Best Of :: Food & Drink
The $5.95 lunch special at Nuevo Leon, a Mex-Mex mini-chain, is not for the feint of appetite. Nuevo Leon's eight selections on its daily lunch special menu are nicely prepared with fresh ingredients, sauces that go well beyond the ordinary Tex-Mex glopfare, and generous portions. The plates here are huge. A hearty eater is hard-pressed to get through, say, the No. 8--two beef enchiladas, one pork tamale with chili con carne, rice, beans covered with cheese, and the usual basket of chips--without expecting a little siesta back at the office. The solution: split. At $3 each, you and a friend can be well taken care of. Tax, tip, and Coke and you're out the door for $5 a head. Now that's cheap.
If you can keep your mind and your lunch plans open, you will certainly enjoy the gourmet goodness and styling of Monica Greene as she opens up her Mexican kitchen to power-lunchers looking for the best bargain in town. Five bucks can buy you hefty portions of enchiladas, tacos, and burritos, but don't look for traditional Tex-Mex here. We are talking about fare with flair, Mexican food prepared and presented with thought, delicacy, and whimsy--whatever that means. The noise level here gets way over the top, but what did you expect? This is Deep Ellum.
Sometimes putting your money where your mouth is...doesn't taste very good. But not all the time. Sure, multimillionaire Scott Ginsburg has used his considerable shekels to assemble a world-class wine list (1981 Chateau Haut-Brion is served by the glass in the bar) and a stunning array of knickknacks. (They include an exploding dish chandelier by lighting designer Ingo Mauer and a bullet-proof glass case cradling a collection of Dale Chihuly glass sculptures.) But if great bottles and swell gimcracks made great restaurants, Woolworth's lunch counter would not have faded away. You gotta have tasty hors d'oeuvres to go with all that eye candy. Or at least tasty liver sans onions (which Voltaire does, only they call it foie gras). There are those rare moments while dining when you slip a forkful of food into your mouth and time stops, or least your Hyundai payments do (Voltaire isn't cheap). This is what eating at Voltaire was like on two occasions months ago. The food was perfectly prepared, the sauces well orchestrated, and the plates brilliantly assembled. But then the restaurant was afflicted with serious stumbles, most notably with service. Missteps spread to the cuisine when Executive Chef George Papadopoulos diverted his focus from the kitchen to grease the gears grinding in the front of the house. All those shortcomings have been smoothed over, however, and Voltaire is once again as good as it was. Now if we could only find some money to put this tasty cuisine in our mouth.
A couple of these sly concoctions of Crown Royal, peach schnapps, and cranberry juice will turn a mousy brunette into a scarlet temptress. The pinkish red color and the deceptive sweetness hide the puissant punch that quickly brings out the tart in anyone. Drink at your own risk.
Il Sol's pan-roasted bobwhite quail with a truffled taleggio risotto cake is plump, juicy, and bursting with delicate flavors. The risotto cake edged the bird in racy cheese sharpness, putting the game in this game. It makes you wonder what kind of miracles they could perform with a parakeet.
We like our alcoholic beverages the same way we like our panty hose, perfume, and boyfriends--strong and cheap. The process for making this barroom staple isn't hard to master. Put ice in a plastic cup. Pour in Jack Daniels. Hose in some Coca-Cola. Sure, it happens all over town, but here it will cost a least a buck or two less per drink than other places. And with the potency, you'll save even more in the long run.
If you're looking for a quick, inexpensive meal, check out the Corner Bakery in North Dallas. Take-out or eat-in, pasta is prepared fresh as you wait. Entres include fettucine Alfredo, pasta with pesto, pasta with tomato, pasta with ragu, and pasta with marinara sauce. Each dish is served with a salad of your choice, and a fresh assortment of bread--all for less than $10.
Now that the weather's cooled down--oooh, that 89 degrees gives us goose bumps--what better way to bring in the morning than by sitting on the Bread Winners' patio drinking a little java, eating some French toast (a real highlight), and reading the morning paper (we take The New York Times, which makes it easier to digest)? The food's always excellent here (so it tastes a little better on Sunday mornings), and the ambience puts the exclamation mark at the end of the experience. The first time we took our wife here, she thought she had moved to another city--like, a really nice one that had some ambience.
Jerome Hunter's family farm in Gilmer produces the best peaches around--far better than those California croquet balls masquerading as fruit at the supermarket. Each of Hunter's beauties is a globe of tender, meaty pulp that virtually explodes when you bite it. Take a towel for your wrists, which will be slimed by waves of peach juice pouring from the bite mark. Hunter's hangs its shingle in Shed 3 at the Farmers Market, where it is flanked by other delicious fruit vendors. They're good, but Hunter's peaches remain the Elvis of the shed.
The tables are filled with them: lone gnawers, grazers, and nibblers fiddling with cell phones, flipping through newspapers, or fumbling with Palm Pilots. With so many solo gourmandes taking down plates of Caesar salad, soups, sandwiches, rotisserie chicken, and daily specials (all obtained cafeteria-style so you don't have to feel like a lonely shmuck while a server takes your order with one of those ridiculing gazes), no one will notice you. Which, for once, is just what you want.
What do you want? Bulgarian, French, or Greek? For those who make such distinctions, the differences are obvious, with the Bulgarian being the richest and creamiest. At this import shop, you can have your choice, and the proprietors will reach down into the water- and cheese-filled containers and pull out a chunk of bright white cheese that, when served with watermelon--the way the Bulgarians eat it--is unbeatable.
Strip and rib-eye steaks at Pappas are dry-aged prime, and it shows, though not on the plate. You won't find any vertical architecture emerging from the meat; no swirling threads of brightly colored, pleated sauces. The preparation here is unapologetically minimalist, with just a sprinkle of kosher salt, a dash of pepper, and a little butter to pull out the richness. A dusting of chopped parsley completes the presentation. This is the brute force of beef in all of its firm, juicy, tender, bold glory. We're waiting for the Pappas Bros. triple-bypass quick mart to round out the experience.
The last time we went out for pizza, we rang up a $30 tab splurging on four toppings. The price of cheap eats is going up, except, that is, at Bangkok Inn. Nearly everything on the menu is $6.95, and their curries--from mild yellow to spicy hot red panang--are some of the best we've had. How do they do it? Well, let's just say they didn't break the bank on decor, which hasn't changed in the decade we've been going to this East Dallas mainstay. The lighting is bright, direct, and sort of weird, which sets a certain mood: cheap and good.