they used to.
Colombo: That’s true, and some of the higher-end restaurants are once-a-year places to begin with.
Dayton: But there’s a flip side to that, and that involves a geographic clustering of restaurants. With the exception of The Riviera, most of the restaurants represented around this table are in the Oak Lawn area.
Toomer: Yeah, right on the Highland Park gerbil trail. . .
Dayton: And that clustering is to the benefit of all of us.
Colombo: That’s true. The better we do, the better you do.
Cobb: It’s amazing when you think about where those restaurants were in 1971-before liquor by the drink.
Toomer: That’s it. That’s the key to Dallas right there.
McDougall: But it’s not a flush-out system. You’re overbuilt with restaurants right now, and somehow these guys keep hanging on by their thumbnails.
Cobb: What typically happens in any kind of shakeout is that what stays alive is the top end and the low end. Routh Street Cafe and Chili’s. If you think about it, that’s pretty much what’s happening right now.
Knox: Café Pacific has had two up years in a row now, and I’m wondering if it isn’t because of the economy.
Holben: We had a great summer for just that reason: no one could afford to travel.
Cobb: The truth is that restaurants here in Dallas are doing better than they really should be. Restaurants in New York City are off 25 percent, but not because their economy’s bad. They’re down because of the new tax laws and the way they affect expense accounts, and there are just too many damn restaurants in that market.
D: Patrick, how is Sfuzzi in New York doing?
Colombo: It’s doing great. It’s located in the Lincoln Center area and it’s just packed all the time.
Cobb: This is important because the East and West Coasts are where we go to get our own ideas: New York, L.A., Chicago. But some of the trends are coming out of Dallas; Southwestern, for example.
Toomer: Now, that really started when all eyes were looking this way during The Great Progressive Texas Doo-Da back in the Seventies. Willie and chili. Everything Texas was golden.
Cobb: Great name for a restaurant… Willie and chili…
D: How do you come up with new concepts for restaurants? Is it just a bunch of people brainstorming around a table?
Dayton: Baby Routh was the restaurant we intended to open when we opened the Routh Street Cafe-much more casual and playful.
Holben: Riviera was supposed to be that way. too.
Colombo: So was San Simeon. Actually, that happens a lot-the idea starts out one way and then you get the design people involved, and the chef and everything, and the next thing you know you have a higher-end restaurant. It travels upward.
D: What are we going to see more of in the Nineties?
Toomer: Drive-through takeout food barns.
Cobb: I think you’ll see an unquestionable downsizing of restaurants, decreases in the size of restaurants. I think you’ll see an emphasis on decor. I think restaurants are getting simpler, food is getting simpler. I think more large companies will continue to buy out smaller companies.
Toomer: Mom and Pop can’t open a restaurant nowadays because they just can’t get the bucks.
Cobb: I think the better restaurants will work harder to retain their employees, offering more benefits.
McDougall: There’s a tremendous labor shortage coming up here in the Nineties, basically because of demographics. There’s a big hole in the fertility curve there in the eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old group.
Cobb: I think you’ll see more hiring of senior citizens in the next decade. And I think pasta and Italian food in general will continue to grow in popularity.
Dayton: I think when you’re in the business of making trends, it’s hard to predict them. When Paul Prudhomme blackened his first redfish, did he think he was going to start a trend?
D: Who thought of tapas? Was that a trend?
Dayton: That was never a trend. It was a fad, and it was forced on the public. And not only that, we called it grazing-how unappetizing is that? Cows out in the field.. .
Cobb: The other major trend that we haven’t touched on here is the reduction of alcohol in our business, and throughout America. Mothers Against Drunk Driving and all that has had a major social and economic impact on the restaurant business. For instance, at San Francisco Rose about 65 to 70 percent of the business was coming from alcohol sales around five years ago. Now it’s 55 percent food and 45 percent whiskey.
D: What about the growing interest in the Pacific Rim? Will that make Chinese food more important in the United States, and in Dallas?
Cobb: There’s a tremendous gap between the numbers of people who will try, say, Italian, and who will try Chinese or other ethnic cuisines. That may change a bit now in Dallas because of the tremendous numbers of people who are moving here from other parts of the country and of the world. I think there’s the potential for an enormous trend, but somebody’s going to have to come along and package it.
D: Why do you suppose that hasn’t happened?
McDougall: Well, I’m not sure that you can serve Chinese food without Chinese people.
Toomer: That’s right, and Orientals don’t like to work for whites.
D: One last question: why are some restaurants so short-lived?
Cobb: You can’t say that a restaurant fails for any one reason or another. It’s a total package of management, controls, concept, and so on. The food is very secondary.
Toomer: The key is consistency. Even if it’s mediocre, if it’s always mediocre- exactly-it never changes-then it’s okay. And if you ever have to put out a sign-Happy Hour. Waitress Needed, anything- it’s the kiss of death. You might as well hang out a life preserver.
Cobb: Actually, national restaurant surveys will tell you that food is not even in the top five reasons why customers pick a restaurant.
Toomer: He’s right. A free cup of coffeewins out over food.
BARBECUE & BURGERS
Anderson’s. Anderson’s is what food in Texas used to be all about: plenty of choices of smoked meat, with a few token vegetables provided to ward off scurvy. The ’cue-especially the ribs-is as it should be, and the butter beans and baked potatoes are a credit to their genre. 5410 Harry Hines Blvd. 630-0735. Inexpensive.
Blue Ribbon Bar-B-Que. Service is do-it-yourself-pile your plate with terrific ribs, slow-cooked beef and ham. and spicy sausage, your choice of hot or mild beans, German potato salad, or coleslaw, then bead for a table. After a few bites and a few bars of “Rose of San Antone.” you’ll forget that’s Mockingbird Lane outside the door. 316 Hillside Village (Mockingbird and Abrams). 823-5524. Inexpensive.
The Bronx. The Bronx’s menu of top-notch burgers (the guacamole and bacon burger is a favorite) and omelettes is augmented by blackboard specials. On a recent visit, we started with potato skins, gooey with melted cheese, and then attempted to finish a hunk of Mom-style meat loaf, covered with onion- and pepper-filled tomato sauce. 3835 Cedar Springs. 521-5821. Inexpensive.
Cardinal Puffs. Puffs does a creditable job with casual food-quesadillas on our visit were hot and crisp, oozing jack and Cheddar, studded with black olives, diced tomatoes, onions, and bacon, and served with sour cream, mild salsa, and fine guacamole. But the real triumph was a hamburger that rivals any I’ve had in Dallas-a juicy half-pound of good beef, not overcooked, enthroned on a Kaiser roll with all the requisite fresh trimmings stacked in proper sequence-a touch less common than you’d think. 4615 Greenville Ave. 369-1969. Inexpensive.
Chips. Chips is the burger joint for me: I like its laid-back, not-too-loud atmosphere, I like the friendly and efficient service. 1 like the pig sandwich (shredded pork with relish), the chicken sandwich, and all the burgers I’ve tasted (chili, cheese, hickory, and plain). 4501 N Central Expwy. 526-1092. 2445 W Northwest Hwy, Suite 101. 350-8751. Inexpensive.
CISCO Grill. The tortilla soup was a hearty, spicy version with big pieces of avocado and tomatoes and lots of cheese and tortillas. Cisco’s burgers, served on well-toasted sesame buns, are big; the bacon-cheddar burger we tried had plenty of both. 6630 Snider Plaza. 363-9506. Inexpensive.
Hard Rock Cafe. It’s best to stick to the basic burger or the “Pig Sandwich”-a pile of shredded pork and relish on a bun that is better than its name sounds. Waiters seem to take literally Hard Rock’s slogan “Love All-Serve All”’; service was extremely friendly and efficient. 2601 McKin-ney. 855-0007. Moderate.
Ribby’s First-timers will want the rib sampler, with small portions of three kinds: marinated, beef, and original. The cole slaw is exceptional; the heans and bread are not. 6515 E Northwest Hwy. 361-5555. Inexpensive.
Riscky’s Barbeque. Riscky’s smoked catfish is an out-and-out Texas triumph. Our appetizer portions, a quartet of satiny fillet ribbons, were the stuff of which memories are made. Not that there’s anything wrong with Riscky’s beef, pork, or chicken-all were top-quality meats, nicely spiked with the spice mix the menu calls “Riscky dust” before be-ing slow-smoked in the traditional manner. 1701 N Market, Suite 104. 742-7001. Inexpensive to moderate.
Roscoe’s Easy Way. When the Easy Way moved from Lovers Lane to Lemmon Avenue, the faithful were warned. There was no need for consternation. Though the setting is now slicker, the rule of ordering still applies: stick to the barbecue and you’ll be happy. 5420 Lemmon. 528-8459. Inexpensive.
Snuffer’s. “Does this burger store have chocolate milkshakes?” “No.” “Then it’s not a good burger store ” Such was my eight-year-old companion’s previsit review of Snuffer’s. Snappy, friendly service was a plus; the nachos were good and the chicken sandwich and French fries excellent. We agreed, though, that the burgers were too salty and the buns too soggy. And we both missed our milkshakes. 3526 Greenville Ave. 826-6850. Inexpensive.
Solly’s. There are those who believe that good barbecue can’t be found in the squeaky-clean reaches of Addison. They haven’t eaten at Solly’s, where the “casual cuisine” promised by the logo features barbecue as flavorful as that in any other part of town-and French fries that were recently derived from a potato, which is a sadly rare state of affairs. 4801 Belt Line. 387-2900. Inexpensive.
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. Piled a couple of inches thick, the slices are a study is good barbecue-from the charred outside to the bright red smoke band to the pink-brown interior; (his beef is rich and tender and simple, ail at once. 2202 Inwood. 357-7120. Inexpensive.
Arcadia Bar & Grill. 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. 2114 Greenville Ave. 821-1300. Inexpensive.
Atchafalaya River Cafe. The Cajun craze may have come and gone in most of Dallas, but it is alive and kicking at Atchafalaya’s Belt Line outpost. We started with a cup of creditable gumbo-the spice was right, though the roux tasted a bit floury. Our red beans and rice were rich and smoky; crawfish étouffée had the same roux as the gumbo, but was full of meat and came with good dirty rice. The best entrée we sampled was chicken Tchoupitoulas, two breasts pounded thin and sautéed in butter, lemon, and Cajun spices-just the right amount. 4440 Beit Line Rd. 960-6878. Moderate.
Cafe Margaux. This once stellar new-style Cajun restaurant had lately devolved into confusion, the menu a patchwork of leftover ideas from failed ventures and former chefs. On my last visit this eclectic list had been pruned a little; it was focused more on what was originally done best here: contemporary Cajun cuisine. An appetizer of Cajun popcorn (fried crawfish meal) was hot and crunchy (accompanying sherry sauce was bland), crawfish étouffée was good, if a trifle spicy, and the crawfish and shrimp enchiladas were terrific. 3710 Rawlins. 520-1985. Moderate,
Copeland’s. For a mass-market type restaurant, Cope-land’s has pretty good New Orleans-style food. But then for a mass-market type restaurant, Copeland’s has pretty stiff prices. The kitchen relies heavily on two styles of sauces, one dark and assertive, the other pale and milder-both of them thick and liable to be pasty. The oysters en brochette is served atop the dark version. The light one (with various additions) adorns everything from softshell crab to fried red-fish. 5353 Belt Line. 661-1883. Moderate.
