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ZAGAT’S TOP PICKS

The votes are in. Nearly a thousand ardent eaters rank Dallas-Fort Worth’s favorite restaurants. Winners, rejoice. Losers, keep cooking.
By D Magazine |

EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE A RESTAURANT CRITIC.

Now, almost a thousand Dallas and Fort Worth diners are. When the 1997 Zagat Survey of Dallas/Fort Worth Restaurants hits bookstores, the ratings and judg-ments compiled in the slender red gastronomic guide wilt reflect the opinions of that many local reviewers who ate out at their own expense and reported their experiences. This issue’s exclusive preview of the results offers fresh insights-along with some surprises. Dallas has long been famed for swarming then dropping new places with jet-set fickleness, yet of the Top 10 Most Popular Choices in Zagat’s latest survey (updated early in 1996), six have held their proud positions: The Mansion, the Riviera, Cafe Pacific, the French Room, the Pyramid Room. Del Frisco’s and Chez Gerard. Three that didn’t-Baby Routh. Gaspar’s and Juniper-had closed; newcomers Star Canyon and Mediterraneo were no-surprise replacements. Only Pappadeaux slid from golden grace, making room for a quiet move up by Fort Worth’s longtime dependable Saint-Emilion.

Even more telling, the vigilante critics’ Top 10 Food picks, a selection some ardent foodies feel outweighs popularity in significance, hews more closely than in the past to this survey’s favorites list; with two exceptions, the names are the same (Arlington’s Cacharel and Fort Worth Italian La Piazza knock Mediterraneo and Chez Gerard out of this circle). But their sequence is significantly scrambled-from first place the Riviera, the order proceeds to Cacharel, the French Room, The Mansion, Del Frisco’s, La Piazza, Saint-Emilion, Cafe Pacific. Star Canyon and the Pyramid Room.

So how are such fine lines drawn by volunteers? At no small investment in their time and trouble. The formidable questionnaire filled out by participants was on six densely daunting legal-size pages, with space for rating food, decor and service; recording the cost of a meal, including one drink and tip; and adding a “pithy and witty” descriptive comment on each. The diners were 58 percent women, 42 percent men-6 percent in their 20s, 22 percent in their 30s, 30 percent in their 40s, 27 percent in their 50s and 15 percent in their 60s or older. Their idea of an expensive dinner costs $48.57 per person; average tip is 17.13 percent.

The locally keyed tone of the Zagats’ home-honed “word-of-mouth” restaurant criticism rings a unique bell with the dining public. Local surveyors’ ratings are compiled as consensus averages by immune-to-emotion computers. Local editors, who string quotes from unvarnished questionnaire comments into one-sentence reviews, are allowed to inject no bias. Which means the Zagat Survey is the pure product of almost a thousand of your neighbors. If not yourself. -Betty Cook

TOP 11 PREVIEW



1. THE MANSION ON TURTLE CREEK: This atmospheric Italian villa-Dallas’ most popular restaurant-is termed a “must-do dining experience” by those who call chef Dean Fearing “a genius,” his “adventurous” Southwestern fare “superb” and the ambiance “very special and elegant”: white some find service “aloof,” others feel the staff’s “impeccable” style is entirely in keeping with this star’s “world-class” standards. 2821 Turtle Creek Blvd., 214-559-2100.



2. THE RIVIERA: Dallas’ No. 1 for food and service and No. 2 for popularity, this “power room” prompts praise for its “near-perfect” Mediterranean food, “unrivaled” service and “congenially sophisticated setting”; “you feel like you’re in the south of France”-an illusion that even “too-close tables” and “noisy crowds” fail to dispel, thanks to the exuberant persona of highly hailed host Franco Bertolasi. 7709 Inwood Rd., 214-351-0094.



3. STAR CANYON: ” Excellent if you can get a reservation” is the frequent plaintive rave for chef Stephen Fyles’ hot-ticket “stellar blockbuster-offering “flawless Southwestern fare” in a “fabulous” avant-Texan setting; “heaven is easier to get into,” they say, but such “unique” Pyles trademarks as “Heaven and Hell cake,” “incredible rib-eye steak” and “great sauces” makes this “very Texas” experience well worth the effort “for those who dine with their brain as well as their stomach.” 3102 Oak Lawn Ave., Ste. 144, 214-520-7827.



4. CAFE PACIFIC: The “tow-key sophistication” of etched glass, brass and wood sets the scene for “outstanding seafood” in this “awesome” bastion “where Highland Park old money dines” and “power people” lunch; “protective” service completes the cosseting ambiance that helps keep this “class act” on “upper-end favorite” lists. 24 Highland Park Village (Mockingbird Lane and Preston Road). 214-526-1170.



