By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
How does all of this conflicted symbolism coalesce on the plate? Hard to say. The successes are remarkable, the failures regrettable. M Crowd founder Michael "Mico" Rodriguez and chef Chris Ward traversed the country to absorb Asian-inspired menus before adding their personal twists.
Pan-fried dumplings -- singed, supple pillows concealing perfect little balls of pink pork -- are juicy and freshly delicious with an immaculate, simple ginger soy sauce for dipping.
Sesame-crusted tuna was served in a puddle of brown fluid rendered from oyster sauce, onion, and ginger. But instead of coming off like the typical Chinese restaurant salve -- thick, muddled, and cloying -- this sauce is rich, agile, and understated, never lacquering the mouth into numbness. The tuna itself was too gray and stiff for my tastes, though it was still succulent. Plus, the heap of baby corn, straw mushrooms, bok choy, and bell pepper was fresh and crisp.
Friday & Saturday
Even Southwestern touches creep in now and again. Jicama and grapefruit salad is a tangle of jicama strips, carrot threads, and shreds of red cabbage studded with sweet roasted pecans, mint flecks, and bright pink sections of juicy grapefruit. This knot is drenched in a blend of rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, and sambal (Thai chili paste). Despite the potential explosiveness of this formula, the salad was dull.
Not so with the crisped scallops, which had a delicate, brittle sheath surrounding sweet, resilient flesh. A bed of jalapeño-red onion jam and applewood bacon speckled frisée add a pulpy sweetness, leafy crispness, and smoky, acidic spark.
Other things were simply adequate. Wok-seared shrimp speckled with cashews, mushy water chestnuts, and flaccid bamboo shoots held lush shrimp trying desperately to surpass their pedestrian, slightly soapy flavors. The dish had no discernible focal point, no real spark. It could have easily been disgorged from a white cardboard carton.
Green papaya salad with calamari seemed misnamed. It should be billed as calamari mound on papaya bed. Not a bad thing, this, except the calamari coating was chalky and bland.
Glazed duck breast ($21) stunned. Slices of moist duck breast tucked near a set of duck landing gear surged with rich, articulate flavors that were well served by a soy plum demi-glace that gently flashed with sweetness as it meshed seamlessly with the meat.
Dessert stumbled. Chocolate souffle with chocolate sauce slapped the mouth like a piece of foam rubber dragged through a mound of chalk dust. No silkiness. No delicate texture. No rich decadence. Just fudged fiber.
Citizen comes off like a retro tech rec room. The bar is sliced with clean, sharp lines studded with white Naugahyde swivel stools. It's softened by an ultrasuede banquet slipped under a big panda bear portrait. The back bar has a post with three white TV monitors pointing in different directions, like some sort of mechanical insect.
The skylight room flows with sensuous curves. White banquets are sloped and fronted with oval tables, and the floor tables are notched on one end and lobed on the other, fitting together in a sort of yin-yang merging. Beyond this section is a more formal dining space, softened with carpeting and buttoned down with rectangular tables.
The M Crowd has a full plate. Citizen follows the opening of Southern Table in Fort Worth, a liver-and-onions, chicken-fried-steak restaurant that occupies that town's onetime Mainstream Fish House location. The company also is planning to open two restaurants -- a Parisian brasserie, and a spot called Food, Water, Bar -- in the West Village development emerging from the freshly broken ground at Lemmon and McKinney.
Here's hoping they refrain from applying their odd twists to brutal dictator portraits. And bird liver.