Crescent City Cafe. The menu here is limited, but what they serve is some of the best Cajun food in Dallas. The barbecued shrimp-served with bib and fingerbowl-are a fine, messy, spicy version of Manale’s original dish, great with an ice-cold Dixie beer. The oyster loaf is stuffed with fat fried shellfish, and the muffaletta gets my vote for Dallas’s best sandwich, a chewy loaf of fresh-baked Italian bread piled with olive salad, salami, provolone, ham, and mozzarella. 2730 Commerce. 745-1900. Inexpensive.
Louisiana Purchase. The crawfish étouffée 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, are too hot for most tastes-beware the gumbo and especially the barbecued shrimp. 2901 N Central Expwy at Parker Road, Piano. 422-2469. Moderate.
Pontchartrain. There are two kinds of gumbo, and we liked the delicate flavor of the filé gumbo better than the traditional heavier stock. The broiled stuffed snapper, halibut, and shrimp are specialties, though the fried entrees were just as good. We’re getting tired of blackened-everything Cajun, but the subtle and tasty preparations here, though heavy, were refreshing. 13444 N Preston Rd. 385-1522. Inexpensive.
August Moon. 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 cur 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.
Cafe Panda. Don’t miss the shar-char prawns, delectable barbecued shrimp (better order two portions, since they only come two to an order); the firecracker beef, a spicy but well-rounded mix of beef strips, scallions, and celery; or the mimosa chicken, chunks of chicken in a not-too-sweet orange sauce. 7979 Inwood at Lovers Lane. 902-9500. Moderate.
Cathy’s Wok. From the informative menu (dishes are described in detail, complete with calorie count). I tried decent wonton soup, an egg roll that was heavy on the cabbage, peppery chicken (with plenty of green pepper in a savory brown sauce), and shredded pork with garlic sauce. Even when the food here isn’t perfect, the ingredients are fresh and mercifully MSG-free, and the prices are right. 4010 W I5th, Suite 80. Plano. 964-0406. Inexpensive.
Chin Big Wong. Dim sum seekers flock here during peak lunch hours on weekends, so expect a wait, and expect it to be worth it. Carts of goodies roll by: steamed dumplings. sate beef sticks, shrimp toast, spring rolls, barbecued pork. Most plates are $1.50, and will provide tastes for three people. 9243 Skillman, Suite 104. 343-0545. Inexpensive.
Crystal Pagoda. Among the appetizers is one of the city’s best versions of Bon Bon chicken (shredded meat topped with a paste of peanuts and hot peppers). The Hunan lamb and the shrimp with cashew nuts are also memorable. But the crispy duck is a major disappointment: not nearly crisp enough and almost tasteless. 45/6 McKinney. 526-3355. Moderate.
Forbidden City. Forbidden City has opened in Joe Ku’s old space upstairs in Travis Walk-we always liked the room with its fine view of the western sky, and now we like the food. too. We especially enjoyed (he minced chicken with pine nuts, and the beef and onion rolls, both for wrapping in crispy lettuce leaves. The starred -for-spicy dishes lacked real fire, and some of the portions were too small to provide for the usual Chinese breakfast after the night before-our only quibbles. 4514 Travis. 520-1888. Moderate.
Han-Chu. Standard dishes like the spring rolls can be a disappointment, but the golden coin shrimp proved a worthy appetizer. Among the entries, Shang-hai 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. Caruth Plaza, 9100 N Central Expwy at Park Lane. Suite 191. 691-0900. Moderate.
Hao’s. The food at Hao’s is well prepared, but many of the dishes tend to look and taste alike-even those that are supposed to be spicy, tike the beef gui and the garlic shrimp. The Mandarin chicken does have an interesting texture and a refreshing lemon sauce, and the lightly flavored, egg-colored fried rice is a standout. The only real failure among the dishes we tried here was the Chinese chicken salad-something like a taco salad with romaine and sesame seeds, about which the less said the better. 8440 Abrams. 343-3998. 6912 Snider Plaza. 361-7970. 7612 Campbell Rd, Suite 200. 250-4267. N Inexpensive to moderate.
Henry Chen’s. This is one of the best-looking Chinese restaurants in town. Of course, pretty is as pretty does, and Henry Chen’s acquits itself honorably on that front: the food, to judge from orange beef and chicken with snow peas, is significantly above average, if not quite as noteworthy as the decor. 3701 W Northwest Hwy. Suite 180. 956-9560. Moderate.
Hong Kong Royale. Two of the best-prepared Chinese dishes we have been served in Dallas are Hong Kong Royale’s scallops in a potato nest and the fresh whole sole steamed under a blanket of black beans, cilantro, garlic, and scallions. These delights don’t come cheap. The sole costs $25 (worth it if you’ve got it). 221 W Post, Richardson. 238-8888. Moderate to expensive.
Jade Garden. Jade Garden looks exceptionally unpromising and serves food (hat turns out to be exceptionally good. From the standard-moo goo gai pan-to the unusual-curry pan-fried rice noodles-the food belies the setting. 4800 Bryan. 821-0675. Inexpensive.
Jasmine Uniquely Chinese. Main courses include macadamian chicken that could have used a few more macadamia nuts instead of so much canned bamboo, and abalone Imperial that had chewy, canned-tasting abalone but exquisitely cooked scallops and shrimp just touched with ginger. The single best dish we have sampled here is Eggplant Delite; the single worst, a pastily undercooked sesame apple dessert. 4002 Belt Line Rd, Suite 200. Addison. 991-6867. Moderate.
May Dragon. A small labyrinth of intimate dining spaces in subtle colors is the setting for some of the best-prepared Chinese food in town, served with the attention due the Last Emperor himself. The menu holds few surprises, but even a doddering standard like moo goo gai pan offers delicately cut meat and immaculately fresh vegetables. 4848 Belt line at Inwood. 392-9998. Inexpensive to moderate.
Plum Blossom. We sampled the Great Dynasty- Banquet on our last visit, and were impressed by the dish of wonton tilled with shrimp and chicken and stir-fried with Chinese greens. The combination of lobster, crab claws, and prawns was enhanced by a black bean sauce treated in a style reminiscent of French cooking-the seasonings were blended together smoothly rather than left discrete, as is the Chinese wont. But we were less impressed by the gamy-tasting frog legs and flabby-textured rabbit meat in orange peel chili sauce. Loews Anatole Hotel. 2201 Stemmons Fwy. 748-1200. Expensive.
Szechwan Pavilion. Although generally the food was not as good as we remembered, we enjoyed the twice-cooked pork accompanied by egg foo yung and fried rice, and the shrimp and chicken with cashew nuts was a good twist on an old Chinese chestnut. 8411 Preston. 368-4303. inexpensive to moderate.
Taiwan. Ordinary things sit side by side with excellent dishes at the Addison Taiwan. The subnormal egg rolls seem to come from a different kitchen than the light, delicate shrimp dumplings. At least no one can complain any longer that they go too easy on the spicy dishes here; both the Mongolian beef and the tangerine chicken (available on the bargain luncheon menu) we sampled were heavily spiked with hot red peppers. 4980 Belt Line, Addison. 387-2333. Moderate.
Tong’s House. This offbeat shopping center restaurant has attracted a loyal following because of its seafood specials like clams and whole fish (available mostly on the weekends) and its esoteric offerings that appeal mostly to Chinese customers (such as cattle stomach). Among (he more conventional dishes, we almost always opt for the kon po scallops-not made with peanuts, just lots of juicy scallops with garlic and pepper pods. 1910 Promenade Center, Richardson. 231-8858. Moderate.
Uncle Tai’s Hunan Yuan. There can be a few slip-upshere (some crab in a seafood dish tasted a mite fishy), and the portions are smallish. 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 outstanding. Gaileria, 13350 Dallas Pkwy, Suite 3370. 934-9998 Expensive.
Café La Jardin. On our last visit, crab-meat-stuffed mushrooms brimmed with texture and flavor, as did a quarrel of shrimp sautéed with vegetables julienne. A sautéed veal chop was a tender monster, anointed with mushrooms in a rich cream sauce, and filet mignon au poivre vert was fist-sized, broiled rare and bracingly bathed in an assertive sauce studded with green peppercorns. 4900 McKinney Ave. 526-0570. Moderate to expensive.
Cafe Royal. The menu offers a choice of an a la cane orprix-fixe ($34.50) dinner. My choices from the latter list included a typically lovely presentation of shrimp in a spiral of tomato and avocado coulis. and imaginative!)’ prepared lamb cutlets, covered in crispy shredded rosemary potatoes. My companion’s a la carle snails in fennel sauce were sublime; the properly tableside-prepared Caesar salad and grilled sirloin that followed were nothing short of perfect and chocolate crème brulée from the dessert cart was heaven. Plaza of the Americas. 650 N Pearl. 979-9000. Expensive.
Cassis Mediterranean Restaurant. House salads, included with entrées, were minimal lettuce and tomato, blandly dressed. Entrées. though, took up the slack: a traditional Spanish paella was toothsome indeed, its saffroned rice moist and lovely, its mussels and shrimp fresh-flavored, its chicken flavorful albeit a little dry. A fresh trout was redeemed from being slightly overcooked by its scrumptious caper-kissed sauce. 3102 Oak Lawn at Cedar Springs, in the Centrum. 521-0229. Inexpensive to moderate.
Chateaubriand. The Oysters Rockefeller we sampled would have been perfect if their spinach-graced succulence had not been obscured by a too-heavy layer of cheese. Our entrées were superior. Veal Marsala, pounded paper-thin. was tender in heady wine sauce, flawlessly complemented by lemon-spritzed wild rice. And a pair of double loin lamb chops, broiled rare, hardly needed the steak knife that came with them. 3701 W Northwest Hwy (at Marsh Lane). 351-2248. Expensive.
Chez Gerard. Though my last visit here began and ended on a high note, the effect was marred by slightly lackluster entrées. A duck liver and spinach Napoleon was flawless- still-rosy slices of liver layered with bright green spinach and flaky pastry-and the onion soup was everything onion soup can be. At the other end. crème caramel was a precise balance of bittersweet syrup and lightly sweet custard. But the grilled swordfish was slightly dry, and the fennel sauce bathing a fillet of taramia was so subtle it was almost bland, which the accompanying potato and vegetables frankly were. 4444 McKinney. 522-6865. Moderate to expensive.
Cleo by Jean-Claude. The menu has some old favoriteslike the pristine, very French, lettuce-only salads, the duck in an Oriental-inspired ginger sauce, and the ethereal chocolate soufflés. The price of a four-course fixed meal is just $29.50-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 souffle”. Among the entrées, both treatments of fish we sampled were superb. The Centrum, 3102 Oak Lawn, Suite 110. 520-9264. Expensive.
The French Room. On a recent visit, both à la carte selections and fixed-menu offerings were superb, from a pretty complimentary hors d’oeuvre of salmon rillettes to dessert, fresh raspberries in puff pastry with crème fraiche on warm caramel sauce. The degustation menu (four courses, with a wine for each. $56) was in no way outclassed by more expensive menu choices: a confit of guinea fowl legs with mildly dressed winter greens and petal-smooth duck foie gras was a showy first course, and a turbot fillet gift-wrapped in cabbage, braised, and served with herbed vegetables almost outshone the regular menu’s perfectly suave mussel soup. Adolphus Hotel, 1321 Commerce. 742-8200. Expensive.
