Central Market
Among pleasures we've missed in our long adventures in gluttony is the joy of pink salt from the Himalayas. Say what? Yeah, the pink unrefined fossil marine salt formed some 200 million years ago in the mountains of the sherpas. It has a pinkish shimmer, a swell granulometry and crunch, and a slightly bitter flavor on the finish—everything you want from the pink in your life. This is just one of the many wonders to be found at Central Market Southlake's Salts of the Earth salt bar. There's hibiscus salt and salt with Mediterranean herbs, black olives and Sri Lanka curry. There's fleur de sel, hand-harvested sea salts from the Mediterranean and Atlantic. There are various grades of smoked salts, including one smoked from incinerated Chardonnay oak barrels. There are red clay salts that seal in meat juices when roasting, Hawaiian black lava salts and Cypress black sea salts with activated charcoal to provide relief from flatulence, among other things. The Central Market salt bar has 23 salts that you can taste, buy in bagged bulk or purchase in small plastic samplers if you're worried your blood pressure may launch your cerebral cortex through your nostrils. It's history, one lick at time.
The Oceanaire Seafood Room
If it swims, it flies. The Oceanaire has fresh fish—arctic char, Shetland Island trout, barracuda, red mullet, smoked sturgeon, thresher shark, blowfish—flown in from every conceivable global spot, including Iceland, the East Coast, New Zealand, Panama, South America and Hawaii. The menu is driven by freshness and reshuffles daily—even hourly—as the market dictates. Have your catch prepped the way you want: simply grilled, broiled, sautéed, steamed or fried. There's a raw bar jammed with marine-misted lobsters, crab, clams and shrimp; an oyster selection of Wellfleets from Massachusetts, Malpeques from Prince Edward Island and Kumamotos from Oregon, or whatever else can catch flight. No other Dallas restaurant does seafood as varied or as fresh or racy and unbridled. And so far it seems no one ever will.
Mama's Daughter's Diner
For much of the last couple of decades, two sisters "of a certain age" have been serving meatloaf and attitude to customers at competing diners. In the process they have won fans and even a bit of fame. Barbara Woodley, 70, in her signature oversized sunglasses, works the crowd at Mama's Daughter's Diner, while little sis Natalie, 66, in oversized barrel-curl up-do, serves the masses at nearby Original Market Diner. The fare is similar at both spots: chicken-fried steak, mac and cheese, biscuits and gravy, etc., but the girls are definitely different. Everyone agrees that Barbara is the more conservative sister, while Natalie is the more flamboyant. Both have legions of admirers who eat with them daily. Expect a wait if you want to sit in either of their sections and also expect to hear their banter dotted with "hon" or "darlin'" or "sweetheart." The girls are comfortable financially, but both have decided not to give up their day jobs. Lucky for us. Big smiles. Big hair. Big hearts. Come on, who doesn't need to be called "hon" every once in a while?
Hibiscus
There's a reason why, shortly before this writing, Rudy Mikula was poached from Nove Italiano by Consilient Restaurants to become wine and beverage director for Hibiscus, among other Consilient duties. No surprise. Mikula is a walking comfort zone, a wine geek whose easy style and bone-dry wit melts inhibitions, making diners susceptible to Mikula's unique brand of vino evangelism. Listen to him. He plumbs and probes for the world's great sacramental blessings like the best of them. He'll pour you sips of his favorites. Like a particular wine and want to avoid the painful restaurant mark-up flaying? He'll soak off the label and secure it in a Ziploc so you can bring your bagged prize to your favorite retailer. Mikula is an intensely sincere steward, at once discerning, eager and shrewd. He'll usurp your finger and lovingly lug it through the wine list, helping you pinpoint the hidden ones that won't scare the Quicken out of you. If he can do this with Italian wines, with all of their confounding indigenous grapes and regional obscurities, imagine what craftiness he'll pull with the far more mainstream Hibiscus list. Just wait. And watch.
RJ Mexican Cuisine
Because it's considered a simple tomato soup, people tend to think gazpacho is easy to make. So wrong. Often you order the cold Spanish dish only to be served a bowl of chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers, as if they can just whip up some pico de gallo and change the name. RJ's gazpacho is the real deal, though, a cool, refreshing blend of tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, Spanish onion, cilantro and Haas avocados. It has just enough spice and soupiness and exactly the right amount of garlic, which let's face it, is the most important of all.
