Best Of :: Food & Drink
Opened in 1990 by two brothers from Syria, Ali Baba has been gathering continuous good reviews for its rice, tabbouleh, hummus, falafel, dolmas and gyros. Meat lovers with $10 to spare can't go wrong with the Mashwi shish, a plate of marinated beef or lamb grilled with onions, mushrooms and tomatoes, all seasoned with saffron and thyme. It comes with a hefty portion of Ali Baba's inimitable rice. It's worth the visit just because of the hummus, which, unlike the grayish mystery goop sold at some stores, actually melds the chickpeas into something that doesn't just taste, well, like mashed chickpeas. Dips are creamy and have a kick. Portions are generous. In all, the tour through the region is far more rewarding than any wonk's policy speech on the area's rising tensions or whatnot. Just relax, fight through the big crowds and eat till you gain a deeper understanding of the world's hot spot.
It's not so much that Breadwinners has the kind of coffee that could turn a three-toed sloth into a crazed New York commuter within three sips. It isn't even so much that Breadwinners has the kind of fresh-baked muffins, sweet rolls, cakes and fresh breads that make you almost fall in love with the cellulite and spare Firestones they will turn into with just a little butter. It's the scrambles, the omelettes, the velvety pancakes and the lush interior courtyard. Plus, Breadwinners serves breakfast until 4 p.m. If you can sleep until 3 and still get a hot breakfast, why mess with an alarm clock?
Brunch is a natural for a venue whose first name denotes a street bar--a natural disaster, that is. But Greenville Bar and Grill, a white-tablecloth retrofit of a once gunked and grimed watering hole that's been hovering around Greenville Avenue since 1933, beats the odds. Greenville's eggs Benedict is like no other. Slathered in a smooth, tangy hollandaise sauce, the fluffy and plump poached egg sits on a chewy sheet of Canadian bacon bedded down on a muffin so tender and pliant that it disintegrates as soon as it hits the mouth (and it isn't one of those watery, predigested muffins either). Perhaps even more amazing--and rare in the world of Benedicts--is that this version is actually hot through and through. Not cool, not warm, not piping hot hollandaise over a chilled egg with icy whites and golf ball-hard yolks, but hot, from muffin bottom to hollandaise tarp. There's no rubbery egg white or watery poach discharge either--grave hazards after a night of serious drinking or a morning of serious molten brimstone lingo. Omelettes are constructed with the same exacting care. They're fluffy and light, almost like little soufflés. Even the fruit plate--typically a thoughtless ensemble starring the mealy and the insipid--is riddled with the plump, the bright and the fresh. Greenville Bar and Grill's brunch is so good, you'll find yourself forgetting about that dog-hair remedy you're convinced you need to help the eggs and the head whir stay down. But there's plenty of that behind the handsome bar if your memory is extra sharp.
Frisco is a long way to travel for good seafood. But hell, so is the ocean, and it's much harder on pickup trucks than the asphalt and browned prairie grass of the northern most reaches of the metroplex. 9 Fish, so named because the number means good luck in much of Asia, is a fascinating clash of highly disciplined culinary craft and freewheeling protocol, all executed with some of the ugliest critters ever seen outside a Jerry Springer installment. A display case stores an assortment of fish, giant prawns, clams and live geoduck--the giant clams from the Pacific Northwest that flaunt 18-inch siphons from their measly 3-inch shells, which are held together with rubber bands. This place can be exhilaratingly exotic, serving sculpted Japanese foie gras (monk fish liver) and giant whole prawns tossed and turned on the robata grill. 9 Fish also serves sushi: cool, firm and silky without any sinewy strands to get tangled between your crowns. The flesh literally dissolves between your cheeks. Seared peppered tuna, perched on black sticky rice and "escorted by fresh field greens," arrives as two tall pink wedges rising out of the dark rice like coastal palisades. In the mouth the fish behaves like pristine slivers of ocean silk. It's hard to get seafood better than this without a snorkel and an airline ticket.
If clones are going to attack, let them do it with weapons of flaccid tuna slices, gooey uni and fluffy tobiko in shades that would make a Day-Glo palette wince. That's what Sushi Kyoto II does. A replica of Sushi Kyoto I in Coppell, the Kyoto clone along this SMU pavement strip bombards you with buxom scraps of fresh raw fish: silky tuna that disintegrates in the mouth with just a little tongue pressure; smooth, delicately smoky salmon that can easily be parsed with chopsticks; sweet satiny hamachi; fluffy tobiko. Even the uni, the urchin gonad ensemble that makes infrequent successful appearances in Dallas, is firm, nutty and smoothly cool. Octopus is tender and chewy, with a gentle touch of salinity. But one of the most compelling dishes in this place isn't a fleshy aquatic critter at all. It's a snarl of seaweed pimpled with sesame seeds. The flavors in Sushi Kyoto's seaweed salad are so clean, crisp and addicting, it'll seduce all your friends and family who belt raw fish-phobic squeals whenever sushi and dinner are mentioned in the same breath. It also makes a great vegan French tickler.
How simple. How healthful. How easy to like, even for those few souls who haven't been initiated into the ways of sushi. The California roll--tuna, avocado, rice and a light coating of roe--is sort of a basic building block of American sushi dining. This is starter sushi, as much American as Japanese. Some would say it's passé, but not us. If it's over, then prime steak was out after 1966. (Actually, it was, but it hid in the mountains like a patient guerrilla fighter.) Same with the California roll. At this solid, unpretentious and thoroughly popular sushi palace, they make this old standard flawlessly. The flavors meld and blend in your little puddle of soy sauce. Start here, then work deeper and deeper into the dining ways of the Far East.