A Thai family has opened a Thai restaurant in the quaint but spartan setting of a closed-down Japanese inn. The food, all cooked to order, makes this perhaps the best new Thai restaurant, at least in the quality of the cooking, to open in Dallas in a decade. It’s a shame that the lack of creature comforts (you have to sit on tall, backless stools) and slowness in getting the food to the table might keep this new venture from being the success it deserves to be.
The only other problem with Thai Toy’s is that it is a vegetarian restaurant, in the same sense that Thai Soon is: it does serve fish and seafood, but no poultry or red meat. Can Dallas support two excellent vegetarian Thai restaurants? I hope so, because the two restaurants have different styles of food, even though the menus are quite similar. At Thai Toy’s, the chef is more than willing to moderate the fieriness of the Siamese cuisine (which can be blistering beyond the capacity of most Occidentals to tolerate). In fact, the tendency here is to underspice if you express any concern about how hot the food will be.
The menu offers most of the Thai standards that can be fitted into the vegetable and seafood categories. The egg rolls are unlike any in our experience-each as big as two fists, and two to an order. The shrimp satay is delectably seasoned with curry and served with a spicy peanut paste. Fried squid and shrimp appetizers arrived at the table impeccably hot and crisp as any tempura (our only complaint was that the squid seemed to have more batter than mollusk). The soups, as at most Thai restaurants, are superb. The shrimp coconut soup is full of exotic ingredients like lemon grass, lime leaves, and a mysterious root with an odor like camphor; the sliced red snapper soup has a very different taste of tomatoes and chili oil.
Ten strictly vegetarian entrees are based on fried tofu cubes and fresh vegetables- the panang (a red curry with lime leaves) is outstanding. All of these are uniformly, and reasonably, priced at $4.95. The fried shrimp with garlic sauce, fish topped with mint leaves, and the wonderful Thai noodle dishes all make fine entree choices. 4422-B Lemmon. 528-7233. Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30 am-2:30 pm. Dinner Mon-Sun 5:30-10:30. All credit cards. Inexpensive to moderate. -W.L. Taitte
Architecturally, this newest free-standing restaurant in Fort Worth is almost too imposing to be believed. A two-story red brick pile on the close-in West Side, it looms over its smaller-scale surroundings like a castle set down in a country village. Inside, the first floor is forthrightly formal in its arrangement-a central entry with massive mahogany doors leads to pleasantly traditional dining areas set left and right of it with symmetrical precision. Upstairs, the formality is diluted by a clubby bar that adjoins a balcony overlooking a handsome view of downtown Fort Worth; those who don’t care to dress for dinner can be served here, apparently-the. foursome we watched start with salads seemed to be hav-ing a great deal of fun.
And in fact, downstairs seemed less formidable, once ’ seated, than at first glance. The wait staff was warmly accommodating, and the handwritten menu struck a happily varied chord. The food on our visit, however, seemed almost evenly divided between creative freshness and self-conscious over-production. A first-course Roquefort flan with zinfandel sauce was pure heaven, the creamy custard mellowly infused with cheese, the sauce a bracing balance. Quesadillas were an overstuffed version, overflowing with avocado and chicken in one instance, with avocado and shrimp in another between loosely stacked tortillas, ruffled with lettuce-too many components, it seemed to me. A simpler arrangement of tote lots-bite-size pasta squares anointed with lemony cream sauce-was wonderful.
Entrees were all huge. Here, too, the simplest we tried were the best. Chicken breast Muenster was a flawless breast, but its heavy blanket of dark sauce chunked with chopped vegetables overwhelmed the delicate meat. Country-style veal sweetbreads received more sensitive treatment, their tender richness enfolded in light, crisp batter. Braised scallops were big, meaty marvels in an uncomplicated cream sauce, crowned with the agreeable crunch of fresh minced leeks-an innovative concept. Airy mashed potato puffs went with them well.
The half-dozen desserts offered were a fairly conventional lot; a flourless chocolate cake, whipped cream topped, touted by our waiter, struck me as rather too-solid; cappuccino was a happier sweet choice, and espresso was best of all.
Before the construction of its grand new building, Tours occupied a modest storefront space on Camp Bowie-the kind of tucked-away place habitues could feel they had discovered. I felt it myself-the food and atmosphere there seemed delightfully spontaneous. These lavish new quarters have a more pretentious feeling that may have affected my appraisal of the food; in any case, I found myself wishing the kitchen here, though laudably concerned with freshness, would lighten up a little on the busy abundance of its plate presentations. 3500 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth. (817) 870-1672. Lunch daily 11:30-2; dinner Mon-Sat 6-10. MC, V, AE. Moderate to expensive.
Austin’s Barbecue. An Oak Cliff institution for as long as most people can remember, this folksy ex-drive-in must be one of the last of the little-bit-of-everything small-town-style establishments in these parts. Among other items, the menu offers chicken, catfish, and shrimp, but the main staple is barbecue-billed as “lender as ol” Austin’s heart”- Austin being Austin Cook (no relation), genial founder and proprietor. On our visit, a combination plate of beef, ham. and ribs lived up to the slogan with a formidable serving of almost too-tender sliced brisket, creditable ham, and meaty ribs that looked stringy but weren’t, all heaped on a giant platter and adorned with sweet peppers, sliced tomatoes, a single stallion, and some fairly ordinary potato salad. My companion’s mostly iceberg salad and cooked-to-order ribeye steak were accompanied by superior Texas-style French fries-cut big. cooked right, served generously. Hot apple cobbler and a mountainously meringued wedge of coconut cream pie were as homey as the service and, in fact, the whole atmosphere of this laid-back food depot. Nothing all-star outstanding about any of this, you understand, but prices are shockingly low, and Austin’s strikes deep Texas chords, as evidenced by our parking-lot survey of vehicles ranging from pickups to M-B sedans. And hey, how many places can you name that are open from 6 a. m. to midnight every day but Christmas? 2321 W Illinois. 337-2242.Inexpensive. -B.C.
Blue Ribbon B-B-Q. Service is do-it-yourself-ambledown the cafeteria line, pile your plate with terrific ribs.slow-cooked beef and ham, and spicy sausage, your choiceof hot or mild beans, German potato salad, or coleslaw, thenpick up your long neck and head for a table. After a few bitesand a few bars of “Rose of San Antone,” you’ll forget that’sMockingbird Lane outside the door. 316 Hillside Village.823-5524. Inexpensive. -M.B.M.
Riscky’s Barbaque. Riscky’s smoked catfish is an out-and-out Texas triumph. Our appetizer portions, a quartet ofsatiny fillet ribbons, were the stuff of which memories aremade. And Riscky’s beef, pork, and chicken were all lop-quality meats, nicely spiked with the spice mix the menucalls “Riscky dust” before being slow-smoked in the traditional manner. Honest red beans, bland, creamy cole slaw,skins-on French fries were all fresh; onion rings were crisp-battered and almost grease less. Potato salad was a texturelessdisappointment. 1701 N Market, Suite 104. 742-7001. Inexpensive to moderate. -B.C.
Sonny Bryan* Smokehouse. In Texas, a barbecueplace is rated by the quality of its sliced beef on a bun, andbeef on a bun is why Sonny Bryan’s stays on top of thebarbecue heap. Yes, there are those who love the ribs andthose who. inexplicably, love the inch-thick, hard-crustedonion rings. Still, the heart of the matter is the beef and Sonny’s beef is the best. Piled a couple of inches thick, the slicesare a study in good barbecue-from the charred outside tothe bright red smoke band to the pink-brown interior; thisbeef is rich and tender and simple, all at once. 2202 Inwood,357-7120. Inexpensive. -M.B.M.
Cardinal Puff’s. Quesadillas on our visit were hot and crisp, oozing jack and cheddar, studded with black olives, diced tomatoes, onions, and bacon. A nicely seasoned chicken salad overflowed its avocado half, and its accompanying pasta salad was delicately dressed. 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. 730 W Centervilie (in Garland). 613-9119. Inexpensive. -B.C.
Chips. At the original location on Central Expressway, at least. Chips still serves what is probably Da lias’s best burger. Not too thick, crusty and brown on the outside but still rarish inside if ordered that way, the patties are obviously cooked with care. And the buns are grilled, too. The fries (crisp outside, soft withín), onion ríngs, and chocolate shakes are also pretty wonderful. We couldn’t get excited, though, about the pig sandwich-chopped pork and pickle relish on a bun. 4501 N Central Expwy. 526-1092. 2445 W Northwest Hwy, Suite 101. 350-8751. Inexpensive. -W.L.T
Purdy’s. Hamburgers are no longer the only thing at Pur-dy’s, though they are still probably the best thing. They arefat and cooked to order and come with homemade grilledbuns, and they can be dressed at a big condiments bar. Otherchoices include innocuously sweet chili and a mediocrefried-oyster poor boy. As at so many places, the onion ringsare better than the French fries here. 4812 Belt Line, Ad-dhon. 960 2494. N 1403 E Campbell, Richardson.480-0288. N 2200 Walnut Hill Lane at Story Road.255-6447. Inexpensive. -W.L.T.