Frenchy Café 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. Don’t 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 tart. 5950-C Royal Ln. 369-1235. Inexpensive to moderate.
The Grape. The Grape’s trademark fresh mushroom soup was an inimitable joy, its dinner salad a perfectly dressed mix of lettuces topped with ripe baby bell tomatoes. Entrees were as winning-Norwegian salmon fillet mated succulently with grape-almond relish; a flawless chicken breast was lavished with roasted pecans in an herbed sauce of brie and white wine; tournedos of beef were fine, fork-tender and rare in deep-flavored Béarnaise sauce. 2808 Greenville. 828-1981. Moderate.
Jennivine. An enduringly romantic mainstay on the upscale-casual dining scene, this British-cum-French establishment is dependably creative in the daily specials listed on its blackboard menu. Alas, a potato-scallion soup we tried on our last visit tasted more of flour than either named element, and the venison paté seemed a bit long in the tooth. But a warm English salad with Stilton was the stuff of which dreams are made, and poached salmon with tomatillo relish was a happy marriage, as was duckling with watermelon sauce and a garnish of red chili jam. 3605 McKinney. 528-6010. Moderate to expensive.
La Madeleine. The favorite breakfast order is pastry and excellent coffee; for lunch and dinner, the lineup includes a variety of soups, salads, not and cold sandwiches, and what we call “real food”-that is, a hot meat, and vegetables. On my last visit this was winey beef bourguignon, accompanied by a mild Caesar salad and followed by (part of) a Napoleon. 3072 W Mockingbird. 696-6960. 3906 Lemmon. 521-0182. Inexpensive.
L’Ambiance. On our last visit, the appetizers-a creamy tomato soup topped by a cheesy crouton, and a row of a dozen perfectly cooked asparagus spears-were especially good. Rack of lamb was traditional and well prepared; the duck breast, recommended as a house specialty, was nicely cooked, but its unidentifiable fruit sauce was overly sweet. 2408 Cedar Springs. 748-1291. Expensive.
L’Ancestral. First courses-an onion [art accented with pungent orange zest and a salad of tiny-diced ham, tomato. cheese, apple, and cabbage bound with homemade mayonnaise-were unusual and outstanding. Grilled swordfish and perfect pommes frites were followed by simple green salads and soothingly classic desserts-comforting caramel pot de crème and sumptuous chocolate truffle cake. 4514 Travis. 528-1081. Moderate to expensive.
Le Brussels. From the entrées we ordered lamb chops in mustard crust, steak au poivre vert, and a mixed grill (ribeye. chicken breast, and a lamb chop). We splurged on several desserts to share along with our pot of Belgian coffee: the day’s special tarte tatin. with its pile of caramel apple chunks, and (he luscious chocolate mousse took the prize. 6615 Snider Plaza. 739-1927. Moderate.
The Left Bank. The left bank in question is that of the Trinity River, and the restaurant in question is the best thing to hit Oak Cliff since the viaduct from downtown. The food served here is simple, French-influenced, and changes every day. On the weekend, all of Oak Cliff wants to be here, so reservations are essential. 408 N Bishop. 948-1630. Inexpensive to moderate.
L’Entrecote. 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.
Old Warsaw. The granddaddy-make that grand-père-of big-deal dining in Dallas was as romantic as ever. “Why do I feel like 1 should propose or something?” was the question of my escort. It could have been the low lights, the banquette seating, the violin and piano duo playing requests. It probably wasn’t the food, which, on average, was nothing special. The low point was an appetizer special of overly oniony crawfish in puff pastry; the high point was crepes Suzette (an unjustly out-of-fashion dessert). 2610 Maple. 528-0032. 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 yellow fin 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 succulent ly sweet loin of lamb was sparked by a green peppercorn sauce. 7709 Inwood. 351-0094. Expensive to very expensive.
St. Martin’s. Something about St. Martin’s laid-back bistro character keeps the faithful coming. Must be the combination of candlelit tables and conversation-level music, plus come-as-you-are informality- The Food is pleasant but not outstanding-a cup of gumbo on our visit was flavorful but loaded with more rice than fish or vegetables; roast duck from the regular menu was admirably crisp-skinned in not-too-sweet fruit sauce, on the whole a more rewarding dish than the pricier blackboard specials we tried. 3020 Greenville. 826-0940. Moderate to expensive.
Three Vikings. The look of this place is very light, with lots of pale blue and bleached pine. There’s nothing light about the food, though-which is good or bad. depending on how you feel about Scandinavian/Continental food. For my part, I am immoderately fond of the Swedish meatballs. moderately fond of the Finnish shrimp chowder, and not fond at all of the heavy-on-the-Béarnaise veal Oscar. 4537 Cole. 559-0987. Moderate.
Trieste. Entrées included potato (a fan-shape of au gratin slices) and vegetable (slivered zucchini, squash, tomato). The fresh tomato looked as lively as it lasted with its garnish of créme fraiche and dollop of caviar, while the smoked trout mousse folded into rosy slices of smoked salmon was pure silk. The rare lamb slices were bathed in a sauce full of fresh currants, and the French combination plate, lobster medallions and beef tender, was served with two sauces, a classic demi-glace and a rich Béarnaise fragrant with tarragon. 1444 Oak Lawn Ave. Suite 600 742-4433 Moderate.
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 loo 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.
Belvedere. The appetizer of a seafood-filled crepe is. rich and rewarding, and the various treatments of veal range from a crisp schnitzel to lender scallops swimming in cream and mushrooms. Accompaniments include buttery spaetzle (little homemade noodles) and crusty scalloped potatoes. Salads come with a lopping of fried onion, and desserts include a sinfully dense and chewy chocolate mousse. 4242 Lomo Alto. 528-6510. Expensive.
Bohemia. This homey holdout against light-dining sissiness is as solid and staid as the food it serves-on our last visit an admirably long-simmered sauerbraten, the vinegar-spiked beef slices fell-apart tender, and half a slow-roasted Long Island duck, its moist succulence barely held together by burnished skin. The duckling’s bread-like dumpling was airy, accompaniments of boiled potato and caraway-scented sauerkraut mild and, yes. filling. 2810 N Henderson. 826-6209. Moderate.
The Chimney. It’s still crowded after all these years at this doyenne of North Dallas restaurants. But the special appetizer, a crepe holding a bounteous harvest of seafood, lasted loo strongly of capers on our last visit. And the hefty portion of venison tenderloin was cooked to a turn, but the reddish sauce added little in the way of flavor. 9739 N Central Expwy. 369 6466. Expensive.
Franki’s Li’l Europe. Entrées offered on our lunch and dinner visits ranged from Italian to French to German and Austrian, with side trips to Hungary and Yugoslavia. Top stop for my money was segediner, a Hungarian dish involving succulent pork chunks simmered with mild sauerkraut and cream. 362 Casa Linda Plaza, Garland Road at Buckner. 320-0426. inexpensive to moderate.
Hofstetter’s. 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 thy me-scented cassis sauce, with a Zinfandel-poached pear finishing off the plate. On the more traditional side, pork tenderloin medallions dotloped with Montrachet cheese in port sauce arc partnered with spaetzle and a cucumber salad. Plaza at Bach/nan Creek, 3830 W Northwest Hwy. Suite 390. 358-7660. Inexpensive to moderate.
Kuby’s at the Brewery. Kuby’s famous sausages are among the best of the main dishes, along with the beef rouladen and the smoked pork chop (listed on the menu as Kassler Rippchen). The sauerbraten (pot roast cooked with vinegar) is made from a fine cut of beef but was not as tender as it should be. 703 McKinney. 954-0004. Moderate.
Kuby’s Sausage House Inc. Here you’ll find 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; and moist, fresh carrot cake framed in a full half-inch of buttercream icing, with a plastic tumbler of iced tea to wash it down. 6601 Snider Plaza. 363-2231. Inexpensive.
Crackers. Appetizers were a benediction; tiropetes, the puff pastry-wrapped triangles of feta and ricotta cheeses, symphonic in flavor; tzatziki, a garlic-spiked yogurt cucumber dip. fresh and lively on small wedges of pita bread. Baby lamb chops, a special of the day. were bite-sized sorcery, broiled rare as ordered. Salads, side dishes, and a dessert of warm peach cobbler were all fresh and satisfying. 2621 McKinney Ave. 871-7268. Inexpensive to moderate.
Goldfinger Restaurant. A multitude of baby crab claws heaped on a plate overwhelms me with the amount of stale-tasting grease-or is that Greece?-each tiny morsel has absorbed. But the rest of the meal is better, the soup a lemony delight in rich chicken stock, the lamb succulently broiled, the abundant feta salad fresh and crisp. The souvlaki’s creditable, and even the dolmas would have been nice if they’d been a little less salted. 2905 Webb Chapel Ext. 350-6983. Moderate !<> expensive.
Kostas Cafe. 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; pastissio, 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. 4914 Greenville. 9X7-3225. Inexpensive.
Little Gus’. By day a bare-bones breakfast and burger hangout, (his little place spreads blue table linens and adds flowers and candles at night to showcase its talents as a consistently topnotch Greek restaurant. A recent visit netted a day’s special of roast lamb slices cradled in deeply flavored wine sauce that could not have been more satisfying. 1916 Greenville. 826-4910. Inexpensive.
Akbar. Usually one of our favorite local Indian restaurants. Akbar disappointed us recently, We don’t like our tandoori chicken overcooked and dried out, but surely no one likes it undercooked, and that was the way it was served to us this lime around. The accompanying onion kulcha (bread stuffed with onions and also cooked in the tandoor, which is an Indian clay oven) was undercooked and gooey, too. Even the shrimp cooked with large pieces of pepper were underdone to the point of translucence. 2115 Promenade Center. Rich-ardstm. 235-0260. Lunch inexpensive, dinner moderate.
Ashoka. This small Far North Dallas Indian restaurant is the only one we know of that offers a buffet in the evening as well as at lunchtime. When we visited, though, the dishes seemed warmed over and were slow to be replenished, so ordering off the menu seems a belter choice. The shrimp curry Bombay and the lamb korma were both beautifully sauced. The lamb cubes grilled in the tandoor, though, seemed a small portion, and both this dish and the tandoori chicken seemed, surprisingly, a trifle spicy. Prestonwood Creek Shopping Center, 5409 Belt Line. 960-0070. Inexpensive to moderate.
India Palace. Pan of the excellence of thus 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 beef punjabi or baigan bhurta (eggplant purée) 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 & Kurry. Any of the wonderful breads or selections from the tandoor make good choices for the novice, while the shahajani biryani-a complicated mix of rice, chicken, and vegetables-exhibits the balance of ingredients that makes Indian food so exciting. 401 N Central Expwy. Suite 300. Richardson. 231-5556 Inexpensive to moderate.
Kebab ’N’ Kurry. Although a few items (mushy strawberry and banana fruit salad, fishy fish curry) didn’t send me. plenty of choices did, including succulent tandoori chicken; fragrant kashmiri pillau (rice with peas, currants, almonds, and cashews); savory palak panir (spinach cooked with homemade cheese); flavorful lamb kofia (meatballs in a mild curry sauce); and lender naan (flat bread). 2620 Walnut Hill in. 350-6466 Inexpensive to moderate.
