Tramontana

The bar at Tramontana seems more of an afterthought, consisting of a few worn chairs interrupting a walkway to the back dining area, a modest liquor selection--hell, we're not even certain they have a bartender. Their version of the Bloody Mary, however, makes you exceedingly happy that a certain English queen slaughtered scores of Protestants during her bloodthirsty reign. Where most overwhelm you with Tabasco or pepper, Tramontana treats the Bloody Mary as a tomato-based dish with a balance of flavors (including, but not dominated by, the all-important bite of hot sauce). They dress the rim with a mix of salt and fresh dill, another unique touch that adds to the experience. The result: a cocktail worth contemplating, an alcoholic appetizer, a reason to drink your dinner.

Face it: Anyone can singe a coffee bean until it smells like a car driven to Lufkin with the parking brake engaged. It takes deft to tease real coffee flavor out of those beans. Melvyn's does this by delivering piping-hot clean flavors that soothe as they flood the blood with those good old nerve-shredding caffeine jitters. That's when that "darn good" coffee becomes profanely swell.

Peggy Sue BBQ

Sweet and sour is the theme of the baby backs at this Park Cities establishment, which in 13 years has gathered enough adherents to be considered a barbecue shrine. On its ribs, Peggy Sue's smokes on a nice brown sugar crust, using all those mystical slow-cook methods that make good barbecue so mysterious. At the table, you add the spicy, vinegar-based sauce, yielding a blend of tastes so wonderful, people in places like Minnesota boast of stealing Peggy Sue's recipes. The sides here, too, raise our overall rating. They include healthful steamed vegetables, a great vinegar-based slaw and wonderful fries. The server always comes by and offers fried pie desserts, which are actually turnovers filled with chocolate or fruit. We're told they're great, but, with all those rib bones piled up, we have never left enough room to check them out.

We would venture that many Dallasites have never had the joy of a samosa (and no, it's not a Girl Scout cookie). Having only recently discovered them ourselves, we felt it our duty to spread the word, and with Texans' love of fried things, this Indian treat already has one point in its favor. Filled with potatoes and peas, wrapped in a pastry and then fried, often served with mint and tamarind chutney, you can't eat just one. Good thing they're only 80 cents at the front counter at India Grocers. You can also pick up other fresh and packaged Indian foods and goods while you're picking up your samosas. They tend to be pretty spicy, but a cool chutney or hummus balances the flavors. Just don't let them see you use ketchup.

Banana Leaf Thai

Banana Leaf, whose twin mottos are "the leaf that's delicious" and "to-go, or reservation," does all the staples--pad Thai, panang, satay, spring rolls--with skillful aplomb. But it also pinches you with less familiar but well-spiced creations such as waterfall beef (so molten it turns your tear ducts into hydropower channels) and tiger cry (so named because it can turn a fierce feline predator into a typical Oprah guest). And while Banana Leaf isn't a dazzling example of interior design (walls feature groupings of birds from the truck-stop souvenir ilk), the food is clean, brisk and good-looking. Just make sure to stuff your pockets with Kleenex before venturing forth.

Whole Foods Market

Most people we see at Whole Foods are buying stuff, so we don't think anyone goes there just to snack on the free samples in the aisles. But around the pineapple-mango salsa bowl, sometimes you wonder. It doesn't stick around long. The unlikely combination of fresh fruit and heat/spice, courtesy of chilies, cilantro and onion, is as refreshing as it is unusual. True, Tex-Mex purists might not even call this salsa. But it's such a brilliant departure from the traditional tomato-based varieties, and such a relief in the summer heat, it gets the best nod on originality alone.

Ferré Ristorante e Bar

Parked in the West Village, where the tanned and tucked preen and leased BMWs breed like lab bunnies, Patrick Colombo's Ferré is an impeccably dressed Tuscan feedlot--razor-sharp. It's a collection of well-organized shapes and colors (amber mostly) with warming wood struts tempering chilly contemporary gusts such as the back bar, a cubist flourish of blurred glass and metal. Service isn't stellar, but the food is. Perfect gnocchi (a rarity). Desperately tender pasta with give. Flake-frenzied salmon. Zesty tomato soup with a poofy-do milk froth. Ferré's kitchen physics are executed by Kevin Ascolese, the toque who turned culinary tricks at Mi Piaci and the defunct Salve! Except here he does it with an eye affixed to brutal cost-consciousness. And it's good to nosh Italian that doesn't gnaw at your credit limit.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: Ifs Ands & Butts is the best place to wet your whistle without getting a buzz on. This shop sells specialty soda pop that you cannot find at the local grocery store, soda pop you've never heard of and soda pop your granddaddy used to buy you. We're talking about Nehi grape, Moxie cream soda and Frostie cola, the original recipe sold in the original 10-ounce bottle. That's just to name three of the more than 130 in-store brands. We recommend a trip to the store, located in the newly spruced Bishop Arts District, because the scarcity of some bottles requires on-site consumption. Also, it's a nice neighborhood. But if that doesn't work, proprietor Hamilton Rousseau has posted all his brands on the Internet, www.ifsandsbutts.com, and he'll ship your order to you wherever you are.

There are a lot of bad apple tarts out there: sticky, dry, old and washed-out. It's gotten so it's hard to remember what the thing is supposed to taste (or look, or feel) like. Well, refresh your memories with Paris Vendôme's apple tart (not the only tart there, mind you) galette with caramel ice cream--a simple piece of lively resilience. The pastry is delicate and light but supple. It also has valor, leaving the apple to flaunt its sassiness without getting bogged down in the juice flood. And the caramel sauce is among the smoothest, richest and most satisfying we've tasted. Order two in case you've lost some short-term memory down a water pipe.

Paciugo Gelato

Just as the Magnolia (and before it the Angelika Film Center) has exponentially expanded the city's movie-going options, Paciugo Gelato, the "Italian Gelato Renaissance," has broadened the city's snacking horizons. Gelato is another word for ice cream, but Paciugo's gelato is no ordinary ice cream. What makes this ideal after-movie snack so silky is it contains less air and is not as "cold" as other brands, allowing its natural flavors to tantalize the taste buds. This especially smooth treat also sits lightly in the tummy because, dieters take note, it contains less fat and sugar than the standard fare. The more tepid American can make the European leap into gelato by ordering familiar flavors, like a devilish chocolate-chocolate chip or Rocky Road, while the more adventurous might experiment with marron glacé, pannacotta or tiramisu. Our favorite is lavender.

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