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. Even the garlic bread, dripping with herbed butter, is outstanding here. 2114 Greenville Ave. 821-1300. Inexpensive. -W.L.T. .
Atchafalaya River Café. We started wíth 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 problem as the gumbo, but was full of meat and came with good dirty rice. The best entree we sampled was chicken Tchoupitoulas, two breasts pounded thin and sautéed in butter, lemon, and Ca-jun spices-just the right amount. 4440 Bell Line Rd.960-6878. Moderate. N -M.B.M.
Cafe Margaux. On my last visit the eclectic menu wasfocused more on what was originally done best here: contemporary Cajun cuisine, An appetizer of Cajun popcorn(fried crawfish meat) was hot and crunchy (accompanyingsherry sauce was bland), crawfish étouftée was good, if a trifle spicy, and the crawfish and shrimp enchiladas were terrific. 3710 Rawlins. 520-1985. Moderate. -M.B.M.
Bahama Bob’s. Really more for drinkers than eaters,Bahama Bob’s does make a stab at serving up a few of thetrendy Caribbean dishes. The planer of assorted appetizersis dauntingly heavy and spicy (especially the Buffalo chickenwings). The conch fritters on it were tasty, even if indistinguishable from crab cakes. Jerked chicken (made withthe most insistent of all spices, cloves) isn’t too overbearinghere, and the fish that was alleged to be river trout (it lookedand tasted more like flounder to us) had a fine flavor butenough bones to daunt all but the most intrepid seafoodlovers. Key lime cheesecake made a refreshíng, soothingending after all those spicy things that had gone before. 302N Market. 655-2627. Moderate. -W.L.T.
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 our favorite dishes on earlier visits. Papa Tsay’s Magic Basket. suffered from a fried noodle basket that looked pretty but tasted stale, and the bits of lobster in the dish were not overly fresh-tasting, either. 15030 Preston at Bell Line. 385-7227. N 2300 N Central Expwy. 881-0071. N Moderate, -W.L.T.
Baijing Grill. From the grill we liked the Mongolian lambchops, grilled to medium rare and served with a spicy brownbean sauce. Dragon and Phoenix was an excellent rendition.with lots of lobster chunks; wonton stuffed with cheese andcrab meat was an experiment that didn’t quite work-thecheese in the fried wonton had a cloying effect. 2200 CedarSprings in The Crescent, Suite 148. 871-6868. Moderate toexpensive. -M.B.M.
China Green’s Restaurant. The food here is authentic Mandarin, Hunan, and Szechwan. Smoked fish was a novelappetizer, the dry-smoked chunks firm and almost jerky-likein mildly herbed dark-red sauce. Our star entrée, one of thebest Chinese dishes I have ever lasted, was called exactlywhat it was: Fresh Oysters with Green Onion in Hot Plate.The plate, indeed, was sizzling; the scallions mated perfectlywith shreds of fresh ginger in a muted sauce to which theplump oysters were added for a brief tableside saute the moment before serving. 200 W Polk St., Richardson. 680-1034.Inexpensive to moderate. N -B.C.
Crystal Pagoda. Among the appetizers is one of the city’sbest versions of Bon Bon chicken (shredded meat toppedwith a paste of peanuts and hot peppers). The Hunan lamband the shrimp with cashew nuts are also memorable. Butthe crispy duck is a major disappointment: not nearly crispenough and almost tasteless. 4516 McKinney. 526-3355.Moderate. -W.L.T.
Jasmine Uniquely Chinese. Main courses includemacadamian chicken that could have used a few moremacadamia nuts instead of so much canned bamboo, andabalone Imperial that had chewy, canned-tasting abalone butexquisitely cooked scallops and shrimp just touched withginger. The single best dish we have sampled here is Egg-plant Delite; the single worst, a pastily undercooked sesameapple dessert. 4002 Belt Line Rd, Suite 200. Addison.991-6867. Moderate. W.L.T.
Snow Pea. Spinach with bean curd soup was a happydeparture from the ordinary, the spinach leaves bright andfresh in a nicely seasoned chicken broth, the curd cubestender and smooth. Shrimp toast was rather leathery anddry. but orange chicken was properly zesty, and that beloved old standby, pepper steak, came through nobly, thethin-sliced beef tender against the crunch of fresh greenbell pepper chunks. 2007 Abrams Parkway (off Gaston).824-4354. Inexpensive. -B.C.
Szechwan Pavilion. This pretty Preston Center restaurant is as popular for lunch as for dinner, and it’s so dark in the back of the place, even noontime seems like dinnertime. The list of lunch specials is very long and varied. 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.-M.B.M.
Taiwan Restaurant. The dim sum here is still one of thehappiest weekend brunch experiences in town. Shrimp folded in rice noodle petals was the star turn, served with a dipping sauce of heady pungency. Pork dumplings-marinatedshreds of meat stuffed in paper-thin skin and steamed-wererichly flavored, as was barbecued pork prepared the sameway in a fat little snowy flour bun. Shrimp ball was our only ho-hum entry. The hot-and-sour soup, incidentally, ratesa rave of its own. 6111 Greenville. 3(8-8902, Inexpensive tomoderate. -B.C.
Brasserie Calluaud. The bouillabaisse is an unusual version, thicker in texture and heavy with the flavor of fennel. The fish and shellfish are impeccably fresh. The rabbit Normandy-style is cooked with lots of onions and Calvados, the French apple brandy; unfortunately, the alcoholic taste was not thoroughly integrated into the sauce. From the rest of the menu, the roast chicken had a gorgeously browned skin but seemed a mite dry; the accompanying fried potatoes, however, were the definitive pommes frites. Perhaps the best dish we sampled was the salmon en croute-with perfectly fresh and perfectly cooked fish. 4544 McKinney. 521-2277. Moderate to expensive. -W.L.T.
Café Le Jardin. Crab-meat-stuffed mushrooms brimmedwith texture and flavor, as did a quartet of shrimp sautéedwith vegetables julienne. A sautéed veal chop was a tendermonster, anointed with mushrooms in a rich cream sauce;filet mignon au poivre vert was fist-sized, broiled rare andbracingly bathed in an assertive sauce studded with greenpeppercorns. Crème brulée was an appropriately light version, but poached pear was overkill, the fruit lost beneatha deep spill of chocolate over ice cream. 4900 McKinneyAve. 526-0570. Moderate to expensive. -B.C
Café Royal. On previous visits, slow and unresponsive service had been a problem. This lime the sedate and stately Café Royal presented no such difficulties-all was promptand smooth. The food has changed relatively little over thenearly nine years the place has been open (except for the introduction of a less pricey table d’hote menu in addition tothe top-dollar a la carte choices). There was still a touch ofthe first days of nouvelle cuisine in the beautifully grilledshrimp and scallops surrounding a tangle of greens in an appetizer salad, and the veal here still comes as a thick, tendersteak just barely grilled to doneness. New to us were a delectable opener of vineyard snails in a winey sauce surroundinga delicate garlic custard and a lovely fillet of fresh salmoncrusted with smoked salmon. Vegetables still include a veryFrench little square of scalloped potatoes and (for an extratariff) giant, intricately whittled stalks of fresh asparaguscooked to perfection. Only a prosaic selection of dessertskeeps Café Royal from the very top ranks of Dallas restau-rants these days. Plaza of the Americas, 650 N Pearl.979-9000. Expensive to very expensive. -W.L.T.
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, and vichyssoise delivered a surprise punch of pepper that outlasted its cool, fresh flavor. Crab-meat crêpes, though. were near-ethereal, plumped with moist, fresh crab meat and mushroom slices in delicately lemoned sauce. Our entrees were superior. Veal Marsala, pounded paper-thin, was tender in heady wine sauce, flawlessly complemented by lemon-sprirzed 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. -B.C.
Frenchy Café. The menu is primarily a list of hot or cold sandwiches along with daily specials; we tried the beefbourguignon. a tender, flavorful stew served over butterednoodles, and a hot ham-and-cheese on croissant. Don’t missdessert-the son (who waited on us) makes the excellentchocolate mousse: his dad (who walked us to the door)makes the lovely apple tan. 5950-C Royal Ln. 3(9-1235. Inexpensive to moderate. – M.B.M.
Jonathan’s. In the mixed-blessing department, some dishes aren’t prepared on the premises, like the excellent pates and the less satisfactory desserts, which suffered from a bit of freezer bum on our visit. The menu includes several pasta dishes (we tried an appetizer with crunchy pine nuts and a main course with fiery Cajun shrimp) and a Texas ribeye steak with bourbon mushrooms, perfectly cooked to order. The prices make this placea bargain. The Centrum. 3102 Oak Lawn, Suite 400. 520-8308. Moderate. -W.L.T.