5. MEDITERRANEO: A “class act. lower-priced sibling to the Riviera” that has won instant acclaim as an “outstanding newcomer” to Far North Dallas, where enthusiasts praise its “creative Mediterranean” food and “clean, modern decor”; some critics cringe at the noise level (“L-O-U-D!”) and “sometimes stuffy staff,” but by most accounts it’s “ultimately civilized.” 1811 Preston Rd., 972-447-0066.



6. THE FRENCH ROOM: Cherubs and baroque architectural accents account for the “romantic elegance” at Dallas’ most “beautiful” restaurant, but it’s not just the decor that wows diners; they also appreciate the “not at all pretentious sommelier,” incredible “service” and “superb” Classic French fare for which this “priceless” (and pricey) room is famed; try the prix fixe dinner with wine and “wallow in luxury.” Adolphus Hotel, 1321 Commerce St.. 214-742-8200.



7. THE PYRAMID ROOM: ’Excellent everything” sums up reaction to what some call the “best Continental in Dallas,” a “hotel treasure” where “fantastic food” is “presented with flair,” service is “friendly, prompt and discreet,” and the suave blue-and-apricot setting is as “romantic” as the live piano music at dinner; the five-course prix fixe is arguably “the best value in town.” Fairmont Hotel, 1717 N. Akard St., 214-720-5249.



8. DEL FRISCO’S DOUBLE EAGLE STEAK HOUSE: “Big food for big Texans and their lobster-loving friends” describes what most surveyors call “Dallas’ ultimate steak house”; although critics bewail “attitude-city” service, high prices and long waits “even with reservations.” “awesome” steaks and “dark, rich atmosphere” keep the place thronged with meat eaters. 5251 Spring Valley Rd., 214-490-9000.



9. SAINT-EMILION: Ranked No. 1 for popularity in Tarrant County, this “cozy,” “romantic” country French near the Museum District “would stack up against anything anywhere”; its changing menu offers “consistent quality” and is noted for “great duck” and “exquisite” desserts, served by an “always gracious” staff; it has lots of ardent admirers, so “do make reservations.” 3617 W. 7th St., 817-737-2781.



10. CHEZ GERARD: A “country French delight,’ this “classic bistro” offers “very authentic,” “consistently terrific” fare in an “intimate, romantic” setting; while the room is “crowded” and service strikes some as “aloof,” you can count on an “always excellent” meal in this “elegant yet casual” McKinney Avenue “winner.” 4444 McKinney Ave., 214-522-6865.



11. CITY CAFE: Conceived as an in-place for Park Cities insiders, this “upscale neighborhood restaurant” has not only succeeded as a “local favorite.” but also has won a broader following thanks to its “ever-changing menu” of “creative” regional and New American fare, “expert service” and “charming” informality, as well as for its “great wine list”; very quietly, it’s one of “Dallas’ finest.” 5757 W. Lovers Ln., 214-351-2233.

My Dinner With…



SOME OF THE MOST INTERESTING PEOPLE IN Dallas and Fort Worth-some you know, some with which you may not be as familiar-helped us get reacquainted with the beloved restaurants on Zagat’s Top 10 List. Among our dining companions: playwright D.L. Coburn, businessman Comer Cottrell, Dallas Symphony Orchestra conductor Andrew Litton, TV reporter Marty Griffin, the Kimbell Museum’s Ted Pillsbury, financial services entrepreneur Sherri Herman and Dr. Glen Evans of UT Southwestern’s Human Genome Project.

THE MANSION: The Glow of Privilege

THE GUY SITTING AT THE BAR IN THE MANSION HAS ONE OF THOSE angular, arresting faces you know you’ve seen before, but in this softly lit room, it’s hard to place him. Few heads swivel, although for a brief moment last summer, his was the most recognizable face in Dallas. Marty Griffin, one of KXAS Channel 5’s “Public Defenders,” is most often seen in the merciless glare of TV spots, not this carefully calibrated glow that instantly conveys warmth, wealth, privilege. It’s easier to imagine Griffin in a grim courthouse cafeteria than the restaurant decreed the best in Dallas.

But Griffin, 37. dressed in dark-gray Armani, is eager to talk not only about his foray into the Michael Irvin case, but also about his love of fine food. He orders the warm lobster taco with yellow tomato salsa and jicama salad as a first course; I choose Texas escargot Provencal with nicoise salad, rosemary-garlic focaccia and saffron-pistachio vinaigrettes.