Taj Mahal. We started with the appetizer assortment, son of an Indian pu-pu tray, and ate our way through korma, vin-daloo. and biryani without a complaint. It’s all good, and. a plus for inner-city types, it’s close in-just across from NorthPark. The service was exceptionally friendly and helpful. Caruth Plaza. 9100 N Central Expwy, Suite 179. 692-0535. Inexpensive to moderate.
Acapella Cafe. A new Hawaiian pizza sounds bizarre-fresh pineapple, coconut, ginger, with whole macadamia nuts and optional cubed ham on great crust-but the sum of the parts is splendid, trust me, and try it. Try, too, one of the new filled pastas; I found the ravioli, fragile squares centered with mild cheese and spinach in rich cream sauce, near-ethereal . 2508 Maple. 871-2262. Inexpensive to moderate.
Alessio’s. Minestrone was absolutely the best I’ve ever tasted-a sturdy studding of lima beans, cabbage, zucchini. turnips, et al., in tomato-based broth zinged with lemon. Rack of lamb riblets were divinely rosy and toothsome in white wine sauce whispering of thyme, but highest marks have to go to the evening’s veal chop, a half-pound monster of exceptional tenderness and flavor, barely haunted with rosemary. 4117 Lomo Alto. 521-3585. Moderate to expensive.
Café Italia. This informal little place offers a deliciously crisp chicken limone. sautéed just right, and a veal Marsala with an intense taste of wine. In fact, intense flavors are the rule here-though not always to the good, as the herbal strangeness of the tomato sauce shows. 5000 Maple. 521-0700, Inexpensive 10 moderate.
Caffé Paparazzi. Veal scallops cooked with cheese is a cliché that usually disappoints grandly; here, though, the veal valdostana is sheer poetry, flavored with a leaf of fresh sage. Of the pastas we tried, the penne all’arrabiata was the standout. 8989 forest Lane, Suite 112. 644-1323. Moderate.
Campisi’s Egyptian Restaurant. 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 tiny things. Our all-the-way pizza and butter-drenched garlic bread were quite passable, too. 5630 E Mockingbird. 827-0355. Inexpensive to moderate.
Capriccio. The appetizer of snails (lumache fantasia) in garlicky sauce under puff pastry proved a terrific opener. and the pastas included a fine fetruccine Carbonara as well as a decent hut less convincing spaghetti Capriccio with chicken livers and tomatoes. Both main courses we sampled-veal topped with shrimp and sweetbreads Genovese with prosciutto-were cooked to perfection. The rum cake with meringue rounded out the meal magnificently. 2616 Maple Ave. 871-2004. Expensive.
Carrelli’s. Veal alla Carrelli’s is a mish-mash of prosciut-to, mozzarella, artichokes, and shrimps over the veal in a lemon, wine, and cream sauce. A special of the day can bring you even more tastes on one plate-lobster tail alla diavolo (sadly fishy tasting) next to a luscious breast of chicken in a lemon and cream sauce. Steak lovers can order prime sirloin either plain or lopped with a spicy tomato sauce. 12219 Coit Rd. 386-7931. Moderate to expensive.
Ciao. New Wave pizza may be the featured attraction at Ciao, and they are well and good, but the smart money is on the calzone, a sort of pizza turnover filled with fresh ricot-ta. Italian sausage, and herbs. One of these and a perfectly simple green salad, and you won’t be in the market for dessert. 3921-B Cedar Springs. 521-0110. Inexpensive.
Flip’s Wine Bar and Trattoria. The gnocchi di pomodoro e rosmarino are among the best versions in town of these little Italian dumplings, and (he fried ravioli are excellent. The smallish pizzas (in four varieties) are also outstanding. Pasta is handled in a unique way. For one price ($8.95), you have your choice of ten different shapes of pasta, mixed and matched with eleven different sauces. 1520 Greenville Ave. 824-9944. Moderate.
II Sorrento. Tortellini stuffed with Swiss chard and gilded with walnut sauce were outstanding, and homemade tortellini baked in buttery cream sauce were redolent of fresh Parmesan. Veal scallops with crisp asparagus were commendable, too. but the real debauch came with dessert; a zabaglione of surpassing subtlety and rum cake, a longstanding specialty. 8616 Turtle Creek Blvd. 352-8759. Moderate to expensive.
La Tosca. 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 profits roles sinfully drenched with hot chocolate and whipped cream. 7713 In-wood. 352-8373. Expensive.
La Trattoria Lombardi. The offerings here haven’t changed much in a decade-crab cannelloni (a mite fishy-tasting), tortellini, dull and undersalted scallops of veal. One newcomer, a special of grilled snapper topped with bright green cream sauce, proved delicious and more than welcome. Desserts tend to be heavy and old-fashioned, too-things like a white chocolate mousse cake (on the dry side) and Sachertorte (a leaden chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream under a chocolate glaze for the icing). 2916 N Hall. 528-7506 Moderate to 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. Proceed with succulent rabbit in Provencal sauce, or a sautéed veal chop strewn with vinaigrette-spiked arugula. Leave room for a wicked wrap-up of double chocolate mousse cake if you can. Travis Walk, 4514 Travis. 521-1480. Moderate.
Lombardi’s Expresso. Smaller and more casual than the other outposts in the Lombardi restaurant empire, this one still offers commendable food and even careful service. A sampler of the cold salads makes a bountiful appetizer, so much so that you may not have room for the ravioli with marinara or the lasagna afterwards. 6135 Luther Lane.361-6984. Inexpensive to moderate.
Mario’s. One of the oldest of Dallas’s fancy restaurants seems better than it has in a long time. For appetizers, the cannelloni and the shrimp with mushrooms in a rich cream sauce are standouts. The veal Milanese is crisp and tender, the red snapper Mario perky in its sauce spiked with capers. For dessert, order one of the soufflés-but do so early, because the wait can be long. 135 Turtle Creek Village, Oak Lawn at Blackburn. 521-1135, Expensive.
Massimo da Milano. Most of the time you still have to jockey for position in the cafeteria line to get your food, but at least in the evening now there is table service. Whatever the logistics, we suspect that there isn’t an Italian bakery/café in the country that can compete with Massimo in turning out authentic Italian confections. The breads and cookies and seasonal sweets are absolutely authentic-so much so that for lots of American tastes they are insufficiently sweet and overpowering in the taste of hazelnuts and spices. 5519 W Lovers Lane. 351-1426 Inexpensive to moderate.
Massimo da Milano Al Teatro. The day’s entries, listed on a separate menu, yielded a very small serving of excellent veal scallops, sautéed and brandy-flamed in cream sauce with plain and porcini mushrooms. A sautéed grouper fillet was laden with tiny bones, but the evening’s featured Tagliatelle alla Valdostana was positively ambrosial. The Quadrangle. 2800 Routh Street. Suite 180. 871-1900. Inexpensive to moderate.
Momo’s. The wood-oven-baked pizzas are a better bet than the homemade pastas, which can be overcooked and undersauced. Better still are the dishes like conchiglie al modo mio (seashell pasta baked with savory meats and cheeses) and scallopini à la Momo (veal sauced piquantly with a hint of anchovy). 9191 Forest Lane, Suite 82- 234-6800. Moderate.
Momo’s Italian Specialties. At this newest Memo’s location-in Piano-the food can be sensational and can mystifyingly rniss the mark. A new dish here is the mac-cheroni alla chitarra-fat, square-cut noodles in an intriguing sauce made with chopped lamb and bell peppers. Alas, the pasta was cooked past limpness into the depths of sog-giness. There are some absolutely wonderful successes to be found here: a seafood salad with scallops and squid redolent of tomato and fruity olive oil and a veal alla piz-zaiola bravely seasoned with anchovy and olive. 3309 N Central Expwy. Suite 370 (in the rear of Ruisseau Village), Piano, 423-1066. Moderate to expensive.
Momo’s Pasta. The Knox Street Momo’s is both more and less than a condensed version of Antonio Gattini’s original establishment. Less, because Momo’s trademark pizzas are not available here, but more, because the twenty pasta variations that are the new place’s sole entrees are all-new, all-different, and altogether praiseworthy. Gnocchi- lightest of the little egg-shaped dumplings I’ve ever tasted anywhere-were most memorable of all. 3312 Knox, 521-3009. Inexpensive.
Nero’s Italian. Osso Buco, the traditional peasant’s dish of veal shank baked with garlic, tomato, carrot, onion, and herb-seasoned celery, was a hearty, meaty delight. Pork loin Palermo, on the other hand, was dry and leathery. To our excellent waiter’s credit, he offered to replace it. but we had already progressed through Caesar salad (fresh and nicely seasoned, although overlight on the anchovy accent) and focaccia (disappointingly thick and doughy), and voted to move on to triple-chocolate cake (ambrosial) and fine espresso. 2104 Greenville- 826-6376 Moderate.
Pizzeria Uno There’s now a second area location for this Chicago-based emporium of deep-dish pizzas. This style is unique, at least hereabouts: a rich, buttery crust that doesn’t lose its crispness, filled to the brim and served in the heavy pan it was cooked in. The fillings come in lots of combinations, a number of which don’t even include tomato. We were skeptical about one of the novelty fillings-chicken fajita pizza? (they had to be kidding). But it turned out to be the best dish on the menu, with succulent chicken and lots of sweet red peppers. 2811 McKinney Ave. 855-0011. 4001 Belt Line, Addison. 991-8181. N Inexpensive to moderate.
Pomodoro. Our first lunch here was pure delight: sunny minestrone, crisp-vegetable filled and deeply flavored; a salad of caper-strewn pepper strips. Toothsome spinach linguini held a wealth of shell-free clam meat in the freshest herbed tomato sauce imaginable. The second visit’s sampling revealed a few excesses: Bresaola, the famed sun-dried cured beef, was a trifle leathery, but a Cornish game hen. herbed. split, and broiled, was perfect all the way. 2520 Cedar Springs. 871-1924. Inexpensive to moderate.
Ristorante Savino. Satin-fresh mozzarella rounds with tomato in basil dressing were flawless; red shapper sautéed with fresh tomato and basil was the same. My longtime favorite, roast veal slices served cold in rich tuna sauce, was not quite up to standard-the veal was a trifle dry-but still outstanding. 2929 N Henderson. 826-7804. Moderate to expensive.
Ruggeri’s. No one warned me the soft-shell crab on my appetizer plate had been frozen, not fresh, before its sautéeing in garlic-spiked olive oil, but its texture and taste were acceptable if its rectangular shape was not. Otherwise, everything on our dinner visit touched happy chords, from al dente angel hair pasta with tomato, fresh basil, and garlic to veal scallops sautéed with artichoke hearts and mushrooms in butler. 2911 Routh St. 871-7377- Moderate.
Sfuzzi. Pizzas here are exceptional, with a thick but somehow light crust; the grilled salmon pizza with yellow tomatoes ranks as one of the best pies in Dallas. From the selection of “’primi plates,” the salads were terrific. Arugula and radicchio were sprinkled with crisp pancetta and crumbled Gorgonzola and dressed in balsamic vinaigrette: spinach salad was arranged with grilled chicken chunks, toasted pine nuts, and yellow tomatoes. 2504 McKinney. 871-2606 Moderate.
