Let 'em eat loin

1998 was a year of lusty carnivores, raw fish, and orgiastic indulgence

Don't let your meat loaf
Eating healthy is hazardous to your well-being. I can prove it. In the fall issue of American Outlook, writer Dennis Avery explains the inherent risks of poisoning your body with too much health consciousness.

According to data compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who regularly eat organic or natural foods are eight times as likely as the rest of the population to be stricken by a deadly new strain of E.coli bacteria dubbed 0157:H7. After striking its victims, 0157:H7 leaves in its wake permanent liver and kidney damage, certainly not a thing one would consider healthy.

Organic and natural foodstuff junkies are also more likely to be assaulted by a nasty new strain of salmonella bacteria, once America's primary food-borne death risk before E.coli entered the ring.

Organic and natural foods are more dangerous for several reasons. First, eschewing nasty chemicals, organic growers use manure as a major source of crop fertilizer. Animal manure is the party drug of choice for bacteria. Second, organic farmers are reluctant to use anti-microbial preservatives, chemical washes, or pasteurization processes to rid their products of microorganisms.

"One organic grower summed up the community's attitudes this way: 'Pasteurization has only been around a hundred years or so; what do you think people did before that?' The answer is simple. They died young," writes Avery.

Perhaps Dallasites know this instinctively--that eating healthy and organic can be dangerous, if not to body then certainly to spirit. After all, this year witnessed the death rattle of Larry North's NorthSouth and Eureka!, both of which plied healthy dining. (Though these two restaurants were more low-fat than organic, the underlying health hype seems similar.)

What was the dining mantra of 1998? Indulgence, says outgoing Dallas Restaurant Association chief Dawn Jantsch. "Dining out in Dallas is very much an entertainment concept. You really don't just go out to eat to eat. You go out to go out." But eat we did.

A sea cruise
If there ever was a town where vegetarianism could get you arrested and sentenced to hard time in a meat locker, Dallas is it. This was the year of thick steaks brutally broiled. High check averages. Fat cigars. Toxic martinis. Pricey wines. Shameless gluttony and pointless lingering.

Dallas was hit simultaneously this year with several hovels of meat madness: the elegant Pappas Brothers Steak House, Dale Wamstad's cartoonish III Forks, Gene Street's and Stephen Hartnett's strenuously hip Cool River Cafe in Los Colinas, the smartly casual Sullivan's, and the subdued Capital Grille. All plumb the heights of rich dinner checks with steer flanks and loins.

Rumors abound that Dallas investor Scott Ginsburg, who acquired Harper's Restaurant on Keller Springs Road and the Dallas North Tollway last March, is threatening to open an upscale steak and chop house, though progress on its gutted, skeletal remains seems to have been locked in suspended animation for several months. Restaurateur Salim Asrawi (Cabaret Royale Restaurant & Bar) opened Texas de Brazil, his Brazilian-style continuous service grill house on Belt Line Road in Addison this fall, offering a variety of chewy beef, pork, and chicken carved and served from long, vicious skewers.

Even the stylishly graceful Al Biernat, former manager of The Palm, joined in the beefy blood lust, launching Biernat's in the Oak Lawn space that once glittered as Joey's, shuttered this past spring.

"Dining on steak, martinis, and cigars is not so much a special occasion anymore," Jantsch deadpans. Damn right. These items have become virtual staples.

The question is, When will Dallas choke on this stampede of beef?
"Capitalism is first, you don't have enough. Then you have too much. Then you have the right amount," says Dallas restaurant consultant Matthew Mabel. "We're right in between don't have enough and have too much."

Which is perhaps what happened to the home meal replacement trend--or high quality and gourmet take-out dining--this year. It wasn't too long ago that everyone was yodeling about the near boundless opportunities in this sector. But 1998 saw Boston Market and Kenny Rogers Roasters, two national take-home chains, file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. "Home meal replacement, which was the hot thing, is something the industry has had to back away from as a concept," Mabel says. "It's really fading." From this plastic-plated, chicken and mashed potato turmoil emerged Bon Vivant Market in Plano and La Madeleine Cuisine on Preston.

Corporate clutter
There's a weird parallel to the red meat eruption: sushi. Dallas was swimming in raw fish in 1998. Chaya Sushi at Preston and Royal. Rock & Roll Sushi on Northwest Highway and Preston. Tokyo One in Addison. Sushi Nights in Deep Ellum (launched by former Deep Sushi partner Scott Melton). Sushi Rock in Plano. Tekno Sushi on McKinney. The Blue Fish on Greenville. Cafe Sushi on Cedar Springs. Pangaea in Fort Worth.

Perhaps sushi has simply entered the mainstream after years of expanding dining sophistication in Dallas, reaching critical mass this year. Or perhaps it's the yin and yang of it all: slabs of charred cholesterol versus delicate strips of healthy raw protein draped on rice. (Still, I'm aware of some doctors who refuse to go near the stuff for fear of contracting a cousin to one of those savage organic farming manure bugs.)

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