Thursday, May 23, 2024 May 23, 2024
76° F Dallas, TX

An Ambitious Global Theme Falls Short at Local Traveler

The East Dallas spot combines influences from all over the world.
Kevin Marple

Travel tip: when you get to Local Traveler, skip the valet line and pull into The Lot next door. The East Dallas restaurants share owners as well as a parking lot. Drive all the way around to the back to park. That way, you can walk up the romantic, wooded path at the rear of the restaurant to the spacious patio with a mural-covered tiki bar.

We settle in at a tall table near the bar, and a waiter brings over a menu printed on the back of an old Kenny Loggins album cover. We pass on the cocktails on tap—Moscow Mules and Palomas—tempted by the bartender’s colorful parade of tiki mugs garnished with parasols and pineapple wedges. This is where the amusement and confusion begin, as our Bahama Mamas and Saturns topped with blue shaved ice arrive to the enthusiastic horn-blowing accompaniment of a three-piece mariachi band. When they start into a rousing chorus of “La Bamba,” they are soon joined by an enthusiastic member of the kitchen staff.

Granted, our visit happens to be on the Day of the Dead. But even indoors in the dining room—where a painting of Ernest Hemingway hangs on the wall, African artifacts are displayed on bookshelves, and checks are delivered in expired passports—the globe-trotting theme is clear on any day of the year. The execution, however, is not. At his former venture, On the Lamb, chef Ross Demers had a clear vision that he carried out skillfully. Here, the world is his oyster, but there is too much room to roam.

Burrata comes with a muddle of tomato bacon jam and caramelized shallots that have somehow lost their flavor. Roasted baby beets are sweet but gain little from the crunch of macadamia nuts or the honeyed goat cheese they swim in, and the Sweet Meat flatbread is a limp cracker topped with a treacly barbecue sauce and pulled pork. A crispy, flaky appetizer of fried skate, however, succeeds with a tangy lemon and dill tartar sauce.

The Berkshire pork shank—rich, meaty, and memorable on a former visit—arrives this time on a watery cassoulet of under-seasoned beans. Seafood done simply is the better bet, like the Hawaiian swordfish served rare with leeks vinaigrette and purple potatoes.

A varied selection of wines by the glass, including a Riesling from Elk Cove Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and a biodynamic rosé from Chateau de Caraguilhes in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, keep the conversation flowing until we are brought to stunned silence by the arrival of the “S’mores.” The tower is crafted from a flourless chocolate brownie topped with graham cracker crumbs, a chocolate pudding, and a “scratch” marshmallow crown. But sadly, it is impervious to our four forks. Try as we might, we cannot cut through the layers to get a cross-section to taste. Chocolate and marshmallows detritus everywhere, but not a morsel to eat.

The end result feels a little like what I imagine a cruise to be: good drinks, good company, lively entertainment, and over-the-top desserts, but with too short a stay in any port to get a true flavor of the place.