YOU KNOW THAT BIG BRONZE herd of longhorns sweeping down the slope up yonder near City Hall? The ones art m averts branded as out of character for this cosmopolitan city? The ones that have turned out to be the boy-howdyest people attraction downtown Dallas has seen in decades?
Well, folks, never doubt that Y.O. Ranch, newly opened in the West End, aims to come to mind as the first place those larger-than-life cowhands might head when the cattle drives over-along with trail-hungry tourists and local slickers hankering to hunker down to a ranch-style feed.
Which is the point, of course-nobody’s ever accused Mrs. Street’s son Gene (Good Eats, et al) or Senora Martinez’ boy Matt (Mattito’s, No Place) of being slow to sense a culinary climate of opportunity. With a name borrowed from co-owner Charlie Schreiner’s fabled Kerrville spread, and their own restaurant know-how augmented by co-owner Charles Goff, whose family owns Jan’s Coffee Shop, these compadres have hit on a concept that, intentionally or not, couldn’t be more keyed to the sculptural herd’s Western spirit.
Decorwise, for sure. Bar and dining areas are separated by a wall of silvered timbers rescued from a century-old bam. On the saloonlike drinking (and smoking) side, mounted heads and horns hang. In the dining room, the weathered wall’s other side becomes a booth-lined porch, tin-roofed, alongside a stone-fenced clearing filled with tables. Vast | blowups of frontier photographs overlook diners. Door handles, light fixtures and servers’ denim shirts all wear the Y.O. brand, bringing to mind the ranch’s long history of raising exotic wild game and lavish feasting thereon.
Maybe later. Right now, the feasting is on more familiar fare-those who have sampled Chef Matt Martinez’ food in his aforementioned Dallas restaurants will recognize much on the Y.O.’s menu, which is rather more sophisticated than its claim to “Early Texas Cooking.” I doubt many Old West ranch cooks whipped up as urban a starter as Matt’s seafood corn cake, a vast flapjack concealing nuggets of crab, shrimp, oysters and corn kernels in its delectable innards. Or mounted frog legs, grilled to flawless succulence, on wild rice with grilled vegetable ribbons, another appetizer. They might have had beef or wild boar sausage, but would they have served them like this-prettily arranged on a sea of molten cheese?
Entrees range from basic steaks (I can vouch for the bone-in rib-eye, huge and perfect) to turkey, catfish, shrimp and the Muy Grande Tex Mex Platter, which certainly was-the plate big as a manhole cover, its contents correspondingly oversized right down to foot-longenchiladas. The nearest thing to wild game our dinner offered was New Zealand venison, a thin, lean cut rolled around portobel-lo mushroom strips-a day’s special that also included a tender little grilled quail, nicely sauced.
Dinner entrees come with soup or salad, a side dish and homemade bread. The house soup is mushroom, an earthy broth-loaded with fungus bits; the four-leal salad’s a pleasant mix, mildly dressed; the bread is distinctly pan ordinaire in texture, but hotly pepper-spiked. Of the sides, I found fresh grilled spinach extraordinarily fine and beautifully seasoned, but smoked mashed potatoes were conspicuously horrid, their flavor heavy and overly pungent. I may stand alone here-the Oklahoma-smoked potatoes are a favorite with Matt’s aficionados, I’m told.
So is bis country-style chicken-fried steak, available only at lunch. This one lived up to its reputation, crisp-coated and ladled with almost-homelike cream gravy. Tex-Mex specialties dominate the lunch menu (all but the fajitas are priced at a reasonable $5.50), among them Matt’s justly famed chile relleno and three other CFS styles.
Desserts run a short gamut from wonderful (Jack Daniel’s pecan pie lapped with bourbon pecan sauce) to wretched (a day’s-special lemon cake, dense as lead, topped with fruit that, like the thin slice of cake, was drowned in a sea of something not quite identifiable even to our waiter, who thought it might be crème fraiche).
Whatever it was, the waiters weren’t to blame-service is sunny and friendly. Matt and other principals make regular rounds and caring noises, and the Y.O. Ranch bids fair to enhance the West End with a flavor as uniquely Texan as the bronze herd it complements. Is it too much to hope this ones not destined for chainhood? -Betty Cook
Y.O. Ranch. 702 Ross Ave., 744-3287. 11 a.m.-10p.m., Monday-Saturday; bar stays open until midnight. Inexpensive to moderate.
IN A SHORT TIME, THE FRENCH OWNER, MAN-ager and chef of this little restaurant, with its open kitchen and neatly lettered blackboard menus, have created a comforting atmosphere that encourages lingering. Though this unassuming restaurant doesn’t offer a visual clue as to how superbly prepared its food is, the words out, and Bonjour is drawing such crowds that there’s already talk of expanding into the vacant space next door in the restaurant-heavy Plaza at Bachman Creek.
For starters, feast on the wealth of appetizers, such as the lightly sweet and peppery pheasant pate and the garlicky sausage. Bonjour offers all of the French classics- escargots, foie gras pate, frog legs and more, including aioli, the potent garlic mayonnaise sauce, served with plump shrimp.
