It was a year when even the ups left us feeling down.
In 2003 Americans heard phrases like "jobless recovery," splurged on duct tape and plastic sheeting and dutifully scorned French foods. It took a bloody occupation of Iraq to finally dislodge Ben and Jen from headline news. We toppled Saddam but failed to track down DeLay, Ashcroft and what's-his-name, that 9-11 guy.
All in all, 2003 left us baffled. The gene pool at the top thinned even further as Jessica Simpson ("Is this tuna or chicken?") and Paris Hilton achieved stardom. Everyone from cops (Terrell Bolton) to white females (Michael Jackson) to the media (Park Cities People, which proclaimed, "Guess who's coming to dinner," after a black family moved into Highland Park) played the race card. Publicity hound David Blaine attracted all kinds of derision for his bizarre attempt to live without food and water while suspended above the River Thames in London. Turns out that fasting lengthens a person's life, according to the National Institute on Aging. Meanwhile, Italian researchers claimed that eating pizza prevents cancer--perhaps by exploding the arteries before other debilitating diseases get a chance. Other researchers suggested that herbal teas cause bad teeth after every single participant in a British study showed signs of dental decomposition.
Curiously, they've never been able to duplicate the results outside England.
Yet we fondly recall several personally satisfying moments from 2003. Over the course of the year, the Burning Question crew wrote close to 50,000 words and "borrowed" another 30,000 or so--a rough estimate, mind you, but in a year in which highly paid mouthpieces like Colin Powell ("irrefutable and undeniable" evidence), Jayson Blair, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf and Bill O'Reilly shaped media messages, we feel justified in publishing a random guess.
Our other accomplishments speak for themselves:
Consecutive days without an involuntary exit from a Dallas bar: 3
Women who no longer answer our calls: 17
Crotch-grabbing incidents unrelated to the number of women who no longer answer our calls: 2
Items we removed from our editor's desk, including an old rainbow wig and John 3:16 sign: 8
Inanimate objects we tried to impress with our masculine appeal during a not-so-memorable evening at Dragonfly: 1
Amount spent for 40 drinks at the annual Burning Question crew party in Belhaven, North Carolina: $48
Location of next year's party: Springfield, Missouri
We also introduced a couple of new words to the English language. Splurb is a Burning Question crew term for a quote taken from a drunk. For example, "Bourbon smells like old lawyers," she splurbed.
Alcotect replaces the word bartender.
By now we're accustomed to the disposable nature of Dallas nightlife and the "fickle 500" who anoint, temporarily, a place of the moment. This year, however, we learned that pretentiousness is far more subtle--and pervasive--than anyone imagines. Dallas bar and restaurant patrons define their particular cliques by seeking not only prestige through clothing and drink (remember, order what you think others will think is cool) but through pronunciation as well. Those who stumble over the "c" in Medici--is it ch, ts or s?--risk cultural ostracism. One night we sat in Stolik, watching D magazine pose hired models for one of its hotspot features, when we overheard a smarmy patron announce, very deliberately, into his cell phone, "I'm at Stol-eek," as if the long "i" justified his presence in the establishment.
The artifice of cool emerged as the year's most significant trend. "Hard door" concepts such as Sense (still our favorite bar), Candle Room and Medici vied with the upscale lounge setting to dominate nightlife. Massive places like Blue sectioned off VIPs. Double Wide opted for the pretense of blue-collar ease.
In 2004, the Burning Question crew plans to explore this phenomenon a bit further.
We count the smoking ban, new diets, an increase in the cost of prime beef, expensive hamburgers and faux martinis as lesser fads--although our favorite momentary craze in 2003 actually started in our nation's capital. When France refused to support Halliburton's invasion of Iraq, Congress retaliated by renaming french fries "freedom fries." This is mere speculation, mind you (an admission you'd never get from Fox News), but the Burning Question crew suspects our dominant party was a little irked that the duly elected leaders of France responded to popular misgivings.
Democracy, after all, requires powerful leadership.
Like we said, it was a baffling year: Superficiality contending with a move toward authenticity, as the "slow foods" movement gained a niche in Dallas; classic cocktails re-emerging amid the clamor for sour apple martinis. We should, however, take a moment to acknowledge our favorite moments, places and people.
When we look back at 2003, the Burning Question crew remembers:
A wine taste test at Mercy in Addison. Could novice winos recognize an expensive wine? We dragged youngsters Brooke Gregory and Bethany Hastings out and subjected them to a blind test. When they selected the cheap wine in each of three tastings, the server shrugged and said, "I'll just go get y'all some Coors Lights."
The bottles of absinthe smuggled in from Europe. The trip itself involved miserable cuisine, heavy doses of vodka and a series of encounters with women fascinated by American men--it was Eastern Europe, after all. Fortunately, we used our editor's name and escaped any lasting repercussions (although, we must say, his wife was not all that pleased when mail-order brides Olga and Masha showed up at his door).
Dining on supermarket fare at Nana. Someone asked if Central Market was worth a visit. In order to find out, we handed $25 each to three chefs--Marc Cassel of the Green Room, Gilbert Garza of Suze and Nana's David McMillan--and sent them to Central Market, Whole Foods and Tom Thumb, respectively. They purchased ingredients and cooked up three remarkable dinners. So there we sat at three of Dallas' finest restaurants, eating a few bucks' worth of groceries.
Hiding from the crowd at Spike. For some reason, few people have discovered this place. Good drinks sloshed generously, nice atmosphere, all the things that generally attract the fickle 500. Oh, well.
Our efforts to hook up. In our constant, selfless effort to pursue issues of interest to our readers, we checked out the best places to go for those looking to get laid (at the time Sense, Dragonfly, Candle Room, Duke's), the odds of hooking up (a rather complex equation that adds up to a fraction), the beer goggle effect, the role of a wingman and the chances of a woman meeting a decent guy in a bar. The conclusion, according to a woman at Nikita: "Can you? Yes, I'm sure you can. Have I? No, I haven't. Why not? Because I'm wasted."
Local celebrities we've encountered. The Burning Question crew snuck into Al Biernat's to celebrate Mike Modano's 1,000th game with Mike and his teammates. We're not hockey fans; we just wanted to try out a few Russian phrases on Sergei Zhubov. Make that inadvisable Russian phrases...Now we know why Olga and Masha followed us here, at least.
Oh, well. That's as much as we remember from 2003. For the new year, we resolve to take better notes.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.