By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
This Addison venue, now thoroughly washed in burnt brick-red stucco substance on the exterior, was once the great destination seafood restaurant Lombardi Mare. In this persona, it was elegantly designed by Paul Draper with flourishes of thick etched glass, black and white floor tile, colorful fish schools slumming on the walls, wood paneling, fish heads near the kitchen and butcher-paper table coverings with crayons.
Now there is lots of black, sheer purplish curtain gauze separating the bar from the dining-dance area, a DJ command post and neon. There are also low-slung couches and carpet in leopard-skin patterns. The glass bowls filled with water that once hung above the bar in slings--goldfish flitting about within but mostly hunkering motionless on the bottom as if they were too drunk to throw up--now hold clear beads and little plastic animals. This is a touch of no relevance except perhaps as a snide wink at the seafood ghost that would still haunt the place if there were anything inside worth terrifying.
Hit Django early, before the sky goes dark and the music turns live, and you'll find a barren warehouse with old '80s hits--Duran Duran and Depeche Mode--spurting from black speaker boxes and ricocheting around the empty room, as if their purpose was to beat an appetite into you, or maybe out of you.
But food isn't the gig. It's a convenience, like ashtrays, toothpicks or condom machines in the latrine. Witness the shrimp cocktail salad, described as ceviche-style in the menu. It's a lacing of diced tomato, avocado, onion and cilantro flushed with lime. It's supposed to come with water crackers over which to tumble the stuff. But as our server noted after delivering the hash in an oval ramekin posted on a plate, the kitchen was out of water crackers and the chef was out securing reinforcements: a crack operation this. Pebbled with shrimp that were undoubtedly poached instead of "cooked" in a bath of lime juice "ceviche-style," the mix held thin slices of lime that rose out of the cocktail dorsal-like. Yet with all of this lime posturing, the cocktail was distressingly weak in acidity. Even more distressing, the cocktail was warm; not the warmth of intention, but room-temperature warm, as if it had been squatting somewhere for a length of time, maybe where the water crackers used to be.
But let's be clear on what Django is and what it is not. Django is a bar, a dance hall, a live music venue, a special-events spread. Django is not a sacrament to the culinary bitch goddess; it's an incidental prayer to her. "We didn't want to get nonsensical about it or try to prove anything," says consulting chef Peter Tarantino. "The food is very simple. Yet we didn't go too far south on it and just do chicken wings and chips and salsa either."
But how far south does it go? Named after Django Reinhardt, the Belgium-born gypsy jazz guitarist who crafted masterful guitar solos despite having permanently damaged two fingers in a 1928 caravan fire, Django flaunts a menu divided into swing sections: strings (appetizers); woodwinds (entrées), brass (pizza, fries) and percussion (dessert). Brass contains a section titled "the performance of Mr. Potato," fry baskets with various potato cuts and toppings--a kazoo section in this Atkins era.
Our server shilled for the Django dip (strings), a smooth artichoke, herbs and Parmesan blended into a stiff cream. It arrives in a large ramekin resting in the center of a bowl dusted with paprika. Shriveled and pimpled pasta wafers, cut and curved like a crop of witch schnozzles, are planted around the ramekin. They are soft and pliable, a little spongy even, as if stale. Dip flavors are rich and tangy, and the dip portion is generous; so generous we ran out of chips and requested backup. But like the water crackers, the kitchen was depleted--this with a dining room population of six.
Entrées carried on with this frayed-edge motif. They come with a choice of fries, fruit cup or salad. The dinner salad, a toss of greens, kalamata olives and a single pepperoncini pod, all slathered in thick vinaigrette, had romaine ribs that were pitted and brown. But this was minor static compared with the fruit cup: a simple cluster of strawberries in various stages of rot. This woodwind didn't toot.
Rock 'n (prime) rib is essentially a French dip lathered with smoked provolone and sautéed onions. The bottom portion of the kaiser roll was soggy and disintegrating: not much of a hindrance when you're going to dredge it through a dish of jus anyway, but it made the sandwich cumbersome to hoist. Meat slices were rich but greasy, and the jus floated white globules of fat that punched out of the murky brown sludge like pearl sequins.
Piano panino, a grilled portobello mushroom sandwich with roma tomatoes, onions, mozzarella and basil pressed between rosemary flatbread, was also cumbersome and difficult to operate. The sandwich was so thick it had to be partially disassembled to get the jaws around it. The mushrooms could have been grilled down a bit more, too, to concentrate the earthy flavors and marry the disparate elements more effectively.