Sweet Leaf

The Bay Leaf has plenty of personality

Hot and sour chicken-rice soup had the same effect. Less a full throttle spice assault than a gentle sensual prick, the soup was sophisticated and elegant. In fact, the broth is so cleanly imbued with heat and tang that the sweetness of the snow peas is able to break out and play off these flavors. Yet the chicken chunks, submerged with the rice under a flotilla of scallions, mushrooms and red bell pepper specks, were dry.

Dryness also infested the grilled coriander-garlic marinated chicken breast. The flavor was well dispersed among the pieces of breast, leg and thigh, but there was no way to appreciate it on dry meat. Plus, the bed of coconut rice upon which it rested was pasty.

One of the most ambitiously exotic items on the menu is also one of the most brazenly New American. Creamy soy-ginger crawfish with braised fennel is kind of a sloppy stew spilling out of puff pastry. The little crawdad coils were briny and sweet, and the strips of aromatic fennel gave them loftiness. Everything waded in a milky brown fluid that didn't have a pronounced ginger sting, but did have the silken texture of coconut milk and dark little oil slicks that tasted like a sweet soy reduction. This is an alluring little appetizer. The only drawback was that the plate was so searingly hot that the sauce began to congeal.

Red brick and a loft--you can't get more Deep Ellum than The Bay Leaf.
Stephen Karlisch
Red brick and a loft--you can't get more Deep Ellum than The Bay Leaf.

Details

214-573-8775. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-12 a.m. Friday; 5 p.m.-12 a.m. Saturday. $$-$$$

Tuna tartare: $9
Hot & sour soup: $4
Lobster bisque: $6
Crawfish puff pastry: $10
Tempura crab cake: $13
Five-spice duck: $21
Petite fillet: $24
Coriander chicken: $10
Steak sandwich: $12
Crème brûlée: $5
Banana pudding: $5

Closed Location

Roasted five-spice duck with grilled pineapple chutney in a black soy-orange sauce had other problems. Arriving as breast slices pushed up against leg and thigh, the duck was tough, dry and gray--a bit overcooked. Yet it tasted slightly old as well, emanating a wet-dog aroma. The black soy-orange sauce worked well, with its slight sweet touch doing diligence on the duck richness. Planted off to the side of the plate was a large spring roll. This roll didn't really work with the composition, no matter what condition the duck was in. Loosely wrapped and tightly packed with coarsely shredded raw vegetables, the rice paper sheath absorbed the sauce and grew gummy and soggy on one end.

But desserts canceled out many of these shortcomings. Classic baked crème brûlée, topped with a warm, freshly torched sugar lid, was rich and smooth with a thick, brittle crust. Steamed macadamia nut-banana pudding was a light, airy and rich dessert served with chocolate and caramel sauces.

The Bay Leaf has a lot of absorbing personality, the kind that isn't readily evident until you sit with it awhile. And like people with distinctive personalities, it has a few flaws. Yet it's charming enough to effectively blot those out. And when you consider the other restaurants around town that feature jazz as an entrée, The Bay Leaf has them visibly beaten.

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