Best Of :: Food & Drink
The hamburgers are perfect, throwbacks to the burgers we once bought at a family-run drive-in where everything was made to order--and to a real human being's exacting standards of quality, not a corporate entity that simply ships frozen goodies to a franchisee and its careless staff of teen-agers. But that's not all Culver's, a Wisconsin-based chain, has to offer. There's creamy, freshly made frozen custard, a Midwestern mainstay, available in several flavors (try the peach) and with a couple of dozen toppings, including blueberry, raspberry, blackberry and peanut butter (better than it sounds). The fish and chips ($6.79) tops what you'd get in most sit-down establishments, and Culver's also offers fried Norwegian cod fillets, fried chicken and several sandwiches. Culver's is a little more expensive than your average fast-food joint, but the difference in quality is remarkable.
OK, so it's not exactly new in traditional restaurant parlance, which entails a new name, owner and cuisine. But York St., which has been around for a dozen years, sure tastes different. After purchasing York St. earlier this year, chef Sharon Hage cleaned it up, yanked out bolted-down clutter, whitewashed the walls, added some mirrors and created a new logo (the "Y" looks like a twig). But these are just minor adjustments compared with what she has done to the food. Hage's touch doesn't unleash dramatic cuisine, nor visually compelling cookery. What springs is a gathering of subtle flourishes that, taken in its entirety, pulses with both imaginative artistry and disciplined harmony. For example, Hage creates a horseradish broth in which to bathe her mussels. To this, she flecks the puddle with specks of smoky ham. Slightly weird, incredibly good. Strokes like this abound, from the lavender sea-salt rubbed chicken in foie gras potato sauce to the ivory salmon with wilted pea shoots. This place isn't for everyone. It has no see-and-be-seen appeal, and the sight lines kind of suck--even for a 42-seat cubicle. But if you revere food, there's no better place. One taste, and you'll be a York dork for life.
This is a damn good list almost by any measure. It incorporates virtually all of the world's best growing regions with ample stocks from places most wine lists ignore, such as Alsace and Germany. Plus, the list is packed with a great diversity of the world's best wines, those hailing from Bordeaux and Burgundy for instance. The selection of dessert wines is beefier than most lists after subtracting chardonnay and cabernet. Yet perhaps what sets Lola's list apart are the trimmings. It contains a robust selection of half-bottles, a generous by-the-glass list, plus an assortment of "twenty somethings," wines priced in the $20-$29 range. In fact, price may be the greatest feature of Lola's list. Markups are held down from the usual 3 to 4 times wholesale, so you'll have enough shekels left over to bribe the valet for a spin in a few of the exotic sports cars he's just parked.
Steak. Not just any steak. Bob's steak. USDA prime steak, steak as thick as the bull in a campaign speech. Ask anyone anywhere in Dallas (who doesn't believe his great-grandparent has come back as a steer) who has the best steak, and he'll reflexively spit out Bob's. The flavor is rich. The meat is juicy. Tough gristle has been evacuated. The texture is buttery. The degree of doneness is perfect. And if that weren't enough, Bob throws in a potato and a glazed carrot for no extra charge, though you might want to pay him to keep the latter off your table. Bob's steak knocked our socks off. It renewed our faith in God, or steers anyway. Bob is the bovine boss. And that ain't no mad cow bull.
First it was Going Gourmet. Then entrepreneur Suzie Priore took over and retagged it Suze. In the process of transforming it to her set of tastes, Priore brought former Toscana chef Gilbert Garza. Roughly 18 months later, Garza bought out Priore. He subjected the restaurant to relatively minor changes. Garza has even left the menu somewhat intact, keeping a handful of holdovers. The food is simple, meaning it isn't burdened with "look-at-me" ensembles or unruly clashings of obtuse flavors. Everything is intelligent, balanced and clean. And when you combine this with a snug homey atmosphere and reasonable prices, you've got a great takeover--all done without junk bonds and Brooks Brothers suits.