Stevie V’s. The kitchen turns out the best conventional (as opposed to New Wave) pizzas in Dallas, with crisp, delicate crust, just the right amounts of cheese and sauce, and bountiful toppings like scrumptious homemade sausage. The best of the pastas we tried was the fettuccine with clam sauce. The noodles were perfectly cooked and coated with a rich cream sauce with lots of meaty pieces of clam. 7324 Gaston Ave, Suite 319. 321-9755. inexpensive.
311 Lombardi’s. The waiters will hardly let you sit down without ordering the trademark focaccia (though a tariff of about five bucks for what is basically garlic bread-albeit very fancy garlic bread-seems a trifle outrageous). The fet-tuccine with fresh salmon is an interesting pasta choice, and the bone-in veal chop alla Milanese, crisply breaded and fried, comes garnished with arugula and tomato-anyone for salad and main course all at the same time? 311 Market at Ross. 747-0322. Moderate to expensive.
Fuji-Ya. There is a small but impeccably fresh selection of sushi, the gyoza (pan-fried meat dumplings) are delicious, and the shrimp tempura stands out as among the lightest, crispiest, most delicate in town. But other dishes, like fatty, undercooked teriyaki chicken and overboiled, tasteless sukiyaki, can be most disappointing. 13050 Coit Rd. 690-8396. Inexpensive to moderate.
Hana Japanese Restaurant. As in most Japanese restaurants, the sushi bar here is the social center-a joyous stretch of immaculate revelry staffed by swift-bladed showmen who slice out the usual artistic raw-fish delicacies as well as a specialty or two all their own: their oyster shot, a chewable potion involving raw oyster, fresh quail egg, and spicy accents, is alone worth a visit. The kitchen excels, too, with shrimp tempura and fried oysters crisped to air-light, greaseless perfection, grilled salmon steak and beef teriyaki moistly tender. 14865 Inwood. 991-8322. Moderate.
Hibachi-Ya Japanese Restaurant. Best bet by far was a traditional entree, Ume steak, meltingly lender filet perfumed by marinating in plum sauce, then grilled and cubed for easy chopsticking. The best appetizers, too, were beef- notably in sirloin tataki, rare slices served with a fruity pon-zu sauce. 3850 W Northwest Hwy, Suite 510. 350-1110. Inexpensive.
Kobe Steaks. Here, your dinner-sliced, diced, and cooked on a hibachi grill-is the show, and your fellow diners are part of the deal, too. The basic ingredients-steak and shrimp are the most popular options-are of good quality, and the whole experience has a certain retro charm. Quorum Plaza. 5000 Belt Line at Dallas Pkwy. 934-8150. Moderate to expensive.
Korea Home Town. The set-up of the Spartan tables shows that you are supposed to order one of the versions of Korean barbecue, spelled here put koki (marinated beef) and put kalpi (marinated short ribs). Both are grilled right on the table. The adventurous will also enjoy the stir-fried squid and octopus and the wonderful Korean cold vegetables. Take cash, because no credit cards are accepted. 10560 Walnut, Suite 600. 272-9909. Inexpensive.
Korea House/Club Koryo. We’ve never had better Korean food in Dallas than this. The fried dumpling appetizer was especially flavorful, and the cold Korean-style vegetables (spicy pickled cabbage, bean sprouts, radish, and cucumber) refreshing as could be. The nuggets of fried chicken in dak gui were optimally crunchy and set off by a tantalizingly peppery sauce. 613 Promenade Center, Coit at Bell Line, Richardson. 231-1379. Moderate.
Mr. Sushi. 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 entree 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. 4860 Belt Line. Addison. 385-0168. Moderate.
Mr. Sushi A Hibachi. Mr. Sushi’s original location is one of the favorite stops of local seekers of raw fish. This new establishment also includes a hibachi room for those in quest of Benihana-type slice-and-dice grilled thrills. On my visit I unintentionally ended up on the hibachi side, where the food was uninspired. However, my sushi scouts report that the sushi here is as terrific as at the original Mr. Sushi. 9220 Skillman. Suite 227. 349-6338. Moderate to expensive.
Nakamoto. The sushi bar offers a nice variety of fish of exemplary freshness. Among the cooked dishes, fish also stands out-the salmon butteryaki has a pleasantly charred exterior and moist meat. Less impressive are the slightly soggy shrimp tempura and tough pork tonkatsu. Ruisseau Village, Suite 360, 3309 N Central Expressway, Piano. 881-0328 Moderate.
Sakura Japanese Restaurant. The tempura-fried
shrimp were light and lacy; 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.
Shinano. This cheerful little restaurant features most of the standard Japanese-American menu items, with a few offbeat features like crispy fried soft-shell crab. The shrimp tempura can be very good, and the sushi and sashimi can be most appetizing (though we thought we detected a vinegary taste to the raw tuna on one occasion-a sign that it might have been soaked to remove a tell-tale fishy taste). 8830 Spring Valley Rd. 644-1436. Moderate.
Shogun. Shogun serves commendable versions of the standards of Japanese cuisine-lightly battered tempura. juicy teriyaki chicken, and fresh-tasting sushi-in a pleasingly serene atmosphere. This small restaurant is exceptionally pleasant, thanks to the quietly efficient service. 5738 Cedar Springs. 351-2281. Moderate.
Sushi on McKinney. 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. 4500 McKinney. 521-0969. Moderate.
Blue Goose Cantina. The quality here is surprisingly high, in light of the low prices. The chicken fajitas are the best in town, and the beef fajitas are more than respectable. The flour tortillas that accompany both are admirably thin and fresh- 2905 Greenville. 823-8339. Inexpensive.
Blue Mesa, 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 repealed in the contrasting flavors of savory black beans and sweet com pudding. Com meal pasta was cooked al dente; it 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.
Brazos. Grilled entrees come with black beans, rice, and red or green chili; we tried the chili-marinated redfish the first visit, the beef tampiquena the second, and were disappointed both times. The two special entrees were better: red chili-cheese enchiladas were very good, and King Ranch chicken was tasty too, with lots of chicken and tortillas under the gooey cheese and sour cream. 2100 Greenville at Prospect. 821-6501. Moderate.
Cadillac Bar. As its name suggests, the focus of the Cadillac Bar isn’t food. Which is just as well, considering what I tasted there. The best bets are the nachos, particularly the signature Cadillac nachos (served in a portion large enough to serve as a meal for two moderately hungry people) and the cheesecake. 5919 Maple Ave, 350-3777. Moderate.
Caliente Border Cantina. We began dinner with a shrimp quesadilla laden with fresh pineapple dice and cilan-tro pesto as well as cheese; the combination was enjoyable. Rellenado de Res, a fine cut of beef stuffed with chile relleno rather than vice versa, was rewarding, the meat rare and tender, the pepper mild. Adobe pie. masa and chicken with chipotle cream sauce, turned out to be a huge dome that in any other shape would have been called a naked tamale, never mind that with a salad it would have served four-it was delicious. 6881 Greenville Ave. 368-8600. Inexpensive.
Cantina Laredo. Despite the hectic atmosphere, our service was brisk and attentive. Tex-Mex here is good, but the specialties are better: cabrito barbacoa (barbecued goal) was rich and tender, and pollo ranchera was a lender breast with a spicy sauce of tomatoes, onions, and peppers. 4546 Bell Line. 458-0962. Moderate.
Casa Rosa. Fried stuffed jalapenos and tortilla soup were good beginners. The chile relleno that followed was breaded too heavily, but the filling and the ranchera sauce were flavorful. Polio en la concha was a rich dish of chicken chunks and slivered peppers smothered in thick cheese and sour cream in a fried flour tortilla shell. 165 Inwood Village (Inwood as Lovers). 350-5227. Moderate.
Chito’s. A New Yorker I know loves Mexican food more than life itself. Chito’s on Maple is where I took her on her last stop in Dallas, and she found its funky setting inordinately satisfying. The food at Chito’s-especially the bean, cheese, and guacamole quesadillas-is good enough to please even native Dallasites, who are accustomed to the Tex-Mex way of life. 4447 Maple. 522-9166. Inexpensive.
Chuy’s. The menu listed combination plates ranging from the huge comida deluxe (two enchiladas, one flauta. one crispy taco, chili con queso, guacamole, rice, and beans) to Chuy’s “lite plate,” a single taco with guacamole and queso. But we chose instead a “Chuychanga,” a big fried flour tortilla encasing a half breast of chicken and some melted cheese, served with a selection of sauces. 211 N Record St. 747-2838 Inexpensive.
Garcia’s Caribbean Grill. What is this world coming to? We’ve had Tex-Mex. Mex-Mex. tropical-Mex. and now, from Garcia’s, fish-Mex-their term, I swear it. Your reviewer, for one, has not been waiting breathlessly for catfish enchiladas, but Garcia’s peerless chili con queso- composed of white cheese and spinach, unlikely as it may seem-is alone worth a visit. Flaw at Bachman Creek, 3830 W Northwest Hwy. 358-2664. Inexpensive to moderate.
Gloria’s. Gloria’s Salvadoran cuisine offers such under-priced delights as pupusas, flour tortillas filled with pork and cheese, and curtido, the oregano-spiked sour cole slaw that complements them. Best way to sample these is on the newly featured Salvadoran plate, which also includes fried plantains and sour cream, fried yucca, black beans, and rice blackened by steaming in liquor from the beans. The medley of flavors on the plate is rapturous indeed-anoint it with Gloria’s eye-watering salsa and add a Salvadoran beer, and you’ve a banquet. 600 W Davis. 948-3672. Inexpensive.
J. Pepe’s. J. Pepe’s Mexican food is a cut above most local Tex-Mexeries, and its selling is exceptionally pleasant. These two facts, plus the availability of outdoor seating (the local appetite for margaritas consumed en plein air is apparently boundless), go far to explain the madding crowds found here on weekend nights. 2800 Routh. 871-0366. Inexpensive to moderate.
La Botica Café. Closed now for lunch except for private parties, the place has broadened its menu to include several upscale-sounding entrees-quail, Cornish game hens, and ribeye steaks, for example-as well as the familiar Tex-Mex standards. Not to worry, though-prices are still in line, and such favorites as tortilla soup, green enchiladas, and cheese-hearted quesadillas are as fine as ever. 1900 N Haskell. 824-2005. Inexpensive to moderate.
La Calle Doce. From the seafood side of the menu we tried camaron a la diabla, shrimp in a spicy-hot sauce: from the landlubber list we chose chiles rellenos, sniffed with shredded, not ground, beef, and tacos de carne deshebrada, flour tortillas filled with the same tasty mixture. 415 West 12th. 941-4304. Inexpensive.
La Mansion De 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. The food has its highs and lows (chicken mote 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.
L’Asadero Monterrey. 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 gel the goat, not to worry. The rest of the menu is tasty, loo. Polio a la parilla was tender and juicy, its topping of grilled onions sweet and tender. 112 N Collett. 826-0625. Inexpensive.
Loma Luna Cafe. Blue com chicken enchiladas were stacked, not rolled, smothered with green chilies. and layered with lots of chicken and cheese. Sandia Range chicken was smoked and grilled over pecan wood. Served with Santa Fe-style beans and rice, the chicken was moist and tender even after its double treatment. 4131 Lomo Alto. 559-4011- Moderate.
