THE TOP 12 BEST NEW RESTAURANTS IN DALLAS/FORT WORTH

KNOW, YOU WANT TO KNOW THE HOT NEW RESTAURANTS IN TOWN. YOU WANT TO taste the latest sensations and find that different out-of-the-way or way-in spot.

I went uptown, downtown and cowtown scouting rookie restaurants in search of the good, the even better and the best. Along the way, I found Dallas brimming with seafood, yellow-walled interiors and a crème br?lée on every corner. But the hottest thing going is international, “one-world-on-a-plate” cuisine. You heard it here first: There’s a food cross-dressing epidemic in the area. In a battle to be the most outrageous, chefs are mingling national cuisines at an alarming rate. What is that Norwegian salmon doing in a jalapeno beer-battered breading? What business do creoled crawfish and goat cheese have in an enchilada?

After a ninety-three thousand calorie search. I bring you the best of the new.

GOLD MEDAL WINNER FISH



I HAD MY DOUBTS AS WE BREEZED DOWN THE DaLlas North Toll way to do the outrageous-dine downtown. At first glance, the place didn’t seem too inviting, and what about the name: Fish? Would you go to a steak house named “Cow”? But inside, the place was airy and elegant, with simple art deco touches. I was greeted enthusiastically by Anthony, the maitre d’, who suggested we start our evening with the restaurant’s signature cocktail: a glass of Veuve Clicquot champagne. Well, twist my arm.

Sipping the champagne, I perused the many temptations on the menu, which include a wide variety of seafood cooked in every style possible. Two women at a nearby table had been served, and 1 sneaked a peak at their choices. One dish was a shallow bow] piled high with shells, legs and tails protruding recklessly from a broth-Fish’s acclaimed Green Soup. The other plate held a thick slab of swordfish perched on its side in a cascabel pepper sauce. I watched the woman take a bite of swordfish, tilt her head back and moan (a milder version of Meg Ryan’s classic scene in When Harry Met Sally). When our waiter approached to take our order. I almost uttered, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

The delectable Dungeness crab cakes arrived and so did Billy Cole, a jazzy-Randy Newmanesque pianist-music filled the room. The sun set, silhouetting the gargoyles atop the “Big Red” courthouse. Then came the sea bass.

I have eaten sea bass on virtually every continent-OK, you’ve got me on Antarctica-and I’ve never had better. Fish’s version is served on a mound of roasted peppers, leeks, capers and cala-mata olives and delicately seasoned with laurel. It was so fresh, I glanced out the window to make sure we weren’t seaside.

A warm, chocolate-laden bread pudding had me looking at my dining partner in disbelief, it was so good. I had died and gone to Fish-and [ don’t mean in the Trinity River.

Entrées: $16.25’-$26.50. 302 S. Houston St., across from Union Station, 214-747-FISH.

LOMBARDI MARE

Addison’s freshest is a sea-and-be-seen spot.

Don’t be put off by the nondescript exterior; the interior will take your breath away. Lighting fixtures designed to appear like a school of blue neon fish swim across the ceiling. Goldfish bowls appear to float in mid-air over the bar (especially after a perfect martini). It’s all so fun to look at, I forgot it was trendy.

My “L.A. seafood snob1’ companion was skeptical of the seafood scene in Dallas (however he felt right at home in the sea of cell-phone diners surrounding us). But when our waiter assaulted him with five different types of farm-fresh oysters and a plate of steamed mussels, I watched his eyebrows rise. Then a shrimp cocktail arrived-stunningly presented in a martini glass accompanied by a shot of the best Bloody Mary mix I’ve ever tasted.

My friend, every waiter’s nightmare, ordered lobster (of course, I was paying) and insisted it be boiled, split in two, doused with butter and browned under the broiler for two minutes only. When it arrived cooked to perfection, he announced his intention of house-hunting in Addison.

We continued our gluttonous ways by ordering a Grand Marnier soufflé-further proof that my Visa was on the line. And frankly this meal was almost the price of a down payment on a house in Addison.

Entrées: $10.50 to $23,50.5100 Beit Line Rd., Ste. 410,972-503-1233.



