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SARA+KERENS
They+don%26%23146%3Bt+coast+at+Coast+Global+Seafood%2C+pulling+off+some+daring+entrees...after+a+faltering+start

It's one thing when servers show proper deference and reach in from the correct side. What sets the staff at Coast apart has little to do with such mannerisms. Although they are tidy, there's nothing special in their approach. But when we asked about a dish, these guys knew the details. When called upon to repeat specials, they did so without hesitation. When they recommended something, it turned out to be very much worthwhile. And, most important, they made no mistakes on our visits. Hope they keep it up.

Web extra: Hear from some of Dallas's new and unheralded chefs in our video feature.

It's cliché to paint Dallas as a city that likes things big. Whether it be stadiums, scandals or the name recognition of chefs at the restaurants we flock to, size has always mattered in these parts. We cheered Kent Rathbun, chef-owner of Abacus, not only for his achievements on the television hit Top Chef, but also for hoisting a moose head with his bare hands during the course of that series. And it was only a couple years ago when venues opened by a couple of the area's most famous kitchen celebrities-Stephan Pyles and Dean Fearing-took turns capturing popular fancy.

They still hold sway, these big-name chefs. But since the moose incident and the glitzy grand openings, a group of nobodies began poking giant holes in our starry facade. As Dallas Fish Market neared completion, the owners tapped Randy Morgan to head the kitchen, and he quickly turned the downtown space into the city's finest seafood restaurant. Young Julian Barsotti arrived and his place, Nonna, quickly put a stop to all that "Dallas has no good Italian" talk. Then along came Graham Dodds at Bolsa, an Oak Cliff destination dedicated to fresh, local and seasonal ingredients-and last year's hottest new establishment.

This year has been much the same. Nick Badovinus' return to the scene caused considerable buzz and two-hour waits for dinner at Neighborhood Services. More recently, Marc Cassel stepped back into the kitchen after a two-year hiatus, stirring much the same frenzy. Yet at the same time, the unknown (in this market) Sarah Johannes filed into the other much ballyhooed new restaurant, Wolfgang Puck's Five-Sixty. Almost immediately critics began mentioning her work alongside that of Anthony Bombaci (Nana) and Avner Samuel (Aurora). Jean-Marie Cadot worked quietly in North Dallas' Lavendou for quite some time, drawing little media attention. In 2009, he joined with chef Gaspar Stantic, setting up Cadot-a contender for best new restaurant. Out in Rockwall, Randall Copeland and Nathan Tate's AVA followed Bolsa's local-seasonal lead.

"I think there's been a grassroots movement for four or five years now, but people weren't necessarily aware of it," Copeland says of the so-called "locavore" trend, which has allowed some of these new chefs to break into the culinary spotlight. "The guys at Bolsa had no idea the people that would come-it's working."

Many of these new restaurants have adopted the local-seasonal-sustainable mantra to some extent. They've also been willing to discard the perks of a once pretentious scene, refusing to accept reservations, welcoming diners clad in non-designer jeans or even shorts, packing tables close together and so on. Unlike the 500-seat steak palaces that dominated fine dining in the late '90s boom, these guys think simple and small. Bella in Uptown boasts room for perhaps 50 guests. Lumi, the fun Asian-Brazilian dumpling spot on McKinney Avenue, allows for about the same, but parking for maybe 15 cars. Bolsa doesn't even offer valet parking. One of the owners, Chris Zielke, encourages new arrivals to pull up on the sidewalk. "Hey, this is Oak Cliff," he says, deliberately shrugging at big-city niceties. By consciously breaking traditional Dallas rules ("I grew up here and didn't know there were four seasons," Copeland points out, explaining the city's reluctance to join the "slow foods" movement), these chefs have eroded the tiers that defined nightlife for so long. One now sees ballgame attire at Bob's and Al Biernat's, while almost every restaurant with aspirations for success touts organic dishes.

For his part, Barsotti eschews over-engineered dishes. "When I go over there [to Italy]," he says, "I come back inspired to be simplistic." David Pedack even took a step back, opening a bar on Henderson-Blue Collar Bar-featuring mid-century blue plate items, such as Salisbury steak.

The big boys have, of course, taken notice. Rathbun followed Pedack's lead with a more extravagant Blue Plate Kitchen. And Pyles is ready to throw open the doors on an "international small plates" destination called Samar.

However fresh these faces may seem to the local dining crowd, the rising stars have spent considerable time in professional kitchens. Copeland served as sous chef at the Green Room and then in Las Vegas before AVA. "It took me a good couple years-watching, asking questions," Morgan says of his seafood apprenticeship, which included a stint with Oceanaire. "There are so many ways and combinations to do fish." Christopher Short of the outstanding Bella served as executive chef for the Crescent Court and for The Mansion's private dining program. "It's not as glamorous as people think," he says of restaurant life. "You gotta have strong legs under you, because the day is long and the weeks get longer.

