Tin tongue

Tin Star's "salsa, smoke, and sizzle" fizzle

Tin Star is bright and chic. Tin Star is simple. Tin Star has catchy theme: "salsa, smoke, and sizzle." Tin Star is cheap.

But Tin Star doesn't sparkle, because the most important point in this twinkler--the food--is as dull as a butter knife.

"There is no reason that great food needs to be expensive," says Tin Star co-developer Morgan Hull on Tin Star's Web site (www.tinstarinc.com). "Ours will be food that you can eat without alienating your palate or your wallet."

Location Info


Tin Star

13710 Dallas Parkway
Dallas, TX 75240

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: North Dallas

Hull is dead-on about the wallet thing. Tin Star coddles the wallet, entertains it even. The most expensive items on the menu, fire-grilled beef tenderloin and fire-grilled salmon, ring in at $9.75. Plus, all menu prices are figured with tax and priced so that all change is rendered in quarters. My billfold swoons.

Yet while my wallet was happy, my palate was resoundingly disaffected. Our first visit proved only modestly disconcerting: Peeling away the thin foil cloaks sheathing Tin Star's soft tacos revealed doughy, gummy flour tortillas, and the innards weren't so hot either. The roasted beef taco with grilled onions, jack cheese, and avocado hunks was clotted with grease.

But on the second visit, at breakfast, that disconcertment morphed into horror. This, even though the gummy tortillas were remedied: The breakfast tacos sported wraps that were moist yet firm with little splotches of griddle singe. The smoked salmon breakfast taco with egg and sauteed spinach in crema fresca was the culprit. It was inedible. No, it was worse than that. It blitzkrieged the nose and shut down the respiratory system. We held our noses after peeling away the foil wrapping. My companion couldn't muster the courage to put her lips around it. So it was up to me to summon the fortitude, and I was instantly struck with gastrointestinal regret.

The fire-grilled salmon also inflicted anguish, though not enough to provoke retching. Gleaming in a cloying sweet-sour glaze, the moist flesh wafted with hints of finny malodor, which is a shame because the spinach bed upon which it rested, leaves sauteed with pico de gallo and finished in lemon-butter sauce, was fresh, racy, and perfectly wilted with a firm crispness. But a side of "very tiny round pasta," a clump of culinary BBs, tasted like it was bathed in cheap margarine.

Tin Star strenuously strives for fast-food hipness mixed with Southwestern airs. Hard plastic dinnerware does duty with stainless flatware. And Tin Star doesn't have servers. The service contingency is limited to Wal-Mart-style greeters, busboys, and cashiers--a perky, friendly bunch. Orders are placed at the counter, and a transparent disk speckled with light-emitting diodes is given to diners. When the order is ready, the red lights flash, summoning you for a pick-up. During busy times, orders are taken while you wait in line with checks whisked to the counter via a pulley system so that in theory, your order is ready when you belly up to the counter.

The style is carried through in the decor, sort of Southwestern industrial chic. Walls drenched in orange, red, and yellow are impregnated with wood paneling and corrugated aluminum. Table and counter surfaces are concrete. Tin Star's chairs--with blond wood seats, split metal backs, and metal rod frames with coarse, machined connectors--look like mechanical insects. Metal stars are scattered above the bar in front of the open kitchen.

Yet not all of the food suffers in this quick-draw grub shanty. Cowboy Kimchi, a brilliant twist on the Korean dish of fermented cabbage, is vibrant, crispy, and sweet with speckles of roasted corn. But this sparkling treatment couldn't rescue the mushy fish tacos, tortillas plugged with fried white fish, kimchi, pico de gallo, and chipotle cream. The only other worthwhile taco was discovered at breakfast. Taco Blanco, egg whites, house-mashed black beans, and pico de gallo, was moist, well seasoned, and lightly refreshing--so different from virtually everything else here.

Tin Star was launched by an energetic food-service quartet: chef Al Nappo along with Hull, Mark Brezinski, and Rich Hicks. A Tin Star extension at the Tollway and Briar Grove should open sometime this summer, and at least two more metroplex locations are scheduled to open before the year closes.

The backers are abuzz with the energy of their creation. "We feel that our food is superb. It's exceptional," says Tin Star partner Scott Weiss. "People don't like the dining experience of an hour and a half. They want to get in and get out. We feel that we can offer them so much more quality with our food."

Ouch. Maybe Weiss needs to take random samples from the menu every now and again, because if this fare is superb, these folks have tin tongues.

There's something odd about The Purple Cow Soda Fountain Diner Burger Joint. Maybe several things. For starters, their motto is "Food you can trust!" What an odd slogan to slap below a leaping, winking lavender cow with conspicuous udders. Are they trying to assure you the food won't turn diners the same color?

Plus, the color is more lilac than purple. And there's a bar. Well, maybe not a real bar. As far as I can tell, it's a small refrigerator with a crowd of hooch bottles on top parked in the doorway to the kitchen. This must be where they sauce the "adult shakes," creations ("for mature audiences" as the menu states) that break the NC-17 rating with squirts of amaretto, coffee liqueur, triple sec, or peach schnapps into an ice cream shake.

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