Chef Jason Gorman has done many wonderful things during his short time at the 16-year-old City Café. But among his finest is this: potato Stilton agnolotti (Piedmont-style ravioli) in herb truffle butter sauce. It's hard to overstate what a rich, balanced and focused culinary eruption this project becomes in the mouth. Arranged in a circle around the plate, the smooth pillows are delicate (almost like a pastry in character) but forceful, merging smoothly with the butter sauce. They're topped with diminutive cauliflower florets and baby carrots strafed with crumbles of Stilton cheese. The dish comes with a choice of grilled chicken breast or grilled shrimp. Yet the best thing about this dish is that it's also among the least expensive entrées at City Café, coming in at roughly 18 bucks. Which means it's a responsible way to gradually squander the kid's college fund, at least more responsible than prime steaks would be.
Sure it has great crud 'n guts breakfasts and lunches and hamburgers that could silence a Mack transaxle. But the best thing about the Lakewood Café is that it's open 24 hours, so you can get a handle on your ladle any time of the day or night and slip on some nutrition.
Café Patrique is soaked in loud yellows and reds, almost to the point of chroma dementia. But the most daring design movement in this takeout cafeteria is the rest rooms. The men's room is drenched in red with various phrases of wisdom scrawled on the walls in yellow concerning life, laughter and good eating, the kind of wisdom you might find in a fortune cookie or an Oprah rerun. The toilet seats and toilet paper dispensers have also been subjected to graffiti. Under the rest room sinks is a basketball hoop and net. It's cute really, but isn't the term "nothin' but net" more apropos to the bowl with the flush lever?
India Palace specializes in Balti dishes: an Indian cooking technique that utilizes a cast-iron pot similar to a wok. Onion, garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, fennel and mustard seeds are combined into a rich sauce that bathes the centerpiece (such as beef) of the dish. And the effect is rich and aromatic. Plus, India Palace makes enthusiastic use of buffet tables at selected times and is drenched in luscious pink with burgundy accent points. Maybe not as yummy as the food, but this décor has a profound effect if you close your eyes tightly and imagine you're dining inside a delicate piece of lingerie.
Oh, how cozy this place is. La Duni is owner Espartaco Borga's quest to craft a Latin Brasserie with homestyle food from Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico and Cuba served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. All the homespun recipes are authentic, and to that end, he succeeds spectacularly with enhancements such as house-baked goods and wine program agility that is as sophisticated as it is functional. La Duni's wine list catalogs some 89 wines, all of them from Spain or South America and all of them available in more ways than you can order a religious experience. They'll serve your wine by the half-glass, by the glass, by the half-bottle, by the bottle--hell, they'd probably pour some in your Calvin's if you asked them to. And like all religious experiences, wine makes a swell breakfast beverage, no matter how you order it.
The Riviera is practically a Dallas Institution, distinguished by its suave continental food and sensibility. To that end, its service execution is tight and remorselessly efficient. While it embraces a level of formality that can leave you a little chilly, it's impressive nonetheless: attentive and well-orchestrated to the point of dizziness. Wine glasses are whisked away immediately after the wine is ordered and replaced to reflect the appropriate type of wine. The ensuing service is impeccable, right to the wiping of the dribbles from the neck lip of the wine bottle. Glasses are filled as soon as the supply in the glass gets low, as if a pair of eyes hovers over the table waiting for the wine level in the glass to drop below 2 ounces. Servers are well-briefed on the menu, answering detailed questions without so much as a brain-strained hiccup. It's the kind of professionalism and coddling you wish the IRS would employ. But then you'd have to tip them. And who could survive that?
The perfect chip is thin, lightly salted, freshly fried and devoid of translucent, grease-saturated blemishes. The perfect salsa is Cantina Laredo's tawny tomatillo brew, served warm and full of rich, smoky flavor imparted by chipotle peppers. And if that weren't enough, the restaurant has another version that, served cool, is a skillful complement: a bracingly fresh red tomato-based salsa with garlic, onion and cilantro. We've tasted plenty of fine salsas in Dallas, including those at Gloria's, El Ranchito and Cuquita's, but Cantina Laredo's is the most distinctive and remains the best.