While we wait for our food. Griffin tells about the fallout from his “Tarnished Star” expose, which helped bring down Michael Irvin. The bottom line: Channel 5 trounced everyone else in the ratings. And Griffin became a star. No regrets.

With the first bite of his appetizer he confirms that this taco has little in common with its namesake Tex-Mex. The lumps of lobster are wrapped in a heavenly version of a tortilla, spiced with a piquant salsa, nary a jalapeflo in sight. My appetizer is tasty, but the Texas escargot are buried. We dig around and find a few chewy snails. “It’s a fraud,” Griffin pronounces. Where’s Dennis Pedini and his hidden camera when you need it?

Marty deems his pan-seared turbot perfectly cooked. He tastes my roasted rack of lamb with cheese-glazed potatoes and two mustard sauces. “My Irish grandmother made a leg of lamb every Sunday.” Griffin says. “Not as good as Grandma’s.” We agree: No restaurant’s lamb can be as good as a grandmother’s, especially from a distance of 20 years.

We forgo dessert and climb into Griffin’s Toyota Turbo for a trip up the Tollway to listen to music at Sambuca. He’s been known. Griffin says with a wink, to hit 135 mph on the tollroad.

So where’s that hidden camera anyway?-Glenna Whitley



THE RIVIERA: The Drama of Fine Dining

“THEATER IS LIKE TELEVISION,” SAYS DALLAS PLAYWRIGHT D. L Coburn. “It caters to the lowest common denominator.”

But luckily, the Riviera doesn’t. When we meet in the small, intimate bar, Coburn, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for The Gin Game, tells me he has been anticipating our meal at the highly touted restaurant. It’s Friday night, and the tiny restaurant is crowded. Awaiting our 8:30 reservation, we sip our drinks and watch a gaggle of black-tied men and their black-velveted ladies arrive for a company holiday party.

We discuss racial politics, the subject of Coburn’s just finished play Firebrand. Coburn is reluctant to describe the play in detail. Getting a play produced, even after winning a Pulitzer prize, isn’t easy-especially when the subject is so controversial.

Seated finally at 9 p.m., we watch as the precision team of servers begins its whirring dance around us. Coburn has a mouth memory he’d like to recreate, of a delightful Muscadet he and his wife drank on a recent trip to France. Wine is very important to him.

When he takes the first sip, however, he wrinkles his brow. It tastes sweet and viscous, not crisp and tangy like Muscadet. We have been served a Muscat-a dessert wine-not a muscadet. The sommelier apologizes, whisks away the offending glasses and brings a Sauterne.

But the rest of our meal is flawless. My smoked salmon is silken; Coburn groans in appreciation over the lobster and crawfish ravioli appetizer. He contemplates ordering the red snapper with lump crab meat but decides not to risk it, even at the Riviera. The memory of eating steamed blue-fin crab while growing up in Baltimore is powerful. He settles on the grilled veal chops and prosciutto risotto.

I order the snapper and crab meat. Coburn’s first bite of the beautifully glazed veal brings the response, “Yesss. Oh my, oh my. The sauce is perfectly wonderful.” The snapper was pretty good, too.

By this time, the primly elegant group that arrived with us has been transformed into a warm gathering of old friends. Over coffee and a velvety textured, not-too-sweet crème brulée, we imagine their lives. When you’re a playwright, even a fine meal is fodder for the imagination.

-Glenna Whitley

STAR CANYON:

Excellence Rather Than Perfection

star canyon’s elegant southwestern cuisinecomes presented with a touch of Texas whimsy. Leather and brass and ranch themes abound in the laid-back yet sophisticated atmosphere. The background music: a classic Ray Price honky-tonk shuffle with twin fiddles. In a twang that tells the world she’s from Texas, Sherri Herman orders a glass of Messina Hof merlot and begins to tell me about her company, The Herman Group provides services for complicated financial transactions-including both proxy management and value transfers. Based in Dallas, it’s the only company outside New York City doing both those things, she tells me.

We listen to the very charming, young waiter explain the specials, which in true Stephan Pyles style involve so many fascinating combinations of ingredients we will never remember what they are. She gambles on one of the specials, a shark steak, and orders a salad of fried green tomato and mozzarella cheese, saying, “I always order tomato and mozzarella,” although neither of us has ever seen fried green tomatoes with mozzarella. After tasting, her verdict: great idea. My pumpkin-white bean chowder turns out to be the best soup I have eaten in quite some time.