Because the aioli was so good, we tried all of the sauces available: gorgonzola, marinara, peppercorn and shallot, each ready to be served with the day’s choices of grilled fish, meat and poultry. Actually, these perfectly grilled entrées need no sauce, but we found ourselves spooning it on with abandon-especially that tasty shallot sauce. Entrees come with nicely seasoned, well-prepared vegetables, and it’s nice to see a chef who isn’t afraid to add a touch of salt. The potato gratin appetizer would make a great accompaniment to the grilled rib-eye, but on one visit it was still in the oven, and. on another day, needed more time heating. Yet even so, the razor-thin slices in a garlicky cream sauce tasted great. Other excellent choices include killer made-to-order omelets and individual quiche Lorraines. The sandwiches, though, still need work, starting with replacing the lackluster baguettes.
At its opening, Bonjour’s owner had not added two things every decent French cafe has: a wine list and those skinny, crisp fries the French call pommes frites, but happily, those additions are planned. Meanwhile, feel free to bring your own bottle of wine, or pour a bot-tle at home and call for delivery of one of the many appetizer trays, such as the one featuring sausage, cheese and foie gras. Think of the possibilities: It would sure beat hot dogs and beer for those Monday night football games coming soon! -Suzanne Hough
Bonjour. 3850 W Northwest Hwy., Suite 510; 350-3467. 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday-Saturday. Moderate.
RUTH’S CHRIS STEAK HOUSE
RUTH’S CHRIS STEAK HOUSE HAS JOINED THE stampede of restaurants opening in Far North Dallas, and judging by the crowds that already pack it, not a moment too soon. The classic decor of polished marble, dark woods and deep, soothing greens comforts guests from the minute they walk in. Skip the seafood, fish and chicken-you’re at a steak house, damn it! Worry about cholesterol tomorrow.
The filet was almost too tender for me (1 prefer the chew and the flavor of the New York strip or the rib-eye), and yes, the steaks do come on a platter sizzling with butter. They take their beef very seriously here, buying the top grade (prime) and hand-cutting it daily into mammoth portions. Steaks are offered in six different cuts-filet, rib-eye, New York strip, porterhouse and T-bone-and the rich marbling of the corn-fed Midwestern beef displays a promise of the juiciness to follow. However, the incredibly meaty lamb chops can give the beef a run for the money.
As with most steak houses, everything at Ruth’s Chris comes a la carte, and each side order can easily serve at least two. Someday I’ll order each of the eight types of potatoes, because the ones I’ve tried so far have been great, like the mountain of shoestring fries and the garlicky mashed potatoes. The creamed spinach complements the beef nicely, while purists will enjoy the wealth of simply steamed broccoli. Order the classic Caesar instead of the unexciting Italian salad; you might want to split an order of the cheesy, crab-stuffed mushroom caps first.
You’ll have no trouble finding a wine, whatever your price range, on this huge list, and there’s a temperature-controlled wine room for private tastings for serious grape lovers. The jury’s still out on the desserts, though. They were sold out of the crème brulée on one visit; on another we tried the famous bread pudding with whiskey sauce, but this dessert reminded us of a rich cinnamon roll doused in a sugary sauce. Next time maybe we’ll exercise a little self-control and go for the fresh berries. Well, maybe with a little of the sweet cream sauce, too. -S.H.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House. 17840 Dallas Pkwy., 250-2244. 5-11 p.m., Monday-Saturday; 5-10p.m., Sunday. Expensive.
MOST RESTAURANTS THAT DESCRIBE THEM-selves as serving only “nonfat/lowfat ” food, as Eureka does, bore diners to tears because in taking away the fat, they severely diminish the flavor. Not so at Eureka. In fact, if you tried the lighter-than-air cheesecake or the garlicky mashed potatoes, you ’d never guess that either has more than a gram of fat in it. Customers who like to keep track of that sort of thing will appreciate Eureka’s menu, which includes a nutritional analysis of everything served; those, like me, who like to live dangerously can opt for the menu without all those numbers.
Some choices, like veggie burgers, fat-free frozen yogurt and unfried home fries, open-facedly announce themselves as “good for you!” Others, such as chipotle-lime chicken sandwich on red chile bread, camouflage this message-only the “good” part comes through.
This Plano sibling of the Preston Center original has clean, white, undulating walls accented with bright primary colors resulting in a futuristic, “Jetsons”-type decor. Refrigerated cases show off recent menu additions, like spinach artichoke dip and sun-dried tomato basil dip, both intensely flavored and scented with garlic.
The restaurant’s signature “wrappers,” rolled-up sandwiches, like the very good peppered turkey and herbed cheese with ginger pear chutney, pack potent flavors. Regular sandwiches also score high marks for inspired combinations, like the smoked turkey with havarti, apples and honey Dijon mustard served warm on a baguette, The Vietnamese salad earns a big “ho-hum,” but Eureka fans will be very glad to hear that pizzas have been added to the Piano menu, and the wild mushroom and roasted garlic can’t be beat.
Both locations of Eureka will let you store your favorite wines there, and no corkage is charged for pouring them. The smoothies, especially the richly flavored banana berry, made me an instant Eureka fan, although no nutritional analysis on the smoothies is offered. Good. I don’t want to know. -S.H.
Eureka! 2401 Preston Rd., Plano, 758-0906. 11 a.m.-9p.m., Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday & Sunday. Inexpensive.