La madeleine. The favorite breakfast order is pastry and excellent coffee; for lunch and dinner, the lineup includes a variety of soups, salads, hot 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. -M.B.M.
Mr. Peppe. Even after the owner of many years sold out,Mr. Peppe. remains much the same. The place is still abargain if you don’t order an appetizer or a special soup,since a fine soup of the day (cream of cauliflower on our lastvisit) and a crisp salad are included in the cost of an entrée.If you do decide to put out the money for an appetizer, trythe scallops in a saffron sauce-you can actually see a bountiful quantity of the expensive spice in the sauce. Among themain courses, the beef dishes are among the best choices.The ribeye with a Bercy sauce was beyond cavil, Dessertsinclude a very tasty Grand Marnier torte. 5677 W LoversLane. 552-5976 Moderate to expensive. -W.L.T.
The Old Warsaw. Rumors and announcements havecreated expectations of a move for this oldest of Dallas’ssuper-deluxe restaurants. But as events have proved, thingsdon’t change much at the Old Warsaw. Appetizers includegarlicky escargots and bland crayfish in a winey sauce.Tender veal and crisply sautéed sweetbreads make goodchoices for entrees. Salads (like the signature watercress andBelgian endive) and desserts are among the best courses.2610 Maple Ave. 528-0032. Very expensive. -W.L.T.
The Riviera. In the few years it has been open. The Riviera has matured into one of the finest restaurants Dallas has ever had. Early on. the food turned out by chefs Lori Finkelman Holben and David Holben was very good, but not always exciting. Now there is excitement aplenty in such dishes as the Mediterranean appetizer tart made of semolina gnocchi dough or the rich mussel soup. A halibut fillet, which can so easily turn hard and rubbery, arrives at thetable moist and tender-there’s no more luxurious way toraise the HDL cholesterol ratios in the blood. A mixed grillincludes portions of lamb and veal beside a superb rabbitsausage-not to speak of a gorgeous array of vegetables.Desserts like the crème brulée are guaranteed to undo anygood you might have done your circulatory system by ordering the fish-but if you die, you die happy. 7709 Inwood.351-0094. Very expensive. -W.LT.
Bohemia. This homey holdout against light-diningsissiness is as solid and staid as the food it serves-on ourlast visit an admirably long-simmered sauerbraten, thevinegar-spiked beef slices fall-apart tender, and half a slow-roasted Long Island duck, its moist succulence barely heldtogether by burnished skin. The duckling’s bread-likedumpling was airy, accompaniments of boiled potato andcaraway-scented sauerkraut mild and, yes, filling. 2810 NHenderson. 826-6209. Moderate. -B.C.
Franki’s Li’l Europe. Top choice for my money was segediner, a Hungarian dish involving succulent porkchunks simmered with mild sauerkraut and cream. Cevapeici, described as the Yugoslavian national dish, was a half-dozen hand-formed ovals of veal, lamb, and pork sausage onsaffron-scented rice. Chicken Pavarotti crossed the Italianborder with a tender sautéed breast lavished with freshmushrooms in a fine, fresh tomato sauce. 362 Casa LindaPlaza. Garland Road at Buckner. 320-0426. Inexpensive tomoderate. -B.C.
Augustus. The food here is a mixture of Continental and Greek styles. For those who want something slightly exotic,the crisply fried calamari and the Greek special of wonderfully herbed, thinly sliced leg of lamb are outstanding. Simple dishes are cooked with care, too: sautéed veal or fish,charbroiled chicken breast, even a pristine chicken and shellpasta soup all please the less adventurous. 15375 Addison Rd,Addison. 239-8105. Expensive. N -W.L.T.
Cafe Nelu. Really more Romanian than Greek (though many of the dishes are the same), this one-man operation occupies the space a neighborhood hamburger shop was in for years. You can still get hamburgers and roast beet, but thereis a reasonably wide selection of Balkan specialties. Thedolmas (stuffed grape leaves) were the best we’ve everlasted-fat and juicy and flavorful. The homemade soup ofthe day, with chicken and vegetables, also promised much.Sadly, the main dishes didn’t fully deliver. The moussakaproved a strange version, with large and rather dry pieces ofeggplant. A stuffed breast of chicken was too ambitious-the mititei, earthy homemade sausages, were a much betterchoice. 30 Arapaho Village. Richardson. 235-5387. Inexpensive to moderate.-W.L.T.
Little Gus’. By day a bare-bones breakfast and burgerhangout, this little place spreads blue table linens and addsflowers and candles at night to showcase its talents as a consistently top-notch Creek restaurant. The burgers are swell,but the night fare’s exemplary-a recent visit netted a day’sspecial of roast lamb slices cradled in deeply flavored winesauce that could not have been more satisfying. A lofty cubeof spinach-laden spanokopita was lighter than mountain airand tasted twice as fresh under papery puff pastry. And theestablishment’s trademark potato balls, I’m happy to say,were as delectably cheese-influenced as always. 1916 Greenville. 826-4910. inexpensive. -B.C.
Bubba’s. The choices include crisp fried chicken andyeasty rolls and an ever-changing choice of vegetables. Thelima beans and cabbage have been slow-cooked with baconlong enough that it’s hard to tell they were ever part of thevegetable kingdom-but then that’s the Southern style ofdays gone by. Neither the chicken-fried steak nor the cherrycobbler can vie with what Momma used to make. 6617Hillcrest. 373-6527. Inexpensive. -W.L.T.
Celebration. This is food the way you wish your mother had fixed it-homemade biscuìts, blueberry muffins, yeast rolls, tender baked chicken and pot roast, mashed potatoes with the skins. It’s not purely Southern-style: vegetables, served family-style, do retain their original color and flavor. The rambling interior looks nostalgically early Seventieswood walls, copper-topped tables, very homey. 4503 WLovers Lane. 351-5681. Moderate. -M.B.
Highland Park Cafeteria. You’ll probably learn moreabout American presidents standing in line at HPC than youever did in any history class. Moving down the line, youalternately deliberate the appeals of smothered steak orchicken and dumplings (available only on Wednesdays) andstudy the evolving hairstyles of our country’s leaders (untilAbe Lincoln, none of them wore mustaches or beards). Onour last visit we reflected that it won’t be long before thewhole parade has to move toward the door a space andGeorge Bush will take his place at the end. near the TVmonitor broadcasting today’s scriptural vitamin. Theoriginal HPC is comfortingly without peer-from thescrupulously squeaky-clean dining rooms and conscientiousservice to the encyclopedia of Southern-style home cookingthat is the menu, including jello-as-salad and overcookedvegetables for authenticity gluttons, but also a variety of really fresh salads and fruits and just-baked breads (onion-dillhas replaced zucchini as the favorite muffin). Generally,smothered, stewed, and casseroled foods-beef and cheese,stuffed peppers, and smothered chicken-are better thanbroiled items, but you can’t go wrong with fried, either. Andbe sure to save room for dessert. 4611 Cole Ave at Knox.526-3801. Inexpensive. -M.B.M.
Mama’s Daughters’ Diner. The plate lunches we triedwere generous models of no-nonsense nostalgia, thechicken-fried cutlet tender in crisp-browned batter withmashed potatoes under perfect cream gravy, all fromscratch: 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 andSouthern-sweet. Navy beans were actually big white Northerns, but their flavor was fine, and a pot roast’s rich juicesalmost made me forget I prefer my beef rare. 2014 IrvingBlvd. 742-8646. Inexpensive. -B.C.
The Mecca. Nothing much has changed at The Mecca in the past thirty years or so-at least. It’s under new ownership, but you can’t tell by looking, or by eating. The Mecca’s menu remains part of a continuum of American comfort food that stretches back without a break to 1952. Slide into a vinyl booth and start your day right: your short stack of hot cakes keep their taste and texture even when doused with butter and syrup, never disintegrating into the fluffy mush that passes for pancakes at most places. The side of baconis cut thick and cooked medium so there’s still some chewleft. Biscuits are two inches high, eggs are hot and tender.and the ham tastes of more than smoke and salt. Your coffee cup is kept filled and it’s tempting to linger till lunchtime,because The Mecca’s chicken-fried is hard to beat. 10422Harry Mines. 352-0051. Inexpensive. -M.B.M
Rosemarie’s. At Rosemarie’s, form is strictly there for function: if you didn’t know about the meat loaf and chicken-fried steak to be had inside, you wouldn’t be tempted to stop.There’s no drive-up appeal, and once inside, the service isequally lacking in flourishes. That’s okay. You’re here to eatand you won’t be disappointed in Rosemarie’s cooking. Still,even excellent meat loaf and chicken-fried steak are to be hadother places-the dish that justifies the trek to Rosemarie’sis the peanut butter pie, which is peerless. Actually, all thedesserts are extra special, so be good and eat your greens andyams so you can have the carrot cake and banana pudding.1411 N Zang. 946-4142. nexpensive. -M.B.M.