While we wait for our entrées, Sherri talks about her work with such enthusiasm, she brings to mind Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’ Hara going forth to Atlanta to raise the money to save Tara. And that’s her niche in the financial-services market: saving Tara. Or. to put it in less dramatic terms, highly difficult transactions. I almost see her clutching a handful of proxy tabulations, vowing. “As God is my witness, I will execute this limited partnership asset transfer.”

When our entrées arrive, just as we suspected, neither of us remembers exactly how the waiter had described her shark steak, but no matter. It looks like a shark steak tostada, piled high with all kinds of Southwestern vegetables, and she pronounces it delicious, as is my seared salmon with black bean-roast banana mash.

1 skip the revered Heaven and Hell cake in favor of Black Gold Passion, a dark chocolate cylinder with smooth chocolate ganache inside, sitting in a small pool of sauce. This lethal dessert illustrates what Sherri Herman says is the reason for her success. “I offer excellence rather than perfection,” she says. “Perfection is a non-reachable goal, just by its definition. You’re doomed to fail. But excellence-that’s the best I can be.”

My dessert is far too heavy to be perfect-I am through after three bites, But they were three excellent bites. Star Canyon isn’t the perfect restaurant, either, but like Sherri Herman, Star Canyon achieves excellence. -Renee Hopkins



CAFE PACIFIC: A Grand Finish

Andrew Litton is often stopped by classi-cal music lovers who want to know if he is, by chance, Andrew Litton. So it’s a surprise to both of us that he may as well be the conductor of the Garland Symphony Orchestra for all the attention his celebrity is (not) generating. Judging by the service, it’s clear that no one knows the music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is here tonight or, worse, no one cares. “They’ve pegged us as losers,” Andrew says, taking the bottle of Sancerre he ordered long ago and refilling our wine glasses. Oh well. To be ignored at Cafe Pacific is to award oneself unlimited access to its signature shoestring fries-those wavy strips of sweet potatoes deep fried and served hot.

We talk about Andrew’s ironic connection to the Zagat Survey (his grandmother lived next door to New York attorneys Tim and Nina Zagat when they launched the survey in the late ’70s and became “honorary grandmother” to the Zagat kids). We talk about the change 1 -year-old Rachel Litton has wrought on his and wife Jayne’s life (“We can’t bring her into the hall because she likes to sing along and, of course, that’s distracting to the rehearsal process”). And we talk about his own love of a great meal.

“It’s my downfall,” he says. “There are people who don’t enjoy food and that’s fine. But, for me, it’s like being part of a great concert. To enjoy a great meal is a privilege.”

A privilege, it would seem, to be denied both of us at Cafe Pacific. We have completed disappointing first courses (green salad with portobello mushrooms for me; shrimp-and-crab cakes for Andrew) and are on our second bottle of wine when redemption is delivered in the form of our entrées. Litton, who took his position two and a half years ago with one goal-to bring the symphony to world-class prominence-takes the first bite of his Chilean sea bass with tender asparagus and plump new potatoes.

“This,” says Litton, choosing words he never uses lightly, “is world-class.” -Kimberly Goad

MEDITERRANEO:Creativity That Excites the Palate

Educator and corporate consultant John McMurphy’s job is to help employees learn how to kick open their minds to creative possibilities. We discuss the nature of creativity over dinner at Mediterraneo-a component in the David Holben-Michael Caolo-Franco Bertolasi restaurant trilogy that includes the Riviera and me newly minted Toscana. McMurphy brings to the meal an infectious wonderment, embracing every sensual nuance. ’’There’s a lot of high-pitched buzzing in here,” he says of the atmosphere.

The waiter arranges to have a special appetizer prepared for the vegetarian McMurphy: grilled portobello mushrooms on a bed of arugula speckled with chopped tomatoes ringing a mound of ricot-ta cheese. “The earthiness of the mushrooms, the taste and freshness of the greens, all of this embodied together awakens thoughts, awakens feelings as you eat,” he says.

Mine is a bit more complex: dry-cured duck breast and avocado salad with mixed greens, shaved Parmesan and Provencal vinaigrette. The salad itself is fresh and crisp with lively flavors. But the thin slices of duck breast open from concentrated game flavors into waxy textures and a lingering off-plastic aftertaste.

McMurphy explains that he developed his techniques after scouring the notes, journals and autobiographies of more than 200 of history’s most profound thinkers and creators. ’’As far as I know, I am the only person out there who’s taking the techniques of Leonardo da Vinci, Einstein, Mozart and others and coupling them with leading-edge brain research,” he says.

