Hello, Dali

At first glance, Dali Wine Bar & Cellar is a 7-Eleven. You drive down Routh Street, take a left at the 7-Eleven corporate offices sign and after a few seconds of, "Is this the right place?" you finally see Dali.

Me plus three walked into Dali, ready to drink. Oh, and eat. While the décor was nice, I was expecting, I dunno—art? Dali. Arts District. There should be at least one painting. Nope. Maybe they thought it would be too obvious. Or maybe they hoped the proceeds from an evening of boozery would raise them enough money to afford a dorm poster print of "The Persistence of Memory." Either way, the only art I found in the whole establishment was on the inside of the bathroom stall. There's a door graphic of a ballerino (that's a dude in a tutu) telling you that if you're an employee, you'd better wash your hands before you return to work. I think it was a dude in a tutu. Maybe it was just a chick with a really nice personality.

The restaurant has only about 10 tables, but if it's too cramped inside for you, there's a nice patio out front where you can enjoy some live blues.

You want art in your Arts District? We suggest a still life with wine at Dali.
MEREDITH L. MOORE
You want art in your Arts District? We suggest a still life with wine at Dali.

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Pan-seared quail $9

Cheese sampler $12

Bibb lettuce salad $7

Feuille-wrapped mozzarella $6

Veal $23

Pan-seared halibut $21

Grilled NY strip $28

Pappardelle pasta $15

Butterscotch pudding $8

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After about 30 minutes, I watched the people who sat down after us get their first course, and it hit me: We don't even have water yet. A few minutes later, a manager noticed that we'd been overlooked, and he quickly sent a waiter over with ice water and some menus. I had to do some deep breathing exercises to get through our server's description of the night's specials:

Waiter: "Uh...and then, tonight we're also doing a lamb special, which is prepared, um—pretty much the same as the lamb on the regular menu. I think."

Me: "(Blink. Blink. Breathe.)"

When we ordered our wine and our food, we were bitchy. We had been wronged. We were here first, and some other table of chicks got their food first, and their food looked really good, and that just made us even angstier.

And then, the clouds parted, and a big fat rainbow that was the wine and appetizers came and fixed everything. We dove in, and I began to wonder if this had been the restaurant's strategy all along: make sure the patrons look ridiculously hungry before feeding them. (It would make sense of why they served those Nicky Hilton-skinny chicks so much sooner than they served us.) Whatever their plan was, the appetizers were amazing. There was the gone-in-four-seconds pan-seared quail served with a sweet jalapeño jam and sage pan sauce—awesome. A companion opted for the global sampler of cheeses for one, which comes with a huge portion of perfectly oozy Brie, some large mild Parmesan wedges, a variety of toasts and breads, fresh berries and balsamic figs that made it more like a sampler of cheeses for two. We got an order of pepitas (spicy squash seeds that are basically the high-class version of the bag of birdseed they sell at Rangers games) for the table, which had a nice kick and were great with our wine. I had the feuille-wrapped mozzarella cheese served with a hibiscus honey drizzled on top. The pastry was super light, and the sweetness of the honey complemented the cheese. When we all finally came up for air, the table agreed that I had out-appetizered all of them.

The Bibb lettuce that followed the appetizers arrived with sliced pears, avocado, those spicy pepitas and salmon bacon with sweet citrus vinaigrette. What's salmon bacon? When asked, three out of three diners said, "It's tasty. That's what salmon bacon is." It's also smoked and cured, salty salmon. We were hoping for strips, but what showed up was more like salmon Bac-os Bits. Still tasty, just left us wanting more.

Next on our dinner binge list: entrees. A grilled rack of veal (which was tender enough to justify the evil behind it) with roasted shrimp and overcooked black pepper risotto. The grilled New York strip in Cabernet demi-glace came with sides of mushrooms and whipped fingerling potatoes that were so rich they were reminiscent of ice cream. Forgettable for me, but maybe "so totally tasty" to those weirdo people you know who like eating meals with no meat in them, was the spring pappardelle pasta with giant spring veggies and goat cheese. And finally, the melt-in-your-mouth pan-seared halibut in champagne-dill pan sauce with a side of blood orange couscous. (I thought this couscous was really yummy—the mixture of salt and sweet was a really nice balance for me—but my steak-and-potato friends described the salty followed by sweet combo as "reminding them of vomit." One friend actually gagged a little. I was perfectly fine with this because it meant that I would be able to eat the remainder of my vomitcous all by myself.) The big winners were the halibut (referred to as "The Halliburton" after a few glasses of wine) and the veal.

For dessert, the butterscotch pudding was so good it was able to drown out both Coldplay's "Yellow" and the lady next to me who was asking her waiter to box up her veal bones for her tiny rat dog. The chocolate straw that it's served with doesn't actually work as a straw, though—it's just for decoration. If you try to suck the pudding through it, you'll just hurt your brain. But do eat it. It's delectable.

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