Theo’s Diner. This little diner has a big reputation for its great grilled cheese sandwiches, but its burgers andlemonade are worth writing home about, too. In fact,everything we’ve tried has been close to best of kind. Andthat’s not even adding in points for the incomparable ambience. The regulars-and that seems to be most of Theo’scustomers-obviously know best. 111 S Hall. 747-6936. Inexpensive. -M.B.M.
Upper Crust. Upper Crust has been in Olla Podrida sinceway back when, and its design-mismatched tables and acollection of chandeliers-fits the whole. It doesn’t seemnostalgic or cute, though, just comfortable and cozy. Mile-high cornbread. light biscuits (unfortunately served withmargarine), and crusty peach cobbler were highlights of ourmeal. On the down side, the salad was a little tired and thefried chicken fingers and chicken-fried steak tasted as ifthey’d started out frozen. 12215 Coil Rd. 661-5738. Inexpen-sive. -M.B.M.
India Palace Restaurant. Pan of the excellence of thisrestaurant lies in ambition-India Palace has a somewhatlarger, more adventuresome menu than its rivals. Part liesin attention to detail: curried dishes like a superb beef pun-jabi or baigan bhurta (eggplant puree) are garnished witha superfine julienne of ginger and red pepper. But finally thesuperiority lies in skill in the kitchen. A dessert like rasmalai(a kind of homemade cheese bathed in sweet cream) can bea heavy disaster elsewhere; here it is light and delicate anddelicious. 13360 Preston Rd. 392-0190. Moderate to expen-rive. N -M.B.M.
Kebab-N-Kurry. The novelty of newer establishments notwithstanding, this standby still serves up some of the mostsucculent Indian fare in town. On our recent visit, itssamosas were definitive-crisp-skinned turnovers plumpwith potatoes and peas-as was its raita, the soup-like saladof whipped yogurt with cucumbers, potatoes, and peas thatis a godsend cooling counterpoint to lusty curries. In re thatlast, boti masala, lender lamb cubes sautéed in a curry andtomato sauce, was lusty indeed; palak panìr, cheese-spikedspinach in herbed cream sauce, was our vegetable standoutaccompaniment. On the mild side, tandoori chicken wassuperb as always-juicy from its overnight yogurt bath,tender and toothsome from its tandoor oven sauna. Thetandoori-baked Indian breads were fine, too, from the traditional leavened naan to onion kulcha, deliciously stuffedwith onions and herbs. These, along with papery crisp lentil wafers and the cilantro and tamarind sauces set out as acomplimentary starter, are worth blunting one’s appetitewith as appetizers. Service was smooth and accommodating,the Kingfisher beer was chilled, and the dim-lit ambienceof the soothing setting made Stemmons Freeway seemworlds, rattier than two blocks, away. 2620 Walnut Hill.350-6466. nexpensive. -B.C.
Mumtaz. Among the appetizers, vegetable pakoras, slicesof eggplant, onion, and potato battered and fried, were quiteappetizing, and the paper-thin discs of papadum, the crisplentil wafer, were sheer peppery delight. From naan, theplain leavened white to aloo paratha, wheat rounds stuffedwith peas and potatoes, the breads were heavier and greasierthan desirable. But the entrees were outstanding. Saagpaneer, puréed spinach cooked with cubed yogurt cheese incream sauce, transcended its simple ingredients. Lamb currywas subtly spicy, the lamb cubes a tender triumph in theirmusky dark sauce. The Atrium, 3101 N Fitzhugh at McKin-ney Ave. 520-2400. Inexpensive to moderate. -B.C.
Acapalla Cafe. We especially enjoyed the shrimp pizza- a small one. split among two or three people, makes a good appetizer. There is an international assortment of salads-Greek, Thai. Mexican, as well as Italian-which seemedlike a good idea, but none of them quite worked. Fettuccinewith salmon was delicious, but very rich; manicotti wasnicely light, filled with fluffy ricotta and zapped with atangy, fresh-tasting tomato sauce. Cappuccino pie was thehands-down, mouth-full winner in the dessert category.2508 Maple. 871-2262. Moderate. -M.B.M.
Alfonso’s. Many of the customers are regulars here, asthey usually are in a neighborhood restaurant. This is a smallplace, of the red-checked tablecloth variety, serving heartyItalian food of the red sauce variety, and the large portionsof rib-sticking pasta, veal, and chicken keep the regularshappy and no wonder. Chicken parmigiana was a large double breast smothered with red sauce and cheese-the meatwas both lender and juicy, and the sauce was spicy. Lasagnawas a slab of pasta welded with cheese, and spaghetti camewith a length of fennel-spiked Italian sausage topped withthick red sauce. Sided with a simple salad and a basket ofchewy garlic rolls, this is a meal that will last you. but thereal star at Alfonso’s is the pizza, a big round of yeasty crustheavy with molten cheese. 328 Casa Linda Plaza. 327-7777.Inexpensive to moderate. -M.B.M.
Amore. That strange hybrid. Italian nachos, is a featured appetizer-a slice of pepperoni and some inozzarella on a toasted triangle of flour tortilla. We preferred the bruschet-ta; it’s not the simple classic here, but a souped-up version involving tomato sauce, cheese, and herbs. The simpler pastas seem to be the best bet for entrées-veal cardinale, strips of breaded veal and red peppers over fettuccine, was a little bland and oily, but vegetable lasagna, full of cheeseand just-tender vegetables, was good. 6931 Snider Plaza.739-0502- Inexpensive to moderate. – M.B.M.
Cafe Italia. The food here is both inexpensive and reliable. There are some misses-a strange-tasting concoction of chicken and eggplant in a tomato cream called “chicken Casanova” was the low point of our last visit. But by and large, the food is good-we liked the garlic bread sprinkled with oregano; though the bread was too light, it was nicely crispy, and an appetizer of shrimp and avocado with tomato a winner. Veal limone had too little limone to sparkle, veal parmigiana was excellent, as was the manicotti. Fluffy flan and espresso ended the meal on a high note. 5000 Maple. 521-0700. Inexpensive to moderate. -M.B.M.
Carrelle’s. The ornate setting looks like a location for someFellini fantasy. The service is welcoming and professional;the food tasty but as unsubtle as the decor. Veal alla Carrelli’sis a mish-mash of prosciutto, mozzarella, artichokes, andshrimps over the veal in a lemon, wine, and cream sauce. Aspecial of the day can bring you even more tastes on oneplate-lobster tail alla diavalo (sadly fishy tasting) next to aluscious breast of chicken in a lemon and cream sauce. Steaklovers can order prime sirloin either plain or topped with aspicy tomato sauce. 12219 Coit Rd. 386-7931. Moderate toexpensive. ~W.LT.
Ciao. This was one of Dallas’s first “gourmet” pizza places,and whatever problems you may have with the genre, it’shard to argue with Ciao’s pies. The toppings are different(fresh spinach or chicken and goat cheese), but none of themweird, and the ones we tried were all delicious. Pastas areas well prepared; our chicken lasagna was served toohot, before it had set, and was drowning in sauce and cheese.But the salad was exceptional for a pizza joint, even a veryhip one like this. 3921-B Cedar Springs. 521-0110. Inexpen-lo moderate. -M.B.M.
Flip’s Wine Bar & Trattoria. The soups can be heavenly, like the delicate cream of squash; the salad is prosaic. Ifyou have room for additional appetizers, there are some ex-cellent ones. The gnocchi con pomodoro e rosmarino’areamong the best versions in town of these little Italian dumplings, and the fried ravioli are excellent. The smallish piz-arc also outstanding. Pasta is handled in a unique way.For one price ($9.95), you have your choice of ten differentshapes of pasta, mixed and matched with eleven differentsauces. We found the conchiglie and the vermicelli bothcooked to order, and the pesto with cream a tasty sauce.1520Greenville Ave. 824-9944. Moderate. -W.L.T.
La Trattoria Lombardi. The offerings here haven’t changed much in a decade-crab cannelloni (a mile fishy-tasting), tortellini, dull and undersalted scallops of veal. One newcomer, a special of grilled snapper lopped 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. -W.L.T.
Mario’s. One of the oldest of Dallas’s fancy restaurantsseems better than it has in a long time. For appetizers, thecannelloni and the shrimp with mushrooms in a rich creamsauce 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 souffles-but do so early,because the wait can be long. 135 Turtle Creek Village, OakLawn at Blackburn. 521-1135. Expensive. -M.B.M.
