By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
Fish specials vary day to day. We had the sliver-thin plank of pan-fried loup de mer, a Mediterranean sea bass that loses most of its flavor to a heavy brown nutty coating around it. A tiny ramekin of mayonnaise lurks, pretending to be fresh tartar sauce. The side for this is a winner, though: a tumble of long ribbons of crunchy red and green cabbage tossed in a cool citrus-y dressing.
The original Café R&D in So-Cal is famous for its carrot cake, but don't look for it at the Dallas branch. "We used to have it," our server tells us, "but they could never get it right, so they took it off the menu."
Perhaps they're over-thinking their desserts. How else to explain the banana cream pie? Within those three words lies an implicit promise that's been badly broken here. Pie means pie, but Café R&D has deconstructed it into a loose, sloppy layering of ingredients that spill across an entire plate. At the bottom is a flat, greasy crust of chopped nuts and graham crackers. Over that is a layer of chocolate pieces. Over that, a sea of sticky vanilla-almond custard. Over that are fat slices of an entire fresh banana. And over those is a cloud of fresh whipped cream, then more chocolate and drizzles of caramel. It's a mess. Too sweet, too heavy. Just too, too, too.
You'd think a hot fudge sundae (again, three words that promise something wonderful) would be nearly mistake-proof. But no, they've gone and fooled around with another good thing. The ice cream part is fine. It's a baseball-size scoop of vanilla Blue Bell (we asked), marked up about 300 percent over the grocery store price. A fluffy but flavorless whipped cream topping is dotted with sugared walnut halves that beg to be removed and forgotten. In a separate silver gravy boat is the melted chocolate. We dip a spoon in to sample. Ick. Did someone forget to rinse out the gravy? This may be melted Belgian chocolate (we asked), but it tastes strongly of onions and beef. So wrong.
If the dishes aren't consistent in quality, the service certainly is. The hostesses up front are chatty and helpful, offering ice water during our wait for a table. Servers are friendly but unobtrusive, always there when we need something, but not hovering. We especially appreciate the open attitude toward vegan options (the menu also asks for alerts about food allergies). Getting things right the first time saves time for diners and chefs.
About that iced tea thing, though. Instead of refilling the medium-sized tumblers from a pitcher, servers replace half-empty glasses with brand new ones. That gets annoying, what with the constant re-lemoning and re-Equaling for each new glass. Over one lunch the three of us probably go through five glasses apiece. "Hillstone policy," explains the server.
How fitting for the location of this Café R&D. The Park Cities are all about "out with the old and in with the new." Just sidle up to the bar and ask one of those Pumas.
8314 Preston Center Plaza Drive, 214-890-7900. Open 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays-Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays. $$