Mario ft Alberto. Among the main courses, the filete dela casa (tenderloin strongly flavored with garlic, accompanied by lightly fried potato slices) remains a favorite. Those who crave fajitas will find a relatively restrained version here-a manageably modest serving, and no sizzling fireworks. Preston Valley Shopping Center. LBJ Frwy as Preston. Suite 425- 980-7296 Moderate. Mario’s Chiquita. This Piano outpost of Mario Leal’s mini-empire is-surprise, surprise-very much like his other two restaurants, from the odd color scheme to the average Tex-Mex offerings to the superior Mexico City-style specialties. Unlike the original Chiquita, Mario’s Chiquita is big enough that getting seated immediately is rarely a problem. 221 W Parker, Suite 400, Plano. 423-2977. Moderate.
Mario’s Chiquita. This conservative but pretty pastel restaurant offers dependable Tex-Mex. but its forte is specialties like the tacos al carbon, tender strips of steak folded in flour tortillas, or the carnitas a la tampiqueno, a plate of grilled pork strips sided by a cheese enchilada in a terrific rarachera sauce. 4514 Travis, Suite 105 (in Travis Walk). 521-0721. Moderate.
Martinez Cafe. The food is Tex-Mex-Mandard 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 nude 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), Plano. 964-7898 Inexpensive.
Mia’s. The Tex-Mex served here is good and dependable, the service is fast and friendly, but the ambience is elbow-to-elbow and, for me. Mia’s success is its failure. The long lines make me think too hard about just how good those enchiladas are. Are they worth a forty-five-minute wait? Thirty minutes? 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.
On The Border Cafe. Chicken fajita quesadillas were a satisfying beginning; cheese enchiladas were a rich version, and beef fajitas were tender and smoky. The bonus was the Border’s burger; grilled to order and sided by jalapeno French fries, it was one of the best I’ve had. 3300 Knox St. 528-5900. Moderate.
Primo’s. The menu is Tex-Mex. with blackboard specials, and. except for bland margaritas and some overcooked shrimp, everything we sampled on a recent visit was as soul-satisfying as good Tex-Mex can get. Primo’s offers one of the best botanas platters around-two kinds of nachos, midget flautas. and terrific quesadillas. Take note of the tiny, crispy meat tacos-fried after they’re Tilled, and available in the standard size. too. 3309 McKinney. 520-3303. Inexpensive.
Raphael’s. Of the two Raphael’s locations, I like the food at Greenville best. Whichever site you choose, the vegetarian burritos, an assorted trio, are good enough to earn respect from the most hidebound carnivore. 3701 McKinney. 521-9640. 6782 Greenville. 692-8431. Moderate.
Tejas Cafe. Nearest thing to a standout on a recent visitwas a quesadilla filled with fresh spinach and other good things along with molten jack cheese. A Tex-Mex combination plate named for the place pretty well exemplified its culinary character-enchiladas, taco, and standard accompaniments were adequate but rather bland. But we did enjoy the honey-drizzled sopapillas. 2909 McKinney. 871-2050 Inexpensive to moderate.
Uncle Julio’s. Uncle Julio’s decor is heavy on pink and purple, and the (bod is notable more for its quantity- portions range from generous to immense-than for its quality. One notable exception: the tamales, which are available with pork and with chicken, arc excellent. 4125 Lemmon Ave. 520-6620. Moderate.
Villa Margarita. Here, in pretty surroundings, you can nave some of the best nachos (with black beans, white cheese, and sour cream) to be had in these parts. After the nachos, the standard Tex-Mex is fine, but I prefer the tender. flavorful carne asada. 362 Promenade Center, Coit & Belt Line, Richardson. 235-5447. Moderate.
Hedary’s Lebanese Restaurant. The menu is identical to the original Hedary’s in Fort Worth, every dish is lovingly prepared, and if there’s better Lebanese food anywhere. I’ve yet to find it. The best way to sample the appetizers is to order maza, an array of nine or ten mini-servings ranging from hearty tabuli to onion-spiked tomato. Entrees lean toward beef and lamb: we particularly enjoyed kafta, sausage-like patties of fine ground sirloin and savory spices folded into a bread loaf. Promenade Center, 15400 Coit, Suite 2500, Richardson. 669-2112. Inexpensive to moderate.
Bluebonnet Cafe. You wait in line in this remodeled corner of the lower Greenville Whole Foods Market for delec-table lunches. Green enchiladas come with cheese, whipped tofu, or both-with Texmati rice and black beans on the side. The salad bar is worth the stiff price because of the fresh, appetizing selection of greener}’ (including up to a half dozen varieties of sprouts), tabuli and pasta salads, and some interesting homemade dressings. 2218 Creenville. 828-0052. Inexpensive.
Dream Cafe. I find Dream Cafe’s breakfast and brunch dishes head and shoulders above some of their more solemnly nutritious lunch and dinner specialties. In fairness, my samplings of the latter were limited, but a stir-fry of tempeh and polenta cubes with vegetables was disappointing. What did knock my socks off was a fresh-as-morning omelette delectably filled with chicken, fresh pears, and blue cheese. And a Sunday brunch special of strawberry pancakes almost beggars description, the pancakes airy whole wheat folds over sliced ripe berries, the whole affair lavished with whipped butter and warm syrup. 2800 Routh St, Suite 170, in the Quadrangle. 954-0486 Inexpensive.
Actuelle, Actuelle for dinner is predictably excellent; lunch can be an unexpected bargain. You can order soup and entree for under $20 and feel completely pampered. A roots-our beef with barley soup was a sophisticated interpretation of a hearty classic: ragout of chicken came with a potato pancake. The Quadrangle, 2800 Routh. 855-0440. Expensive.
Baby Routh. On my last visit to this upwardly mobile temple, the food, thankfully, finally lived up to the social ambitions of the place. The pot roast with poblano gravy was good. although it cried out for potatoes, the seafood tamale was stunning to behold, and the smoked chicken and cac-ciotta empanada a .success, as were all the desserts, including the vaunted banana split. 2708 Routh. 871-2345. Moderate to expensive.
Beau Nash. With the new direction of executive chef Dan O’Leary and Russell Hodges. Beau Nash seems to have come into its own. Flavors are still California-style assertive, but not jarringly so. Smoked salmon carpaccio was ringed with translucent slices of sweet soaked onion; “Buffalo” (as in chicken wings) style shrimp was nicely set off by crunchy three-cabbage slaw. Hotel Crescent Court, 400 Crescent Court. Maple at McKinney. 871-3240. Expensive.
City Cafe. The menu, which changes every Wednesday, is gently, not jarringly, original; we were especially pleased with the tomato soup, crawfish cakes, and a version of Jamaican hummingbird cake. 5757 W Lovers Lane. 351-2233. Moderate to expensive.
Crockett’s. We tried a curry-chicken ravioli that was excellent, a ginger-cumin-duck pasta plate that missed, and fabulous crabcakes. The wine list recognizes the taste of their customers, though it is too expensive by the glass. 5410 LBJ Freeway, Doubletree Hotel at Lincoln Center. 934-8400. Moderate to expensive.
Dakota’s. Dakota’s is a businessman’s-person’s-favorite, but the place is good-looking enough and the food good-tasting enough to please anyone. The new fall menu features woodsy wild-mushroom-filled ravioli in rich Gorgonzola cream sauce and pecan-smoked tuna that are perfectly tuned to the season. 600 N Akard. 740-4001. Moderate to expensive.
Deep Ellum Cafe. On my last visit, starters were tops: goal cheese and sweet roasted garlic, sun-dried-tomato toasts with savory garlic and basil, and crabcakes with a spicy Thai-style sauce. Entrées were just as good, from the sucwith rich aioli. 2704 Elm St. 741-9012. Moderate.
Gershwin’s. Both the mixed-seafood appetizer (delicious fried calamari. shrimp, crabcakes. and mushrooms) and the California-style pizza would have done as starters for two or even three people. The selection of three kinds of grilled fish and the king-size desserts also offered good value. Only the veal scaloppine topped with fettuccine swimming in a sweetish sauce disappointed. 8442 Walnut Hill at Greenville. 373-7171, Moderate to expensive.
Kathleen’s Cafe and Bar. An entrée of seafood lasagna was filled with shrimp, salmon, and lots of cheese and smothered with a thick, rich tomato sauce; another plate of pecan-smoked chicken held a moist breast accompanied by hot and sweet Italian sausages lending spice. 4424 Lovers Lane. 691-2355. Inexpensive to moderate.
Laurels. The menu dégustation, with a fixed price of $38.50. changes daily and is a good bet. A la carte choices are expensive, but choices like Maine lobster, wild mushrooms, and basil with fettuccine are well worth the tariff Desserts are killers here, especially the soufflé of the day (apricot with raspberry sauce on my visit). Sheraton Park Central, 12720 Merit Dr. 851-2021. Expensive.
The Mansion on Turtle Creek. Aside from an incoherent list of specials (I was tempted by an entree of Indian-inspired yogurt-marinated lamb with curry and chutney, but couldn’t find anything to complement it), the kitchen’s work was up to par Mansion standards-lobster tacos with yellow tomato salsa, tortilla soup, chicken baked with maple-pecan crust-and specials-soft-shell crab with barbecued crust and Cajun sausage with onion pasta-scaled the expected peak of perfection, which at these prices, they should. 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd. 526-2121 Expensive.
Nana Grill. The glittering view of downtown, the strolling violinists, and the deep decor make this restaurant on the Anatole’s twenty-seventh floor feel luxurious. Unfortunately, the food and service on our visit were less than luxe-an appetizer of oysters with cilantro pesto was excellent, as were the grilled entrees (veal and lamb), while side dishes ranged from pretty good (fried onion rings) to poor (an uncooked lump of potatoes au gratin). Loews Anatole Hotel, 2201 Stemmons Frwy. 748-1200, Expensive.
Parigi. On my last visit, a sage pesto pizza was the prize appetizer, followed by a terrific Caesar salad, lightened up with lemon juice and zest-the balance of rich and tart is so right you wonder why everyone doesn’t prepare it this way. Entrées, especially a veal chop with mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes, and chicken and spinach lasagna in spicy arrabiata sauce, were excellent. 3311 Oak Lawn. 521-0295. Moderate to expensive.
The Promenade at the Mansion. Lunch at the Promenade features some terrific examples of New Southwestern cuisine. The Southwest ancho pizza with smoked chicken, jalapeno jack cheese, poblano peppers, and cilantro may be the best New Wave pizza in Dallas. The pork loin scaloppini with a sauce of capers, tomato, smoked bacon, and parsley is yet another winner. 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd. 559-2100. Moderate to expensive.
Raffles. Lunch at Raffles was better than dinner, maybe in part, because it seemed like such a deal; most of Raffles’ offerings came in at $7 or less. “Grilled chicken rosmarino” was a small double breast, nicely marked and juicy, with a rosemary-infused butter sauce. Dinner was a confused collection of pluses and minuses-my salmon steak was perfectly grilled, but my companion’s penne vodka came drowned in a sauce that looked and tasted a lot like cheese and Rotel dip. 2200 Cedar Springs, in The Crescent. 855-8889. Inexpensive to expensive.
