Margaux's: A Restaurant By Design
Tucked into Dallas' design district, Kay Agnew's Margaux's is a breath of fresh lunch munch fueled by hot licks of Creole and Cajun brashness artfully designed to kick you out of your luncheon ennui. Red beans and rice with andouille sausage? Oh-so-supple firm beans poured over fluffy separate rice grains with flecks of scallion. Soft shell crab is littered with pecan debris and spit-bathed in a rich lemon beurre blanc. And who can say nyet to popcorn crawdads? What's odd is all of this lusty Cajun sweat is dressed in high-class contemporary design threads, which means white (walls and ceiling beams) and black (table cloths and napkins) plus a vase of sticks welded to a mirror here and there. Very haute but very un-Cajun.
While many of us don't like them, we all have a voyeuristic fascination with whole fish arriving on a plate: tail, fins, head and gills fully intact. We try to decipher its blank expressions, play stare-down with the eye sockets, try to find the thing's tongue. In most places, you order a whole fish and it slumbers on the plate, maybe in a bath of citrus, scallions, spices, peppers and some fermented fluid to race it up. But at Qun Kien Giang, the whole (fried) fish (our server didn't know how to translate the species into English) is upright, resting on its belly, flaunting its spiny fins and scales like an array of vicious military armor. The meat is pulled off the sides and bunched up near the fish's belly--like a pair of trousers rumpled around the ankles--leaving the exposed needle-like rib bones, adding to its menacing posture. Meat is moist and tasty, though, but that's Qun Kien Giang. It's a secret space loaded with compelling surprises and gripping mysteries. Hearty hot pots, viciously spicy soups littered with pert vegetables, fondues loaded with bright green foliage and hot pans for sizzling beef slices and seafood--all fresh and delicious. Plus there's a special marathon meal called "seven courses of beef" designed to load you up so that you have to be hauled out like a whole fish on a plate.
It's a distinctive notch of Thai splendor. You have statues and statuettes of gods and warriors, reliefs of beautiful Thai women and photographs of Thai royalty. Plus, there is the tinkle and splashing of fountains in the entrance. Furnishings are all Thai imports, from the glossy web-worked wood chairs to the god sporting multiple limbs engraved on an urn. But it's the food that gets you, from the supple and greaseless sweet corn patties to the delicious steamed whole fish ever threatening a potent chili sting, to the rich and creamy panang riddled with red chili and kaffir leaves. Pad Thai is exhilarating: supple and separate noodles and sprouts (no sticky pad rat's nest) and real peanut debris (no Jif or Skippy), all draped in a smooth supple omelet, so you can box up what's left and have it for breakfast. This is the coolest Thai indulgence since Thai stick.
Hanasho Japanese Restaurant
Everyone has fries: shoestring, cottage, home, steak, frites, french. Hash browns? Sure. But not everyone has Hanasho fries. They curl at one end, forming a fishing hook. They look like headless seahorses. The staff says they're just like french fries. No, they're not. They have golden brown fringe around the creamy flesh. These are Hanasho's fried squid legs. Probe past the coating crunch and discover the suction cups. And like the best french fries, they're relatively greaseless. In the mouth, they're surprisingly sweet, like popcorn shrimp, yet chewier and without the soapy aftertaste. Delicious. We gobbled them as if they were starring in a super-sized combo meal. Just think how the kiddies would squeal over these if they came with a Johnny Depp Polly Pocket pirate.
There's nothing like branding yourself bland. "This is a generic restaurant concept. It is a throwback. There is no special identity. It is what it is--a place to get well and nourished," the Kitchen 1924 says of itself. OK. But in truth, Kitchen 1924 sweats special identity. Look at all of the neighbors bellying up to the bar and huddling at the tables. Look at all of the sunglasses the Kitchen offers exclusively for use during its Sunday "hangover brunch." Kitchen 1924 roosts in monochromatic tones in its Lakewood Shopping Center home because, you know, color is supplied by the food and guests in true neighborly fashion--a tasty pub for generic camaraderie. How generic? French onion soup is humbly minimalist and un-pompous. Then there's the deviled eggs and succotash. Flat-iron steak, marinated in red wine, garlic, shallot and soy, layers shadowy hints of Asia without resorting to a full-out global gastro pose. Sometimes Kitchen 1924 serves she-crab soup. This is a throwback? Whose generic wool is being pulled? Generically put, Kitchen 1924 is pleasantly delicious, a neighborhood room as distinctively comfortable as its Lakewood ecosystem. Now go eat.
First, let's get the obvious out of the way. The food is good, service is great and the ambiance is chic. But as you wait for your smoked chicken ravioli or your vegetarian calzone, beware the complimentary basket of garlic bread rolls. The homemade "doughballs" are served warm with fresh garlic and oil poured over. Don't let the tiny size fool you. One after another is easy, and before you know it, you're full before your meal comes out. No matter. You can always take the food home, but stay for the fresh bread. A great date place too, but don't expect lots of smooches soon after.
It's their top seller. They gladly admit it. And who are we to doubt such boasts? It's made to order. It's as vividly green as the poison tree frog mugs on those "Save the Rainforest" direct-mail fund-raising pieces. Shove in a chip. The guac is chunky, nutty and fresh. This is stellar stuff with white onion, lime, cilantro and roasted garlic stirred into a bumpy slurry. You can feel the citrus concussion from your cheek membranes all the way down to your hangnails.
If limes could die and go to heaven, they would find themselves in owner Teresa Trevino's Key lime pie. This small, family-owned catering company in Mesquite has quietly made its mark among local schools and businesses, but its secret weapon is this dessert. With a whipped instead of gelatinous filling, it is as if limes ascended into the sky, evaporated into a cloud and then fell to earth landing in a pie crust. Yes, it's that good! Enough so that Trevino won't reveal the recipe. How about them apples? Oops, wrong fruit.
Should you ever find yourself with a leisurely weekday morning, head here for an iced chai latte and muffin. The bustling of Starbucks is nil here as the low sound of the TV and warm but colorful dcor slowly wakes you into the day. Whether reading the paper, using the free wi-fi or just catching a morning break, Crossroads is that stop-and-smell-the-roses place you might just be looking for. If you need to tend to that caffeine addiction or sweet tooth, give this place a shot. But only if you promise to sit and enjoy it.
The moment you step into Kalachandji's, you sense the mood of the East--or maybe it's just the lack of air conditioning. No, it's more than that. It's the diverse clientele, the unusual food and something else that you just can't put your finger on. Ah, it's the chance to broaden your horizons through the exposure to vegetarian food, Hare Krishnas and a darn good tamarind cooler. The buffet is good and inexpensive (and all you can eat), and who knows? You might even have a little fun getting outside of your safe, button-down, plastic fantastic world while chowing down on curried vegetables, rice pudding and pappadam in an open-air courtyard. Kalachandji's is also your source for Hare Krishna and Indian merchandise, including incense, books, statues, jewelry, clothing and more. And if the mood really takes you, slip off your shoes and spend a few moments meditating in Kalachandji's palace, adjacent to the restaurant.

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