Pappas Brothers Steakhouse
Big slabs of red beef alive with juice and char are the essence of Dallas cuisine. Diners full of lust and sweat and drool are the essence of the Dallasite. All of this is found in a maze-chambered dining room appointed with meticulous elegance for the indulgence of the well-appointed paunch. Pappas' prime meat is dry-aged, hung out to dry for 28 days (or so) to maliciously extract the deep rich flavors and heighten the impact of its evenly distributed fat. Natural enzymes break down connective tissues, creating a sublime cut—rich, silky, seasoned simply but with mind-bending effectiveness. The nutty dry-aged finish elegantly unravels and loiters with exquisite persistence, loosening only when sluiced with a strapping, gripping Cabernet or one of those assertive Australian Shirazes. So pass the bacon-wrapped scallops, some turtle gumbo, the thick asparagus needles and maybe a few lettuce wedge layers. Meat lust must be tempered. Then again, you may choose to lose consciousness in a fit of carnivorous bliss.
Jimmy's Food Store
Nick Rallo
The minute you take your first bite of a Jimmy's Italian sub, you realize what all those chain places are trying to do but don't. Jimmy's uses the best capicola, mortadella, provolone, pepperoni and Genoa salami with finely diced fresh lettuce, cherry peppers and Jimmy's own secret sauce all on fresh white or wheat loaf. It's fresh, sure, but you know what else it is that's a good idea for an Italian sub? Italian. You can drop by Jimmy's and pick one up to go or grab a little table and eat it there. Word of advice, though? It's not what you'd call a fast food place.
Yutaka Sushi Bistro
As sushi restaurants spread like black mold across DFW, blooming in strip malls and grocer cases, transforming sushi rolls from the exotic to the silly (with names like crazy, mermaid, grasshopper), rolled with fake shellfish, it's easy to forget that sushi is an art form rendered from precisely forged steel, years of drilling and the rigors of near insane meticulousness. Such craft is articulated at Yutaka—in the smooth cool hamachi, shedding its nutty layers as each strip of fish fumigates the mouth with its clean marine scents; in the octopus so delicately sliced you can almost feel the weave of the flesh as it unravels in the jaws; in the slightly roughened, shimmering uni; in the squid that feels like a piece of perfectly cooked rigate once it passes between the lips. This sushi is so ripe with tenderness, so discreet in revealing the savagely honed technique and relentless spirit that wrought it, you almost forget this is sushi—a craft slapped so senseless by its commercial ubiquity that it may as well be a glazed doughnut.
Delicious Cakes
True story: A cupcake fell on the floor in a friend's kitchen. We were busy cleaning up the icing mess, while the majority of the cake carnage lay in a heap on the counter. The husband walked in. "What happened?" "Cupcake casualty." "How long was it down?" "More than 5 seconds." "Where's it from?" "Delicious Cakes." "I'm all over that." He scooped up the broken mound and savored it with reverence due a sacred relic. We've since experienced the Delicious Cakes greatness at a wedding and two other special events. Every time the baked creations have been perfectly moist and light, with just the right amount of icing—never any sugary overkill. The name seems simple and presumptuous, but it's an astute description of what the bakery has to offer in various forms (wedding, bridal, groom, personal party and bundt). Recommended flavors included Italian cream, red velvet, Mexican chocolate and fresh strawberry.
Royal Thai
Like other cuisines—Italian and Chinese creep to mind—unearthing good Thai can be confounding. It can be listless. It can be sloppy. It can be uninspiring. Royal Thai shakes up the ennui, not only with fresh cuisine, but with its Thai elegance and sophisticated staging that includes a wine list fraught with clear thinking (acid lush whites and reds along with the usual Chard-Cab brigade). Tom kha gai, a soup of galangal, coconut milk, chicken, mushrooms, lemongrass, kaffir lime and chilies is an opus of tart and spicy. Tender, juicy satay begs for dunks in an appropriately spicy peanut sauce (these choosy mothers didn't choose Jif!). Salads, like the searing yahm plah meuk with calamari, lemongrass, mint and lime, or the brisk chicken lahb bedded on clean iceberg lettuce shreds, can be meals, humming as they do with flavor you can feel all the way down to your hangnails. Smooth curries are here, as are the whole fried fishes (cat and snapper), battered and brittle and moist and spiced like the best of them. Which they are.

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