Best Ham Salad 2006 | Amuse Restaurant & Lounge | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer
Ham is a cured cut from a hog's hind leg. In Italy, where it's salt-cured and pressed it's called prosciutto, which would make a really cool name for a Ferrari. Try this: F355 Prosciutto Spider. Except it would never fly in the U.S. market because nobody wants to drive a 500-horsepower hog shank, even if the name does sound cool in Italian. Anyway, most chefs can't think of anything to do with it, so they wrap cantaloupe chunks with it and call it a dish. But at Amuse the prosciutto vibrates, just like that Ferrari (in theory). Pinches of it are arranged in a row on a long narrow plate over gauzy triangles of manchego cheese. Needles of chive and julienne endive protrude from the folds like chopsticks, and strips of roasted pepper are draped over the top, playing off the cured sweetness. Vrooom.
How to torture an organic chicken: bath it in white wine, rub it raw inside and out with lemon halves, soak it in dark beer, rub it with a secret blend of Peruvian spices and leave it to stew for 24 hours. Then, give it another Peruvian rub, impale it on a rotisserie over smoldering charcoal and split hickory and apple wood logs. How to reach tortured organic chicken bliss: eat the damn chicken. The spices caramelize on the crisped skin, extracting the Peruvian spice and beer sensations to the point of blood-stirring eroticism (let's be honest, chickens don't arouse when left to their own feeble devices). The caramelized spices seal in the juices. And they're cheap: A whole chicken with three jumbo sides is just shy of 14 bucks.
We like this: Most of India Palace's dcor de pink has been flushed, giving way to lush golds, dark mustards and rich burgundies heightened by brass chandeliers. Which means it's actually beginning to resemble a palace instead of a casino by Larry Flynt. At the entrance is a plastic box with slots quarantining all of the spices: mustard seed, coriander, cumin, clove, garlic, etc. These little specimens are animated into the alluring India Palace fume. And instead of loosely ethnicized schmaltz, the music is authentic. We think. Service is attentive and prompt. The food ranks up there with the dining room fragrance. Saag paneer (cheese in creamed spinach) is rich and well-sassed with a complex Indian spice blitz. Marinated in yogurt, ginger and garlic, tandoori chicken is as moist as it is zesty (usually it's as dry as burlap and as orange as a traffic cone), even when plucked from the lunch buffet. The whole India Palace bounty horn, from the fresh Indian breads to the lamb bahuna, screams with alluring sensuality.
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.
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.

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