By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
Perhaps it was predictable that such disruptive technologies would encroach upon the restaurant. Bin 555 Restaurant & Wine Bar makes much of its "ultra hip 'Kids' Lounge,'" a wired play space with filtered Internet access, game consoles (Xbox 360, Wii, Playstation) and ever-changing movie showings.
The lounge's menu offers hand-breaded chicken tenders, grilled cheese sandwiches with fries, mac and cheese, and so on. This is the future of dining, all neatly tucked under the catchy heading "innovative family dining." Bin 555 is training the next generation of midget attention spans.
Oddly, this kids' lounge ("no children over 14 years of age" and "absolutely no food or drink is allowed"—a contradiction of the lounge menu concept, no?) is embedded in a relatively sophisticated bistro-wine bar. There are bins with bottles. There's a handsome bound wine list. Fine stemmed glasses are tall, clean and "ding" when flicked by a finger. Is it credible?
Let's test it. We order a bottle of 2003 Byron Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley—lush, plump cherry, wood underlay threaded with complex spice. Hmmm. Good choice, our server says.
A few minutes later he says this: We don't have the Byron. He tosses out a suggestion roughly double the Byron price. I balk. How about the Louis Jadot 2004 Bourgogne? I'm rolling its light bing cherry-ish layers through my mind. Terrific alternative, he snaps.
A few minutes later, he says they're out of that too. We settle for something else, but I can't remember what. I figure if I said its name, it would evaporate into the kids' lounge, swallowed by the next wave of disruptive technology. I just point to a price-point and hold my breath until the bottle comes and is poured and I drink it up. I didn't check the label, even though the bottle was presented and I grunted agreement.
But all of this isn't to say you shouldn't stay in the Bin. You most certainly should. Rotate the kids through the game consoles. Have a small plate of rustic Italian asparagus Milanese. This is an ingeniously delicious piece of craftsmanship. Asparagus stalks in a little pecorino Romano cheese are lined up neatly in a row on the plate. An over-easy egg is draped across, forming a stingray wingspan over the bumpy hump. An asparagus bud pokes astern, stinger-like. When pierced, the egg spills hot thick yellow, forming a vibrant omelet on the fly.
Here's another piece of work: three glistening veal meatballs, vanilla bean, peach, a little cinnamon. They smell like cookie dough, the kind we've all torn from a mixing bowl with two fingers and quickly puttied on the tongue. Will these be cheap, unctuous balls with gaudiness that cloys from the tip of the tongue to the back of the throat? The meat tears easily, its fibers fraying, the caramel-brown sauce shimmering like frosting. Those aromatics betray. These meatballs aren't so much sweet as they are perfumey, moist and delicately hearty—brawn woven from lace.
These satisfying examples shouldn't surprise. Bin 555 has solid breeding. It's the work of chef Jason Dady and his brother Jake, a pair who developed The Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills. The Lodge is a historic San Antonio rock mansion with a New American menu hewn with country Italian and French craft.
Bin 555 in San Antonio followed with its rustic Tuscan-style cuisine framed on small plates and coupled with a wine list featuring 55 bottles for $55, half of which might actually be in stock judging from the blanks we shot. Jason Dady is a young Texas Tech grad who headed out to San Francisco to boot-camp at the California Culinary Academy and later went northward to Beringer Wine Estate in Napa.
The 555 concept spread to Coppell. It's hard to imagine all of this culinary firepower coming to bear on what is marginally an afterthought dining space with a little brick and uninspired paneling and framing forming partitions. Several light bulbs are spent. The ceiling fans flicker. The sports bar feel is unmistakable. The kids' lounge concept is plain spooky. Then the food comes.
Caprese salad doesn't yield much in the way of inspiration. Wedges of tomato, marinated in balsamic and garlic and rosemary, are mealy. Mozzarella slices are crudely cleaved. The fluff of greens in the center is fresh and brilliant green and beads of basil pesto tack down the plate corners.
A simple pillow of lemon risotto is in a rich slick of lemon butter that seems to sweat from the grains. The top of it forms a plateau, and this is where a thick grilled strip of salmon rests, its whisper of seared crisp concealing faded pink richness that isn't arresting, but probably doesn't need to be. Whatever else he does, Dady spins compelling verses out of cost-effectiveness, which is good. Or is it if you notice?