Of Flies and Damsels
It's hard to arouse taste buds in a restaurant named after a bug, especially a large prehistoric specimen that incessantly engorges itself with mosquitoes that may or may not be swollen with human blood. Yet somehow this swift, darting fly fascinates. Is it its elegance, the deft darts it employs to snatch flying prey out of thin air by means of the basket-like apparatus it weaves with its legs in flight? Is it the speed of the beast, which can reach velocities of 30 mph? Or is the appeal bound in the fact that these beasts copulate in flight?
Maybe it's an incorporation of all these things. At any rate, the impact of the dragonfly, which in silhouette form makes for a near perfect bum tattoo, is seemly symbology for a club, which Dragonfly is, in an implicit sense. This tight-fitting sleek little bar, with a simple back bar outfitted with just a mirror and a liquor bottle berm, is swanky. But not the prime rib-Pall Mall-tumbler-filled-with-rocks sort of swanky. Dragonfly's swank is svelte and carefully fluffed, making it easy for the primped and sweaty to maneuver, swerve, air-kiss and affect while waiting to take flight or preparing to be dive-bombed.
It's hard to reconcile all of this posturing and preening with the menu, which arouses considerable thought. Drafted with heavy creative input from chef Stephan Pyles and largely executed by former Crescent Court chef Jeff Moschetti, the cuisine is a stealthy sack of Latin, Asian and Mediterranean touches. I say stealthy because for some reason it doesn't seem self-consciously dazzled by its own global welding.
The menu is filled with satays, fried calamari, spring rolls, Caesar salad, scrambled eggs tucked in a flour tortilla with chorizo, black beans and salsa and Moroccan tagines (slowly simmered meat and vegetable stew). Yet the mergings are so seamless, they don't call attention to themselves. Instead they gently rest on the palate, as if--like a pair of in-flight fornicating dragonflies--the disparate parts were always meant for each other.
Lemongrass beef satay was composed of three sticks, each piercing a scrap of pinkish beef, meticulously crisscrossed over a long, narrow serving plate. Though the beef was slightly stringy, it was juicy and rich. Instead of peanut sauce or a sesame dip, the meat was paired with a puddle of runny yogurt seasoned with cumin and studded with flaccid shavings of cucumber, a cool clean dip that contrasts well with seared meat.
Cleanliness is a common characteristic sown throughout this menu. Nothing is cluttered or plodding. White bean soup with pureed fennel, tomato, smoked bacon and white beans was assembled at the table with bowls of ingredients ceremoniously transferred to a serving bowl. The smooth blend, studded with beans and tiny croutons, was almost creamy in texture, though the rough bean grip was pleasantly pronounced.
Firm and flaky black cod was marinated in miso, giving it a musky demeanor. To inject a lively counterpoint, the fish is paired with a crab-enoki mushroom salad interspersed with mango, avocado, chilies and cilantro, creating an ensemble that is both deft and distinct.
All of this fusion footwork reaches cumbersome proportions in some instances, or at least it might seem this way on the surface. Fishes in the salmon-tuna martini are subjected to two separate treatments: The salmon is mingled with capers, lemon and red onion while the tuna is drizzled in the Asian garb of sesame oil, lime and soy. Carved into tiny cubes, the flesh settled into the depths of a martini glass and was topped with crème fraîche freckled with osetra caviar. Yet somehow, the acids, the oils, the brine and the flesh fused without the slightest clash.
Things even bend a little French, though not enough to sustain a blizzard of frites, which have become so ubiquitous lately that a super-sized serving of frites with a quarter-pounder wouldn't be surprising. Seared foie gras paired with a single sea scallop on a bed of plush and creamy mashed potatoes was beautifully firm and rich (not a trace of the runny gelatinousness that typically plagues Dallas' froufrou livers). A rich Barolo sauce picked up on the earthy notes and made it racy, while the shellfish proved an alluring and clean counterpoint to this lusty organ.
And Dragonfly is lusty. While the floor is anchored in homey hardwood floors, the atmosphere is smoothly exotic, with bright green gauzy curtains around the windows, a raised semicircular dining area with more gauzy frills (this time in red) and Asian touches such as anonymous color photographic portraits on the walls and images of dragons and Asian royalty (or is it deities?) in the lavender ceiling above.
The crowd is a little callow and coarsely mannered, as if the horde members haven't yet passed from the nymph stage of the see-and-be-seen metamorphosis. So we requested dessert on the patio, which overlooks a tiny pool ringed with arcing streams tinkling into its center. The water was steaming on account of the clash of the pool heat with the winter air, and we were wishing someone had thought to put cherubs behind those streams to tighten up the atmosphere a bit.
While the pool steamed, the coconut soup did not. But this chilled soup crafted by former Abacus pastry chef Shannon Swindle was a well-honed companion anyway. A shallow puddle of coconut milk is infused with basil oil and holds a fried wonton, pineapple and a clump of fruit relish. The result is smooth, light and aromatic, and blessedly not cloying.
Roast and confit of duck is not cloying either, which is remarkable considering all the dates, honey and balsamic packed into its preparation. These ingredients are applied to a breast, a leg and thigh, and dribbled with a sauce of duck stock, dates and more balsamic before it's finished in honey butter. The orchestration among the sweet strains, spice and tang is remarkably balanced. But the duck meat itself was desperately overcooked, leaving it dry, fibrous and a little rubbery.
Parched meat also afflicted the tea-smoked chicken salad, a potentially dazzling toss with Napa cabbage, arugula, glazed cashews (the menu lists them as sweet and spicy pecans), pickled onion and carrot strips. But the mix was generously riddled with thick carvings of dry white chicken meat, and a sliced section of under-ripe and flavorless Asian pear was parked off to the side.
Dragonfly even does breakfast, offering waffles, flapjacks and a thing called ZaZa Benedict, subbing the non-egg staples with crab cakes and creamed spinach. It's here that Dragonfly veered straight into a bug zapper. As previously mentioned, according to the menu, the scrambled eggs are saddled with Mexican frills. But ours arrived as a simple plate of bright yellow egg curds, a side of cubed hash browns with onion and three long, thick bacon slices. Discovering what this kitchen might do with simple Grand Slam fodder piqued my curiosity. The eggs were fluffy, almost creamy in texture, lending a richness that's more perception than reality. The hefty bacon strips had a vivid smokiness, making them seem as if they had just been pulled from a campfire. Potatoes were supple and spicy.
Which just supports the contention that some of humanity's greatest bangs were blunders. And a dragonfly veering into a bug zapper would create a hefty bang, considering their size and the kinds of things they do in flight.
2332 Leonard St., 214-468-8399. Open 7 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. $$-$$$
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