Momo’s. The original site of this expanding group still serves some of the best Italian food in Dallas. 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 at modo mio (seashell pasta baked with savory meats and cheeses) and scallopini a la Momo (veal sauced piquantly with a hint of anchovy). 9191 Forest Lane, Suite A2. 234-6800. Moderate. -W.L.T.
Ristorante Savino. An appetizer sampler of pastas,obligingly created when we could not choose among them,included a flawless swirl of angel hair in lobster sauce, aswell as tortellini in deep-flavored demi-glace. Satin-freshmozzarella rounds with tomato in basil dressing were flawless; red snapper sautéed with fresh tomato and basil was thesame. My longtime favorite, roast veal slices served cold inrich tuna sauce, was not quite up to standard-the veal wasa trifle dry-but was still outstanding. 2929 N Henderson.826-7804. Moderate to expensive. -B.C.
Rodolfo’s. The difference here is the “Hal-lite” menu, a list of low-fat dishes designed to meet the American Heart Association guidelines-sauces are made with wine and broth instead of cream, margarine is used instead of butter, and cheeses are part skim milk. Calorie counts are given by each listing- If all this makes eating out sound like work instead of play, rest assured. The “lite” food tastes like plain good cooking. The vegetable lasagna was a wonderful layering of firm pasta and fresh vegetables; eggplant parmigiana was topped with a lively tomato sauce. However, there’s also .a list of regular Italian dishes-Rodolfo’s pizzas, especially the white one with herbs and olive oil instead of tomato sauce, are worth the calories. 5957 Royal Lane (at Preston).368-5039. Inexpensive to moderate. -M.B.M.
Ruggeri’s. I couldn’t help regretting that no one warned me the soft-shell crab on my appetizer plate had been frozen,not fresh, before its sautéing 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 butter. And if I had the chefsrecipe for cioppino, I swear I’d open a restaurant myself-(he fisherman’s stew of fresh seafoods in spicy marinara sauce was nothing less than sublime. 2911 Routh St. 871-7377.Moderate. -B.C.
Sfuzzi. In the year since its opening, Sfuzzi has evolved from a restaurant to a phenomenon to a “concept” (with sister Sfuzzis in Houston and New York, so far). The Dallas original is still a hot spot; the chic, noisy room is usually jammed with pretty people and reservations are a must. Service is still too cold or too cozy, but the food, now under the direction of chef Sieve Singer, has gone from very good to even better. This is exactly the right place for the casual. California-Italian cuisine Singer excels at, and most of our meal on a recent revisit was excellent The special soup, roasted eggplant, was enlivened with bits of bacon and tomato; the shrimp pirn held lots of sweet shellfish on its thick tender crust. Imaginative entrées-grilled salmon in a sauce/gamish of grapefruit and basil, and veal crusted with romano and sautéed, were good ideas well executed, and more expected dishes, such as chicken and spinach lasagna, were surprisingly distinctive. The baby chicken, served to us by mistake, was flavorless, as baby chickens are apt to be: the special grilled breast, with its complicated garniture of braised endive, asparagus, tomatoes, and basil, was more interesting. Desserts were disappointing: a new, as-yet-nameless chocolate lump, consisting of layers of chocolate mousse and meringue, was dully sweet; the white chocolate cheesecake was gluey. The white and dark chocolate terrine was good, but didn’t follow the food well. Better to settle for espresso or cappuccino-or one of Sfuzzi’s trademark frozen Bellinis-a peachy Slurpee that is better for dessert than as an aperitif. 2504 McKinney. 871-2606. Moderate. -M.B.M.
Hibachi-Ya Japanese Restaurant. Applause is due for the beef that stars on Hibachi-Ya’s menu along with chicken and shrimp, not only hibachi-grilled but in less familiar traditional Japanese dishes. Best by far was a traditional entree, Ume steak, tender filet perfumed by marinating in plum sauce, then grilled and cubed for easy chop-sticking. The best appetizers, too. were beef-notably sirloin tataki, rare slices served with a fruity ponzu sauce. 3850 W Northwest Hwy. Suite 510. 350-1110. Inexpensive. -B.C.
Kobe Steaks. Each table has a knife-toting chef who cuts,slices, dices, and cooks your dinner before your very eyes.The flashing knives make a good show, and the resulting meal is good, too. The pre-show salad is dressed with a zippy ginger vinaigrette; the shrimp appetizer is nicely cooked. In fact, everything-beef, chicken, and vegetables-was perfectly cooked-no mean trick. Quorum Plaza. Belt Line at Dallas Partway. 934-8150. Moderate to expensive. N -M.B.M.
Mr. Sushi & Hibachi. The light, bright upstairs bar was full of happy minglers quaffing Japanese beer; most of the crowd seemed to be there for the hibachi part of the menu and the sushi was not as pristine as we prefer. The beef and chicken from the slice-and-dice show were good, the shrimp were tasteless, and the hibachi rice-a fried rice combination of egg, scallions, onions, and carrots-was excellent.Altogether, it was much more than a meal’s worth; most of our fellow diners left with doggie bags. 9220 Skillman.349-6338. Moderate. N -M.B.M.
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 roc squid. Sweet shrimp, highly touted by my next-stool neighbor at the bar, turned out to be whole creatures, flash-fried to crispness, eyes, antennae, and all. “Its wonderful!” he said. “I believe you,” I said. Icouldn’t hack it-I hope you’ll forgive me. 4500 McKinney.521-0969. Moderate. -B.C.
Blue Mesa Grill. The abundance of such trendy items as duck taquitos and mesquite-grilled mahi mahi on the menu might lead you to believe that you are in some expensive New Southwestern outpost like the Mansion. But there are enough New Wave enchiladas and fajitas ordered here to tip this into the New-Mexìco-Mexican category, and the prices are certainly moderate (though higher than Tex-Mex). There are a number of superb dishes like the blue corn nachos and the angel hair pasta with grilled shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes,and goat cheese cream sauce, along with others like rotisserie wild Texas boar and crispy duck served inside a relleno that sound better than they taste. We only had room for one dessert, but it was a dilly: chocolate mousse taco with hazelnut cream proved to be a crisp cookie shaped like a taco shell and dripping with templing mousse. Village on the Parkway, 5100 Belt line at Dallas Parkway. 934-0165.Moderate. N -W.L.T.
Callente Ranch Grill and Cantina. Tex-Mex standards are on the menu, but so are (he trendy specialties. We began dinner, for instance, with a shrimp quesadilla laden with fresh pineapple dice and cilantro 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 meal 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-it was delicious, with a delayed pepper kick that saved it from first-taste blandness. 6881 Greenville Ave. 369-8600. Inexpensive. -B.C.
Casa Rosa. Fried stuffed jalaperios and tortilla soup were good beginners, both more attractively presented than is usual in Mexican restaurants. The chile relleno 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 at Lovers). 350-5227. Moderate. -M.B.
Graciela’s. This is good basic Tex-Mex. with especially crisp tacos and satisfying chicken enchiladas. There arc also good versions of more adventuresome dishes like the melted cheese appetizers with big chunks of shrimp. You can also choose between carne asada (beef sautéed with peppers and onions) and came guisada (Mexican stew). 3957 Belt Line, Addison. 702-8051. Inexpensive to moderate. N -W.L.T.
Javier’s. This place, which serves a kind of internationalized Mexican haute cuisine (no tacos or enchiladas), has been around a long while now, but it seems to have a loyal clientele-mostly from the nearby Park Cities, to judge by the look of them. Our last meal showed us why. The tortilla soup and scallop ceviche were both full of flavor, and the main courses were even better. Big shrimp were tossed in a sauce of orange juice and coffee. One of our party proclaimed the steak Cantinflas “the best piece of meat I ever put in my mouth”-tenderloin cut thin and wrapped aroundMexican cheese, then cooked crisp on the outside andlopped with a mulato chili sauce, Desserts at Javier’s lack the distinction of the other courses, but the crêpes in cajeta(caramelized goat’s milk) are tasty enough. 4912 Cole. 521-4211. Expensive. -W.L.T.
Juanita’s Mexican Restaurant. Family operated and ensconced in a former Maydie’s location, Juanita’s offers excellent flautas and just-right cheese enchiladas, properly flavored with cumin. Ordering fancier dishes involves a certain risk-the came asada, often an elegant thìn steak atother places, is here chewy bits of grilled meat. If you want to explore, stick with home-style recipes like the carne guisada, a flavorful Mexican beef stew. 1905 N Josey Lane,Carrollton. 242-0888. Inexpensive. N -W.L.T.
