Velvet Boot

Il Mulino gives Dallas Italian a kick

Reason makes an appearance on the wine list: odd for a restaurant with menu prices that bump into the ozone layer, though the by-the-glass options are ridiculously paltry (pour the Barolos and Brunellos for God's sake). Values are buried among the lush crop of Italian wines and some California bottles. We pulled a rich Fassati Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and a fresh Pio Cesare Dolcetto d'Alba with acres of clean fruit for $65 and under. Wine is decanted in large inelegant pitchers: a mundane ice water vessel. It's drained methodically, and the empty bottle is left on the table so the label can be examined at leisure--an impossibility without a flashlight.

The room is dark, so it's difficult to decipher its complexion. The walls are a dark red, we think, and are covered with still lifes and landscapes: asparagus stalks, tomatoes, peaches and furrowed vineyards. Then again they could be nudes.

Entrées are mostly spectacular. The only slighted example is also the most expensive--a special ritualized by a presentation of tubbed whole langoustines, meticulously arranged gridlike on ice. Eight shelled tails, floured and sautéed in wine and garlic, ring a mound of risotto embedded with shrimp and crab and pebbled with the richest sweet peas we've come across in years. Instead of elegantly smooth and creamy, the risotto is coarse and a bit gluey, and the tails are a bit mushy. Still, the flavors ring joy.

Il Mulino grabs by the nose and kicks in the balls. And that's just what it does to the wallet.
Tom Jenkins
Il Mulino grabs by the nose and kicks in the balls. And that's just what it does to the wallet.

Details

Carpaccio $25
Veal Marsala $29.75
Capellini/half-order $12.38
Langoustines with risotto $55
Shrimp cocktail $25
Gnocchi $24.75
Closed Location

Capellini pasta (slightly thicker than angel hair) arrabiata in its tart, rich sauce is flawless, as is the gnocchi. The latter arrives in a huge bowl carpeted with embryo-shaped potato dumplings pasted in a thick pesto with coarse basil clippings and a potent burst of garlic that fills the mouth with a pleasing sting. And in keeping with the Il Mulino spirit, the price is garish.

But the most compelling composition here is also, perhaps, the most mundane: veal Marsala, a masterpiece. It arrives as a large smoky brown sprawl, resembling a splat of culinary sewage in this darkness. Thin patches of veal are crowded in a haze of porcini mushrooms slathered in a rich, smooth Marsala sauce of uncommon broad richness, leaving hints of toffee on the finish. The veal is substantive and chewy, giving pith to a dish that could easily teeter into mush--striking, in effect, a dangerous balance.

Founded in New York by Fernando and Gino Masci, Il Mulino was shepherded into Dallas by Phil Romano and his cohort Joe Palladino. And it's a hammer blow to the city's moribund Italian strain that forever wavers between mediocre and tragic. Patton's advice for defeating the Germans was to "grab those pusillanimous sons of bitches by the nose and kick 'em in the balls." Il Mulino does this to Dallas Italian--with velvet booties and gloves. Both spell victory.

2408 Cedar Springs Road, 214-855-5511. Open 5-10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 5-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. $$$$

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