A tasteful toast

Last week, City Cafe hosted an event pairing wild mushrooms with Pinot noir--a perfectly natural pairing if you believe the law of the land, since the same cool climate that produces fungus is also encouraging to the Pinot noir grape, the same reasoning that leads us to eat snails with burgundy. Even after several hours of mushroom consciousness-raising unlike any I'd experienced previously, tasting raw and cooked black trumpets, chanterelles, shiitakes, portobellos (which, we learned, are nothing more than the boring white button mushroom spores allowed to, well, mushroom back to their pre-packaging-conscious scale) with a remarkable series of wines from the Northwest, we were still ready for dinner, so we retreated to the dining room downstairs for some less spongy food.

We segued into the meal with a bowl of wild-mushroom soup, of which we had tasted a small portion at the spore spree upstairs, but a portion so small and delicious it left us wanting more. The word "heady" is a favorite flavor adjective, usually substituted for "strong," but this bisque, nothing more or less than mushrooms--lots of mushrooms, all the mushrooms listed above--cooked to their essence then softened with cream, was actually "heady," Its fabulous fragrance filled your head like incense or wine fumes and refused to leave for several breaths.

City Cafe's kitchen is now under the direction of talented chef-owner Katie Schma, who changes her menu every Wednesday and whose soups are locally famous. (Check out the fresh tomato soup in season.) The emphasis at this discreet little cafe has traditionally been New American, via California, where the Schma's lived before they came here. But this food is less tricky than at most New American restaurants, and City Cafe is less style-conscious or self-conscious than most California restaurants. The menu we chose from featured pretty simple food with just enough imagination to pique the palate. The lamb loin chops come with the expected mint, but are flavored with roasted tomatoes and rosemary. The salmon, not the steak, is pepper-crusted, and the tenderloin is offset with sweet roasted red peppers. Big shrimp are spread with oil-smooth pesto and nested in couscous and sun-dried tomatoes. Daringly, there's a warm cabbage salad with bacon and Roquefort, and old-fashioned hominess is found in the chicken fricassee, too, lush with cream, onions, and more mushrooms.

The cafe, gently lit and decorated with warm wood, a semiopen kitchen, and comfortable chairs, is as approachable as the food, but despite its lack of pretension--and Dallasites usually prefer as much pretense as possible for their big nights out--this is still a favorite celebration spot. The excellent American wine list is one draw. The quick and sharp-eyed staff is another. And the desserts probably figure in, too; they're all good. The chocolate parfait, nothing but layers of whipped cream, ice cream, brownies, and fudge, was another dish Mom could've made, only not this good--but City Cafe's outrageous Blum's cake, topped with almond roca, is a celebration in itself.

--Mary Brown Malouf

City Cafe, 5757 W. Lovers Lane, (214) 351-2233. Open for lunch Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; for dinner daily, 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday brunch 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

City Cafe:
Wild-Mushroom Soup $5
Pesto Grilled Prawns with Sundried Tomato Couscous $19


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