Swat it!

Dragonfly darts with a tedious buzz

In one sense, Dragonfly Bar & Restaurant perfectly mimics its namesake. Like the insect, this lower Greenville haunt darts, ascends, turns sharply, stops on a dime, and drop-shifts into reverse as it travels a number of directions all in one flight plan.

Is it a hip music venue? Is it a mating pen for the fashionably primped and pinched? Or is it a cutting-edge culinary showcase where pan-crusted Camembert attempts to dazzle the palate (a far too sweet appetizer with cheese and big, fat gushing black berries wrapped in puff pastry).

No, this slick bug hut is not any one of these things. It's something more. It embraces a profundity more potent than even the bar-hovering herd of dinky-skirted Martini slurpers and their hovering stud buddies could imagine. For, as the menu states with eloquence, Dragonfly is a "'Nouveau Eco' concept containing earthy resources such as water, granite, wood and an abundance of metals...The elements all lending themselves to create the environment in which our namesake, the 'Dragonfly,' thrives."

Which is why we see so many dragonflies are abandoning the low-rent swamp, bog, and pond neighborhoods for swanky car dealerships and high-rise foyers.

The menu proceeds with even more flourishes. "Once inside, the customer and the Odonate [that would be dragonflies and damselflies] become one...Wings now spread, one travels upwards through the beautifully patined staircase to the rooftop patio. Once there, the open air excites and awakens and one becomes an accomplished aerialist darting, stopping, and then reversing directions, all while hovering above the hustle and bustle of the famous lower Greenville strip."

Such moving prose--as in it makes you want to move to a nice, sane lunch counter, where the only bug theme is an overloaded no-pest strip hanging above the grill and the closest thing to philosophizing on the menu is "In God we trust. All others pay cash."

Still, Dragonfly does have some cool design touches: a granite waterwall hood over the bar and a big metal Starship Troopers-type bug crawling on the wall out front. It also has some that fall flat. Virtually all of the plants in the place are dead, for instance--an inexcusable example of bad bog etiquette.

And then there are these odd jellyfish-like sconces clinging to the walls. Even your average biological sciences illiterate knows that dragonflies and jellyfish rarely party in the same watering hole.

But eco-pretensions rarely exhibit concern for accuracy. Or, for that matter, good eating.

Twenty-thousand leagues calamari was a plate of rubbery squid veneered in a chalky, back-to-school-adhesive breading. It belonged 20,000 leagues under a landfill.

Tortellini in a walnut cream sauce suffered from overcooked pasta choked by a runny, sour ooze, with clunky hunks of nuts. Marinated kabobs (a choice of beef or chicken) were far better. Soaked in a tangy balsamic raspberry vinaigrette, the meat was on a skewer with red and green bell peppers, onion, and mushroom. It was chewy, moist, and rich. Plus, the bed of rice pilaf was reasonably fluffy. But a side of grilled vegetables--zucchini, tomato, and squash--was mushy and sour.

Chef Erick Chavez, a Dallas restaurant consultant who helped open Mona Luna Restaurant and Club among other metroplex venues, says he traversed Greenville Avenue, sampling the fare in a drive to develop distinctive American eclectic cuisine. "What I did is, I went everywhere and tried the food and then went in exactly the opposite direction," he says.

Maybe he should have used his turn signal instead of his reverse gear. Skimmer chops-- fresh-cut lamb chops in a salsa of onion, tomato, mint, and feta in a Burgundy stock reduction--was actually a noble attempt at some interesting flavor contrasts. But the small chops were drastically overcooked, tough, chewy, and desiccated. Plus, they shared the plate with scorched thyme-roasted new potatoes and ho-hum vegetable rice pilaf, all for 20 bucks.

Stick with the chef's choice pasta specials instead. The angel hair concoction with garlic, mushrooms, spinach, tomato, and capers was lightly dressed and appropriately supple: a simple, pleasant dish.