SEVY’S

University Park welcomes a real restaurant.

The bar is full of beautiful people with great hair talking on cell phones and drinking martinis. Obviously, this is the new meeting place of the hair apparents-the salons of Jose Eber, Toni & Guy and Allen Stone are just an olive toss away.

Don’t be put off by the cigar smoke in the bar. The smoke does not travel into the restaurant, thanks to a special ventilation system. Wood floors, stone walls and earthy colors make a cozy backdrop for great people-watching: Diners of all ages included elderly couples next to rhinestone-studded Highland Park bowheads.

The service is as accommodating as the ventilation system. Look for James, the waiter with the white, spiky cockatoo-crested hairdo. He has a sound knowledge of the menu, and his recommendations were right on.

The menu is standard flash-and-dash Dallas-monied fare: simply presented grilled meats, pasta and seafood with nice touches. A chopped salad, ordered to share, arrived split on two chilled plates, each garnished as a full order. The rosemary chicken sat on a mound of creamy hot polenta and was served with the side dish of life-grilled fennel. Hickory-scented beef tenderloin filet knocked my vegetarian companion off the wagon.

As we devoured a delightful three citrus pie-a creamy combination of orange, lemon and lime-executive chef and owner Jim Severson stopped by our table for our feedback while James took our parking stub and had our car delivered. Another nice touch.

Entrées: $8.95 to $17.95. 8201 Preston Rd., 21’4-265-SEVY.



FlREHOUSE

Some like It hot-or at least these guys hope so.

This restaurant is the ultimate in food cross-dressing. Where else can you find four countries represented in one dish? Merlot duck piquant featured ginger-marinated roasted duck and spicy Italian sausage simmered in merlot-creole sauce over tomato penne pasta. You need a visa to finish it.

FIRST PRIZE WINNER



MARRAKESH



I ADMIT, BEFORE DINING AT MARRAKESH, I HAD TO check my atlas to pinpoint the geographic location of the restaurant’s namesake, The book said it’s a city in the northern African country of Morocco, just down the camel trail from Casablanca. In Dallas, it’s at the corner of Lovers Lane and Inwood Road.

Just what is Moroccan cuisine, and what is it doing in Dallas? It is lamb and coucous and fresh vegetables spiced with mysterious combinations of nutmeg, paprika and cumin. It is marinated chicken and beef kebobs served with curried rice. It is wonderful.

We entered a dark, fabric-walled dining room half expecting to pass Lawrence of Arabia on our way to a pillowed banquette. Vibrant Middle-Eastern music had all five of us tapping the table and bobbing our heads. Marinated black olives and freshly baked bread immediately appeared. Our waitress discerned that we were Moroccan-food rookies and suggested the Moroccan Feast-a sample of almost everything on the menu and a bargain at $25.95 per person. A bottle of Chateau di Sahara (I’m not making that up) was ordered to round out our Moroccan experience. Clap, clap. Bring on the dancing girls!

From behind the curtain popped a veiled belly dancer in a purple bra who gyrated and finger-cymbaled her way around the room, enlisting men to dance while balancing swords on her head. Meanwhile we devoured the tastiest salad selection in town- mounds of marinated carrots, eggplant and cucumbers.

The family-style feast continued with tagine royale, a marvelous stewed lamb with prunes and roasted almonds-bread-dipping paradise. As I mopped up the last of the sauce. I forgot I don’t like lamb or prunes. The grilled kebobs included chicken, sirloin and a marvelous merguez sausage. Vegetarian couscous was served beautifully with fresh vegetables and handfuls of garbanzos.

Fatima, or whatever her name was, finished humiliating her last “shiek” as we sipped sweet Moroccan mint tea, munched baklava and laughed.

Entrees: $10.95419.95.5027 W. Lovers Ln., 214-357-4104.

Outside a neon sign flashes “Some Like It Hot and Spicy.” For fire-eaters, this place is the mother lode. The roasted garlic and eggplant dip served in a whole roasted onion with blue com tortillas was the top appetizer in our survey, and the buffalo shrimp marinated with habanero peppers was no slouch. But there was plenty for those who feel faint at the sight of a jalapeno.