Loma Luna Cafe. Blue corn chicken enchiladas were stacked, not rolled, smothered with green chilies, and layered with lots of chicken and cheese. Sandia Range chicken, from the list of grilled items on the menu, was smoked and grilled over pecan wood. Served with Santa Festyle beans and rice, the chicken was moist and lender even after its double treatment. For dessert, the flan was excellent; the vanilla icecream covered with cajeta, caramelized goal’s milk, was a delight. 4131 Lomo Alto. 559-4011Moderate. -M.B.M.
Mario & Alberto. Mario Leal manages to keep the quality of both food and service high in all three of his operations,which are among the first places we take visitors when they want to see how the real Dallas eats. We can seldom resist the filete de la casa (a wide piece of beef tenderloin with lots of pepper and garlic) or the pipas (an appetizer of shrimp wrapped in a corn tortilla, deep fried, and served with avocado and sour cream sauces). Over the years, the Tex-Mex side of the menu has received lots of condescending comments. But on our last visit we found that Mario &Alberto’s enchiladas, fried beans, and the rest were really among the best in town, too. LBJ Frwy at Preston, Suite 425.980-7296. Moderate. N –W.L.T.
Martines Cafe. This family-run café in a converted house on Routh Street has a comfortable, home-grown feel. The food is Tex-Mex-standard combinations, but of superlative quality and served with a smile. Outstanding chips and salsa and a plate evenly striped with rice, beans, and cheese enchiladas made me happy: flautas and guacamole were equally good. The menu here is what you expect from a good Tex-Mex restaurant: the food is what you hope for. 3011 Routh St. 855-0240. 800 Preston Rd (Preston Park Village),Piano. 964-7898. N Inexpensive. -M.B.M.
Mercado Juarez. We visited the new locution in Addison and the original on Northwest Highway in close succession and found food and atmosphere very similar-the food is ever so much better than when the original opened, and the big, noisy crowds seem to know that very well. Grilled items like fajitas are a central focus here, including rarities like pork fajitas in a smoky, spicy abodo sauce, Standard tacos and enchiladas seem particularly fresh tasting (the nachos topped with chorizo sausage and the creamy cheese enchiladas are outstanding). A long list of specialties includes mahi mahi (delicately sautéed and topped with shrimp in a white sauce) and a T-bone steak grilled and smothered In a sauce made with fiery chipotle chilies and Mexican cheese.A number of the unusual specialties are available in smallerportions and at lower prices at lunchtime. 1901 W Northwest Hwy. 556-1796. 4050 Belt Line Rd, Addison. 458-2145. NInexpensive to moderate. -W.L.J.
On The Border Cafe. This is Dallas’s original fajita factory, and the room has the appropriate Texas feel-lots of cactus and lots of Western memorabilia. 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. -M.B.M.
Uncle Julio’s. The nachos, artfully arranged around great mounds of guacamole and sour cream, the little bowls of charro-style pinto beans, and the perfectly firm and juicy chicken fajitas were worth the long wait for a table. Among the Tex-Mex planer standbys, though, only the tamales were outstanding; beef tacos and enchiladas were meaty but asteless. The grilled specialties like quail and shrimp brochettes were tasty, but not quite worth either the price or the wait. 7557 Greenville. 987-9900. 4125 Lemmon.520-6620. Moderate. -W.L.T.
Dream Café. I find Dream Café’s breakfast and brunch dishes head and shoulders above some of their more solemn-uiriiious lunch and dinner specialties. 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 an omelette filled with chicken, fresh pears, and blue cheese, the sweet fruit and sharp cheese perfect complements to the milder flavors of eggs and white meat. And a 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- -B.C.
Actuelle. Actuelle for dinner is predictably excellent; lunch can be an unexpected bargain. You can order soup and entrée for under $20 and feel completely pampered. A hearty winter menu reflected Chef Victor Gielisse’s Dutch 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 St. 855-0440.Expensive. -M.B.M.
Baby Routh. When a menu lists things like “pot roast”and ’banana split,” I have certain expectations of home-style, trendless old favorites. But trendlessness is not the schtick of Baby Routh’s chef, Rex Hale. And on my last visit to this upwardly mobile temple, the food, thankfully, finally lived up to the social ambitions of the place. The pot roastwith poblano gravy was good, although it cried out forpotatoes, the seafood tamale was stunning to behold, and thesmoked chicken and cacciotta empanada a success, as wereall the desserts, including the above-mentioned split. 2708Routh St. 871-2345. Moderate to expensive. -M.B.M.
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. Sword fish was delicately crusted with lemon and sided with a creamy opal basil risotto. Only the Caesar salad with stale-tasting croutons disappointed. Hotel Crescent Court, 400 Crescent Court, Maple at McKinney,871-3240. Expensive. -M.B.M.
City Cafe. The lighting is soft, and so is the music; the service is gracious, and the room is easy to look at. That leaves the food to consider and it was well worth it. The menu, which changes every Wednesday, is gently 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. -M.B.M.
Elm Street Winery. Entrées balanced flavors and textures with uncommon harmony: veal tenders were lovely with Asian pears, the fruit’s sweetness cleanly cut withcrumbles of Roquefort cheese; magret of duck wore a tart-sweet mango chutney and carried a bold punch of aromatic pepper heat. Tournedos of beef were peppered, too, and perfectly cooked; sadly, the confit of duck served with them verged on oversaltiness. The wine list, while extensive, is inconsistently priced: premium labels, for instance, seemed relatively reasonable, but some of the low-end entries were brazenly marked up from retail. 2704 Elm- 748-6565.Moderate to expensive.-B.C.
Gershwin’s. The menu’s something-for-everyone variety yields nothing spectacular, but almost anything one orders is dependably well prepared; a quesadilla with fresh poblano and onions, bacon, and cheeses was crisp and flavorful; a mixed-seafood starter held enough golden-fried shrimp, crab cakes, calamari, and batter-dipped mushrooms to feed a family. Seafood-studded linguine was bathed, as advertised,in sunny fresh tomato sauce, and beef tournedos were satisfyingly herb-sauced. 8442 Walnut Hill at Greenville.373-7171. Moderate to expensive. -B.C.
Lakewood Plaza Grill. Appetizers were refreshingly light and zingy-particularly a ceviche of scallops and red snapper, delicately lime-marinated and strewn with mild green peppercorns. Among the entrées, grilled salmon with tomatillo-pineapple salsa was moist and succulent, although I found the salsa a trifle sharp in tone for the fish, and a grilled ribeye steak with ancho chili butter was absolutely splendid, the meat leaner than any of this cut I’ve seen before but with that lovely ribeye richness, perfectly cooked. 6334 La Vista. 826-5226. Inexpensive to moderate. -B.C.
Landmark Cafe. Under executive chef Kenneth E.Dunn’s hand, the Landmark’s cuisine fairly yodels withcreative exuberance. Excessively, in some instances: an entrée of fresh Texas quail stuffed with cornbread dressingwould have been adequately partnered with its tan tomatoand corn relish and black currant sauce, sided with sautéedvegetables; the fried-to-leather sweet potato strings gave theplate an overproduced look. Sautéed medallions of blackbuck antelope, though, were lovely, served with crisp-edgedruffles of thin ham on natural sauce. And the soup of the day,a peppery, stout-hearted rabbit vegetable version, would beenough to bring me back to this room, which is. to my mind,one of the city’s prettiest. Omni Melrose Hotel, 3015 OakLawn Ave. 522-1453. Expensive. -B.C.
Laurels. Absolutely perfect dining experiences are rarer than diamonds-much more than food is involved, and even five-star restaurants have occasional lapses. But if our recent visit was representative, Laurels has at last ascended to this city’s most stellar rank. Always one of the prettiest places in town, with its sky-high view of Dallas from the Far North Sheraton Park Central’s top floor, the gracious, glass-walled restaurant in the past suffered from less-than-gracious service. No more-even in maitre d’ Paul Pinnell’s absence (he was away, wine-touring, the night we were there), the staff was as fine-tuned as the harp music that set the soothing mood of the place. And the food was all celestial harmony-chef Antoine Schaefers has wisely retained some of his predecessor’s bestsellers (notably a black lobster enchilada appetizer that is itself worth a special visit) without confining his own considerable creative talents. The menu de degustation’s $38.50 five courses equaled our à la carte selections: potato leek soup was garnished with bacon crisps; mixed baby greens were delectably dressed in a roasted pine nut-basil vinaigrette, with a fling of fried okra for crunch; lamb loin was a rosy joy wrapped in a delicate spinach-oregano mousse and served sliced on rosemary sauce. An à la carte romaine and mizuna Caesar salad, subtly dressed, was ringed with fried baby Gulf shrimp; an all-natural beef sirloin rose above the common herd with a crown of crisp cumin-scented zucchini chips in merlot red wine sauce. Dessert souffles are outstanding here, but my passionate favorite is the pecan crème brulée, infused with Bailey’s Irish Cream and served on vanilla sauce. Perfect-meal finales simply don’t come any better. Sheraton ParkCentral Hotel, 12720 Merit, off Coit near LBJ. 385300aExpensive. -B.C.