A former SMU communications professor, McMurphy travels the country lecturing and consulting on creativity, problem-solving and trend tracking. His objective, he says, is to help American business align itself with the “new work paradigm,” which embraces creativity, self-reliance and personal enrichment as a means to encourage self-actualization and enhance productivity.

McMurphy enthusiastically consumes his penne pasta in mari-nara sauce with shredded basil, “It’s very spicy and has a nice garlic burst to it,” he says. “I’m not the kind of person who likes a timid introduction to garlic. It’s well-done, not overpowering. “

I have the oven-roasted chicken marinated in a sun-dried tomato olive oil with cream polenta, and grilled portobello mushrooms on a bed of watercress dotted with sweet peppers and doused in a mustard-shallot vinaigrette. It’s a moist, tender bird with an herbal/pepper/salt punch. The portobello and watercress combo creates an intriguing contrast between the rich, fertile mushroom flavors and the crisp raciness of watercress.

As the buzz dissipates, McMurphy comments on the conspicuous table-waiting staff. I suggest their presence might have drawn his attention because they were a bit overzeal-ous. “No,” he concludes. “I think it’s because they’re all so tall.”

-Mark Stuertz

THE FRENCH ROOM:

Royal Service in an Elegant Ambiance

MERELY ENTERING THE ADOLPHUS HOTEL IS A MAJESTIC EXPERIENCE, The doorman’s greeting assigns you royalty status. Grandeur follows you through the lobby, up the wide mezzanine stairway through the plush mezzanine lounge. And beyond, to the French Room, where grace is not something you say-it’s a quality murmured in every aspect of the place, from the baroque painted ceiling to the suave table linens and place settings, from the discreet attentions of its waiters to the refined composure of its guests.

My guests tonight are David and Deanna Gold. Yes. that David Gold, arch-conservative KLIF-AM radio talk-show host, scathing tongue-lasher of Liberals, fearless local voice of his self-defined Five Percenters-the only listeners with the wit to discern and dispel the Deadly Democratic Danger.

Gold is also, however, an accomplished cook and wine connoisseur, which is why we are sharing this magical dining moment. Familiar with his hard-edged broadcast persona, I expect him to dissect the elaborate menu, to orchestrate a boldly symphonic dining adventure. I expect wrong-this David Gold has been gentled into happy domesticity by marriage and fatherhood. While he and Deanna find bliss in jumbo lump crab cakes lapped with mustard and tomato confit, they charm me with insights into Jared, age 5, who resembles David but has Deanna’s practical aptitudes, and Jonathan, 3, who’s Deanna’s image but shares David’s insubordinate nature. Over David’s cabernet-sauced beef tenderloin filet au poivre and Deanna’s roasted lamb ribeye with garlic and rosemary, I learn he does all the family’s cooking, and she has curtained their bedroom’s 12-foot ceilings, once falling off a 14-foot ladder while he watched in blank amazement. As we linger over desserts-his a molten-centered hot chocolate cake on crème anglaise, hers a chocolate souffle-I listen while sommelier Daryl Beason and David swap wine reminiscences.

Meanwhile, my own meal, the evening’s Chef’s Menu, has run an avant gamut from sautéed portobello mushrooms, foie gras and crayfish through a pan-seared roulade of tuna and salmon, ending with a caramelized apple Napoleon on cinnamon tea sauce. Mine was the adventurous dinner; theirs would, in any lesser place, have passed for upscale comfort food. Well, but such sumptuous comfort, consummate service, an ambiance that sets a perfect scene for conversational exchange-aren’t these the elements that mark memorable evenings and great restaurants? And didn’t we leave without ever mentioning politics-even once? -Betty Cook

THE PYRAMID ROOM:

Timeless Comfort, Traditional Cuisine

HAD JOHN EDWARDS, CHEF OF THE PYRAMID ROOM IN THE REGAL Fairmont Hotel, known that among his diners this quiet Monday night were a restaurant critic accompanied by Franco Bertolasi owner of three immensely popular restaurants (Mediterraneo, the Riviera and Toscana), he might have sweated a little. But even though he didn’t know we were there, the resulting meal was spectacular.

My charming dining companion so totally mesmerized me that three hours passed in a blink. Franco Bertolasi was born in Italy and lived in England, France and Spain before moving to Dallas and taking a job as a busboy; he worked his way up to maitre d’ and then restaurant owner. He speaks five languages, and his face softens when he speaks of his wife, Gerry, and their two daughters (who, he said, have so many boyfriends he calls them all “Fred”). Even dining alone, it would be easy to lose all sense of time in the Pyramid Room, where diners snuggle into comfortable armchairs and contemplate the outstanding wine list while listening to the tinkling of the piano in the lounge outside. The flawless service and tasty little lagniappes, like the champagne sorbet served in a carved ice swan and the silver tree of bite-size sweets, make every diner feel special.

