India Chaat Cafe
Kathy Tran
If only all fast food tasted this good. The wraps at Chaat Café are truly innovative. Made with naan bread and tandoori chicken, they are prepared on the spot, like everything else at the restaurant. The meat is marinated in yogurt and spices in a clay oven until it is tender and juicy. The best part, besides the taste? The fast-food prices. Chaat Café, the first fast-food Indian restaurant in the United States, is already well-known in the Bay Area, where there are multiple locations. A second DFW location, in Irving, is coming soon. They get the high-tech jobs, and we get Chaat. That's fair enough.

DRINK ME. EAT ME. These are the words Alice confronts down the rabbit hole. All of the other thickly woven strands of logic and nonsense and satire and the criminal court packed with cards are mere Wonderland sideshows. Just after Alice falls down the rabbit hole, she finds a bottle with a paper label marked DRINK ME in large, beautiful letters. She examines the bottle, and after noticing it has no warnings or impenetrable child safety caps, she opens the bottle and drinks. She savors the complexity of the bouquet and palate as it courses through essences of cherry tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffee and hot buttered toast. She finishes it off. "What a curious feeling," she says. Next she stumbles upon a small cake. The cake is marked with the words EAT ME scrawled in currants. She finishes that off too.

When you boil it down, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is little more than a gourmand guide.

One Arts Plaza breathes a similar essence; it's a kind of rabbit hole in reverse, a retreat from the typical downtown netherworld of empty retrofitted old buildings and sterile, glassy new ones. The 24-story, $150 million structure rests on the eastern edge of the Dallas Arts District. It has spaces for retailing and dining. It has expansive office space, 68 plush modern residences and a six-story cube traced in lights to illuminate the outline of its penthouses. The cube can be programmed to display colors and patterns—a ticking clock for instance. To mark teatime.

One Arts Plaza is the new U.S. corporate headquarters for Southland Corp., the mother ship of 7-Eleven convenience stores. Taking shape in its front yard will be the Winspear Opera House, the City Performance Hall and the Wyly Theatre plus Booker T. Washington High School.

"Piazza is not a real Texas word," developer Lucy Billingsley of the Billingsley Development Co. says. Yet a piazza it will have. It's filled with fountains and green spaces. It will be threaded with caricature artists, mimes and saxophone players, species that are as foreign to downtown Dallas as talking caterpillars and dancing lobsters are to English pubs.

"What we've got the chance to do here is to create a downtown place for humanity," Billingsley says. "I've been calling it the living room of the arts district. I should be saying it's the dining room for downtown Dallas."

EAT ME, DRINK ME blooms. This fall, One Arts Plaza will introduce a strange troika of restaurants. These will not have cherry tarts, roasted turkey or pineapple. But they will have niche wines from all over the world, pot pies, signature mint juleps and soba noodles.

Enter former actor and famed restaurateur Paul Pinnell, last of Nana atop the Hilton Anatole. Pinnell will introduce Dali Wine Bar & Cellar, where California wine country cuisine will blend with contemporary urban food. Café Italia founder Scott Jones and former Melrose executive chef Joel Harloff will open Screen Door, a contemporary take on classic dishes from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and the Carolinas. Indirectly launched from Tokyo, Tei An will also take shape in the plaza. It's a soba noodle emporium from Tei Tei Robata Bar and Teppo creator Teiichi Sakurai.

Sakurai studied at Tokyo's Tsukiji Soba Academy to master the art of crafting buckwheat soba noodles by hand. "Handmade soba is very fashionable in Tokyo right now," Sukurai says. He notes Southland CEO Toshifumi Suzuki is an avid soba noodle aficionado, thus making Tei An in One Arts Plaza hand-in-glove snug.

Named after Wonderland-ish artist Salvador Dali, Dali Wine Bar & Cellar aims to turn wine bar rituals, as they have been practiced in Dallas, on their ear. Dali will house a custom wine cellar designed to mimic the sensuality of floating Champagne bubbles. The bar itself will be illuminated from within to fill the glassware with light. Thus the serious geek can gauge wine color and clarity. Rather than a parade of pricey brand names from California and France, Dali will feature elusive wines at approachable prices.

Designed to mimic a thoroughly modernized Southern mansion, Screen Door will take Southern staples and breathe into them Euro-style vivacity.

But what is DRINK ME, EAT ME without some SEE ME, especially in Dallas? Praeda Ultra Lounge, a private VIP room-laden night club by former Candle Room manager Aaron Latus, will feature a 360-degree viewing screen with projectors that can scan your visage and insert it in the middle of the Sahara desert, a sloshing ocean or in free fall from a cliff. Also gracing Praeda will be a massive aquarium stocked with sharks. The creatures. The looking glass. The Clock. The drink and cake.

When Alice drinks from that bottle, she shrinks down to 10 inches. When she finishes off the cake, she grows so tall her feet disappear from view. Distraught at the disappearance of her feet, she sheds gallons of tears. Hence Alice personifies Dallas. For who among us doesn't sob out a full reflecting pool when we can't see our Jimmy Choos and Guccis? — Mark Stuertz

Asian Mint
Thai noodle houses and sushi bars are popping up around Dallas as if this were California or something. But Asian Mint is a different kind of café. The atmosphere is modern and bright, stylish with nary a travel poster in sight. The fusion cuisine leans toward Thai, with Chinese dishes second. But whatever the dish, it's reinterpreted in way that brings out subtle flavors that can sometimes get overwhelmed in hot and spicy dishes. Asian Mint's specialty is usually ignored by most Vietnamese and Thai restaurants: dessert pastries married to Asian flavors, like green tea ice cream cake and pa tong ko, Asian beignets. Try the jasmine crème brûlée. Heaven.
While men on stage blow altos and beat snare heads, women and children moisten their lips in crawfish etouffee with a creamy sassafras sauce. Their lips purse. Their eyes close. Their jaws do an Elvis swivel. Why is this so ridiculously good? Is it the perfect cook-down of onions and celery and peppers blended into roux? Is it the serrations of cayenne left on the tongue as the silken stew rolls down the throat? Is it the plump tight curls of crawdad tail? This etouffee has terrific balance that leaves the mouth pulsing and then quickly, somehow, lets it reset, readying for the next spoonful. It's nutrition for jazz ears.
Kasbah Grill
Africans eat here—from both north and south. Middle Easterners eat here. On Sunday, you'll find an after-church Anglo crowd. During Ramadan, the place packs at sundown for multi-course specials. What brings these disparate populations together is Moroccan home cooking in the form of rich, warmly spiced stews, or tagines, and excellent couscous and kebab dishes. The proprietors are exceptionally welcoming; everyone feels comfortable at one of the booths or metal tables, housed in what used to be a 7-Eleven store (a recent re-decoration has exorcised most of the convenience-store vibe). We love the royal couscous and its mélange of earthy flavors: roasted vegetables, couscous steamed in broth and a tender braised lamb shank. Kasbah is also one of the few places in the area where you can get the traditional Moroccan dish bastella, which is a phyllo-dough pastry concoction with ground chicken, eggs and almonds topped with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and cinnamon. C'mon, there's a reason why it's a national delicacy; this odd mingling of flavors somehow creates an exotically spiced, savory whole. All this, plus there's a good chance you'll get out of here for $10 a person or less.

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