Bob Hoofs North
Even in Plano, everything about Bob's is exaggerated, from the endless mahogany wood paneling to the near-golf-ball-sized jelly beans kept in a large bowl near the entrance. That goes for the drinks, too, especially the martinis. In truth, the martini is an appalling beverage to belt anytime before or during a meal. Though it is considered appetite-whetting, the martini blitzes the senses with a raw, arctic dose of ethyl alcohol in a form that short-circuits culinary discernment before the first bite of olive. By the time your second frosted glass is downed, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a prime steak and a burger.
Bob's accelerates this process by formulating martinis that are stronger than conventional pours, and it creates them in a peculiar way. Bob's doesn't fill its back bar with fancy shakers, strainers or other martini paraphernalia. Instead, it creates its martinis with a simple tumbler and a long, twisted spoon with a bend about two-thirds of the way up. The bartender dumps crushed ice into the tumbler, adds the fuel (along with a little dirt, if requested), cups her hand over the top and forcefully stabs the spoon into the space between her thumb and forefinger, battering the ice crystals mercilessly. The contents are then strained into a frosted glass.
Our bartender claims this crude process is the way martinis used to be made (we could find no reference to such a brutish stirring method) and added that shaking the formula doesn't fully integrate the spirits with the ice. (James Bond once remarked that stirring a martini bruises the gin, while Somerset Maugham argued that martinis should always be stirred so that the molecules lie sensuously on top of one another.) Whatever the purpose, this ritual produces a remarkable martini, one that flows frigid over the lips then burns like a molten poker in the throat--martini quintessence.
Like everything at Bob's--from the long polished bar to the dusky clubby atmosphere (the Plano version is more open and less claustrophobic than the original low-slung model on Lemmon Avenue)--the salads are buffed. Which is not to say deft or defined. The chopped-tomato, onion and fresh mozzarella salad is a chaotic blizzard of white cheese cubes, red chopped tomato and slivers of onion floating in a puddle of dressing. Still, while its appearance was a bit tattered, the flavors hammered their way through in true Bob's form.
The blue cheese salad is a mad dash of even greater crude brutishness, a force under which the fresh romaine leaves simply whither. More than a dinner salad, this dish is an orgy of condiments, a choking squall of blue cheese crumbles and minced hard-boiled egg. The only thing judiciously applied is the light flurry of pecan fragments.
Though the Caesar had a promiscuous flood of dressing, it was still a refreshing breather in the cast of Bob's bruiser salads. The leaves were fresh and crisp, not pummeled (too much) with Parmesan and croutons, and the dressing was not afraid to flaunt a little anchovy raciness.
Bob's shrimp platter is a pricey batch of conventionally manipulated marine decapods. Still, it's worth the extra shekels. This simple ensemble contains just six large shrimp: two boiled, two fried and two smeared with rémoulade. The shrimp were succulent, robust (in keeping with the Bob's bloodline) and firm without being waxy or rubbery. The fried shrimp arrived with a crisp thin veneer that was virtually devoid of grease (astonishing for a house built on heft). The only version of this trio of pairs that did not live up to the standard set by its siblings was the rémoulade-smeared shrimp. The sauce simply overwhelmed--or at least annoyed--the natural marine sweetness, a compelling flavor that was amazingly respected by the thin coating applied to the fried version.
Though phenomenally successful, owner Bob Sambol has conspicuously avoided replicating his steak namesake since he launched his restaurant on Lemmon Avenue after forging a partnership with Del Frisco's founder Dale Wamstad. When it was opened in 1993, it was called Bob & Del's Chop House, and it was encumbered with certain menu restrictions to limit its competition with Wamstad's Del Frisco's in far North Dallas. Six months later, Wamstad exited the Lemmon Avenue venture.
Sambol struggled and almost went under in 1994 when an investor infused the necessary funds at the last minute. Now Bob's is a virtual steak-to-bucks exchange machine boasting one of the highest restaurant grosses in the state.
So the surprise isn't that he decided to spread his fortune; it's that he waited so long. In January, Sambol opened a Bob's in the heart of San Francisco's financial district. The restaurant is plugged into the ground floor of a 362-room Omni Hotel, which opened earlier this year after the Irving-based hotel company embarked on a $115 million renovation of a circa 1926 office building. In Dallas, Sambol injected his prowess in two locations: in Plano in The Shops at Legacy, where a Bob's opened in June of this year; and on Henderson Avenue, where Sambol forged a partnership with H-street czar Tristan Simon (Cuba Libra, the upcoming Candle Room and Hibiscus) to launch the members-only upscale lounge Sense, presumably a post-rib eye stop for his Lemmon Avenue clientele.
So far, none of this expansion has compromised Bob's thick muscular core. The Plano venue maintains Bob's skill with meat. The only point of sub-grand performance that we found was with the 9-ounce prime filet mignon. It was a good steak, but it lacked the gushing provocative juicy richness Bob's has elevated to a religious experience. Plus, it was on the dry side, cooked though it was to a perfect medium hue.
But the prime rib eye remained true to form. The rosy-cored medium-rare steak was tender and slammed with lots of juicy flavor, a dripping carnivorous orgy of cardiovascular excess.
Surprisingly, even the lamb chops created floods of saliva. Six ribs were tethered by sweet, silky meat fibers that were tender and lush: no sinewy strings or gristly knots that can sometimes erupt in lesser bone-studded lamb.
The staple stud in a Bob's plate, the thing that forms a sort of culinary speed bump between the meat and the potatoes (indulge yourself with baked, smashed or skillet-fried in gravy), is the immense, thick glazed carrot that runs lengthwise on the plate. A writer at the Dallas Observer's sister paper in San Francisco, SF Weekly, dubbed the root plant an "absurd (not to mention phallic) trademark..." Despite what you might think, this wasn't a compliment. It's a mystery as to why this thick fleshy stalk keeps appearing on Bob's plates. The unappetizing nature of this long-running standard makes one wonder how many of them end up as Dumpster filler.
Then again, if the dangled carrot ain't broke...
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