What Dallas lacks is a truly tight, sophisticated dining and lounge experience on the level of New York or Paris or London. How many times have we heard that? And there's no shortage of budding and established operators who insist they have the formula to finally fill this niche. Yet such highfalutin replication efforts almost never work, as Voltaire aptly illustrates. It goes beyond the fact that most restaurants and lounges in Dallas never seem to nail down the service, food, atmospherics and personality of these international spots with any consistency. It's that Dallas simply can't duplicate the breadth and depth of the New York crowd, for example, which doesn't necessarily need "scene" and glitterati gazing to thrive. Enter a Young Turk. "There's a lack of hitting every cylinder with several restaurants [in Dallas]," says Marie Grove. Grove, 27, a management veteran of Voltaire and Steel, says she can craft a true internationally flavored venue that doesn't come off like gel implants. With former Voltaire veterans Francisco Mendonça (chef) and Michael Callahan (service), she's set to open Stolik ("The Little Table" in Czech), a global grub restaurant and lounge with "Parisian chic" décor, in the suddenly shuttered Martini Ranch space on Cedar Springs. With backing from disgruntled Steel investor Mike Chen, Grove plans to have Stolik open in July for less than $1 million. What makes her think she can beat the odds? She says she plans to be in her restaurant constantly to personally cultivate the clientele, maybe à la Elaine Kaufman, who successfully made her alluring restaurant Elaine's in New York a haunt for writers like George Plimpton, Gay Talese and Norman Mailer for decades by keeping the scene-addicted hordes at bay. Trouble is, beyond those junkies, Dallas isn't very rich in crowd quotient. Perhaps the secret is to simply forget trying to mimic New York or Paris or L.A. and just be Dallas. It seems to have worked for Al Biernat, Bob Sambol and Stephan Pyles, and the latter was barely in Star Canyon. Yet Grove, who was reared in Switzerland, Italy and Tokyo and speaks several languages, insists she has the background and know-how to succeed where other imitators have floundered. She very well may. She sure has the necessary chutzpah. "Don't listen to what I say," she says with pointed bravado. "Watch what I do."
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Breadwinners founder Jim Hughes is poised to expand his three meals-plus bakery-plus catering concept to Inwood Village this September in the old S&S Tearoom space. Since opening Breadwinners in 1994, which Hughes says generates $3.5 million to $4 million annually, he has wanted to add another Breadwinners, but didn't because of the complexity. "We're kind of a high-maintenance concept," he says. "There's just so much going on here."