If this is the year of anything in Chinese zodiac parlance, it is the year of the disruptive tech rat, the upheaving cyber-pig, the transfiguring digital serpent commanding banks of fire-breathing servers. IPods and illicit file-sharing are pulverizing the recording industry. Google wire feeds and digital headline bundlers have transformed magazines and newspapers into fish wrap and bird cage lining sans readership. YouTube and Tivo have deflated the sitcom, the TV drama, the game show, the miniseries and will probably puncture Ed McMahon's walk-in powered bathtub TV endorsements by the time you read this.
Perhaps it was predictable that such disruptive technologies would encroach upon the restaurant. Bin 555 Restaurant & Wine Bar makes much of its "ultra hip 'Kids' Lounge,'" a wired play space with filtered Internet access, game consoles (Xbox 360, Wii, Playstation) and ever-changing movie showings.
The lounge's menu offers hand-breaded chicken tenders, grilled cheese sandwiches with fries, mac and cheese, and so on. This is the future of dining, all neatly tucked under the catchy heading "innovative family dining." Bin 555 is training the next generation of midget attention spans.
Asparagus Milanese $4.49
Veal meatballs $7.99
Risotto and salmon $12.49
Sirloin steak $14.49
Pork loin $13.49
Texas quail $14.99
Oddly, this kids' lounge ("no children over 14 years of age" and "absolutely no food or drink is allowed"—a contradiction of the lounge menu concept, no?) is embedded in a relatively sophisticated bistro-wine bar. There are bins with bottles. There's a handsome bound wine list. Fine stemmed glasses are tall, clean and "ding" when flicked by a finger. Is it credible?
Let's test it. We order a bottle of 2003 Byron Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley—lush, plump cherry, wood underlay threaded with complex spice. Hmmm. Good choice, our server says.
A few minutes later he says this: We don't have the Byron. He tosses out a suggestion roughly double the Byron price. I balk. How about the Louis Jadot 2004 Bourgogne? I'm rolling its light bing cherry-ish layers through my mind. Terrific alternative, he snaps.
A few minutes later, he says they're out of that too. We settle for something else, but I can't remember what. I figure if I said its name, it would evaporate into the kids' lounge, swallowed by the next wave of disruptive technology. I just point to a price-point and hold my breath until the bottle comes and is poured and I drink it up. I didn't check the label, even though the bottle was presented and I grunted agreement.
But all of this isn't to say you shouldn't stay in the Bin. You most certainly should. Rotate the kids through the game consoles. Have a small plate of rustic Italian asparagus Milanese. This is an ingeniously delicious piece of craftsmanship. Asparagus stalks in a little pecorino Romano cheese are lined up neatly in a row on the plate. An over-easy egg is draped across, forming a stingray wingspan over the bumpy hump. An asparagus bud pokes astern, stinger-like. When pierced, the egg spills hot thick yellow, forming a vibrant omelet on the fly.
Here's another piece of work: three glistening veal meatballs, vanilla bean, peach, a little cinnamon. They smell like cookie dough, the kind we've all torn from a mixing bowl with two fingers and quickly puttied on the tongue. Will these be cheap, unctuous balls with gaudiness that cloys from the tip of the tongue to the back of the throat? The meat tears easily, its fibers fraying, the caramel-brown sauce shimmering like frosting. Those aromatics betray. These meatballs aren't so much sweet as they are perfumey, moist and delicately hearty—brawn woven from lace.
These satisfying examples shouldn't surprise. Bin 555 has solid breeding. It's the work of chef Jason Dady and his brother Jake, a pair who developed The Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills. The Lodge is a historic San Antonio rock mansion with a New American menu hewn with country Italian and French craft.
Bin 555 in San Antonio followed with its rustic Tuscan-style cuisine framed on small plates and coupled with a wine list featuring 55 bottles for $55, half of which might actually be in stock judging from the blanks we shot. Jason Dady is a young Texas Tech grad who headed out to San Francisco to boot-camp at the California Culinary Academy and later went northward to Beringer Wine Estate in Napa.
The 555 concept spread to Coppell. It's hard to imagine all of this culinary firepower coming to bear on what is marginally an afterthought dining space with a little brick and uninspired paneling and framing forming partitions. Several light bulbs are spent. The ceiling fans flicker. The sports bar feel is unmistakable. The kids' lounge concept is plain spooky. Then the food comes.
Caprese salad doesn't yield much in the way of inspiration. Wedges of tomato, marinated in balsamic and garlic and rosemary, are mealy. Mozzarella slices are crudely cleaved. The fluff of greens in the center is fresh and brilliant green and beads of basil pesto tack down the plate corners.
A simple pillow of lemon risotto is in a rich slick of lemon butter that seems to sweat from the grains. The top of it forms a plateau, and this is where a thick grilled strip of salmon rests, its whisper of seared crisp concealing faded pink richness that isn't arresting, but probably doesn't need to be. Whatever else he does, Dady spins compelling verses out of cost-effectiveness, which is good. Or is it if you notice?
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Thick piquillo ("little" beak peppers roasted over open fires) sauce, a thick, dark red pool that looks like fresh deoxygenated blood, works the kinks out of the cast-iron-seared sirloin, making the mouth dance where steak richness would normally do the footwork. It's tender, moist and slightly brittle on the outside—maybe a little mealy, but this is where the piquillo sauce earns its spot on the plate.
Dady mines deep for elements to compose his plates. Grilled Texas bobwhite quail is bedded on farro creamed in Parmesan sauce. Farro? It's an ancient grain of almost off-putting sturdiness: hard, chewy, coarse. For thousands of years it was the sustenance of Mediterranean and Near Eastern populations. It fueled Roman legions. Ground into a paste and cooked, farro was made into polenta, the staple of Rome's impoverished. But it's difficult to cultivate, and its use dwindled as higher-yielding grains displaced it. Still, its chewy nuttiness is a shrewd choice. It both marries with the quail's gamy heartiness and quarrels with its moist nuances, which at points turn aggressive where heat singes the bird into bitterness.
Pan-roasted pork loin smattered in whole grain mustard is lush and pink and basks in the wonders thrown its way from the sticky mozzarella chorizo red potato gratin on the side.
Dessert saves itself too. The custard on the blue cheese-infused cheesecake is a little stiff and dry, but sour cherries are numerous both atop and in the creamy yellowing slab. Those shriveled cherries break down the custard, reducing it into a creamy searing bite that keeps the tongue from gumming up. There are orange push pops too, staples of the hidden kids' lounge persona that never wanders far from the wine bar motif. Is silicon the next hot dining ingredient? Don't scoff. You can watch asparagus on YouTube. Wine, Loin and Kiddie Tech 104 S. Denton Tap Road, Coppell, 972-393-7555. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday. $$-$$$