Make no mistake. A captivating veranda is a big deal in Dallas, not something to be sniffed at or choked on in the wake of Mercedes Benz exhaust. When you think about it, Dallas is perhaps the most unfriendly patio town in the world, outside of Grozny in Chechnya, or maybe Plano. Virtually every piece of restaurant real estate has an unobstructed view of either a gas pump, a median strip, a valet stand, or a swell blend of all three. For about six months out of the year, it's hard to sit on a patio in Dallas and enjoyably nibble anyway, unless one of your passions is panting and sweating with your pants on.
Not that Lou's Patio is an antidote to any of these deficiencies. It mostly looks out over a strip mall back lot and the backsides of retail bunkers. But at least you don't have to sip your wine while trying to absorb the placard witticisms and fumes of DART buses. Lou's is so charming in an ivy-planter-embedded-in-a-freeway-embankment sort of way that the unobstructed view of the parking lot is almost endearing.
Owner Lou Saliba says that until recently, when the January air was in the 70- and 80-degree range, there has been a waiting line to get onto his 100-seat patio, a tastefully foliated space he plans to expand along the east side of the restaurant.
The inside isn't bad either: clean, bright, crisp, pragmatic, full of light earthy hues in the tan-to-yellow spectrum. This is the first restaurant for Lou Saliba, a man who has a long history in Dallas restaurants, designing and opening Dick's Last Resort in the West End, managing Stone Trail Steak House and Beau Nash at the Crescent Court Hotel, as well as a stint at Café Pacific. For his own restaurant, Saliba took over the Daddy Mac's Rhythm Café in Addison, a venue with black ceilings, purple fixtures, and royal blue walls. "I completely scraped everything out," says Saliba, describing the efforts needed to bring his patio to fruition. He preserved most of the Italian porcelain tile that was in place, stuff left over from when the space was Massimo's for some eight years.
But even with this tranquil dining room and a very attractive patio, it's hard to figure out what you might want to do once you've absorbed all of the nuances of those parking spaces, except maybe pick at dessert. The Kahlua cake ($3.95) was moist, dark, and rich.
Even simple wine-sipping can be a problem at Lou's. We were unfamiliar with the Italian labels Lou's pours by the glass, so our server graciously delivered samples of each: a Campanile Merlot and a Casarsa Merlot, Cabernet, and Pinot Grigio. I don't know whether the problem was caused by shoddy winemaking or poor storage, but the trio of reds was barely drinkable, with sharp metallic bites and the kind of tired, flattened fruit you'd find in bottles opened, recorked, and left to sit at room temp for a couple of days. Only the Pinot Grigio was palatable.
Poopy plonk wasn't the only patio detraction. The "Italian-American-French straightforward menu" also has striking drawbacks. Drafted by Saliba and chef Bruce Stein, formerly of Cock & Bull in Lakewood and the defunct Winds Bistro on Greenville Avenue, the menu is the typical mishmash of New American Euro-Med funk: pastas, pizzas, grilled seafood, and salads brandishing ethnicity.
Greek salad ($2.95) is an example. Though there was a stab at meticulousness in this feta-kalamata-lettuce assembly (it had a neat row of red onion loops arranged across the top), it was bathed in an insipid, slightly sweet cream dressing instead of the typical Greek lemon-garlic vinaigrette speckled with oregano and marjoram.
Caesar salad ($2.95), a platter of chewy leaves woven with shredded Parmesan, was shellacked in a matte cream dressing void of lemon, anchovy, or garlic flavor.
This torpid timbre was a constant as the meal progressed through the appetizers and the entrées. Crab claws ($7.95) in a garlic-butter wine sauce featured fibrous and spongy meat, though there were plenty of them. The claws didn't do justice to the sauce, well punched as it was with garlic.
Angel-hair escargot ($9.95), which brings to mind amusing images of coiffed snails, had everything -- tomato, garlic, shallots, snails -- except the seraph locks. Instead, the puddle of garlic sauce floated soggy strands of gummy spaghetti. The knots of snail meat were firm and chewy, but washed-out and lacking compelling, earthen flavors.
It's hard to imagine the impetus behind the lobster ravioli ($14.95) in lobster-Champagne sauce. But the result resembled a crowd of picnic sandwiches set in wallpaper paste. More than stuffed pasta casings, these large, inelegant, overcooked pillows looked more like two Kraft cheese singles welded together over a dollop of filling. Plus, the bits of lobster posted on top of this heap were washed out and tasteless instead of sweetly rich.
Sautéed breast of chicken with shallots, capers, and lemon was ($8.95) was perhaps the best entrée sampled, though the chicken was a trifle tough. But the sauce bristled with liveliness, and the flavors meshed well. A side of pasta in an Alfredo sauce was soft and soggy, as was a side of zucchini-corn mash sprinkled with breadcrumbs.
Lou's Patio greets with ambient graciousness, friendly service, and the clean lines of no-nonsense elegance. It's unfortunate that the menu, more than not, comes across as back-porch.
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