That splendid service ensured that, when Franco wanted a salad of asparagus dressed with balsamic vinegar, an item not on the menu, it was quickly produced, with its spears precisely fanned. Franco demolished his appetizer, foie gras-stuffed quail, while I enjoyed the ritual of my smoked salmon, taking a piece of toast from the silver toast rack (but of course!) and layering it with the delicate fish, capers, chopped egg and thin-siiced cucumber.

While we ate our entrées, thick lamb chops and roast duckling. with Franco the restaurateur pausing during his many stories (did you know he once lent his shoes to Paul McCartney?) to comment on the food. The salad? Very good, but he would have used less vinegar. The quail? A little crispy, but the foie gras was just right. The lamb? Tasted great, but he would have sliced these medium-rare beauties in half so their rosy red centers would add color to the plate.

“Simple is best,” he said several times during the meal, and it was his simple chocolate marquis, with cherries to cut the intensity of the chocolate, that won out over my fussier apple tart strewn with white chocolate shavings.

Then, full of food, wine and conversation, we parted ways.-Suzanne Hough



DEL FRISCO’S:

The Business of Celebrating Beef

NO TWO DINERS AT DEL FRISCO’S COULD HAVE had less in common than me and Comer Cottrell. Born in Los Angeles, Cottrell, 64, is owner and founder of ProLine Cosmetics, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cosmetic and hair-care products. He also is part-owner of the Texas Rangers Baseball Club, is the only African-American inductee in the Texas Business Hall of Fame, serves on numerous boards and single-handedly saved Paul Quinn University with a multimillion-dollar donation. I, on the other hand, am young, white, from the East Coast, don’t own much of anything and expect to be paying off my college tuition well into the next century.

So how was il that anyone who saw us that night probably thought we were old friends- laughing, slapping backs and even toasting?

While part of the rapport was certainly due to Cottrell’s easygoing way. the fact is our dinner experience was not that unusual. Del Frisco’s was filled with business people- some celebrating signed deals, others laying the groundwork for new ones. In many cases I suspect that they, too. were meeting for the first time; yet the same air of familiar conviviality lingered around each table.

That’s one theory as to why Del Frisco’s is considered a businessman’s place to dine-nothing is more celebratory or more universally business-oriented than a thick slab of red meat complemented by a drink or three. (Runner-up theory: No one can afford to eat here without benefit of a healthy expense account.)

Cottrell started his meal with a bowl of turtle soup, comparing it with the soup made in the restaurants around his vacation home in the Cayman Islands. “Not bad,” he said, “but not quite as good as in the islands. This is more wine-based.”

Cottrell raved about the sesame-covered loaf of bread, but also admitted that he enjoys bread because it provides a home for his real favorite food- butter. “I eat butter,” he said. “When I was a kid, my mom would catch me eating butter-just butter- with a spoon. And sometimes I still do.”

The culinary centerpiece of the meal was, of course, the steak. Although Cottrell is a regular Del Frisco’s patron and claims to have replicated the Del Frisco’s steak on his grill at home, he still gasped upon taking the first bite and continued to “ooh” and “ahh” throughout the meal. He also had high praise for the skillet potatoes with onions and the fresh asparagus covered in almonds.

Thoroughly stuffed and content, as one can only be after an expense-account meal with a new friend, we made plans to meet again. But watching a young entrepreneur close a real estate deal at another table, we had to wonder whether there would have been a “next time” had the first time not been at Del Frisco’s.

-Michael Orren

SAINT-EMILION: The Art of Classic French Cuisine

A DINNER AT SAINT-EMILION-THE ONLY FORT WORTH RESTAURANT to make Zagat’s Top 10 favorites list-with Kimbell Museum of Art Director Ted Pillsbury seemed a perfect occasion for catching up on what’s happening with Fort Worth’s pre-eminent art museum, which celebrates its 25th year in 1997.

And besides. Mireille Pillsbury, who is French, not only knows Saint-Emilion’s owner Bernard Tronche, she knows his mother. The Pillsburys often vacation in France almost next door to Madame Tronche. 1 figured we couldn’t go wrong.