Developed by nightclub and entertainment businessman Steven Kahn, Dragonfly was formerly the New London Tavern before it was gutted and remodeled as a habitat for damselflies. It has a mezzanine, an elevated row of booths lining one wall, and live jazz evenings Wednesday through Saturday. But there's no dance floor per se. As Chavez says, folks just kind of twitch and wiggle in their personal space, which can make for some pretty bumpy dining, as the tables butt right up against the musicians.

If your aim is to primp and posture in a place where "the customer and the odonate become one," then there's no better place than Dragonfly. But if fine cuisine is your quest, well, buzz over to another lily pad.

Asian cuisine thrives in the mouth when it' s a balance of clean, assertively bright flavors sculpted with the freshest possible ingredients. Lacking these elements, the food descends into an abundance of plodding adequacy--or worse.

Miss Saigon skirts the latter, but otherwise just plods on. The food just doesn't seem constructed with the care and meticulousness that makes Asian cuisine shine.

Opened some six months ago on Inwood Road just north of Forest Lane, Miss Saigon is owned by Andy Dizon, whose previous restaurant forays include a Chinese restaurant in Shreveport, Louisiana. The menu is packed with noodle and rice dishes, soups and creations born of pork, beef, chicken and seafood--the usual stuff. And contrary to the name, it reflects more Northern Vietnamese influences--where Chinese culinary touches are prominent--rather than the south, where lively herbs and spices are used in greater force.

Consequently, many of Miss Saigon's menu selections are ho-hum. Sweet and sour soup with tiny shrimp had none of the starkly assertive contrasts that make this pottage so satisfying. And the summer rolls, huge, bumpy logs sheathed in a thick, semi-transparent rice wrap, were marred by badly browning lettuce, though thin slices of pork were fresh and succulent, and the shrimp was sweet.

Seafood salad fared far better. With grilled mussels, surimi (imitation crab), calamari, and shrimp over a bed of lettuce, mint, and shavings of white radish with cucumber and tomato, the seafood had a good grill flavor, while the tangy spiced dressing was a real palate sparkler.

And despite a rather pedestrian assembly, the shrimp toast--simple white bread blanketed with shrimp, onions, and egg--was moist, firm, and sweetly satisfying.

Other standouts speckled the menu as well. A lunch selection with garlic chicken over Napa cabbage, carrots, pea pods, broccoli, cauliflower, and onion was tender and succulent with freshly resilient vegetables, though the rice was a bit dry. Charbroiled marinated pork over vermicelli ringed with a mixed green salad was nearly stellar. Thin strips of grilled pork surged with tangy, savory flavors, and the vermicelli was fresh and supple. But the whole thing was dimmed by the salad, which was infected with more badly browning lettuce.

Another lunch selection, lemongrass beef, was dry, tough, and sinuous with a strong soapy taste--no hint of lemongrass flavor here. Though lightly satisfying, the crab-asparagus soup was clogged with mushy (most likely canned) asparagus stalks in a tired shade of military fatigue green sharing space with egg, flecks of crab, and significant strands of surimi--more stuff from the land of ho-hum.

Though billed as one of Miss Saigon's specialties, the "pancit noodles--Filipino style" with pan-seared shrimp, pork, and chicken tossed over julienne vegetables and vermicelli noodles lumbered without any distinctive flavors.

Miss Saigon has a clean, spacious dining room with soft hues jolted awake by deep royal blue shades that soak the carpet, portions of the ceiling, and the planters that appear to be painted plastic pickle buckets perforated with drain holes.

Its execution can be summed up as value-added, high-performance adequacy. Nothing here will shift you into hyperdrive, but it won't bog you down in a sputtering culinary asphyxiation either.

Dragonfly Bar & Restaurant, 2001 Greenville Ave., (214) 824-2200. Open Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; Friday & Saturday 11 a.m.-3 a.m. $$-$$$

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