Towering confluence

The Chaparral Club is a metropolis on the plate

But I wondered about the menu, which I suspected was the victim of Manhattanization. A fried plantain rose out of that Texas venison chop's mashed potato clump like a hotel skyscraper. One dessert was a chocolate lattice tower pumped full of mango cream. There was even an appetizer dubbed arugula and marinated portobello tower, a salad that, though splashed with a lively roasted-shallot white balsamic vinaigrette, was painfully shy on the namesake ingredients. Maybe Executive Chef Frederic Stevens and his kitchen crew are a little too enamored with the restaurant's striking view.

Amusingly tall elements arose even from the specials. One such production,described as lobster medallions, was draped with a shelled, slightly spongy tail with four tiny, deeply sea-flavored mussels paired off on each side. There was a tasty fluffing of sticky rice infused with coconut milk and ancho pepper. Little clumps of wasabi-tinted tobiko caviar (flying fish roe) were plunked in a puddle of gingered Asian vinaigrette. Fried potato strings were sprinkled on top. Within this busy melange rose a pair of thick, statuesque sashimi-style tuna silos encased in nori (seaweed), lightly dipped in tempura, and fried. All of the above were on one dish. The immense bulk of the tuna presentation created dissonance with the nearly raw fish, which tastes best when delicately sliced or carved into small pieces rather than gnawed from a log.

Mouth-meltingly rich seared Hudson Valley foie gras was more successful at engaging the palate. Yet the bed of wood-roasted plum tomato risotto upon which it rested was cool and pasty. Honey duck breast with cashew-scented sticky rice should be skipped. Served virtually cold, the slices of slightly pink duck breast were a little shy on tenderness.

Opening in 1958, The Chaparral Club was originally a members-only private clique. Celebrities--LBJ, James Garner, Phyllis Diller, and Ann-Margret--often frequented the place, at least according to the press release. The club was shuttered in 1993.

Private or not, service at the new Chaparral Club was mostly elegant and graceful, if a little rickety. Menus didn't appear for several minutes after we were seated, and there was a long stretch between the wine list presentation and the eventual wine order. A charger on our table setting was filmed with smeary goo.

Yet the staff wasn't above a little clubby poke-poke, nudge-nudge. The next table over, a busboy dropped an armful of plates, piercing the dining room with the clamor of smashing dinnerware. The crash startled us. Seeing we were a little unsettled, a manager stopped by and apologized profusely for the distraction. He saw we weren't annoyed, so he lightened up. "You know, at first I thought maybe one of our guests dropped an earring," he said while kneeling on the floor. Peter locked on my eyes with a look of befuddlement. Maybe Canadians have the upper hand in the humor exchange rate.

The Chaparral Club, 400 N. Olive St., (214) 922-8000, Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Open for dinner 6-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 6-11 p.m. Friday & Saturday. $$$-$$$$

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