Best Of :: Food & Drink
No one does a plain old Caesar salad anymore. Well, Bella does, but few others. Instead, restaurants toss on a lot of fancy stuff—lobster nuggets and such. Kent Rathbun's new place dresses up the salad right: kernels of parched corn, toasted pepitas, crumbles of Mexican cheese. Yeah, sounds like just another gussied-up Caesar, except that all the ingredients work so beautifully together, the mound of lettuce becomes like a carnival, with flavors and textures swirling and twirling, yet starting you from one place and bringing you back to the same spot. Hell, if you're gonna order greens, why not have fun with them?
Long before tapas, small plates and shared plates became trendy, the Spanish grabbed simple bites at the bar to tide them over until 10 or 11 p.m., when dinner is served. Cava's piquillo peppers appetizer is like an homage to that simple tradition. They merely sauté the peppers in olive oil (a lot of olive oil) with some garlic. That's it—nothing fancy, but the flavors roil from earthy, bitter and herbaceous to piquant, even sweet. In a city where chefs put a lot of time and effort into starters, Cava's basic dish stands out.
For decades Dwight Harvey held down a real, corporate-type job, cooking barbecue on the weekends. He and his son eventually turned this into a casual catering venture and, finally, a full-fledged barbecue joint. The Harveys are particular about their wood, using pecan to slow-cook brisket, ribs and the other usual suspects. Their rub lends a strong, sweet-spicy character to the meats. If there's a downside, it's the cramped space. A set of tables out front provide seating, but you must force your way to the counter to place orders, especially during the lunch rush. There's a large contingent of downtown cubicle dwellers who frequent the place. For those who want to run the south-side-after-dark risk, Off the Bone stays open late—as in 2 a.m. late—on weekends.
Generally, when you see two restroom doors in a restaurant, they lead into two different restrooms—you know, boys and girls, cowpokes and cowgirls, damas y caballeros, etc. Not so at Cowboy Chow, however, where both doors lead into the same communal restroom. Sure, everyone gets their own individual walled-off stall with a full door, but it's still awkward when you run into your date at the communal sink. And considering all the delicious Navajo fry bread, red pepper brisket, homemade chocolate chip ice cream and (especially) sweet watermelon tea you'll be consuming, there's no way you'll be able to avoid it.
First the chefs at AVA, one of whom worked at the Green Room, brought back that long-lost restaurant's mussels recipe. Then the man himself announced his return. Years ago Marc Cassel guided the little Deep Ellum bar/restaurant to greatness. His style? Collision cuisine—the happy smashing of contrasting flavors and techniques into something that worked, and magically so. In July, Dallas' prodigal chef returned, opening Park on Henderson Avenue to almost instant success. The Dallas Morning News reported guests raising toasts to Cassel's chicken-fried steak. That's big news.
Phil and Janet Cobb you know from the Black-Eyed Pea chain (Phil's doing) and Mi Piaci (Janet), as well as some other once-famous stops. The name Chris Andrews is associated with Holy Smokes, a once well-regarded barbecue place. And then there's Dotty Griffith, former restaurant critic for The Dallas Morning News. All of these familiar names have come back to life and converged, like culinary zombies, on a small bit of real estate in Carrollton. The meat's pretty good. The names behind it are impressive as hell.