Things aren't always what they seem.
Take, for example, Main Street Blues Room. At first glance it's a rustic tin utility building more suited to storing old tractor parts than housing a restaurant. The name itself evokes lurid images of precarious dives, boozehounds slumped at the bar, sultry music and a white haze of cigarette smoke seeping through thin walls.
But fortunes change suddenly once you step through the door. There's nothing dank inside, just opulence carried out to an almost ridiculous degree. Plush curtains of royal purple separate the bare foyer from the main dining area. Rows of chandeliers cast a halo of golden light, revealing ornate chests, colorless photos of Rat Pack stars, flamboyant backgrounds in shades of purple and blue. A lengthy bar occupies one wall, and a small stage tucks against another. Toward the back and around the corner is an open space with a luxuriant table under a massive chandelier. Two intimate rooms flank this arrangement, again set off by thick purple velvet. These are spaces for couples or friends to dine in simple elegance over white tablecloths. Distance from the stage softens the volume, allowing those reserving back-room spots to concentrate on hushed conversation--and food.
Main Street Blues Room
Tuna avocado tartare$13
Crab cakes $13
Tomato salad $10
Tenderloin beef pinchos $10
Crab-stuffed halibut $27
Texas game hen $21
Ahi tuna $26
Lamb chops $29
Georgia peach crme brle $6
Key lime pie $6
Walnut cake $7
While the name emphasizes melancholy sounds of live blues, menu items at Main Street Blues Room veer more toward formal dinner dance club fare, with a few twists. Lamb chops are marinated in olive oil with garlic and rosemary. A traditional preparation, yet one that's unforgettable. Pungent Spanish olive oil saturates every fiber then melts out during the roasting process, leaving only a flavorful residue. The meat emerges from the oven musky, fragrant and tender.
Texas game hen sits under an entanglement of twisted sweet potato sticks, enough to snare an entire regiment of "Tommies" launching themselves over the top at the Somme. Fight your way through the intertwined mess and you'll find a tough, almost wild bird paired with an extraordinary stuffing of good foccacia, chopped herbs and sea salt. Cubes of seasoned bread add an explosive, savory element to the dusky meat, bursting far enough above the base flavors to elevate its natural gaminess. A tomato salad expands on the usual Italian presentation by sandwiching red and yellow tomato slices over two different goat cheeses, one mild and one sharp. A dressing of aged sherry vinegar and oil, applied lightly, adds a woody undertone. Roughly cut herbs and a sprinkle of salt complete the dish. The effect is an initial sweetness followed by an intense combination of flavors.
Chef Israel Voirin and crew seemingly enjoy confounding guests. Most kitchens stress simplicity when they plate up slices of tomato and mozzarella. These guys aim for something more intricate. The surprises continue when you size up the atmosphere. Despite lush Vegas bordello surroundings, servers don dark, professional gear (not counting the kitschy fedoras), the sort of look you find at staid upscale restaurants. Their manner, however, remains mid-cities casual--to the point where food runners twice handed our orders to the wrong table on one visit and a waitress encouraged the thought of pulling backroom curtains shut for illicit encounters during a second round.
Ah, so blues brings out the devil in all of us.
Main Street is a speakeasy of sorts, but don't let the allure of hidden corners and low-down sounds win your attention away from the meal. Sure, the kitchen falters at times, yet even disappointing menu items flash a tantalizing side--with two exceptions.
Tuna avocado tartare is the Zonker Harris of appetizers, a likable underachiever. Avocado dominates, with only a modest portion of tuna to account for the name. Yet it's an interesting and delicate mold of sashimi grade fish, soft chunks of avocado, cucumbers and onions. A spicy sauce decorates the plate and leaves a contrasting peppery aftertaste. Splashed with lime juice moments before it hits the table, the flavor resembles ceviche, minus cilantro, plus a little burn.
Crab cakes suffer from excessive filler and should perhaps be labeled "bread cakes with crab." Judging by texture alone, they reminded us more of Wonder Bread than the Maryland seashore, but an herbal medley noticeable for cilantro and dry mustard makes you forget about the dearth of seafood. It's a robust, savory and satisfying starter, despite the heavy breading.
Nothing wrong with tenderloin beef pinchos, really--irresistible skewers of exquisite charred beef sitting on a loosely arranged pile of salty homemade potato chips--except for an underwhelming sauce served in a mini martini glass, complete with olive. The dull liquid adds nothing to the experience but the somewhat delicate exercise of dipping chunks of beef into a stemmed container after a couple glasses of wine, trying desperately to avoid tipping the entire assembly.
Order the tenderloin, but ignore the sauce.
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The two exceptions? Not long ago the restaurant listed prosciutto-wrapped halibut on the menu. By our first visit, however, chef Voirin had replaced that intriguing entrée with a mundane halibut stuffed with crab. It's a well-prepared fish, mind you--lean and flaky and mild. The whole was uninspiring except for a side of potatoes mashed with tangy sun-dried tomatoes, which meld sweet and earthy flavors. Not much of a downturn, really. Just ordinary when compared to other Main Street creations. The ahi tuna, though, was truly disappointing. Steaks of deep and vibrant red fish spring back against the fork but still melt in your mouth. Good so far. But a rub of dried chiles puréed with blackening spices overpowers the delicate fish with blast after blast of gritty Southwestern flavors. It's salty with an undercurrent of smokiness followed by a lingering furnace. The tuna becomes a mere texture to convey seasonings. It's almost insulting to treat a great piece of fish in this manner.
OK, a few glitches. But pastry chef Antonio Granados' dessert menu is flawless.
On our first visit we tried Georgia peach crème brûlée and Key lime pie. While many restaurants in the Dallas area serve knockoff versions of the traditional custard--overly sweet and much too firm--Granados chooses to emphasize its egg custard origins. The base is creamy with a coddled texture. Real fruit died to make this dish, so it lacks the familiar commercial pop of low-end brûlées. Instead, the compelling dessert draws much of its sweetness from natural sugars, lending a more complex flavor. Egg and peach whisper with each bite, reminding you that lingering over something of subtle beauty brings untold pleasure. The Key lime pie's color prepares you for another ethereal experience. It's not vibrant white or dizzying lime like artificial desserts, but a dull deep forest tan. The filling balances ripe tartness with mellow sugar while the thick, crumbly brown sugar crust provides a more earthy and bitter molasses tone. Walnut cake capped our final visit, a rich and moist thing barely holding together on the fork. The meaty nut flavor breaks through after the luscious coating of cream dissolves away.
Desserts, in other words, are memorable experiences down on Main Street. Entrées and appetizers are engaging. And the blues, well, maybe they don't feed the musicians. 814 S. Main St., Grapevine, 817-310-3211. Open 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Music till 2 a.m.