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 ít), the kitchen’s work was up to pur. Mansion standards-lobster tacos with yellow tomato salsa, tortilla soup, chicken baked with maple-pecan crust-and specials-soft-shell crab with barbecued crustand Cajun sausage with onion pasta-scaled the expected peak of perfection, which at these prices, they should.However, our reservation was lost and so was our waiter for much of the meal-errors that might be forgiven in a lesser establishment, but are inexcusable at the Mansion. 2821Turtle Creek Blvd. 526-2121. Expensive. -M.B.M.
The Promenade at the Mansion. Lunch 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. Southwestern-style soups, especially the yellow-tomato gazpacho, are also outstanding. Thepork loin scaloppini with a sauce of capers, tomato, smoked bacon, and parsley is yet another winner. 2821 Turtle CreekBlvd. 559-2100. Moderate to expensive. -W.L.T.
Routh Street Cafe. A minor facelift restored luster to the classic modern interior and added space; our service was |perfect, and, with minor exceptions (a too-oily salad dressing and an overpowering sorbet), so was the food: rabbit with red chili pasta and smoked corn; chili stuffed with almonds, apricots, and goal cheese; and lamb loin with roast garlic sauce sided with serranos and papaya quesadillas.3005 Routh St. 871-7161. Very expensive. -M.B.M.
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. -M.B.M.
Spatz. I had heard that Spatz is a great little neighborhood bistro, and it is actually in my neighborhood. Still, Spatz is worth stopping at even if it’s not in your neighborhood-the service is friendly, the place is cozy, but light and bright, and the food is imaginative and good. Highlights of our visit:shrimp and mango quesadillas, fettuccine with pine nuts.sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and garlic in a cream sauce, steak with chèvre and roasted shallots, and orange macadamia nut cheesecake. 2912 N Henderson, 827-7984.Moderate. -M.B.M.
Harbor House. The peel-them-yourself shrimp have lots of briny flavor, and everything on the broiled seafood platter is impeccably fresh and delicately cooked. Conversely,the lopping on the oysters “baked the Harbor way,” made up of onions, spinach, and mozzarella, doesn’t quite come together as a unified creation, and the salmon in puff pastry suffers from a soggy crust, though it is otherwise tasty. In between these extremes, there arc lots of appetizing offerings at Harbor House. And some of the restaurant’s best dishes are even available on the children’s plates-the fat,crunchy fried shrimp and the chicken milanaise. 4844Greenville Ave. 368-8911. Moderate. -W.L.T
Hard Shell 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 $33.95 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. All the shellfish was first-rate, but the potatoes and com didn’t add much to the meal. 6403 Green-\ilteAw. 987-3477. Moderate. -W.L.T.
Oyster’s. We had heard that Anne Lindsay Greer, noted Southwest cuisine consultant and cookbook writer, had been changing things at Oyster’s, but when we asked our waiter what was new. he confided, “Not much.” That suits us fine. Beyond the addition of a salad sampler and a few pasta and chicken dishes, the menu is pretty much the same: fresh, simply prepared seafood. The fried shrimp were sweet and crunchy, the grilled salmon juicy, the blackened catfish fresh and spicy. Accompanying potatoes, baked and fried, were good: preceding orders of crab salad and shrimp nachos prompted us to send back clean plates. There’s no razzle-dazzle here-what Oyster’s does, it does well. 4580 Belt Line Rd. 386-0122. Inexpensive to moderate. N -M.B.M.
The Rusty Pelican. The many available varieties of fresh fish are 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; the macadamia nut coating couldn’t disguise the whiff of ammonia that indicated the fish might have been sitting around a few too many days. 14655 Dallas N Pkwy. Addison. 980-8950. Expensive. N -W.L.T
S&D Oyster Company. This is Dallas’s favorite oyster bar. Before this was the hip part of McKinney. the lines snaking around the block proved the place’s popularity, in a better mousetrap sort of way. It’s still the most appealing, with an unpretentious, uncontrived New Orleans feel-paned windows, high ceilings, tiled floors, ceiling fans. And the food, last and dependable, holds its own. The menu is simplè and has been the same for years: shrimp, oysters, and fish fillets,fried, raw. or broiled. You can also get a hamburger or a shrimp or oyster loaf-the latter two are good ideas. We tried it all on our last visit. The raw oysters were not as briny as the best, but the fried shrimp were just cooked under their hot brown crust and the broiled snapper was moist and sizzling under butter, lemon, and paprika. Coleslaw, good skin-on fries, and round dry hushpuppies filled out the meal,while custardy lemon pie finished it nicely. 2701 McKinneyAve. 880-0111. Inexpensive to moderate. -M.B.M.
iCaramba! Alberto Lombardi has translated the Old World Spanish tapas concept into playful terms New World Dallas can embrace and enjoy. The menu’s thirty-two little dishes(half cold, half hot. priced from $2.50 to $4.50) offer a mouth-watering variety of samplers. On the cold side, the cheapest was one of the best-quinoa becomes a trendy labouleh-like cold salad, zipped with the freshness of diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and lime juice. Lime also zings a ceviche that may be this city’s best yet, involving tender bay scallops and finely minced fresh chilies. Warm entries were laudable, too-sautéed sweetbreads with peppercorn butter were star quality, tender-crisp. Frankly, none of the entrées were as exciting as the sampler servings: marinated rabbit was overborne by its dark sauce of tomatoes, wine, and herbs; the paella’s saffroned rice was nice, but the mussels were sandy and tough. Desserts were outstanding, particularly the Spanish version of crème brulée, a silken wonder that equals any I’ve had anywhere. 3227 McKinneyAve. 720-9181. Inexpensive to moderate. -B.C.
Huntington Grill. The seafood bisque was perfectly flavored, the fettuccine with snails sautéed in a cream sauce extremely rich, and the Scottish smoked salmon pristine and satiny. The salad with goat cheese topped with raspberry dressing, though, turned out to be inferior to the dinner salad with a Louis dressing. 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 too heavily charred crust. Westin Hotel.Galleria, 13340 Dallas Pkwy. 851-2882. Expensive to veryexpensive. N -W.L.T
Mike’s Del Frisco’s. Sigh. I know I’m not supposed to say this, but 1 miss the neo-N’awlins funk of this restaurant’s former Lemmon Avenue location. Moved by owner Mike Piper to glitzy new digs on the Cedar Springs side of The Crescent, the steakhouse has inevitably undergone a defunking transformation: physically, the setting is upscaled,bigger, richer, in finitely busier-which, after all, is the name of the game, never mind that atmospherically the new Del Frisco’s comes off as a more prosperous imitation of itself.Believe me, though, there’s nothing imitation about the food,which is as solid as the club-like setting. A four-shrimp starter (two boiled, with remoulade; two fried, with red sauce) was ordinary, but the house turtle soup, while mock,was deep-flavored and nicely sherry-spiked. Salads were over-refrigerated and globbed with last-minute dollops of dressing, but a side dish called “Our Spinach” was delightfully fresh and buttery; potato au gratin was rich with cheese and crunchy with minced scallions. The steaks, us expected,were perfection-my fist-sized filet was butter-smooth and fork-tender, my companion’s ribeye a splendid sin, lacedwith the flavor only fat (ah. the forbidden F-word) can giveto beef. Del Frisco’s menu swears its beef has never been frozen, and I believe it-their flavor and texture were worth a little health-risking. And if we finished the meal too full to find dessert remotely interesting, doesn’l that make up for one carnivorous fall from grace to some small degree? Service, by the way. was warm and reasonably prompt, despite the fact that our waitress was having to mind too many tables-the place was packed. 2200 Cedar Springs Rd in The Crescent. 720-4454. Expensive. -B.C.
The Palm Restaurant. Grand-scale excess is a fetish here, in portions as well as price. Filets the size of boxing gloves, lobsters large enough to saddle and ride, a la carte side dishes ample for whole femilies-of such stuff is The Palm legend made, on a menu that has not varied since it was brought down from the mount. Almost everything we tried was perfection in its class-roasted pimento halves stretched over chopped iceberg lettuce and laced with anchovy snips in vinaigrette were fine as ever, while fresh asparagus held audacious crunch. The famed half-and-half fry of threadthin potato and onion was shockingly grease-sogged and un-crisp. but a full-pound New York strip and three double lambchops were absolutely prime, cooked precisely to order, 701Ross Avenue. 698-0470. Very expensive. -B.C.
