Tuesday, July 5, 2022 Jul 5, 2022
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DINING OUT NEW RESTAURANT REVIEWS Escape to La Valentina For Authentic Mexican Flavor

Also: Margaux’s, Chihuahua Charlie’s and Yvette.
By D Magazine |

LA VALENTINA

ADD THE THOROUGHLY DElightful La Valentina to its fine-dining compatriots north of Dallas: Lavendou, Lombardi Mare and Rug-geri’s. But La Valentina, located in the space occupied by the short-lived Roaring Fork, would be worth visiting no matter where it was located, offering customers a combination of solicitous service, heart-warming food and comfy-cozy atmosphere that turns out to be more a mini-vacation than a meal.

La Valentina soothes the senses the minute you walk in, with its soft ochre-sponged walls, colorful Mexican pottery and gurgling fountains. The aged wood beams, crumbling brick halls and faded tile floor make it look as though it’s been there forever. You can enjoy a quick meal in the lively bar, entertain a crowd in one of the private rooms, or kick back and relax in one of the softly lit dining rooms.

Wherever you sit, one thing is certain: If you like authentic Mexican food, you’ll appreciate this menu, which includes recipes rooted in history as well as new creations by some of Mexico’s most famous chefs. La Valentina has three enormously popular restaurants in Mexico, and. while this is its first venture into the United States, the owners are to be commended for not diluting the authenticity of the recipes. The polio en mole poblano tops a chicken breast with a sensuous sauce that includes 54 varieties of chilies, spices and a touch of chocolate, resulting in a richly layered smoky-sweet flavor. Other versions of mole are available along with dishes that use traditional Mexican ingredients like the pungent herb epazote. cactus leaves and rose petals.

But the most unusual ingredient on the menu is the huitlacoche that stars in a deca-dently delicious sauce that crowns a tenderloin steak. Known to some as the Mexican truffle, its taste blends mushrooms and corn, and it’s starting to gain some of the same popularity here that it’s had for years in Mexico.

You might want to precede your taste of this unusual delicacy with a salad that La Valentina calls a reverse taco–a filling of julienned vegetables, crisp shreds of tortillas and pomegranate seeds wrapped in a lettuce leaf and eaten taco-style. The tasty peanut cilantro dressing adds a Thai touch and great flavor. At lunch, it’s only $4 (plenty for two).

The tenderloin, the most expensive item on the menu, is $19.50 at dinner (lunch, $14) and includes a wealth of perfectly cooked vegetables and potatoes. Meals also include some absolutely dismal roils and tasteless whipped herbed butter, and homemade blue com tortillas served with a duo of colorful sauces.

But put down that fascinating menu when it’s time for dessert and ask for the flan. The chef created it after menus were printed, and it’s dense, not too sweet and delicious.

Enjoy your vacation! -Suzanne Hough

La Valentina. 14866 Montfort Dr.. 972-726-0202. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Monday-Friday; 5:30-11 p.m., Saturday & Sunday. Moderate.

MARGAUX’S

LOOK, IF IT’S ALL THE SAME TO YOU, KAY Agnew would just as soon not hear any more clever comments about movable feasts, OK? Not that she’s hostile to humor-her natural joie de vivre and talent for transforming any restaurant space into a happy oasis of Southern hospitality have carried her through Cafe Margaux’s several relocations with undiminished élan. The last move, however, would have lowered anyone’s sensitivity threshold: Comfortably nested with preteen daughter Margaux (for whom the cafe was named) and a 15-year lease on spacious restaurant and living quarters in the Crestpark, she came close to retiring when new owners announced other plans for the property.

Instead, beguiled by the siren promise that haunts every born restaurateur (“If you open it, they will come”), she has reopened yet again, in a much smaller space with a suitably shorter name-Margaux’s. Almost without dinner, too; the mealtime schedule includes lunch weekdays and dinner on Thursdays only, with other evenings and weekends set aside for private parties, classes and special-occasion bookings.

Not without, however, the charm; if anything, this tiny awninged Uptown site is more welcoming than its predecessors, a bistroesque bijou-box of neat green-linened tables against painted faux stone walls with a view of the Eiffel Tower under a soaring cloud-drifted ceiling. Agnew and two quietly adept staffers take care of the front with a minimum of pomp and fuss, creating an ambiance that suggests homelike informality without violating privacy.

If the atmosphere is pressure-free, so is the food. Mercifully, the original Cajun-Creole cuisine of the cafe’s earliest incarnations has evolved into an unconfining mélange of Southern influences. The best-loved dishes are still here; Shrimp and sausage gumbo is the real thing, wafting the pronounced perfume of filé over okra-thickened shrimp, rice and onion; corn-meal-crusted oysters are crisp-skinned delights. An appetizer of baked brie with peach chutney is rather too hearty for a first course, but would be a scrumptious lunch entree paired with a vinaigrette-spiked house salad. A lunch entrée of smoked trout fettucini was a magical mating of tender fish and toothsome pasta; a dinner special of orange roughy with roasted tomato and crawfish curls was nicely sided with fresh green beans and garlic grits. In terms of dessert, I was relieved (read: overjoyed) to find the caramel-sauced warm apple bread pudding as wonderful as ever.

