There's a certain lethargy to Stone Horse Bistro, a stiffness. It doesn't completely unravel the place, but frays are visible through its gaunt earnestness. It appears on the appetizer menu, on the right side, under the heading "charcoal skewers." Note four selections: lamb, sweetbreads, chicken gizzard and beef tongue. Enticing? Of course it is. There's nothing like the chewy, slightly metallic scent and flavor of these specimens of gore (excepting the less exotic sweetness of lamb) to lift you from the monotony of blended Asian. But you can't have them. On every visit they appear on the menu in the same spot. And every time you attempt to order them, you will be refused them.
The tongue and gizzards and sweetbreads have been there since Stone Horse Bistro's inception some nine months ago, and Stone Horse diners have never tasted them. No one can say why.
Stone Horse Bistro unfolded from the folks who blessed Travis Street with Little Katana, a small but formidable dispenser of fresh sushi, ghastly but innovative roll compositions, and steaks brutalized by the volcanic blasts of a double–hulled steel Korean grill. Like Little Katana, it's a mesh of Japanese and Korean with barely perceptible strands of Thai and Chinese coiled through. It tucks this into a contemporary bastion of hard surfaces, profuse blacks and plasma screens—the alleged antidotes to the restaurant anemia crisis.
Brush away the tongues and gizzards and sweetbreads though, and you'll find an array of ends and odds to explore, some nimble, others clumsy. Among the more nimble are the juicy chicken yakitori skewers posited next to shredded daikon, beet and carrot. There is the ubiquitous Kobe hot rock, a large, smooth, black stone as round and bulbous as an alien cranium. Six sheets of whisper-thin beef—$10 per ounce—are tiled in a half-hearted stab at symmetry near three dishes of teriyaki, spicy Thai and light soy sauces. Dip the sheets into one of the sauces before kissing it to the stone. This allows the meat to absorb moisture and keeps it from gluing to the hot rock, tempting a dangerous peel attempt. A couple of seconds per side is all it takes. The beef is almost like cream, dissolving, spreading across the tongue its nutty richness cut a little on the finish with mineral flavor.
There are soba and udon noodle bowls, a boilerplate miso soup with mushy tofu and wilted scallion rings and no seaweed; edamame (as blemished as an adolescent schnozzle) that you've had better in at least a dozen places; and fried rice dishes such as the compelling kimchi version. Spicy rice grains are further tormented with strips and wilted flaps of fermented cabbage that attack with a tongue tingle and finish with a lingering fermentation aroma that hovers in the nostrils with uncommon tenacity. There's the deliciously abundant combo hot stone bowl with sizzling rice, egg, radish, carrot and shrimp, chicken and beef.
It's easy to spot Stone Horse Bistro, lodged as it is in a Richardson strip, with its horse sculpture out front on its hind legs, clawing the air with its front hoofs. There is a large bar with an angled false ceiling embedded with lights hovering above, looking as though the front lip of a spaceship crashed through the roof. Blond brickwork crusts the base of the bar. Is it real? Says our server: "I'm not sure. Let me go give it a touch." He returns: "It's kind of waxy."
But there's nothing fake about the idle open grill station in the middle of the dining room. It's hooded and has fire suppressant jets. It was especially designed as an open grill exclusively for steaks and other meats, but it has been shuttered on account of the logistical snarls it sparked as servers traversed from the open kitchen, the sushi bar and the grill to traffic orders. It will soon be enlisted as a Sunday brunch station.
The sushi that comes from the bar rises and stumbles with everything else at Stone Horse, only more dramatically. It's cool and sweats its marine savor in fine elegant beads. There's the fresh nutty hamachi (yellow tail), the lush tender taco (octopus), the silvery sultry mackerel vented with fine slits, tender flounder and richly delicate uni that melts like chocolate blended with sex. Eel is sweet and musky with illusory crispness. Stone Horse has some of the same strange exotic rolls found at Katana, such as the ahi tower, a layered piece of architecture formed in a squirt bottle modified into a plunger. The tower is disgorged from the bottle and then destroyed on the plate with a fork.
But mixed with this virility is the lethargy. The last leg of our sushi order, the one with the red snapper, was delayed inordinately. Smoked salmon was used as an assuaging tool. It was warm. The red snapper was warm too. It was also tough, chewy and a little fishy. The edges were frayed, as if it was ripped from the body instead of cut with steely precision.
Even more than sushi, Stone Horse stakes its place on meat, even deploying the same custom-designed, double-insulated stainless steel grill fired by imported Korean hardwood "crystallized charcoal" used at Katana. It sears the meat at extremely high heat to seal in the juices. Does it work? The fillet is nicely roughened up with char giving its lush, silky interior an alluring edge.
And though it is tough—even by flank steak standards—the garlic ginger flank steak bleeds rich juices, the kind that make the mouth water even before any drips saturate the lips. You'll be roused by a surge of sour that is off-putting at first but merges quickly with the meat flavors and then harmonizes. There are the wasabi whipped potatoes you'll find at Katana, and a fat whole scallion on the plate that is as visually disconcerting as it is difficult to eat. The French-cut pork chop is drenched in apple chutney, and while the edges are tough and dry, the meat grows pink and juicy as the knife cuts closer to the bone.
The miso sea bass is nothing if not visually beautiful. The seared piece of fish, glazed in miso, served with wasabi mashed potatoes plus some deliciously nutty eggplant (there's a strange little cashew hint that comes out of nowhere), comes with a crispy lattice composed of soba noodles dipped in tempura and fried. The fish is sweet and moist—even mushy—with a little crispness on the exterior and a gentle pinch of spice on the finish, but other than that, there's not much to say. On the whole, the fish is stunningly dull, void of compelling flavors, save for the bitter sweat of daikon radish. Miso sea bass is an alluring dish hammered earnestly into lethargy.
What does inspire is the chocolate torte, a rich, creamy flourless cake covered in strawberry anglaise. Mint leaves are embedded between the great cake wedges. A strawberry carved into a blossom rests off to the side. Who'da thunk Asian fusion wrought this?
Stone Horse Bistro 348 W. Campbell Road, Richardson, 972-479-9494. Open 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $$$
348 W. Campbell Rd.
Richardson, TX 75080
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