Dining in the dark

Hotel St. Germain forgets a culinary dictum: "The eye has its rights"

Served in tiny espresso-like cups, the French Riviera bouillon was perhaps one of the finest examples of hot pottage I've ever tasted. This simple blend of pureed tomatoes, leeks, and shallots seasoned with saffron and a splash of Pernod was flush with a clean creaminess that was so light, it was like slurping pure aroma.

A pair of appetizers followed the soup. The first, a deeply chilled cucumber slaw in dill lemon oil wrapped in a profoundly silky strip of salmon flesh, was ripe with contrasting interplay: the clean fish flavor weaving through the raciness of the cucumber salad, the intensity of the dill sharing palate space with the laciness of the fish, and the soft salmon textures playing against the vigorous crunch of the cucumber. This roll-like composition was ringed with robust cherry tomato halves and crowned with two long chive threads fashioned in a great X. The second segment of the pair, a polenta crab cake in a sun-dried tomato sauce with a roast corn and black-bean relish (a Quang signature), was a bit of a disappointment. The crab cake seemed mushy and limp with a collection of flavors harboring almost no enticements, while the relish was speckled with desperately undercooked beans.

But Hotel St. Germain's greatest dining flaw emerged not through the food, but through a wine-list perusal. Presented in a three-ring binder, this modestly diverse listing of California and French bottlings comes with its own penlight chained to one of the binder rings. Why? The place is so pathetically illuminated via a barely perceptible chandelier glow and a few votive candles that reading is all but impossible. Don't these restaurateurs realize that more than a few of us enjoy romancing with the lights on? The butler returned with our selection--an earthy 1992 Chateau Franc Mayne that paired well with the menu--and mindlessly presented me with the label for inspection. The least Heymann could do, if she insists on maintaining a dining-room luminousness worthy of a mine shaft, is equip her butlers with glow-in-the-dark gloves so that the damn labels can be read.

Location Info


Hotel St. Germain

2516 Maple Ave.
Dallas, TX 75201

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: Uptown & Oak Lawn

Sadly, this lack of lighting also detracts from the menu, virtually eliminating the visual impact of Quang's masterful constructions. The hotel takes great pride in pointing out that the fare is served on 75-year-old Limoges China and Waterford and Shotts-Zwiesel crystal. But in this lighting, who cares? The entrees, pieces of meat and vegetable in dark demi-glaze sauces, were virtually indistinguishable from one another and could have easily been braised Alpo over Limoges for all of the lumpy shadows cast.

Unfortunately, the seared noisette of veal tenderloin with chanterelle mushrooms in a port wine reduction, one of the evening's entrees, barely soared above the aforementioned hypothetical dish. While the meat was moist and tender, it was bland save for a heavy pepper punch that knocked out any hope for balance, while the reduction sauce did little more than add a flavorless viscousness. The squab and foie gras au nature was light years (so to speak) better in a sharply savory demi-glaze perked with rich foie gras that added a nuttiness to the exceptionally tender, juicy pieces of delicately flavored meat.

Entrees were bridged to dessert by a simple, tightly focused salad of crisp frisee and radicchio coupled with fresh, juicy Belgium endive splattered in a light, tangy walnut vinaigrette. The highlight was a thin shaving of heady tete de moine (monk's head) cheese fashioned in the shape of a rosette. A dessert of caramelized Granny Smith apple slices topped with thin layers of crispy, sweet phyllo stuffed with lavender ice cream was equally compelling. The refreshingly fragrant ice cream brilliantly played off the restrained sweetness of the apples while squirts of concentrated raspberry and kiwi sauce on the edges of the plate sparked intermittent bites with a searing tanginess.

Quang says he wants to feature "unique, global cuisine" with his menus, and by all accounts he's off to a remarkable start. His cooking is intelligent and restrained, avoiding the in-your-face "global" boldness featured at some Dallas spaces. His portions seem minuscule at first glance, but after completing one of his meals, you'll feel surprisingly satiated. The wine list could be tweaked a bit to match his global ambitions, perhaps adding some rich roses from France and California and a handful of selections from Italy, Spain, and New Zealand. But more importantly, the dining room needs to be upgraded to a level worthy of Quang's craft in terms of flow, service execution, and ambiance. Or that crazy aunt in the basement homily will keep cropping up, leaving you to wonder if there isn't something seriously off here.

Dining at The Bistro filled me with wonder. Unfortunately, I'm speaking of the kind of exasperated wonder you experience after realizing, while attending a high school reunion, that the biggest duct-taped eyewear zit cushion dweeb in your graduating class now owns controlling stock in every corporation you and each member of your extended family have ever worked for. It's the kind of wonder that leaves you asking one question: How?

And there are so many "how" puzzles at The Bistro. Once known as Le Caviste, The Bistro was altered when longtime Dallas chef Guy Calluad and his wife, Martine, took it over and opened a casual version of Calluad's, the onetime eatery on McKinney Avenue. Calluad retained Le Caviste's French bistro motif, but he supplemented it by introducing a tapas menu.

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