Catfish can often be dull, spongy and soggy, even when fried. It takes a special set of fingers and a deft mind to breathe life into these supple fillets. Hattie's chef Lisa Kelley does it. Her pecan-crusted catfish resonates with such rich buzz that you'll find it bathes your mind as well as your buds. A long fillet, tapered on one end, shimmers in a scaly gold coat glossed with lemon-butter sauce, ebony patches breaking through where heat held more sway. It's crisp, nutty and draped over a mashed-potato cushion snarled with bits of scallion melded into reverential communion with lemon-butter sauce. The butter is full-throttle stuff--rich and salty--and the citrus is dribbled to perfect pitch.

Best Japanese Restaurant That Doesn't Have a Sushi Bar

Waka

Waka chef-owner Seiji Wakabayashi defines his craft as nouvelle Japanese. And the nouvelle part is like a projector or viewer for peering at Japanese cuisine from a different vantage point. The examples are subtle--creamy carrot soup, rich nutty foie gras perched on yams, mixed seaweed salad fluffed with baby greens and little surprises like a thing called an eel carpet ride (the kind that won't skin your knees). Though there is no sushi bar, you can watch them carve it from the stools perched near the open kitchen.

This spinach never saw the inside of a can. A square dish is layered in the center with steamed spinach leaves, and soy sauce is channeled between the stack and the edge of the dish. The leaves are dusted with shredded bonito, blond thin curls of dried skipjack tuna. The bitter, leafy earthiness--silky in texture--is deftly foiled by the concentrated sea wash, delivered in whispered bursts shrouded in a delicate crunch. This stuff can do more than just swell biceps.

Cru: A Wine Bar
Fried calamari is as ubiquitous as Monday-morning yawns, but it's the subtle details that make it shine. Crú's scraps of squid are light and airy and virtually greaseless. And the spicy sweet-and-sour sauce kicks your senses back into alignment, should your wine-tasting flights knock you off course.
Turkeys were never meant to trod where cattle hoofs tromp. And that fleshy wattle growing from its throat ain't no set of horns. That's why turkey burgers don't have steer power: They often lack juice and richness, and they crumble like parched bran muffins under stress. Here the burgers are juicy and rich, and they stick together like their beefy counterparts. Pesto topping and a whole-wheat muffin don't hurt any, either. It's enough to make one utter an aria of rapid gobbles.

The Blue Fish
We hear that one of our staff has had a bad waitstaff experience here. Not saying that isn't possible, just saying that we've never experienced anything except top-notch attention and care from the folks at Blue Fish. The sushi here is fresh and huge--it's often hard to put it all in your mouth. (Stop it.) The specials are rich and original (the crab bake over California rolls is not for the weak of stomach). If you're a Blue Fish virgin, you'll need to know these two alcohol facts: They have an outstanding cold sake selection, and Wednesdays offer $1 Blue martinis. Chop chop.

Best Fancy Restaurant Where You Can Take the Kids

Cafe on the Green

Cafe on the Green
Our 3-year-old was greeted enthusiastically at Café on the Green, and the staff really meant it. They immediately brought out a basket of colorful building toys and an Etch A Sketch, more than enough amusement to sustain the tyke through four courses of nearly flawless Asian-accented cuisine. Café on the Green has a surprisingly good children's menu with fare that's healthier than the usual, including a grilled chicken breast served with spaghetti noodles and marinara sauce. Café on the Green also has another attractive option, available for children 6 months and older--the Kids Club baby-sitting service at the hotel, which costs $5 an hour per child for up to two hours. The service is offered to Café on the Green guests with confirmed reservations every evening except Sunday.

Desperados
We hesitate to point this out because Desperados, the longtime Tex-Mex hideaway on Upper Greenville Avenue, is one of our favorite weekend haunts. We hesitate because part of the reason we love it so much is that it never seems too crowded. Sure, it gets full, but it's not like one of those trendy Dallas spots where you know you'll wait an hour and a half every Friday evening. You may have trouble parking, as the lot is fairly small, but after that it's smooth sailing. The service is fantastic, the food is top-notch (everything from the "awesome nachos" to the puffy, crunchy Desperado tacos to the more expensive specialty dinners is worth putting in your mouth) and the desserts are sumptuous (the flan is worth the trip). Top-shelf 'ritas ain't too shabby, either. Desperados has fine North Dallas and Garland locations as well, but if you want to stay close to the Friday-night action without too much hassle, start your weekend here.
The Green Room
A few times a year, we ship the kids to the baby sitter, dress up like the hip kids (plus 30 pounds) and go out for a grown-up meal. Good food, good wine, good times. Our favorite place in which to do this, as it has been for about a decade, is The Green Room. Hip enough to be fun, serious enough for sophisticated tastes, head chef Marc Cassel's restaurant continues to impress every time out. When we arrive, we always ask for the "Feed Me, Wine Me"--four courses chosen by the chef and four glasses of wine picked to match each course. The result is mesmerizing and instructive: wonderful dishes perfectly prepared, matched with always-interesting vino choices. The best part: We usually end up loaded, take a cab home and make out like teenagers. Sure beats counseling.

The Observer's Mark Stuertz suggests you "feed your culinary soul" at Watel's, a French restaurant that is one of Dallas' top eateries. But we suggest you experience your fine food with some aural ambience. Chef-owner René Peeters (one of the nicest guys who'll ever confit your duck) offers $29, four-course jazz dinners every other Monday or so. (Check www.watels.com for updates.) With your music you get a soup of the day, salad, one of eight entrées (such as crabmeat lasagna, spinach ravioli with chardonnay and walnuts or petit filet mignon grilled with herbed jus) and a choice of dessert. Music to our ears.

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