"True enough. But their work is changing the way Dallas perceives both dining and celebrity. For the first time in quite awhile, smaller is better.

By Dave Faries

Other Winning Food Suggestions From Our Readers

Best Lunch Deal
Local Diner
8305 N. Belt Line Road, Irving
972-929-2200

Best Home-Style Restaurant
Celebration
4503 W. Lovers Lane
214-351-5681

Best Desserts
Tiffs Treats
1001 Ross Ave.
214-720-0500

Best Fried Chicken
Babes Chicken Dinner House
1456 Belt Line Road, No. 171, Garland
972-496-1041

Best Calamari
The Grape
2808 Greenville Ave.
214-828-1981

Best Ice Cream
Paciugo
Various locations

Best Wings
Wingstop
Various locations

Central Market

Our Yiddish mama told us we'd never get a good bagel in Dallas—not until H&H moved down here from NYC, hah! But a few months back we stumbled across the most extraordinary thing: a hot everything bagel straight from the Central Market ovens. It was a revelation—not because it was H&H awesome (someone once wrote of those offerings that they taste like hot marshmallows...mmmmm, hot marshmallows), but because it was so crispy-perfect on the outside and steamy-moist on the inside and needed not a smidge of cream cheese to make it palatable. Seriously. Central Market. Don't believe us? We'll meet you there tomorrow morning. Bring your empty stomach. And, sure, some lox.

From the '20s to the '50s—a golden age if you ignore depression, war, racism and gray flannel suits—traveling businessmen lived on the blue plate special, a diner's issue of a meat and two sides for one low price. The institution died out, thanks to the proliferation of even cheaper fast-food stands...that is until economic tides turned and guys like David Pedack recognized an opportunity. The owner of Blue Collar Bar built his small kitchen (it's a bar first) around the blue plate special concept. Hey, mashed potatoes, green beans and Salisbury steak? In times like these, that's living.

For 21 years the garden on Fitzhugh has been a key element in the very soul of East Dallas—three-quarters of an acre of raised beds cultivated by people who came here in the 1980s as refugees from war and pogrom in Southeast Asia. Even now on any Saturday morning after 9 a.m. you can wander in through the front gate and feel suddenly suffused with the calm and dignity of a far place and time. You can also get the best deal in town on a great big bunch of basil—a fat brick of it for a buck. Same for lots of other spices and produce. It's worth the trip just for the scenery, but all the way home, your car will be perfumed by the serene scent of fresh-cut greenery. No phone at the garden, but you can call Don Lambert of Gardeners in Community Development at 972-231-3565 or e-mail him at [email protected].

Cadillac Ranch

Chefs sometimes try too hard with these little critters. The trick, however, is to let the flavor of the oysters course through everything else—the crust, the dipping sauce, even through the beer you wash it down with. Hence the genius of the fried oysters at this massive Las Colinas shed. The shell releases a crispy-sweet background and the sauce...oh, the sauce: just a dollop on each, exploding for a moment in bright tomato, yanked to earth by root vegetables, scored by pepper—and then it all subsides, leaving you with the taste of shellfish. Nice.

7-Eleven

OK, let's get this out of the way: Gas station food scares us. It just seems like food preparation is the last thing the guy behind the counter is concerned about, which is why we generally stick to buying packaged snacks. So when 7-Eleven last year introduced a menu of hot foods including pizza, chicken wings and chicken tenders, we were skeptical to say the least. But desperation makes you do funny things sometimes, and one day we pulled the trigger on a slice of pizza. Was it Campisi's good? Hell no, but it was good. We mixed in some chicken taquitos and other items here and there throughout the year, further allaying our fears. Eventually we determined that when you throw in the snack selection and Slurpees, 7-Eleven isn't such a scary place to pick up a quick meal after all.

For anyone who's tasted the gelato in Italy, coming back to the United States and settling for the gelato here feels like cruel and unusual punishment. That is until we found a gelato in the States that we actually liked, and it turns out it's made right here in Big D. Talenti, which can be found at Whole Foods, Sprouts, Tom Thumb and Kroger, uses freshly pasteurized milk, extra fine pure cane sugar, fresh fruits and ingredients from Belgium, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Argentina. Additionally, Talenti gelato is crafted by hand in small batches as opposed to manufactured in a large industrial plant. It's this attention to detail that brings us back to Italy, if only until we take the last bite.

Kavala Mediterranean Grill

This Bishop Arts District restaurant put everyone interested in Greek food through a scare earlier this year when they abruptly shut down. Fortunately, chef Kelly Hightower reopened his café a few days later. Times are tough, especially for chef-run joints. But one taste of his spanakopita or souvlaki or juicy strips of gyro meat and you'll wonder why the place encounters such trouble. Hightower learned his trade at places like The Mansion and Tei Tei—and you can tell. Wood-fired pizzas, extraordinary octopus carpaccio...we only hope it's around next year.

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