t's Thursday, October 13. Thank God it's not Friday, because as luck would have it, we find ourselves in the Richardson Hotel. Richardson has beached itself on hard luck--the victim of popping tech bubbles. Instead of buzz, the Telecom Corridor is a hall of echoes. But help is coming. Accounting scandal-plagued Nortel Networks, whose U.S. headquarters sits in Richardson and made this corridor famous, has a new chief executive officer, Mike Zafirovski. He said this: "Many people were ready to turn the lights off. Now is an opportune time. Nortel will be big again."
If trickle-down means anything, Boots & Brix will be big, too. After all, in July the restaurant hosted a "Network for Network" technology and telecom networking event that returned "the enthusiasm of 'Geek Meet' to the Telecom Corridor." If only we could find Boots & Brix. We arrive in the lobby. It's a typical hotel lobby. A woman in a suit shuttles a roll-about to the elevator bank. Another woman in jeans and a hiked-up top strolls by. Pieces of the tattoo stamped to the small of her back get exposed intermittently. It's a thing with wings. We follow her. We end up in the bar. Flat-screen TVs flicker. Middle-aged men sip beers. In a hidden compartment in the back, a couple of young men shoot billiards.
But where is Boots & Brix?
Boots & Brix might seem an odd name for a restaurant. What does it mean? The answer can be found in the logo, a wine glass with a spur for a base. The wineglass hints at Brix, the name for the sugar scale used to indicate the ripeness of wine grapes. The spur hints at boots, the kind worn by cowhands. A pair of paintings depicting boots is on one wall. Photographs of muddy, thick-heeled boots perched on a fence rail hang from the opposite wall. A glassed-in case between the pair of photographs holds some loud boots--the kind that would be at home not on a cowhand but on the feet of some wiry hair-band bass player.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves--because we couldn't find the restaurant. Here's why: perfect camouflage; it's hard to determine where the hotel lobby ends and Boots & Brix begins. It looks like someone decided to furnish a part of the lobby with tables, chairs, steam tables and portraits of muddy boots. The massive concrete posts are painted bright red. There is a curvaceous private dining area that can be blockaded with shimmering crimson curtains.
This has to be it. Perched on the host/hostess stand, next to a stack of menus and an equally imposing heap of wine lists, is a little placard advertising wine flights. The white flight is a Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc, a Napa Ridge Chardonnay and a Murphy Goode Fume Blanc--not the most flight-worthy wines. But then again this is the home of Geek Meet enthusiasm. "Is this Boots & Brix?" It was.
We skipped the flights. Instead, we ordered a bottle of Solaris Pinot Noir, which was a featured wine on the Pinot Noir flight. We ordered it because we remembered ordering it from Jaden's before Jaden's went through its reanimation into Metro Grill. Only Jaden's didn't have it, so we had to substitute with another bottle that has since faded from memory. Like Jaden's, Boots & Brix feels strange in that it has that Telecom Corridor echo. There is almost no one here. Sure, there's a businessman stationed off to the left manipulating a Treo. On the banquettes just under the brightly colored boots paintings is a group of guys nursing longnecks.
But that's it. You feel stranded in a vast lobby offshoot populated with idled steam tables strapped to an open kitchen and tables with white sashes positioned like extras in a model home.
This is why service is so puzzling. On one visit, it took some 12 minutes for that first glass of wine. When a bottle is planted, glasses are never refilled. Food arrivals seem stretched, too.
The first to strike is the shrimp cocktail--plate, doily, martini glass, bowl filled with greens, splat of cocktail sauce, shrimp hooked around the glass lip. Shrimp are firm, slightly sweet, lightly soapy, but respectable. Odd, though. A droopy arugula stem escapes from the cocktail sauce and greens nest in the center of the bowl, dangling out of the dish like a loose hair.
As Boots & Brix is primarily a steak and chop house, the iceberg lettuce wedge becomes mandatory equipment. It's in the middle of the plate, in a puddle of milky blue cheese dressing. Two thin slices of tomato lean against the iceberg wedge. Strips of bacon--not crumbles--are x'd on the wedge's face. Though supple and clear of brown streaks or blotch, the lettuce is not ice cold, but nearly warm. The dressing is a bit runny, and bacon fat has hardened, forming a waxy film across the bacon strips. Were these precooked and held in reserve?
But there are creative twists, too. The Boots & Brix twist on fried cheese is the fried mozzarella fillet (bone-in mozzarella must be a future episode of Fear Factor). Cheese triangles, coated and fried, are framed with a tomato basil puree that hugs the brittle cheesy edges. The cheese is topped with shavings of Parmesan. A dark vinaigrette seeps to edges of the plate. The cheese is void of grease. This is a successful fillet.
But the crux of Boots & Brix is steak and a bone-in pork chop. A pan-roasted Kansas pork tenderloin and free-range herbed rotisserie chicken rounds out this broiler fare. The latter is delicious, with a racy crust and moist chicken meat.
The steaks? The New York strip is topped with fried crispy potato hair. It's bronze, crunchy and greaseless, but this is the most you can say. The meat is gray, the flavor dull. There is no broiler singe. No rich juice. No silken texture. Plus, it's slightly mealy. It's almost as if the meat was boiled. Yet it still manages to come off medium rare.
Rib eye is better, but not by much. There's a little broiler singe, but the meat is still mostly gray. Flavor and silky richness are absent.
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Maybe fish is where this place hangs its hat. Salmon fillet wasn't gray, it was pink. And thick. And bland. And overcooked. It didn't flake. The seasoning was dull. It was planted on a mound of runny, greasy orzo with sun-dried tomatoes and little strips of spinach. Shrimp scampi was stricken with distressed shrimp (the cocktail must use a different shrimp labor pool), with no richness and regrettable textures.
Crab cake? It's jumbo lump. The plate is smeared with whole-grain mustard sauce--a good thing. The cake is moist. Yet the flavors aren't clean and distinct. The sweet marine savor gets muddled and lost in the static of filler. Yet a close examination reveals significant strands of pearly crab flesh, with an ample--but certainly not overwhelming--blizzard of breading. It holds together. It holds its own.
But all good things must come to crème brûlée. Here, the center is cool and smooth. The crust crunches but isn't warm. Still, there is a strawberry on top.
Boots & Brix is a hotel restaurant, and in this it is serviceable. But it also brandishes the implication that it is a destination dining depot nestled in a Telecom Corridor hotel. This, it is not. If you don't count the Geek Meets. 701 E. Campbell Road, Richardson, 972-231-9600. Open 6 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. $$-$$$