Chef Bruno Giovanni Mella displays great dexterity in crossing pork chops with mango salsa, andouille sausage with barbecued shrimp and the outrageous alligator sausage with a scorching chili. Everything we ordered was served in huge portions artistically decorated with garnishes protruding all over the place.

The setting for this multinational bonfire is cutting-edge-trag-ically-hip: sexy dark-purple velvet booths and mosaic-tiled walls. It’s kind of like Alice in Wonderland meets Melrose Place. (Although the hipness was greatly undermined by the piped-in Kenny G. music.)

After all the mixed messages of our meal, we found a straightforward crème br?lée a great way to cool our jets. Entrées: $9,95 to $25.95.1920 Greenville Ave.. 214-826-2468.



LA TASCA ESPANOLA

Lomo Alto lands authentic Spanish fare.

THIS IS THE HOME OF THE FRIENDLIEST STAFF IN DALLAS, LED BY captain Jose Garcia, who had the front door open for us when we were 10 feet away. Escorting us to our table, he asked us how our day was and offered information on the place. Though he had no idea who I was, I felt like I was wearing a name tag reading: “Hello, I am here to review your restaurant.” I must presume he is that kind to all his customers.

We felt at home in a not-too-fancy room with fake ivy and grapes hanging from the trellised ceiling and silk plants surrounding a fountain. It was a little like visiting “Spanish World” at Disneyland.

As our chatty waiter popped the cork on a Marques de Rescal Rioja, we studied the menu. So many tapas, so little time. You can make a meal by choosing two or three from the list of 22 (and you can do it for well under $20). Highlights were the Tortilla Espanola, a thick, pie-shaped omelet with potatoes, and the gambas al ajillo, shrimp bathed in a buttery sauce with big chunks of garlic. The gazpacho looked like Campbell’s tomato soup, but the taste was anything but, with sharp hints of cucumber and green pepper.

Paella Valenciana was a lovely presentation of mussels, clams, shrimp, chicken and calamari with saffron rice and peas. The ratio of seafood to rice was perfect: a bite of seafood with every bite of rice. My “veteran of Valencia” dining partner called it the best outside of Spain. The pescado del dia was sea bass surrounded by a ring of clams in a light lemon sauce topped with the ubiquitous pea.

La Tasca Espanola is trying hard and succeeding. Prices are as good as the service, with entrées topping out at $ 15. This place is a real charmer.

Entrées: $7.50 to $15.4131 homo Alto Dr.. 214-599-9563.



ANGELUNA

Fort Worth’s downtown scores another hit.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DRIVE MAKES. WE LEFT A DESERTED DOWN-town Dallas and 30 minutes later pulled into the renewed heart of Fort Worth. The chic centerpiece of the restoration effort that has brought back Sundance Square is Angeluna.

Taking a cue from sister restaurant Mezzaluna in Aspen, Angeluna features the identical aggressively chic atmosphere. Boisterous yuppies sit toe-to-toe with Birkenstock-sandaled professors and bejeweled trophy wives. Come here to see-and-be-seen, but not heard.

Fortunately, the food redeems the jackhammer decibel levels. The “one-world-cuisine” menu features multicultural flavors with arty presentations. Acommonplace baby green salad comes with a marvelous sweet basil vinaigrette. Joe’s Shrimp Paesano-three lightly breaded jumbo prawns sautéed in vodka-lemon butter served “martini style”-made me want to marry Joe. Malfadina, a squiggly pasta with rock shrimp, avocados and tomatoes, was the honeymoon.

However, cross-dressing reared its head in cowtown in the form of pepper-jocoque ice cream. Yes, that’s goat’s milk ice cream with cracked black pepper. Great if you like goat’s milk. I preferred the key lime tart with macadamia crust served with coconut ice cream.

Entrées: $11 to $25. 215 E. 4th St.. Fort Worth. 817-334-0080.



MARK’S ON HENDERSON

Sample the world at this eclectic wine bar.

