By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
Dear Potential Dallas Tourist:
This is a peculiar manner in which to introduce a Dallas restaurant, I admit. After all, minimalism, even the modern kind, is not something Dallas flaunts, unless you count gentlemen's clubs. And even then...
Look hard, though, a little west of Six Flags, to be exact, and you'll find some minimalism in museums. OK, you have to go to Fort Worth, but people use Dallas hotels as a launching pad for Billy Bob's all the time, and the minimal museum stuff is not far from the honky-tonk. But that's for another bureau. Of course, it would be accurate to describe the décor in the Book Depository as minimal. Have you seen this yet? It's a really excellent attraction near the grassy knoll where a drama involving Soviet spies, exploding Cuban cigars, mob molls and Oliver Stone played out. Jack Ruby plays a role, too. Do you know him? It's rumored he used to breakfast at the Thomas Avenue Beverage Company, another really excellent Dallas attraction. You should eat there. Our famous homegrown party producer Steve Kemble (he's a star on TLC's reality show Sheer Dallas) named his dogs Jack and Ruby. Steve's not into minimal décor either.
You might also scoff at the notion that anything in Dallas embraces "elemental purity," old or new. "Yeah, right," you say. "Elemental purity in Dallas rests solely in karats and D cups."
OK, so let's drop the pretenses: Minimalism and elemental purity make good copy. They're euphemisms for "hip," "alluring" and "vibe." That's why Pandora is not a concrete bunker with white walls, two-color paint-splatter art and fluffy pillow seating on bog peat floors. It's tucked next to a nightclub called Purgatory (this is another really excellent attraction as you can enact your own Judgment Day proceedings while drunk). The sidewalk leading up to the roped Pandora portal is painted red. Is this minimal décor?
Step inside. See the thick bamboo stalks in the vestibule as you stroll across a floor tiled in slate. A sleek stone waterfall with votives dotting the ledges leads into the dining room. Facing you is a glass case holding a black Japanese shogun suit of armor against a red silk backdrop (disengage your camera's flash bar to avoid glare). How is this minimalism? The waterfall has no water. Shrewd.
Turn left into the dining room and you see something even more minimalist. It's not the neutral travertine tile floor, pocked with little divots and holes no doubt from minimalist sandals with spiky heels. It's not the glass panels, the wood veneer or the wood ceiling above the sushi bar. No, it's the absence of guests.
The sushi bar is angular, though, with fine seating. It has a Plexiglas surface buckled near one seam, creating what we believe is the first sushi-bar speed bump (again, disengage the flash bar). Pandora even has touches of irony. Among the elemental purity, you'll notice a couple of foils. First, the sushi chefs are not Japanese, or even Asian. This is not a problem. After all, here in Dallas you can get good brisket from grill masters bred in Times Square. Second, there are no hot towels provided to wipe your hands, though this may be just a clever stroke of artistic tension between purity and minimalism. Feel free to wipe your hands on your capris. Third, seaweed salad arrives well before chopsticks or flatware, though you may want to avoid your capris after sampling Pandora's seaweed finger foods.
But Pandora does have what we believe is the first sushi-bar rear-projection high-definition saltwater aquarium. Fish swim around a coral reef while bubbles percolate in the background. Sometimes the backdrop changes color and the fish black out, becoming swimming shadows. A separate video screen next to the aquarium displays tropical island scenes. This is another really excellent attraction, as Dallas doesn't have many beaches if you don't count green mud.
The sushi holds its own. Sure, some of the fish is warm. And though tender, the tuna is fuzzy (fur is good in Dallas). But for elemental purity, go with the uni. It's delicious. Supple rust orange layers are gently deposited inside the ring of nori. It's smooth, cool and nutty. And if the thought of having sea urchin sex organs roiling around in your mouth gets you wincing, remind yourself uni is a minimalist aphrodisiac.
But perhaps the best example of Pandora minimalism is the flounder sashimi. It's nothing but naked creamy white fish, cut into tapered petals and arranged in a sweeping arch across a square plate. Sharp bamboo leaves bisect the plate's corners (note: Bamboo grows wild in most Dallas restaurants, but it has yet to be exploited as a cash crop). The surface of the fish is crowned with a tiny slice of jalapeño bull's-eyed with a dot of red pepper sauce.