By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
It's Halloween weekend, and orange cones jut out of the Cedar Springs pavement like little fluorescent warheads peeking from their silos. The street is wet, and droplets of drizzle swirl like gnats.
3015 Oak Lawn Ave.
Dallas, TX 75219-4134
Region: Uptown & Oak Lawn
6-10 p.m. Friday & Saturday
Brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Maybe that's why we didn't make reservations. Who goes out to eat at a fine restaurant on a wet night meant for parties and bizarre costumes? (We saw a guy in a straw boater with dozens of factory-fresh tampons dangling from the brim. How do these people get reservations?)
We certainly didn't think the weirdly dressed and the voyeurs of the Cedar Springs celebration would fill the dining room at The Landmark.
But then, pulling into The Melrose Hotel's parking lot, we are met by a cop with a clipboard and a flashlight. He motions for us to roll down our window. He seems annoyed that we dare covet his parking spaces. We just want dinner, we say.
That's when he starts getting intent with the clipboard, flipping through the saturated pages. "Name? I should have your reservation right here." He rolls his eyes when we tell him we were just trying our luck as hungry, disorganized stragglers. "Not a chance," he snaps. He motions us toward some orange cones blocking the drive that exits onto Cedar Springs. Another guy shuffles them out of our path.
But I still manage to snag one under my car, dragging the cone across Cedar Springs, shredding it into orange zest over Lemmon Avenue.
Funny thing, on a visit just a couple of days later, our waiter says the dining room thinned considerably after a mid-evening surge, which hit about the time we ran off with that cone. My timing, like my driving, was off. So we were resigned to sample the creations of newly installed Executive Chef Wiley Bates III on a pair of weekdays, when diners were sparse. Service was a little on the scanty side too, despite the lack of guests. Oh, there was plenty of gushy politeness. But there was no attentiveness to give those warm fuzzies some credible spine. A lot of "I'll be right with you after you've had a chance to review the wine list." But the "right with yous" seemed to hibernate behind a swinging door. And we were thirsty.
And hungry. Not many traces remain of former chef Jim Anile's often daring Asian touches. Anile, it seems, was brusquely swept out the door after the Berwind Property Group purchased The Melrose some months ago. A member of the U.S. Culinary Olympic team for more than two years, Bates was brought into The Melrose from the Great Southern Westin Hotel in Columbus, Ohio, another of Berwind's properties. While his work at The Landmark is nothing if not intriguing, it can also be a little perplexing.
Melrose propaganda makes hay over one of the more overtly novel creations. "There's also Wiley's innovative lobster-potato martini, named for the addition of sweet vermouth," says a letter itemizing the new dishes on the menu. Actually, Bates says the Yukon gold potatoes in his martini ($7.25) are folded with sweet vermouth. And while folding is a legitimate culinary term, the menu makes reference to other items that are folded. Tossed and tumbled too. I wondered whether our entrées would arrive in laundry baskets.
But the potatoes are served in a martini glass. The contents are pierced with a sprig of rosemary instead of an olive on a toothpick. Wiley admits to a fondness for strongly aromatic herbs such as rosemary. Many chefs feel this way, I think. I once talked to one who said the best meal he ever had was a roasted chicken, made by a few friends who sipped wine while battering the bird with rosemary branches.
Still, Bates' dish is odd. Also folded with clabber cream, these mashed potatoes spiked with sweet vermouth have strips of rock lobster meat -- not a harmonious combination to my taste. The coarsely textured potatoes clouded the sweet succulence of the lobster meat. Perhaps it's a metaphor for what a martini does to brain cells, but it comes off like lobster dipped in lint. It may have worked if the potato whip were lighter and creamier. Yet Wiley obviously is onto something: It's one of the best-selling items on the menu.
One item that should be flying off the menu is the tabil-spiced pork dumplings ($5.95), a tight trio of noodle pillows plopped in a puddle of citrus-sherry soy broth that begs for a spoon. Why would a restaurant fussily describe a broth on its menu then not provide a spoon so that the diner can fuss with it too? Bates' ruddy fluid is brisk, balanced, and savory. It's a perfect culinary backdrop for the tender dumplings, which are plump with moist, chewy, and well-seasoned pork. The dumplings are topped with crisp relish: julienne leek infiltrated with sesame seeds, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and orange zest. This is among the tightest, most well-orchestrated appetizers I've come across -- a little magnum opus in a bowl. And me without a spoon.
Caesar-style red romaine salad ($6.50) comes off well too. The dressing is potent. The flavors are visible. The leaves are well dressed, not flung limply across the plate, half naked and dull, or coated in some thick, shimmering white varnish to help the box-shaken croutons adhere. Instead of bread cubes, this salad is slipped with a deliciously potent piece of toast smeared with black olive tapenade. Plus, the Romano shavings are generous.
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