Tranche’s intimate little “country French restaurant” translates in Fort Worth as a warmly comfortable place to eat excellent food accompanied by wonderful wines. And no wonder. Tronche grew up in the medieval market town of Saint-Emilion. smack in the middle of France’s most celebrated wine country.

Fort Worth’s Saint-Emilion specializes in classic French dishes of lamb and duck as well as unusual fish dishes. Over samples of duck confit in herbed crepes, the Pillsburys and my husband and 1 talked about the “Monet and the Mediterranean” and the “Georges de La Tour and His World” exhibits for Kimbell’s 25th. The French media are a bit miffed, Mireille reported, that the de La Tour show (through May 11) will be seen only at the Kimbell and Washington’s National Gallery.

Tronche recommended a St. Georges de Saint-Emilion wine that nicely complemented the ravioli with escargot that my husband and Ted ordered, my white asparagus in wine and Mireille’s duck confit with foie gras. As entrees, my husband and I chose filet of Boston wolffish cooked with lemon butter and topped with crab meat. Mireille had monkfish, and Ted had steamed and grilled vegetables with fresh pasta. Both fish were tender, flavorful and perfectly cooked, as were all the vegetables. Obviously, the fish Tronche has flown in fresh daily from Boston gives his chef excellent material on which to work his magic.

For dessert, we had Mireille’s favorite -raspberry tarts brimming with fresh raspberries. Topped with whipped cream, the dish was elegant and pretty enough to be painted and hung in the Kimbell-and it made a perfect end to a celebratory meal.

-Katie Sherrod



CHEZ GERARD:

An Understated Orchestration of Flavors

A MISSION TO ISOLATE AND CATALOG THE ENTIRE COLLECTION OF human genes-some 100,000 of them-can put a crimp in anyone’s capacity to break away for dinner. So Dr. Glen Evans, a research scientist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, who is chest-deep in the Human Genome Project, cleared his schedule for lunch at Chez Gerard, a charming traditional country French restaurant.

According to many key scientists, the Human Genome Project, launched in 1990 to decipher the estimated 3 billion pieces of genetic information that color and maintain humanity, is as ambitious and significant as the Manhattan Project or the lunar landing. “After 2003 [when the project concludes],” Dr. Evans says, “science and medicine will be entirely different than what we know now. It will take maybe 10 or 20 years, but it will entirely revolutionize medicine.” Project researchers claim they will soon have a complete set of genetic instructions to unlock the mysteries of human development and functioning, as well as isolate the causes of and predispositions to thousands of diseases including many cancers.

Dr. Evans acknowledges that there are lots of controversial issues simmering around his work, such as genetic privacy, an individual’s right to control his or her own genetic information, and public fear of genetic engineering. As our salads arrive, he explains that, several years ago, a Northern California biotech firm isolated the gene that triggers spoilage in tomatoes and developed a variety that could be picked fully ripe and still survive shipment firm, fresh and flavorful. The project fizzled because consumers were wary of filling their mouths with genetically shuffled food, no matter how well it holds up on the truck ride from California.

With its mushy, off-flavor, washed-out tomato wedge on an otherwise perfect ensemble of lettuce in a lively mustard vinaigrette, our salads could have used one of those Golden State mutants. Our entrées, however, made up for whatever dampness limp tomato wedges drizzled on our lunch. “Excellent, excellent” was all the specificity Dr. Evans could muster when asked about his veal medallions gambetta in pinot wine, a sauce with black pepper, mushrooms and tomatoes. “It has a nice kind of smoky, earthy flavor, with a little bit of sweetness. The veal is very well-done, and the sauce complements that,” he adds. My grilled snapper with rosemary mignonnette and pine nuts is a supple, flaky fish in a sauce that quickly opened into smoke and a refreshing herbal gust. Chez Gerard has a way of unobtrusively elevating substantial dishes into an understated orchestration of flavors.

We conclude our lunch simply, with coffee, as Dr. Evans explains one of his futuristic ideas to combat colon cancer: by implanting in the colon a microchip that can sense DNA sequences and would continuously check for [cancerous] mutations and, upon finding one, would send out a signal to your doctor. I hope he designs a similar appetite-monitoring chip that would signal to a French chef whenever hunger pangs are detected.-Mark Stuertz