Other guests on both our visits were longtime followers come again, as promised, because she opened. -Betty Cook

Margaux’s. 2404 Cedar Springs, 214-740-1985. Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Monday-Friday: Dinner: 6-8 p.m., Thursday. Inexpensive to moderate.

CHIHUAHUA CHARLIE’S

MEXICAN CUISINE IS A LOT LIKE FOOTBALL. While teams blast their way to the end zone with pumped muscle, speed and indifference to pain. Mexican food shoves its way to hunger-pang annihilation with fibrous bulk and fat, explosive spice and indifference to cardiovascular health. Both deliver a forceful body blow.

But when these coarse mixes are spiked with finesse, extraordinary expressions emerge. Football dazzles with the artistry of an Emmitt Smith; Mexican cuisine delights with the elegant flavor ensembles found at Chihuahua Charlie’s.

Among offerings such as a beef fillet simmered in chipotle sauce and blanketed with Chihuahua cheese, you’ll quickly reconsider standards like enchiladas and chicken taquitos (although the chiles rellenos are smooth yet blazingly robust-like a wide receiver who’s studied ballet).

Along with the traditional greasy chips and salsa you get fresh, crisp carrots and juicy jicama with ranch dressing-a refreshing end-run around the appetite fatigue rendered by too many chips. And fatigue is exactly what you don’t want because entrees like the Mayan plate- cubed bits of fish, oysters, octopus and shrimp in a backdrop of spicy, tomato-broccoli stock sauce-require a limber palate.

The seabass fillet, topped with pibil sauce and cooked in a leaf of com (eyecatching), was firm and flavorful. The accompanying spinach, with rich, smoky flavors, was a can’t-get-enough-of sider. Which is OK because Chihuahua’s owner Jose Luis Gutierres, who owns six restaurants in Mexico, says you can have as much as you want of anything-like having seconds of Mexican food is humanly possible.

The service was annoyingly uneven. Our waiter couldn’t provide us with a wine list or even say if the place poured it (tragic, as this menu begs for an imaginative selection), and we waited 15 minutes for menus, But servers are sincerely eager to please, and they deliver each course with such palpable pride you almost hate to eat it.

Located in the former digs of Ciao Bella, Chihuahua Charlie’s has a light, festive atmosphere with a gazebo in the center of the floor and bright, sponge-painted trim throughout. Rustic baskets, drums and wooden carousel horses hang from the walls, and there’s a gift shop where you can buy everything from pricey folk art to Chihuahua Charlie’s T-shirts. Maybe football and Mexican cuisine have more in common than we think. -Mark Stuertz

Chihuahua Charlie’s. 3232 McKinney Ave., 214-969-9300. 11 a.m.-11 :30 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; until 2 a.m., Friday & Saturday. Moderate to expensive.



YVETTE

WE DON’T USUALLY REVIEW RESTAURANTS based solely upon on opening night, but there’s been so much hype about this 15,000-square-foot Addison beauty we stretched our deadline to include it.

We were ushered into a regal setting, with soft, live jazz in the background (and a huge dance floor). The classic combination of dark wood, etched glass and brass was softened by red velvet curtains and hand-painted murals (one of Yvette herself, who spurned painter Toulouse-Lautrec, another of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and coach Barry Switzer, both part-owners in this venture).

Our tiny table, set with polished silver on a white cloth, was too small, but our waiter moved over an empty table. The service the entire night couldn’t have been better, unobtrusive and ever-attentive.

The menu, too. suits the setting, with all the appetizers you’d expect-Oysters Rockefeller, escargot and carpaccio-but their average cost of more than $9 seems high. A crab cake was a golden, meal-size (and, at $12, meal-priced) disc-nicely accompanied by dressed greens and a zippy remoulade sauce. But when you team that with an entrée like filet mignon (S29) or veal tenderloin ($27), your dinner tab can add up quickly, and that’s before you add potatoes or vegetables. There are less-expensive offerings ( vegetable pasta, $14), but Yvette’s focus is on meat and seafood.

Yvette does score some absolute touchdowns, like a perfect Caesar and a Dover sole so tender and nicely seasoned it’s gone before you’ve had time to appreciate it.

There are fumbles too, but minor ones that can be forgiven when a restaurant’s this new. The wine list needs expansion, and the side dishes would benefit by a dash of creativity. But end with the smooth, rich, but not too sweet chocolate terrine, and you’ll emerge a winner. -S.H.

Yvette. 14775 Midway Rd., Addison, 972-503-9777. Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., daily; dinner: 5-9 p.m., daily: bar menu: until midnight. Sunday-Thursday. 2 a.m., Friday & Saturday (or later each night as needed). Moderate to expensive.