British food is the butt of every food joke, told even by those who've never eaten British food. But Jenni Messina, formerly British, holds steadfastly to the British theme at Jennivine, and nobody's laughing.
Inside, there's a London phone booth, pictures of the Royal family, British flags, and bottle-glass windows; its cramped coziness and warped wood floors remind you refreshingly of a British country pub--undecorated, uncalculated, unpretentious, slightly eccentric, appealingly personal. The little house on McKinney, a Dallas fixture for years, has survived Southland, DART, demolition, and construction. Now it stands valiantly alone on its corner.
When it opened, Jennivine was known for its cheese, pate, and wine, a cross-town counterpart to The Grape on Greenville. Like The Grape, Jennivine's menu expanded; now it pulls in flavors from all over the world--wasabi on salmon, red chili on halibut, and bourbon on duck, though most of the cooking itself is straightforward, and the punch is saved for the sauces.
Also, Ms. Messina has a sideline pantry business--in the corner cupboards, along the little bar, even on your table in the restaurant are bottles and jars "put up" by Jennivine, all for sale: flavored olive oils and infused vinegars, chutneys, jams, and sauces. So it's not surprising that the menu features these products, too. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes not. The "salad Brittania" was ladled with a cold pink dressing, too thick to easily coat the greens and raspberry-flavored, no doubt from infused vinegar. But we liked the "sunshine salad," tender young spinach leaves in an herbal vinaigrette garnished generously with goat cheese. The baskets of French bread were served with chilled, real butter--a reminder that butter was something to eat before it became a "spread."
Each entree on the dinner menu is listed with a recommended wine available by the glass, a nice touch. The Guenoc cabernet was a fine match with the beef tenderloin, a two-inch-tall slab, raspberry-rare, with a cabernet sauce sweetened with caramelized onions. The rack of lamb was even rarer than we'd ordered, the little rounds of meat bloody, and the usual rosemary-garlic sauce not as exciting as Jennivine's peach chutney served as a garnish. We wished it had been served with more of it--lamb marries well with sweet and spice, and the golden jam-like sauce set off the faint, fragrant muskiness of the meat.
Some desserts sound Alice-in-Wonderland English: "bread and butter pudding," "trifle." We ordered one of these--"sticky toffee cake," a rectangle of sponge cake topped with a goopy, sweet brown toffee topping. And a jar of peach chutney to go.
--Mary Brown Malouf
Jennivine, 3605 McKinney Ave., 528-6010. Open Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Salad Brittania $4.50
"Sunshine" spinach salad with goat cheese $5
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