YOU KNOW HOW REWARDING IT FEELS TO STUMBLE INTO A HOLE-in-the-wall bistro that seems like your own personal discovery? That’s just how my colleague and I felt when, at the end of a long day, we wandered into Mark’s on Henderson.

This intimate 13-table bistro is a welcome relief from trendy over-conceptualized restaurants. Chef-owner Mark Jenson has turned this spot-formerly La Cave and Pinots-into a grownup wine bar by adding a full kitchen and serving hot food. You can still browse the wine cellar in the back and choose a bottle. Wines from all over the world are offered by the glass, and we circled the globe before we left.

SECOND PRIZE WINNER



BARCLAYS



If you ’re a sucker for a British accent and the Food Halls of Harrods-and I am-then Barclays is the place for you. 1 have to admit I don’t exactly search out British cuisine stateside. My time in England is usually spent in a pub or eating Indian food. But don’t come to Barclays expecting to find a pint of bitter and bangers and mash. This isn’t pub food, luv; this is royal fare with a Eupropean twist. Righto.

I say, when was the last time you dined on bubble and squeak’? Not to be confused with kibbles and bits, this normally working-class cabbage and potato-cake concoction served with cod fritters was of regal status. So was the potato ravioli stuffed with stilton cheese and wild mushrooms with port wine jus.

Vegetarian dishes get equal effort. I was served a stylish “monument of vegetables”-layers of potatoes, perfectly seasoned vegetables and grilled mushrooms stacked al least six inches high-a purist’s dream. My companion, who views Indian food as indispensable to British fare, ordered the modem chicken curry with mango chutney and pronounced it brilliant.

Located in a romantic Victorian house (formerly Calluaud’s and most recently La Petite Maison), the interior is anything but stuffy; Bright yellow walls, fresh flowers and portraits of English gardens create an elegant yet relaxed room. If you are looking for the perfect spot to “pop the question” or celebrate something special, go no further; this place is a gem-a real bobbydazzler.

The attention to detail is superb right down to the perfect cuppa tea and the Craven English mints in the ladies room.

Entrées: 2 courses, $25; 3 courses, $30; 4 courses, $35.2917 Fairmont St., 214-855-0700.

A chalk board menu lists an eclectic selection of entrées, which vary daily according to what Mark finds freshest. One day it might be grilled tuna over Caesar salad or risotto with garlic vegetables. The next day it could be sautéed Italian sausage and peppers or grilled sea bass. On our visit, my unadventurous “meat and potatoes” companion licked the lettuce garnish after devouring a plate of perfectly cooked calamari. The chicken pate was homemade and smooth as that made in France.

My entrée, Russian chicken, was a breast covered with a sauce loaded with grilled onions and that old Russian herb-cilantro. I’ve had trouble locating toilet paper in Russia, much less cilantro, but our waiter swore to the dish’s authenticity. The grilled pork loin with a spicy chipotle sauce was more believable and delicious.

I wish Mark’s showed more variation in its desserts: Our choice was limited to two types of cheesecake and fresh berries with cream. While they were good, we craved something in between. But by this time, wine and the music of Sade had soothed our tired brains and we found ourselves wanting to linger over an extra glass of port (or two).

Entrées: $9 to $16,50. 2926 Henderson Ave., 214-841-0900.



LAVENDOU

The south of France blooms north of Dallas.

I HAD POMMES FRITES ON MY MIND AS I BOATED UP PRESTON ROAD in a downpour to Lavendou with my dining companion, a French chef. We were in search of a classic French meal, and what we got was textbook.

There is no mistaking the authentic Frenchness of the decor. Traditional mixed-pattern prints of yellow and blue skirt the tables. Big vases filled with sunflowers are situated next to racks of wine. Dried lavender-the flower for which the restaurant is named-is everywhere.

The appetizers were somewhat disappointing-a nasty tomato ginger soup and a duck terrine that was passable but needed a punch of flavor. But from then on. the meal was above reproach, starting with escargot with garlic in a puff pastry. Duck roasted with black currants pleased my picky French friend, and that is an accomplishment. The perfectly cooked tenderloin with cracked black pepper and mushrooms had just enough cognac and cream sauce to make it memorable. The pommes frites were pure Paris. C’est magnifique.

