It was originally dubbed Buddha Bar, and the name was intended to signify a sense of serenity, a mode of contemplation, an evocation of composure. It's not clear what the enlightened one would have thought of this. Maybe he would have tossed it into the same category as sex, which the Buddha said wasn't harmful, but added it wasn't helpful to the quest for enlightenment either. He further instructed his followers to avoid alcohol, late nights, sexual promiscuity, gambling, laziness and bad company. This pretty much wipes out the bar life in one lofty swoop.
But a sudden realization of historical inaccuracy or an uncomfortable malapropism isn't the reason Barry Adler and Phillipe Naovri, the driving forces behind the defunct Kangaroo Club, decided to scrub the Buddha Bar moniker. It was the complaints they received from people who were offended they had the nerve to use Siddhartha Gautama on a bar shingle.
Either these restaurant and lounge owners are timid or there is a larger and more intimidating Dallas Buddha contingency out there than any of us thought. One can imagine a nasty froth if Adler and Naovri called their nightspot John the Baptist Headless Platter Pub. But Buddha Bar?
214-956-7700. Open 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. $$
Seared foie gras: $15
Glazed salmon: $19
Toasted sesame tuna: $21
Lamb chops: $22
While Adler and Naovri have taken the Buddha out of the name of this restaurant/ lounge, they haven't taken the Buddha out of the restaurant. The newly rechristened Bali Bar is rich in Buddha effigies. There's a large Buddha face at the entryway. There are Buddha statues scattered throughout. The place serves a red frozen drink called bam Buddha. This is what Adler and Naovri refer to as "...still appreciating Buddhism at the restaurant and bar." It's hard to know how Buddha statues help ensure a delightful dining experience, though a Buddha with a bam of rum helps cultivate a "may all beings be happy" sort of demeanor.
One of the very happy things about Bali Bar is that its plush tufted red velvet banquettes absorb bar din so that you can hear the mantras inside your head. And God knows the din gets louder the further away you get from dinnertime and the closer you get to lounge time. This room positively rivets you with spiritual quivering as the DJ goes to work and the crowd nurses hungers unrelated to duck liver and snails.
Bali Bar offers both within its roughly textured gold-flaked walls. The foie gras in Calvados sauce is a little gelatinous, but it is richly flavored and satisfying. Yet the real surprise in this dish is the pairing of duck liver with poached Granny Smith apples. The apples mimic the duck liver in texture while venturing into opposing areas of flavor, clearing the palate for the next bite of liver.
Escargots are served as a collection of snail knobs strewn between two flaky pastries all wading in a smoked blood-orange beurre blanc and basil essence (the higher the spiritual attainment, the more complicated the menu descriptions). The snails were tender and clean, flourishing in a rich, alluring sauce. But the little pastry pillows were cold, which deadened the composition a little.
Bali Bar service is a little chilly, too, or at least cumbersome to almost comical in execution. Waits longer than the Bronze Age try the most accomplished Zen patience. But the servers and managers lunge into heroics to make you forget the wait by delivering endless little green glass cups of sake. They also ceaselessly refresh your bread plate. Bread-plate service seems to go through evolutionary fluctuations. The first couple of deliveries consist of warm toasted bread. The bread then becomes cold baguette slices. Sometimes the plate is replaced, leftover slices and all. At other times the server upends the plate and lets the uneaten and half-eaten slices slide into the fresh plate. This process is very confusing and must be some kind of Zen koan that doesn't become clear until the sake gives way to the wine list. But this ushers in other confusions that also must be koans. The wine list features a Jaboulet Parallele 45 Cotes du Rhone by the glass under the Burgundy section of the wine list. Indeed, the servers insist this Cote du Rhone--roughly a 50/50 blend of syrah and grenache--is a pinot noir from Burgundy. Maybe the bam Buddha is from Burgundy, too.
Unlike the wine list, Bali Bar's entrées get as complex and fancy as those from just about any upscale restaurant without a religious affiliation. Yet while the name and décor say Far East, the menu says New American, or frilly American anyway. Maybe even Southwestern if you strain hard. The vegetable couplet accompanying several of the entrées consisted of carrot and jicama sticks. These came with the toasted sesame seared tuna with rice and tomato reduction. The tuna was brittle and dry around the edges, breaking off into waxy chips with a little fork pressure, but things improved markedly as the fork probed toward the center of the tuna, with both flavors and textures undergoing a bold transformation. The brightly tinged reduction didn't have much stamina, at least not enough to compete with the rich tuna.
Lavender-glazed salmon was rich in distinctive flavors, and it damn near melted on the tongue. It wasn't overly flaky. In fact it leaned firmly into mushiness. But it was delicate and aromatic, an unexpected blend of husky salmon richness with floral wispiness.
Lamb chops skirted the textural flaws of the other entrées. The chops were chewy, with mellow lamb sweetness. They also dodged the stringy gristliness that is all too common in lamb preparations.
Bali Bar desserts included crème brûlée, chocolate roulade and a "chef's dessert." But we hadn't achieved the state of mind to order any. We didn't have the stamina for any more bread and sake either.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Dallas dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.