Routh Street Cafe. Routh Street celebrated its fifth birthday this year; a recent visit proved that the reputation it has built in the last five years is deserved. Our service was perfect, and. with minor exceptions (a too-oily salad dressing and an overpowering sorbet), so was the food: rabbit with red chile pasta and smoked corn; chile stuffed with almonds, apricots, and goat cheese; lamb loin with roast garlic sauce; and all the desserts. 3005 Routh St at Cedar Springs. 871-7161. Very expensive.
Sam’s Cafe. After a period of hits and misses under former chefs, Sam’s kitchen is on a winning streak, thanks to the direction of the current chef, David Feder. Lobster pizza was outstanding, as was a special pasta paired with chunks of tenderloin and homemade “vulgar chocolate” ice cream that may be the most intense ever. 100 Crescent Court, Suite 140. 855-2233. Moderate to expensive.
San Simeon. Attempts at the flashy eclecticism of New Southwestern cooking sometimes 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. Fish is the strong suit of chef Richard Chamberlain, formerly of Ratcliffe’s; the swordfish with a black-bean citrus sauce was the highlight of our meal; it was delicious. 2515 McKinney at Fdirmount in Chateau Plaza. 871-7373. Expensive.
Spatz. Highlights of our most recent visit: shrimp and mango quesadillas, fettuccine with pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and garlic in a cream sauce, steak with chévre and roasted shallots, and orange macadamia nut cheesecake. 2912 Henderson. 827-7984. Moderate.
Atlantic Café. Alt the marble and brass make for a hard-edged elegance, and the food is almost always superior. The menu has been narrowed down to include only the outstanding dishes-like pasta with smoked salmon and seafood and a salad of tomato, avocado, and fresh mozzarella drizzled with pesto. 4546 McKinney at Knox. 559-4441. Expensive.
Aw Shucks. I’ve never had a better whole farm-raised (as opposed to river-caught) catfish than the cornmeal-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. 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 star turn at our table was veal Oscar, an impressively thick, tender cut enhanced with crab meat, snapping-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. Highland Park Village, Preston at Mockingbird, Suite 24. 526-1170. Expensive.
Fishmonger’s Seafood Market and Café. Simple dishes like the boudin sausage appetizer and fried catfish or shrimp come off as well as expected (though the boiled peel and eat shrimp proved unappetizingly mealy in texture). The surprise is the excellence of the more elaborate dishes like the redfish Pontchartrain (grilled and topped with shrimp, crab, and mushrooms), 1915 N Central at Chisholm, Suite 600, Piano. 423-3699. Moderate.
Hampton’s Seafood Bar, Market & Grill. Pluses in-clude an enthusiastic staff, fresh fish, and generous cocktails. We enjoyed the grilled mahi-mahi in a beurre blare sauce with baby shrimp, but the tortellini marinara had been sitting too long in the kitchen, and we missed the warm sourdough bread we remembered from the last visit. Berkshire Court. 8411 Preston Rd. 739-3474. Moderate.
Harbor House. The peel-them-yourself shrimp have lots of briny flavor, everything on the broiled seafood platter (with shrimp, scallops, crab fingers, and catfish in a light lemon butter) is impeccably fresh and delicately cooked, and the fisherman’s stew (fish and shellfish in a tomato sauce) comes atop nicely firm pasta. 4844 Greenville Ave. 368-8911. Moderate.
Hard Shall Cafe. Both the New England clam chowder and the peel and eat shrimp make excellent beginnings here-neither of these standards is done better in Dallas. For the main course, we ordered the New England combo for two. At S33.95 this most expensive dish on the menu seemed quite a bargain, since it included two one-pound Maine lobsters, a pound each of cultured mussels and either Lit-tleneck or Ipswich steamer clams, and new potatoes and corn on the cob. 6403 Greenville Ave. 987-3477. Moderate.
Leo’s Seafood Grill. Main courses include exemplary versions of fried catfish and cornmeal-coated fried shrimp. The only seafood dish that disappointed us was the so-called seafood stew-the dish came with a thick sauce rather than as a soupy-type stew, and the shellfish included some rather over-the-hill mussels and tough scallops. The biggest surprise at Leo’s is the desserts-the Key lime pie is surprisingly tart and authentic. 12255 Greenville. Suite 130. 234-3474. Inexpensive to) moderate.
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. 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 too heavy for the delicate fish. 703 McKinney in the Brewery. 954-0220, Expensive.
Rusty Pelican. The many available varieties of fresh fish arc mostly either charbroiled or sautéed (sadly. the sautéed versions are sometimes underseasoned and bland). The more elaborate preparations are chancy. The ahi marinated in a Chinese pesto sauce was succulent-glazed a mahogany brown from its soy marinade and spiked with ginger. The mahi-mahi Hawaiian style, though, was a big disappointment. 14655 Dallas Pkwy, Addison. 980-8950. Expensive.
Theodore’s. Advertised as a seafood restaurant, Theodore’s offers as well a full complement of Greek dishes from taramousalata (a pink fish-roe dip) to moussaka (the divine Greek casserole of iamb eggplant, topped with a creamy custard and delicately tinct with cinnamon). But the creatures of the briny deep occupy the bulk of the menu, and Theodore’s does a good job with most of them-though be forewarned that a simply, delectably broiled whole flounder will be adorned with an herbal oregano accent that you may not have bargained for! The Comer, Walnut Hill at N Central Expwy. 361-1922. Moderate to expensive.
The Blue Onion Restaurant. Probably the best thing here is the pot roast, so tender it has fallen apart before it reaches the plate and rich with the sweet taste of carrots and slow-cooked beef. The fried shrimp are much better than average, and the chicken pot pie tastes homemade, though the biscuits on top are a flimsy substitute for a crust. 221 W Parker Rd at Central Expressway, Piano. 424-2114. Inexpen-
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 any-time breakfast and lunch standards. Desserts are down-home-admirable pies and cobblers, bread pudding too sweetly fruit-sauced. 5519 E Grand Ave. 824-2996. Inexpensive.
Bubba’s. This may be country cookin’, but this is the Park Cities-Paul Simon alternates with Dolly Parton in the background, and the denizens look to be young lawyers on the prowl, SMU sorority sisters, and grandes dames doing their best to go slumming. The food includes crisp fried chicken and yeasty rolls and an ever-changing choice of vegetables. 6617 Hillcrest. 373-6527. Inexpensive.
Celebration. After years of exploration of Celebration’s menu, I have finally found its weak spot: spaghetti, which vies with Highland Park Cafeteria’s version for the title of worst desecration of pasta in town. However, everything else on a recent visit was as swell as ever. Given its consistent record, one problem dish can hardly be held against Celebration, which is an enduring source of well-prepared comfort food. 4503 W Lovers Lane. 351-5681. Moderate.
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 tender chicken, new potato, carrot, com, and green beans under its flaky crown. Broccoli-rice casserole was a trifle dry but flavorful, and com on the cob was gloriously no[ overcooked. 3531 Oak Lawn. 522-3287. 6950 Greenville. 691-3287. 702 Ross. 744-3287. Inexpensive.
Highland Park Cafeteria. As cafeterias go. the original HPC is the mama of them all. a homey dispensary of all (he revered classics (chicken-fried steak with cream gravy, crisp-battered Tried 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? 4611 Cole. 526-3801. Village on the Parkway 5100 Belt 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 in vinegar without sugar. My companion’s fried whole trout had gone dry from holding over heat, but his tomato-avocado aspic was firm. tart, and fresh. 300 Casa Linda Plaza. Buckner Blvd at Garland Rd. 327-3663. inexpensive.
Mama Taught Me How. Breakfast offers thin, delicate pancakes and homemade cinnamon rolls. Lunch gives us a variety of choices: chicken-fried steak, quiche, and specials. The home-baked pies have tasty fillings. The lemon-meringue is tan with the real juice of the fruit, and the buttermilk has a homey nutmeg twang. 14902 Preston Rd, #512, in Pepper Square. 490-6301. Inexpensive.
Mama’s Daughters’ Diner. The plate lunches we tried were generous models of no-nonsense nostalgia, the chicken-fried cutlet tender in crisp-browned batter with mashed potatoes under perfect cream gravy, all from scratch; the green vegetables-pork-seasoned turnip greens, cheese-whizzed broccoli-overcooked (weren’t they always, back then?); the cole slaw a fresh crunch, cream-dressed and Southern-sweet. 2014 Irving Blvd (between Wycliffland Oak Lawn). 742-8646. Inexpensive.
The Mecca. Inside the Mecca, it’s always 1957. This is one old favorite that repays revisiting, whether for breakfast. which features immense omelettes, real-thing hash browns, and swell biscuits, or for lunch, when chicken-fried steak is in order 10422 Harry Hines. 352-0051. Inexpensive.
Rosemarie’s. Rosemarie Hudson never forgets a customer, and her warmth accounts in part for the fanatical loyalty this little cafeteria-style operation inspires: the terrific chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, yeast rolls, and peanut butter pie also might have something to do with it. 1411 N Zang. 946-4142. Inexpensive.
Theo’s Diner. Don’t fret because this landmark has changed hands and undergone a minor face-lifting. 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. 111 S Hall at Commerce. 747-6936 Inexpensive.
Tolbert’s Chili Parlor. The chili labeled Frank’s Original Texas Red wouldn’t win this year’s award at Terlingua, but it’s a respectable, if underseasoned, long-simmered version studded with bite-sized beef cubes. For my money, though, the burgers are the best bet-the Fredericksburger, a two-handed stack of cooked-to-order beef, bacon. Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onions, is big enough to qualify asafor-two entrée. 350 N St Paul. Suite 160. 953-1353. 1800 N Market. 969-0310. Inexpensive,
Del 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 in Del Frisco’s favor is that the side dishes are much tastier than those usually found even in high-priced steakhouses. The Crescent. 2200 Cedar Springs, 526-2101- Expensive.
Hoffbrau. The steaks are preceded by a salad that includes lots of chopped green olives, they are accompanied by long, soggy fried potato quarters, they are doused by a sauce of lemon and margarine, and the UT alums seem to love it. though I’ve never understood why. The steaks themselves really aren’t loo 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.
Huntington Grill. Of the dishes offered “From Our Broiler.” the best was the large, perfectly broiled lobster tail on the steak and lobster tail combination. The tenderloin on that combination. like the hefty twenty-four-ounce T-bone. suffered from a loo heavily charred crust. Westin Hotel. Galleria, 13340 Dallas Pkwy. 851-2882. Expensive to very expensive.
Lawry’s The Prime Rib. Everything you eat at Lawrys is accompanied by elaborate ritual. When the beef arrives. you expect trumpets to herald the beef cart, which looks somewhat like the QE2 as it lumbers down the aisle. The cart is laden with six roasts in varying degrees of doneness, available in different size cuts; once the beef is on your plate, you understand what the hoopla is all about. No one bothers to cook prime rib like this anymore. The lender, marbled slice was raspberry-red, rimmed with fat. and flavorful to the last bile. 3008 Maple Ave. 521-7777. Expensive.
Morton’s of Chicago. The porterhouse steaks are magnificent chunks of beef, and they are likely to be served just as specified, Some of the other dishes are fine, too. The lump crab meal is simplicity itself, perfectly fresh (though with a few too many flecks of shell). The Caesar salad is robust, and the chocolate soufflé for two a fine end to a meal. 501 Elm. 741-2277. Expensive.