By the time we got to the chocolate soufflé, the restaurant had totally redeemed itself. The soufflé was ceremoniously punctured by our waiter, who poured warm chocolate and whipped cream into it.

Lavendou isn’t immune from commercialism. Patrons may purchase pottery from the restaurant’s signature line of ocher-and-lavender colored objets. We asked the price of a platter and twice were told, “I don’t have it. I’ll get it.” On the third try, we were told to call an unidentified ’’them” for the cost. Viva la France in North Dallas.

Entrées: $14.95 to $19.95. 19009 Preston Rd.. Ste. 200. 972- 248-1911.



WHAT ELSE?

Greenville adds a silly name, but serious food.



Me (hurriedly): I need a listing for “What Else?”

Directory Assistance: What?

Me (impatiently): No. “What Else?”

Directory Assistance: Who?

Me (exasperated): Who’s on first.



WHAT FOLLOWED WAS A DELIGHTFUL DINING EXPERIENCE AT What Else?-a spin-off from the successful Watel’s on McKinney Avenue.

After weeks of scouring restaurants that tout clever new ways to tune a fish, a meal of well-prepared French-country cooking was a welcome relief. Bizarrely situated next to a pool hall on Lowest Greenville Avenue, the exterior doesn’t scream “Fabulous French Dining Inside.” But once you step through the cedar-lined entry, you are transported to a cozy dining room in southern France.

My French dining partner wept at her first taste of -a vegetable soup with white beans, tomatoes and vermicelli. I was equally teary over my warm ratatouille garnished simply with blades of arugula. Gar?on, another glass of vin rouge and a tissue, please.

Slow-cooked, tender duck-leg confit fell gently off the bone and was accompanied by a tasty grilled radicchio and a creamy risotto. Equally delicious was the lamb shank braised in flageolets-tiny, tender French kidney beans. Somebody here knows what they are doing.

Those somebodies are proprietor René Peeters, co-owner and executive chef at Watel’s, and his partner and general manager Thierry Plumettaz. Rounding out the team is chef de cuisine Seth de Wit. In this era of glitzy dining, this trio has combined to remind us that eating French food doesn’t have to be an intimidating or expensive experience.

Entrées: 2 courses, $19; 3 courses, $24; 4 courses, $27. 1915 Greenville Ave., 214-874-WHAT.

THIRD PRIZE WINNER



MODO MIO



We were skeptical about finding decent “CuCIna Rustica Italiana” as we exited the North Dallas Toll-way at Frankfort. In a strip shopping center behind the obligatory Boston Market and next door to Mi Cocina (“my kitchen”) sits Modo Mio (“my way”). Inside, I was pleasantly surprised by the charming decor. The split-level dining room with terra-cotta-tiled floors and arched doorways between dining areas give the place an Italian country feel. It was 7 p.m. on a Thursday, and it was packed with polo-shirted and pony-tailed Planoites.

The small menu features a variety of old favorites and a couple of innovative twists like fresh salmon with vodka and tomatoes. Highlights from the antipasti were authentic-tasting cannellini beans with shrimp and the caprese classica-buffalo mozzarella fresh from Italy with basil on tomato, lightly drizzled with olive oil.

Being a self-proclaimed gnocchi expert, (I’ve sampled it across Italy) I opted for Gnocchi Modo Mio. However, this version, in a pesto and cream sauce, sounded too rich, so I requested it my way: in a simple tomato sauce. It wasn’t Rome, but it beat the pants off local imitations.

For those of you scoring at home, the tiramisu had the perfect proportion of marscapone to ladyfingers, with a delicate coffee and rum flavor. The refreshing Italian peach sorbet was uniquely presented in a whole, hollowed-out frozen peach.

The overall service-efficient and unobtrusive-was the best of any restaurants sampled. This packed restaurant ran like a well-oiled machine. Just forgo the usual Italian restaurant etiquette and sit with your back to the front window-to avoid the view of Jack-in-the-Box.

Entrées: $8 to $23. 18352

Dallas Pkwy., 972-671-6636.

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