Thin line between love and hate

Cork is a promising wine bar that's plugged its excitement for the drink

Hell, there's a winery in East Texas that ferments a little ditty called Piney Woods Pecan Mocha, a blend of white wine, fresh brewed coffee, and pecan flavorings. The stuff makes my tongue recoil in terror, but the winery sells every drop it can brew--er, produce--and it might provide an excuse for Cork to open for breakfast. The point is, wine presentation possibilities are endless, and you almost have to try to make a wine list boring. Here's hoping the folks at Cork pop some bottles, let loose, take some pot shots at pomposity, and make their wine list smart but uproariously fun in their own distinctive style. God knows we need it.

The first thing that struck me at Zeitgiest Cafe was how good the grilled-shrimp cocktail with plum chutney tasted. I expected a lumbering, perhaps cloying clump of fruit hash to clumsily mate with the sea-washed sweetness of the shrimp. The chutney was clean, crisp, and refreshing with firm, tangy cubes of plum in a lively medium made with shallots, honey, garlic, and mint. It pulled and tugged at the firm, meaty shrimp, offering a few unexpected dimensions. The menu offers the choice of dipping the shrimp in standard cocktail sauce, but skip it.

The second thing that struck me was how little else on the menu even approached this level of simple elegance. Other than the wine list, that is: a tight, well-rounded burst of brevity clustered by flavor profile that would be just about perfect if it offered more selections by the glass.

If only the food uniformly proffered such punch. The pan-seared salmon burger studded with corn and bell pepper and slathered in a red horseradish sauce was soggy, and the entire thing self-destructed into mush after just a couple of bites. A good meatless Bolognese sauce with a burst of garlic dressed the vegetable lasagna. But it wasn't forceful enough to rescue the firm pieces of yellow squash, mushroom, and eggplant mated to tri-colored pasta. The dish had no zest, no spark to meld the flavors. Plus, it had just a single pasta sheet. Pomegranate-glazed lamb chops over couscous, tomato, and arugula were chewy and lacked sweet silkiness.

Better was the Locatelli-crusted chicken sandwich with grilled onions and tomato on garlic aioli-slathered focaccia. The chicken was moist, and the grilled onions added a pleasing sweetness. The 501 salad, greens with green apple and red and yellow tomato speckled with pumpkinseeds, wasn't bad either, though the dressing could have used a bit more spark.

Opened in early March, Zeitgeist Cafe was launched by Laurie Sandefer of Cafe Society fame (she shuttered the cafes and sold her interest in the coffee company several months ago). James Winkler, formerly of Bistro Louise in Fort Worth, manages the restaurant. Opening chef Greg Nelson, who crafted the New American menu with "global twists," has since departed, and Culinary Institute of America grad Keith Champy and Yossi Ohayon, formerly of the Omni Hotel in Richardson and the Fairmont, have taken over the kitchen.

Zeitgeist is crisply comfortable and spacious, with a compelling, lush patio, stylized murals in the entryway, and yellow textured ceilings and walls and whitewashed woodwork in the dining room. A green sitting area with stuffed chairs and bookcases is situated just off the bar. There's also a stage area for live music on weekends. The food just doesn't pick up on the spirit or feeling of the surroundings; the Zeitgeist is scrambled.

Cork Wine and Cheese Bar, 2711 McKinney Ave., (214) 303-0302. Open 5 p.m.-11p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-midnight Friday & Sat. $$

Zeitgeist Caf. One Turtle Creek Village, 3888 Oak Lawn Ave., (214) 521-0552. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday & Saturday, Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m. $$-$$$

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