Bagel Emporium. All sorts of bagels and other baked goods are the focus here, from beautifully shaped loaves of bread to bialys and onion rolls. But you can also have a fine breakfast of an omelette, with a pale-brown crust and a heart of baby Swiss cheese, accompanied by home-fried cubes of potatoes and onions. Lunch offers deli specialties like Nova Scotia salmon (like lox, only not so salty). Any time there are enormous cookies frosted in half chocolate, half vanilla, and cinnamon pockets-chewy, barely sweet snail-shaped buns. 7522 Campbell Rd. 980-1444. Inexpensive. -W.L.T.
Bageistein’s. Bagelstein’s is trying hard to establish itself as something more man than just a deli, The menu was always enormously long, but now it is even longer due to a new page of all-American dishes like deliciously crisp fried chicken and too-dense meat loaf. Where the place really shines,though, is in the deli fare. The chopped liver and pastrami can be had on home-baked onion rolls. And there’s a variety of smoked fish-anybody with a taste for lox (smokedsalmon) will probably like the whitefish salad too, but the sable, with a sushi-like texture, might have a more limited appeal. Northwood Hills Shopping Center, 8104 SpringValley. 234-3787. Inexpensive to moderate -W.L.T.
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 a liltle too moist to be pleasant. 3316 OakLawn. 526-4070. Moderate. -M.B.M.
Pasta Plus. Under new ownership, several things have been added to the “plus” in Pasta Plus: in addition to the pastas and sauces, there are such unanticipated things as boudin. the Cajun rice sausage. The pasta side of things is still in good hands-we enjoyed the tortelloni (filled with a cheese and spinach mixture) and the piselli sauce (with cream and peas) especially. The prepared takeout items,though, didn’t come off as well. Lasagna was not very exciting, and the chicken salad, though nicely flavored withtarragon, suffered from large quantities of harsh Bermuda onions 225 Preston Royal East. 373-3999. Inexpensive tomoderate -W.L.T.
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. -B.C.
Chao Wang. Though there are ethnic restaurants in most parts of Dallas. Thai restaurants are not so common yet that every neighborhood has one. That’s why Chao Wang seems a place to treasure, though its cooking can’t compete with the very best Siamese cuisine in the city. The moo satay-curried strips of pork grilled on a skewer-is especially flavorful here, and the Panang beef has a thick sauce in which lime leaves lurk. Sadly, the lunch buffet includes onlyChinese dishes, which can be avoided on the dinner menu.Keystone Park Shopping Center, Suite 400, 13929 N CentralExpwy. 437-3900. Moderate, N -W.L.T.
New Slam. This western outpost also lists Thai and Chinese specialties-an increasingly common combination.Our advice is stick to the Thai side and you’ll be happy.Volcano chicken was beautiful and delicious; gang ped (red curry with chicken, coconut milk, and mint leaves) was not as hot as we can stand, but the cashew chicken with fried redpepper and green onion compensated. 2415 W NorthwestHwy, Suite 108 (at Harry Hines). 358-5679. Inexpensive tomoderate. -M.B.M.
Arc-en-Ciel. The Seven Courses of Beef turned out to contain the best dishes-some homemade sausages of variousshapes and textures that had been grilled to a turn. Mosteverything on the Vietnamese side of the menu is supposedto be rolled up in rice paper with julienned vegetables anddipped in a vinegary hot sauce, producing a kind of Southeast Asian taco. 3555 W Walnut at Jupiter. Garland. 272-2188. Inexpensive to modemte. -W.L.T.
East Wind. A day’s-special roast duck was succulent, but handly seasoned at all. Charcoal-broiled pork, diced and at-tractively mounded on a lettuce leaf, was dust-dry; plum sauce, brought only at our request, was unpleasantly sweet.A melange of chicken, mushrooms, scallions, and vegetables cooked and served in a hot clay pot had more flavor,thanks more to its ingredients than to seasoning. 2711 Elm St.745-5554. Inexpensive to moderate. -B.C.
LAS COLINAS/MID CITIES
China Terrace. When this Las Colinas showplace first opened, it showed every promise of setting new standards for creative Chinese cuisine. Now under different management, the artistic aspirations seem to have been largely abandoned.Even so. the setting retains its museum-like touches of grandeur, and China Terrace still offers a happy dining experience, if with few joyous surprises. The extensive menu is mostly Szechwan and Peking standards, but ingredients seemed fresh and dishes well executed on our recent visit.Pot stickers were exemplary, the tender little pastry pouches plumply filled and crisply browned on their under side.Spinach bean curd soup held emerald-fresh spinach leaves and smooth curd cubes in its delicate chicken broth. Salmon Szechwan was superb, a moist pink fillet sautéed and servedwith a bracing pepper-spiced sauce, sided with fresh broccoli. Dragon and Phoenix was an elegant if slightly down-scale presentation of the traditional dish: chicken and shrimp(not lobster) were enshrined in separate potato nests, witha different, delectably subtle sauce under each. Servicecould not have been more accommodating, and the ambience-once the loud lingerers at the next table had left-wasaltogether pleasant. Another pleasant note: the extensivewine list yielded a modestly priced ($12.50) Rutherford Hills gewurtztraminer that harmonized admirably with our food. 5435 N MacArthur. south of Highway 114 at Walnut Hill Lane. 550-1113. Inexpensive to moderate. -B.C.
Moretti’s. There are real Italians doing the cooking, and the food is as good as we had heard. 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 sautéing). The dinner menu lists more intricate creations, like veal with prosciutto and fresh zucchini and capellini with scallops-we want to return to try them.2709 Mustang Drive, Grapevine. (817) 481-3230. Inexpensive to moderate. -W.L.T.
Hedary’s, For a one-visit overview, order the maza, a selection of salads, and a meat combination plate. That way you can sample a little of everything; tabouleh (wheat,tomato. and parsley salad), hummus (garlicky puréed chickpeas), savory- fried falafel, lentils, cucumbers in yogurt, and a delicious batinjan mtabbal (roasted eggplant dip), along with freshly baked puffed pita bread. The meatplate features homemade sujuk (hot beef sausage), kafta(ground beef roils). Lebanese shísh kebab, and a version of the national dish of Lebanon, kibbi, that compared favorablywith my mother-in-law’s. 3308 Fairfield at Camp Bowie.(817) 731-6961. Moderate. -M.B.M.
La. Marée. A deli by day, La Máree 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 ap-petizer that 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 W Seventh.(817) 877-0838. Moderate. -B.C.
Michael’s Seafood. For starters, the shrimp gumbo is good, if rather far from what a native Louisianian would recognize. The New England clam chowder is so thick and glutinous that a spoon will stand up in it. Plain boiled shrimp and the beer-battered onion rings are better choices. 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 and a garlicky version of shrimp scampi. 5805 Camp Bowie. (817) 377-8021Moderate. -W.L.T
Reflections. Far and away the loveliest dining rendezvous in Fort Worth-and lovelier than most in Dallas-this main restaurant of the downtown Worthington Hotel might have been conceived as a backdrop for romance. A tiled brook divides the room, anchored at either end by graceful columns topped with huge an deco lily buds. From the hotel mezzanine outside, live piano music drifts in at the exactly appropriate volume to permit easy, intimate conversation.Service was impeccable on our visit, and the food lived up to the setting in every way. A first-course lobster bisque,in fact, may have been the best I’ve ever tasted, rich and subtly complex with seasonings that defied definition. A whole quail, sautéed lender rather than crisp, was nicely balanced with tart lingonberry sauce and cranberry relish.The salad’s mixed greens were a medley of young lettuces.in a vinaigrette tuned to their delicacy. Entrées at Reflections equaled their introduction-salmon Wellington was an intriguing treatment of fresh flesh, wrapped in phyllo leaves with a fragile seafood mousse, and a hearty mixed grillcombined a lamb chop, a veal medallion, and a small beeffilet with surprising effect on a pear demi-glace that heldonly a hint of pear texture in its reduced-stock essence.Closest we came to disappointment was in a banana soufflédessert that tended toward leaden in its center; my companion’s bowl of fresh raspberries was a better postscript tothe meal. The Worthington Hotel, 200 Main. (817) 870-1000.Expensive. -B.C.
Tejano Mexican Cuisine. Fort Worth Tex-Mex lovers wait in line to sample this West Side establishment’s not-your-normal-enchilada (are. One of the trendier touches that doesn’t work: an appetizer misleadingly called Arizona nachos and consisting of a lake of molten cheese on a single oversized flour tortilla, the whole hard-to-handle affair presented on a fiery foot-tall iron mini-grill. Forget it and order instead one that does: milk-fed cabrito (baby goat),roasted to a tender turn and lavished on a standard platter.If you must have fire on your table, a for-two specialty calledpartita Tejano brings you the grill with a more manageable mélange of sizzling chicken and beef fajita strips, grilled with onions and peppers, plus all the trimmings. Beware the salsa-it doesn’t sizzle, but you will. 5716 Camp Bowie Blvd.(817) 737-7201. Inexpensive to moderate. -B.C