The European twists are there, to be sure: truffles, snails, pâté and Parma prosciutto. There's a sort of winsome arrogance to the BLT, which is composed of brie, lettuce and tomato. In a sign of still more haute haughtiness, you can order the BLT with bacon--for an extra buck. But it is how these classic European items are dressed up, rather than the twists themselves, that is most amusing about Saporé, which means taste in Italian.
For example, a typical Parisian might react with car-burning fury at the thought of his beloved city's name being tacked onto a piece of Tex-Mex. To Gallic nostrils, it may smell too much of the evil W from Crawford. Nevertheless, the Paris enchilada is an intriguing beast. It's not really an enchilada, and its Parisian pedigree doesn't amount to much--snails in a tortilla wrap, which really isn't a tortilla, but a crepe. The enchilada is cut, with the severed end of one segment propped up on the crest of the other. Both rest in a pool of butter cream sauce. No jalapeño, no warm salsa, not even a black bean to bump the sauce or melted cheese goo over the crepe. Instead, the crepe is striped with beads of thickened balsamic vinegar. It's a long way from Tex-Mex, but it's good. The sautéed snails mesh well with the portobello mushroom and leeks. Saddled up to the side of this enchilada structure are a single green bean and an asparagus stalk.
Chef Erick Boyle insists this creation isn't his. It is a holdover from Randall's, the restaurant that once occupied the 100-year-old-plus downtown Fort Worth building where Saporé is burrowed. Boyle had been chef at Randall's from 1995 to roughly 2002, when owner Randall Wallace sold it to Jerrett Joslin. Boyle went on to launch a Fort Worth company called Saporé Inspired Catering. When Joslin decided to create Saporé last year, he drew Boyle back into the fold, making him chef and partner.
Smoked salmon $11
Paris enchilada $10
Cream of asparagus soup $5
Crawfish burrito $10
Buffalo rib eye $32
Grilled salmon $19
Boyle calls Saporé an eclectic American brasserie with European twists--twist being the buzzword so many kitchens use when they inseminate this with that in hope of bringing forth something edgy. The European aspect is easy enough to tease out among the meat and cheese boards (with tossed breads), the chicken pesto and the paellas, which make appearances in different forms on the specials register. But the Cajun crawfish tail burrito comes out of nowhere. A thick tortilla roll spans the diameter of the plate, ribbons of thickened balsamic tearing along the chalky beige burrito flanks like decadent chocolate dribbles. These ribbons terminate in a pool--one too deep for the shallow plate that holds it--of spicy tomato cream sauce. Coiled crawfish tails tumble from the burrito crest into this brew.
Inside is a loosely packed ensemble of mushrooms, roasted peppers and more crawfish tails--an abundance of the things. They reek of ripe sea stench, the strength of which almost makes them seem smoky. Not a repulsive stench, but an arousing one. (The barrier between the two is thin, possibly nonexistent. A ripened rugby sock smells little different from a fine imported cheese, but one induces gags, the other makes the mouth water.)
The ingredients coupled with the crawfish seem to wither next to the tail's potency and the Cajun spices lurking in the sauce. The mushrooms are just rough-cut chunks, swollen with juice instead of sautéed aggressively to make them more intense. The peppers have the same problem but from the opposite cause. They're roasted into insipidity, as flaccid as long-boiled fettuccine and as flavorless as dices of microwaved tomato.
Cream of asparagus soup is a bit flat as well, lacking in the pungency-tamed-by-cream essence that makes soups like this compelling.
Norwegian smoked salmon is pinched, turned and folded into a blossom in the center of the plate. It's ringed with crude bits of cream cheese and slices of lemon pebbled with capers and red onion slivers. Smudges of black caviar appear here and there between the cream cheese: a kind of messy fringe wrapping a meticulously crafted bloom.
Saporé is a narrow restaurant in three levels with a main floor dining room, a second-level lounge and a third-level private dining room. It's a romantic space with polished hardwood floors, exposed brick, original paintings and a high ceiling from which dangle four lantern-like chandeliers caging flame bulbs. Curtains frame the window and the door. The space under the staircase near the bar is a glassed-in, triangular wine cellar.
On weekends, jazz musicians post near the front window--on our visit a guitarist and bassist. When the band decamped, a violinist unpacked his instrument and strolled the dining room. He tells us he's been playing since he was 4. He's not much for requests though. A Pachelbel's Canon petition left him bewildered. When the jazz duo returned, he joined them onstage, just as a line on the menu caught my eye: buffalo rib eye in chimichurri sauce.
I was leery of it. Buffalo is lean and dense, lacking in the corn-fed richness and loose tenderness of our fine domestic beef cattle population. (In his book The Omnivore's Dilemma, writer Michael Pollan says a barrel of oil is expended to nurture a single corn-fed beef cattle from birth through slaughter, the petrol being used in transportation and corn production. In other words, driving a Prius to a steakhouse is about as green as driving a Hummer to an organic salad bar.)
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"As far as richness, it's not out of the park," says our server. Yet he insists this rib eye is one of the best items on the menu. We give it a shot. Our server also stresses the excellence of the grilled salmon. It's topped with ginger mustard cream. Despite the sparking raciness implied, the sauce is tame. The rich fish isn't bowled over and run roughshod by it. The narrow fillet is charred with thick grill-bar furrows across its surface, extracting and concentrating the fish flavors as it adds a strain of bitterness, which the sauce quickly blunts. The fish is moist. The meat cleanly peels off into rich flakes. The balance is striking.
Buffalo rib eye is striking as well. The meat is loose, instead of dense. It's well-riddled with gristle and globules of fat--corn-fed buffalo? Though the meat is grainier than a typical cut of choice steak grilled up and dispensed in the typical steakhouse, it doesn't taste much different from beef. The gaminess, what there may have been in it, has been leeched from the proceedings, possibly by the chimichurri sauce bumped with mushrooms.
Despite its pose as a kind of Mediterranean brasserie in snakeskin boots, Saporé has a wine list packed in the usual California-centric manner that barely winks at the Old World. (A German Riesling naps in a section called the lighter side of white.) And there doesn't seem to be much wine training for the servers. In response to a query on pinot noir, our server dispensed answers flooded with pinot grigio--an all too frequent piece of restaurant tedium. Can't cowboy continentalism do better than this?
Still, Saporé is a restaurant that is easy to like. The culinary tangents may be a little odd, but they're enjoyable, and the renditions don't collapse into a shambles. The old urban atmosphere is so unlike anything you're likely to find in North Texas that it's easy enough to love just on the basis of its novel romanticism. Plus, there's a certain unfledged honesty about the place. About 15 minutes after our failed Pachelbel's Canon request, the strolling violinist came to our table to confess, you know, he's not a music major or anything. He's studying microbiology. 907 Houston St., Fort Worth, 817-336-2253. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; Open for dinner 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, abbreviated dinner menu served until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. $$$