Most Americans see Mexican cuisine through queso-colored glasses, content to crack open a box of store-bought hard-shell tortillas, stuff them with something fatty and vaguely chili-flavored and call the result "Mexican." In Texas, though, some are beginning to understand that Mexican food is more than gelatinous cheese sauces and leaden combo platters. We gaze beyond our southern border at a complex food and cultural landscape that has created a glorious culinary tradition—an epicure's El Dorado. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization agrees. Last year, UNESCO declared Mexican cuisine an "intangible heritage of humanity," an honor Mexico shares with France. Still, boeuf bourguignonne has nothing on mole.

It wasn't until childhood trips to northern Mexico and later afternoons spent in Brooklyn restaurants serving southern Mexican food that I realized the full scope of comida Mexicana. I'm a native Puerto Rican, but I will pass over a plate of lechón and arroz con gandules for—once again—some mole.

That's why I was excited when news came that Abraham Salum, chef-owner of Salum and a native Mexican, was set to open a restaurant that pays homage to the regional food of his homeland, bringing Dallas modern renditions of the greatest food in the world. The intention certainly was good: take the food of Salum's childhood beyond its modest origins and elevate it with touches of fine dining. It begins with the restaurant's name, Komali, which is derived from the Nahuatl comali, source of the Spanish word comal, a plain, flat griddle used predominantly to cook feather-light tortillas. The restaurant's modern look gives the place a chic sheen, anchored by a whitewashed palette with dark accents, wicker-lined walls, banquettes lining the south wall and an artisan-made fireplace.

A grilled porkchop with ancho chili and honey sauce is at home in Komali's chic space.
Sara Kerens
A grilled porkchop with ancho chili and honey sauce is at home in Komali's chic space.

Location Info

Map

Komali

4152 Cole Ave.
Dallas, TX 75204-8245

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Uptown & Oak Lawn

Details

Komali 4152 Cole Ave., Ste. 106, 214-252-0200, www.komalirestaurant.com. Open 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Sunday. $$-$$$
Queso de cabra: $9 Antojitos Mexicanos: $10.50 Crema de poblano: $6 Vuelve a la vida: $18.50 Pollo en mole negro de Oaxaca: $19 Filete de res almendrado: $25 Chile relleno de jaiba: $16.50 Chocoflan: $6.50 Churros con chocolate: $6.50

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Unfortunately, Salum's new venture disappointed with bumbling service and a string of underwhelming dishes.

A humble dish that should breathe new life into the Dallas restaurant scene is the vuelve a la vida, a seafood cocktail with a name that translates to "return to life." The sliced avocado garnish gave it a creamy counterpoint, but the pieces of fish, shrimp, oysters and octopus were chopped too finely, the octopus especially. It was the size of miniature gumballs with no presence beyond a chewy texture.

The service didn't fare much better. During a packed dinner, the table next to ours received a birthday cake, white candles sizzling. The waitress, however, neglected to bring forks and plates along with the dessert. During lunch at Komali, fewer than 10 tables were occupied, all but one filled with elderly customers who could have been mistaken for passengers on a tour bus. It was discomfiting, then, that as I sat at the bar waiting for my lunch companion to arrive, it took 10 minutes to order the signature cocktail, the Komali, a blend of Tres Generaciones Reposado, prickly pear puree, Cointreau, mango and lime juice. Moreover, the gentleman who took my order needed the slow assistance of another employee. When I received my drink, the napkin beneath bore the printed logo of Salum, the chef's namesake restaurant.

The servers seem to be ignorant to what the chef wants pushed, much less what goes into each dish. "Everything" is an inappropriate answer to any diner's questions. The only time staff expertise was exhibited during my visits was when my wife stopped herself short from ordering the filete tampiqueña (thin tenderloin, grilled and plated with refried black beans, an enchilada de mole, some grilled onions and a basket of small handmade tortillas), the lone entrée resembling the familiar combination platter prevalent in Tex-Mex establishments. The waiter then gushed over the filete de res almendrado. The almendrado sauce, an almond-based mole, was luscious and pungent. Atop the beef rested a fried tortilla-encrusted ball of goat cheese, creamy and tangy. The steak was a delectable tenderloin with a touch of pink in the center. All the elements—steak, cheese and sauce—played well together. The happy combination was tempered only by the adequate potato and squash sides.

The chicken mole entrée was uneven. The mole negro was a stellar example of the most popular of Mexico's legendary sauces. Earthy and rich, the smooth texture morphed into a light heat that ricocheted at the back of the throat where notes of myriad ingredients, among them chocolate and chilies, left a mark. It was a pleasure to see and taste such a fine sauce. The bone-in breast under the mole, on the other hand, was more dried out with each bite.

The chile relleno de jaiba, a crabmeat-stuffed poblano pepper resting on salsa roja and accompanied with cilantro rice, was another letdown. It was memorable only because I had jotted it down in a notepad after dinner.

The absence of a lunch menu further deepens the disappointment at Komali. Twenty-five dollars for beef tenderloin is a bargain for a fine-dining offering. For a midday meal, it's befuddling. Smaller portions at lower price points would entice the young adults who overrun restaurants in nearby Uptown and Knox-Henderson. (At least they would if the service were better.) A simple lunch of one appetizer and two entrées lasted two hours. Adding the appetite-whetting antojitos Mexicanos, "little Mexican snacks," and a dessert of dense chocoflan, a traditional (and contentious) marriage of vanilla custard and chocolate cake, would have extended the meal into pink-slip territory. The pair were some of the bookends of a later dinner. The appetizer was composed of bland chorizo sopes, greasy, underseasoned flautas and unremarkable pork. The goat-milk cajeta draped over the dessert was cloying, though not as powerful as the queso de cabra with piloncillo sauce ordered for lunch.

