Uneven tread wear

Bibendum doesn't roll with the Samuel standard

Maybe it's not surprising that gifted chef Avner Samuel, the man who single-handedly turned the word "peripatetic" into a cliché in Dallas, adopted the name he did for his global tapas restaurant. For Samuel, a compact and volatile Israeli, had the habit of never staying in one place for more than nine months before moving on to the next opportunity -- until in early 1998, when he seemingly hit his stride with Bistro A in Snider Plaza.

Now instead of striding, he's on a roll. To reinforce this dynamic, he went and named his new restaurant after a bit of historic advertising iconography: The Michelin Man. Not that he literally tagged his restaurant Michelin Man, a name more suitable for a roadside diner serving up roadkill.

According to manager Daniel Levarion, Samuel named his restaurant Bibendum after Bibendum Restaurant, a spot in London's art deco Michelin building that serves things like fried frog legs with potato puree and black truffles, and calves' brains with red wine sauce.

Bibendum takes diners on a global tour of tapas, including stops in the Middle East.
Jon Lagow
Bibendum takes diners on a global tour of tapas, including stops in the Middle East.

Details

Lunch:
Monday-Friday
11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Dinner:
Monday-Saturday
5:30-11 p.m.

$$

2515 McKinney Ave.
(214) 303-0033

But where did that name come from, and how did it end up on a man who looks like a bloated mummy? It all began at the Lyons Exhibition in 1898 where Andre and Edouard Michelin, inventors of the pneumatic tire, discovered that one of their managers had constructed a novel display by assembling tires of various sizes in a vertical stack.

The Michelin brothers noticed that if you added a pair of arms, the stack looked almost human. Some time later, Andre was visited by illustrator Marius Rossillon -- known by the pseudonym O'Galop -- and shown a few sketches for advertisements. The tire mogul caught sight of a cartoon from a German beer manufacturer portraying a burly fellow raising his beer mug and bellowing the Latin phrase "Nunc est Bibendum" ("Now is the time to drink").

The brothers thought this succinctly captured the company's slogan at the time, which was "Michelin tires swallow up all obstacles." O'Galop reworked the hulking figure, replacing the beer bottle with a goblet of nails and a glass that was raised in a toast to all road hazards. Today, Bibendum, the Michelin Man, is one of the world's most recognized, enduring trademarks.

Like Bibendum the tire man, Bibendum the tapas bar is international, rolling across the globe and spinning twists on little appetizers from Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, North America, and Latin America.

Perhaps the best way to sample Bibendum tapas is through the around-the-world tasting ($24.95), a chef's selection of nine global tapas. What, exactly, are global tapas? "Most people who hear the word tapas associate it with Spanish food," Levarian says. "But that is not true. Asians eat exactly the same way. Europeans eat that way. Middle Easterners eat that way. Even Latin Americans eat that way. We wanted to create global food."

I suppose that means that if a culture serves a small portion of something on a little plate, it is serving tapas -- not necessarily true, as authentic tapas are nibbles designed to enhance the Spanish drink sherry. But the word tapas has been so bastardized and used interchangeably with appetizers that making this distinction is futile.

Anyway, the plate contains a multicultural assortment potent enough to toss your average university humanities professor into fits. House-made pita bread ($1.50) was moist and warm, tasting even better when shoved into the smooth, lightly rich ribbon of hummus and pine nuts on the tapas plate.

But the Argentinean spiced beef empanadas (turnover-like pastries) with chimichurri sauce (a common condiment in Argentina composed of olive oil, vinegar, and herbs pepped with salt, cayenne, and black pepper) were served cold and stuffed with a dry, mealy meat paste.

Mushy, almost watery breast meat infected the chicken tikka (a preparation generally marinated in yogurt with ginger and other seasonings and then grilled) with mango glaze. Skewered, tinged red, and served cold, the flesh was lightly sweet with just a touch of spice heat that was too little to compensate for the textural deficiencies.

Blandness also infected the ceviche, a small bowl of which was planted in the center of the plate along with a few tortilla chips. It was watery and listless, with barely detectable citrus and cilantro flavors.

Roasted two-eggplant salad -- dollops of pulverized beige and dark-green eggplant -- was clean, creamy, smooth, and satisfying. Equally satisfying was a clump of "mamma's chopped salad," generous dices of crisp cucumber, bell pepper, onion, and tomato slathered in a dressing blended from olive oil, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Falafel was astounding: a pair of deep-fried chickpea golf balls that were dark and crisp on the outside and vibrant green on the inside with piquant flavors and smooth, moist textures.

Most disappointing of Bibendum's offerings, especially considering Samuel's remarkable fiddling with Asian influences in the past, are the little plates from Asia. Shrimp tempura, with tiny beads of sweet black-bean and ginger sauce, was pasty, gummy, and, like the chicken tikka, bland.

Chilled yellowtail and tuna sashimi ($4.95) with ginger glaze and orange wasabi was served warm and mushy instead of cool and firm.

Even the European side drifted. Sautéed escargot ($4.95) plopped in a puddle of tarragon butter was tender but watery and tasted like chunks of twice-boiled beef. Ginger crème brûlée ($2), served in a tiny cup, was cold from top to bottom. Though the singed sugar lid was crunchy, the custard was runny, like uncooked cake batter.

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