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.
Bagelstein’s. 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 fare like chopped liver. lox. or knackwurst. Or you can order 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.
Cindy’s. With its utilitarian decor, everyone-you’ve-ever-known crowd, and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink array of breakfast fare, Cindy’s is a local institution. Eat in. or drop by the deli side and take your plunder home. 4015 Lemmon. 522-5275. 385 Dal Rich Shopping Center, Coit & Belt Line. Richardson. 231-3660 N 11111 N Central Expwy. 739-0182. Inexpensive.
City Market. Ordering involves some executive decision-making-it’s hard to choose from the wide selection of delicious, imaginative salads (almond chicken with rice, potatoes in pesto with black olives, marinated beef with peppers), hearty soups, and excellent sandwiches. 200 Trammell Crow Center (Ross at Harwood). 979-2690. Inexpensive.
Crescent Gourmet. 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, On the upside, the focaccia bread on the tasty bacon-avocado sandwich gets our vote for best sandwich bread in town. 400 Crescent Court. 871-3223. Inexpensive to moderate.
Everyday Gourmet. Recent highlights include fried catfish with smoked red pepper butter, you’ll-never-miss-the-meat meatless lasagna, rich seafood enchiladas, beef, shrimp, and vegetable skewers, rice with apples and basil, and fried corn. 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.
The Good Life. Owner-chef Christine Carbone’s creative touch with light New American and Italian fare yields such happy daily features as flawless vichyssoise and fruit soups, imaginative sandwiches (try the chicken with apricots and almonds), and hearty tortas-domed layers of spinach, cheeses, and garlic-spiked roasted red bell peppers, for instance, wrapped in pastry and sold by the wedge. 6340 Gaston Ave. 821-3194. Inexpensive to moderate.
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. 3316 Oak Lawn. 526-4070. Moderate.
Pacific Express. The smoked chicken salad with walnuts and the beef tenderloin and Jarlsberg cheese sandwich with jalapeno chutney were fine, but the tuna salad was overwhelmed by blue cheese, and the tortellini in the pasta-vegetable salad were scarce and overcooked to the point of disintegration. 1910 Pacific Place at 1910 Elm, Suite 103. 969-7447. Inexpensive.
Pasta Plus. Salads 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.
Pat’s Park Cities. Besides standard deli sandwiches and submarines, daily specials are offered: on the day of our visit, hot Vienna corned beef was on the board; the beef, thin-sliced, was also thin-piled, only two layers deep, with a skinny slice of white cheese, filled out with much chopped lettuce on a hearty bun. Potato salad and cole slaw, though, were both superior, full of crunch and fresh flavor. 6617 Snider Plaza. 363-7797. Inexpensive.
Petaluma. 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.
Pollo Bueno. This may well be the fast food of the gods.PB’s hickory-roasted chicken is remarkably succulent. With it you can get very good cole slaw and rice, pretty good corn-bread, and pretty odd beans. You can eat inside the clean, spiffy-looking premises or take your treasure home. 3438 Samuell Blvd. 828-0645. Inexpensive.
Tommaso’s. The pasta’s fine at this Italian to-go shop, but the takeout is really tops. Classic dishes like lasagna and cannelloni hold up well after reheating, and the rotolo. pasta rolled with ricotta. spinach, and mozzarella and topped with your choice of sauce, makes an impressive firs! course or. sided with salad and bread, an elegant lunch or supper entree. 5365 Spring Valley at Monifort, 991-4040. Inexpensive to modera
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. Keystone Park Shopping Center. Suite 400. 13929 N Central Expwy, 437-3900. Moderate.
New Siam. This western outpost also lists Thai and Chinese specialties-an increasingly common combination. Our advice is slick to the Thai side and you’ll be happy. Volcano chicken was beautiful and delicious; gang ped (red curry with thicken, coconut milk, and mint leaves) was not as hot as we can stand, but the cashew chicken with fried red pepper and green onion compensated. 2415 W Northwest Hwy (at Harry Hines). 358-5679. Inexpensive to moderate.
Satay. To begin, we tried the namesake satay-bamboo skewers of thin pork (or beef or chicken) strips, accompanied by a lovely-to-look-at but flavorless cucumber salad and a good spicy peanut sauce; it also came with “toasts.” which looked and tasted like salted styrofoam. Entrees were better-honey-roast pork, a platter of tender-crisp slices of rich pork loin, was unfortunately smothered with a cloyingly sweet sauce; ubol beef, a toss of beef strips, onion slivers, mint, and other greens in a searingly hot sauce, was exactly the kind of flavor blend that makes Thai food so addictive-near-pain fully hot, but wonderful. 4503 Greenville Ave at Yale. 696-3210 Inexpensive to 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 get this side of Monterrey. 1490 W Spring Valley. 690-3637. Inexpensive.
Thai Soon. This has quickly become one of the most popular Thai restaurants in Dallas, and it’s easy to see why-the tiny jade green room with its Indonesian print cloths has a funky coziness that is most appealing, and the mostly vegetarian menu is appealing, too. Don’t miss the corncakes (called corn patties); soups and curries are also outstanding. 2018 Greenville. 821-7666. Inexpensive.
Arc-en-Ciel. The Seven Courses of Beef turned out to contain the best dishes-some homemade sausages of various shapes and textures that had been grilled to a turn, Most everything on the Vietnamese side of the menu is supposed to be rolled up in rice paper with julienned vegetables and dipped in a vinegary hot sauce, producing a kind of Southeast Asian taco. 3555 W Walnut at Jupiter, Garland. 272-2188. Inexpensive to moderate.
Ba-Le. This is perhaps the tiniest of Dallas’s Vietnamese restaurants. As always at Vietnamese restaurants, real lemonade and killer iced coffee are (he beverages of choice. Two entrées of choice are tenderloin of beef with vermicelli and the Vietnamese crepe, which is more of a frittata, really. 4812 Bryan. Suite 102. 821-1880. Inexpensive.
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 entrée of roast duck almost outshone it-it was superb. 4301 Bryan Street, Suite 101. 824-6200. Inexpensive.
Saigon. First time 1 dined here, I ordered the shrimp wrapped around sugar cane simply to see what it was. 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 oxymoronic appraisal. 1731 Greenville- 828-9795. Inexpensive.
LAS COLINAS/MID CITIES
Cacharel. This pretty establishment with a glassed-in exhibition kitchen has a fixed price of $10 for lunch and $24 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. Brookhollow Two, 2221 E Lamar, Suite 910, Arlington. (817) 640-9981. Moderate.
Moretti’s. The luncheon menu is dominated by standard dishes like tortellini in a buttery broth, lasagna with a hearty tomato sauce, and veal Marsala with a delicious sauce (though the veal itself was a bit pasty from imprecise sautée-ing). 2709 Mustang Drive, Grapevine. (817) 481-3230. Inexpensive to moderate.
Tandoor. Tandoor offers a superior assortment of ap-petizers: minced lamb 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 1-30, Arlington. (817) 261-6604. Moderate.
Via Reál. 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 of fish mousse studded with salmon and surrounded by a rich sauce). Main courses at Via Real also tilt toward the seafood end. Town North Centre, 3591 N Belt Line at Northgate. Irving. 255-0064. Moderate.
Benito’s. The menu features such uncommon appetizers as sopes, son of a super-thick soft corn tortilla filled with beans, cheese, and green sauce, and chilis en rajas, strips of poblano peppers in cream. Entrées follow suit: tamal oaxaqueno is wrapped in a banana leaf, and the shredded (not ground) beef tacos are fried after they’re filled. The standards are well done, but this is a place to go exploring. 1450 West Magnolia. (817) 332-8633. Inexpensive.
Hedary’s. They say the Lebanese are the French of the Middle East, culinarily speaking: the fare 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. The meal plate features homemade sujuk (hot beef sausage), kafia (ground beef rolls), Lebanese shish kebab, 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.
La Maree. The owner of St. Emilion, Bernard Tronche. has added a dining room to his takeout venture. A deli by day, thronged for its creative lunchtime sandwiches, salads, and desserts. La Maree turns bistro on Fridays and Saturdays, when it serves dinner from a New American menu as sophisticated as any in the Metroplex. Particularly seductive the night we were there were a crabcake appetizer (hat transcended the textureless regional cliché with a lively spiced lime remoulade; a house salad that mated mixed greens with grapes and chopped black olives and sesame seeds in avocado-lime dressing: and an entrée of pork in three guises-smoked loin, homemade sausage, and ham-zinged with ancho-pepper sauce. 3416 West Seventh, Fort Worth. (817) 877-0838. Moderate.
Le Chardonnay. Former Ceret chef Philip Lecoq is a co-owner of this 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.
Michael’s Oyster Bar and Seafood. The standbys here seem to be the fried seafood-catfish fillets, oysters, shrimp, and the rest. The most innovative things on the menu are the blackened red snapper (one of the better versions around of this latter-day cliché) and a garlicky version of shrimp scampi. 5805 Camp Bowie. Fort Worth. (817) 377-8021. 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 doited with caviar. Both the blackened redfish (accompanied by Maryland crabcakes) and the juicy, pink rack of lamb were’ perfectly cooked. 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 $20 per person, it’s surprising that more Dallasites don’t make the trek to St. Emilion. The last time ] did. the results were impressive. A thoughtfully put together salad (leaf let-tuce, 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 nicely roasted duck with cherry sauce were all one could ask for. 3617 W Seventh. (817) 737-2781. Moderate.
Tejano Mexican Cuisine. Fort Worth Tex-Mex lovers wait in line to sample this establishment’s not-your-normal-enchilada fare. One of the trendier touches that doesn’t work: an appetizer called Arizona nachos and consisting of a lake of molten cheese on a single oversized flour tortilla. Forget it and order instead one that does: milk-fed cabrito (baby goat), roasted to a lender turn and lavished on a standard platter. If you must have fire on your table, a specialty called parilla Tejano brings you the grill with a more manageable melange of sizzling chicken and beef tajita strips, grilled with onions and peppers, plus all the trimmings. 5716 Camp BowieBlvd. (817) 737-7201. Inexpensive to moderate.
Tuscany. Both the look of this place and the style of the cooking are meant to be reassuring-not stodgily old-fashioned but not so experimental that anyone is going to be alarmed. The food is not without some original touches: the appetizer of eggplant fried and stuffed with ricotta and spinach is hardly old hat, and the fettuccine Carbonara is spiked with chopped scallions. The veal Livornese comes with very fresh-tasting shrimp, mussels, and clams still in their shells-and so much garlic butter that some might be put off, 4255 Camp Bowie Blvd. Fort Worth. (817) 737-2971. Moderate to expensive.
Tutti Pazzi. Neither the appetizers we sampled (oysters baked with a pesto topping and a coarse rabbit paté with hazelnuts and dried figs) nor the salads (a version of Caesar and a house salad with greens, black olives, and marinated pinto beans) were impressive. But the pastas and the small boutique pizzas proved more appealing. The fusilli dell orto are corkscrew noodles tossed with grilled zucchini and eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, yellow peppers, and roasted garlic-fine if you like the pungency of the garlic. 300 Main St. (817) 332-2664. Moderate to expensive.