Not all was lost. Two other dishes, also bookends, were encouraging. The first, the crema de poblano, a chest-warming corn chowder swimming with tortilla strips, gave off a mild and welcomed heat. The other was the crispy churros dessert, given a sprinkle of sugar and served with a cup of hot chocolate for dipping. I watched as it transported my wife, who is of Mexican heritage, back in time to when she drank Abuelita Mexican hot cocoa.

At Komali, a web of selections representative of central Mexico and the states of Oaxaca, Veracruz and Yucatan becomes a sticky knot. If the restaurant is a sign of Mexican food's state in Dallas, let's hope it is a brief stumble.

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19 comments
Dennis Gonzalez
Dennis Gonzalez

Dude, how much did you eat? Maybe that's why the meal was not to your liking!? When you eat as much as you've listed, you're bound to come away with the Dear-God-if-you promise-that-I-won't-get-sick-I-promise-I-won't-eat-another-bite Syndrome.

As my Mom used to say when we'd eat too fast or too much, "Resuella, hombre!"

Matthew
Matthew

The thing about real Mexican food (the kind you find outside the big cities) is that it's quite bland compared to Tex-Mex and American meals. They don't use a bottle of seasoned salt for taste ...it's all natural. The flavor and spice comes from the natural ingredients like onions, cilantro, garlic, fresh cheeses and creams, and salsas. Now THAT sir is some great eating.

LoveMex
LoveMex

Maldonado went to Mexico as a child and ate at Mexican restaurants in Brooklyn? Really. Well then, clearly everyone should listen up. The Observer is waisting it's money - assuming they actually pay this guy.

Joe L
Joe L

Food snobs continually diss Tex Mex and rhapsodize about authentic Mexican food. I have spent a lot of time in Mexico. Several years ago most of my clients were there.

In reality, it's hard to find a decent meal in Mexico outside private homes. I think it has to do with the lack of high quality ingredients. I really enjoyed working in Mexico, but I would count the days until I could get back to Texas and decent Mexican food.

"Authentic" Mexican restaurants have repeatedly tried to take on the Dallas market. There was "Valentino de Mexico" on Montfort, another Mexican company opened by the ice rink in the Galleria where Mi Cocina is now, and there was "Carlos and Charley" on McKInney. They all folded and went back to Mexico where there is less competition.

I think the fact is, despite the pretentious food snobs, Tex Mex in Texas is just better than Mexican food in Mexico.

Joshua
Joshua

Unless it contains a mega ton of pure lard, and is cooked on a open hearth over horse dung, it will not be authentic.

Coleman
Coleman

Wow, the comments for this article sure do sound like astroturf.

EMC
EMC

Way off Maldonado...Komali is a terrific addition to the Dallas restaurant scene!

Dallas Diner
Dallas Diner

Dear Observer, Congratulations! You replaced the terrible Sarah Reiss with someone worse. Maldonado totally missed the boat on his virgin voyage. And....you look a bit silly being totally negative about a place everybody else seems to love. Try again.

Dallas, Born and Raised
Dallas, Born and Raised

Maldonado - You are a fool! Not only did you pick a great couple of dishes, your critique is juvenile and ignorant. Very disappointing for your first run outside of the sand box. Now go back in!!!

This is a great restaurant and so far, from those of us who are REAL Dallas diners, Komali is a perfect combination of food and spirits. Great job at recreating a niche!

LoveMex
LoveMex

Exactly Matthew, and having spent much time in Mexico myself (leaving again next week) I can assure you Komali is the real deal. I guess that's not how Maldonados Mexican food was down in Puerto Rico.

Kasa
Kasa

Your ignorance is bumbling like the idiot reviewing says. Unesco must be mistaken in saying Mexican food is an intangible heritage of humanity, they should have consulted with you.

Sarah Eveans
Sarah Eveans

Sarah Reiss writes for D Magazine, not the Observer. Try again.

Dallas Diner
Dallas Diner

I have been posting on the Observer webpage for a number of years under the name "Dallas Diner," and I did not make this post. I don't know who is using my blog name.

Dallas Diner
Dallas Diner

P.S. Plus I know that this review wasn't Maldonado's "virgin voyage" for the DO, and I know that Sarah Reiss doesn't write for the DO. My guess is that the comment was written under my blog name by someone associated with the restaurant who posted under my blog name (and perhaps those of others) in an effort to dilute the effect of the negative review. Shame on them.

The Real Dallas Diner

Dallas Diner
Dallas Diner

Of course not. However, since I've used it for several years, I want to make sure there is no confusion that I didn't post the comment, especially when the author didn't even know that (1) Maldonado isn't new to the DO, and (2) didn't know that Sarah Reiss doesn't work for the DO. I can live with appearing stupid, but I want to be known for my own stupidity, not someone else's. In the future, to avoid any confusion with the blog name usurper, I could just post under "JimS" since he never makes it over to the food side.

Coleman
Coleman

This is what I thought after reading the first five comments on this article. disgusting behavior.

 
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