ZAGAT’S MOST POPULAR PICKS



FIVE MOST POPULAR SOUTHWESTERN

1. The Mansion on Turtle Creek.

2821 Turtle Creek Blvd., 214-559-2100

Star Canyon. 3102 Oak Lawn Ave.. 214-520-7827

Michael’s. 3413 W. 7 St., Fort Worth. 817-877-3413

Reata. 500 Throckmorton St., Fort Worth, 817-336-1009

Blue Mesa Grill. 5100 Belt Line Rd.. Addison. 972-934-0165



FIVE MOST POPULAR BRUNCH SPOTS

Nana Grill, Wyndham Anatole Hotel, 2201 Stemmons Fwy., 214761-7479

Landmark, 3015 Oak Lawn Ave.. 214-521-5151

Dream Cafe. The Quadrangle, 2800 Routh St., 214-954-0486

Deep Ellum Cafe. 5001 Belt Line Rd., Addison. 972-392-0894

Kathleen’s Art Cafe,4424 Lovers Ln., 214-691-2355



FIVE BEST BARGAINS



Highland Park Pharmacy,3229 Knox St., 214-521-2126

Kincald’s, 4901 Camp Bowie Blvd.. Fort Worth, 817-732-2881

Bagel Chain,

5555 W. Lovers Ln., 214-350-2245

Paris Coffee Shop,

700 W. Magnolia Ave.. Fort Worth. 817-335-2041

Empire Baking Co., 4264 Oak Lawn Ave.. 214-526-3223



FIVE MOST POPULAR STEAKHOUSES



Del Frisco’s Double Eagle. 5251 Spring Valley Rd.. 972-490-9000

Lawry’s The Prime Rib, 3008 Maple Ave., 214521-7777

Morton’s of Chicago. 501 Elm St., 214-741-2277

The Palm, 701 Ross Ave.. 214-698-0470

Chamberlain’s Prime Chop. 5330 Belt Line Rd.. Addison. 972-934-2467



FIVE MOST POPULAR CHINESE



Uncle Tal’s. 13350 Dallas Pkwy., the Galleria, 214-934-9998

May Dragon, 4848 Belt Line Rd.. Addison, 972-392-9998

Jasmine, 4002 Belt Line Rd., Addison, 972-991-6867

Taiwan. 4980 Belt Line Rd., Ste. 200. Addison, 972-387-2333

Szechuan. 4117 Lemmon Ave., 214-521-6981

FIVE MOST POPULAR THAI



Royal Thai. 5500 Greenville Ave., 214-691-3555

Ali Baba Cafe, 1905 Greenville Ave., 214-823-8235

Arc-En-Ciel 3555 W. Walnut Rd., Gartand, 972-509-7979

East Wind, 2711 Elm St.. 214-745-5554

Mai’s Vietnamese. 4812 Bryan St., Ste. 100, 214-826-9887



FIVE MOST POPULAR ITALIAN



La piazza, 1600 S. University Dr., Ste. 601, Fort Worth, 817-334-0000

Mi Piaci, 14854 Montfort Dr., 972-9348424

Ruggeri’s, 5348 Belt Line Rd., 972-726-9555

Alessio’s, 4117 Lomo Alto Dr., 214-521-35

Ferrari’s, 14831 Midway Rd., 214-980-9898



FIVE MOST POPULAR MEXICAN



Via Real, 4020 N. MacArthur Blvd., Irving, 972-650-9001

Javier’s Gourmet Mexicano. 4912 Cole Ave., 214-521-4211

Matt’s Rancho Martinez. 6312 La Vista Dr.. 214-823-5517

La Calle Doce, 415 W. 12th St.. 214-941-4304

Mario’s Chiquita, 4514 Travis St., Ste. 105, 214-521-0721



FIVE MOST POPULAR BAR-B-Q

Clarks’ Outpost Bar-B-Q Gene Autry Drive and S.H. 377, Tioga, 817-437-2414

Railhead Smokehouse, 2500 Montgomery St., Fort Worth, 817-738-9808

Angelo’s Barbecue, 2533 White Settlement Rd., Fort Worth, 817-332-0357

Sonny Bryan’s. 2202 Inwood Rd., 214-357-7120; other locations

Baker’s Ribs. 907 Elm St.. 214-761-9008; 4844 Greenville Ave., 214-373-0082



FIVE TOP FAMILY DINING



Carshon’s Deli. 3133 Cleburne Rd., Fort Worth, 817-923-1907

Gloria’s. 600 W. Davis St., 214-948-3672: 4140 Lemmon Ave., 214-521-7576

Houston’s, 5318 Belt Line Rd., 214-960-1752; 8141 Walnut Hill Ln., 214691-8991

Romano’s Macaroni Grill, 4535 Belt Line Rd., 214-386-3831; other locations

Good Eats. 6950 Greenville Ave.. 214-691-3287: other locations

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