Restaurant Reviews

Arcodoro & Pomodoro Goes Fancy, but the Fundamental Remain Solid

Even the parsley at Arcodoro & Pomodoro is reason for excitement. Rather than garnish a dish with a sprig or a scattering of minced leaves, the kitchen places a few crispy cooked shoots of the herb atop certain dishes. It's a novel touch—and the slightly salty, slightly oily taste is a delightful contrast to rich sauces and thick soups.

Good thing, because most of the leisure-class diners looked like they could use a bit of stimulation—and they sure weren't getting it from the restaurant's artworks or interior design. During a recent dinner visit, my dining companion and I—both in our 30s, mind you—were the youngest couple in the restaurant by a few decades, aside from the bored-looking adult children of the geriatric patriarch at a nearby table. That probably explains why we were whisked to the table in the corner nearest the kitchen door, though the fact that I was the only man not wearing a dark suit might have been a factor. Conversely, I was overdressed in the same jacket and slacks on a later lunch visit, during which polo shirts and penny loafers sans socks seemed to be the preferred attire for the 20-something Yuppies who dominated the dining room.

Fortunately, there is much more to Arcodoro & Pomodoro than the parsley.

The Sardinian-Italian restaurant moved in September 2009 from its longtime Routh Street location to the seemingly cursed Crescent Court location that formerly housed Bice and, before that, Sam's Cafe. With the move, the place replaced chef Franesco Farris with Luciano Salvadore and left behind its wood-burning oven. The ambiance upgraded from that of a relatively casual, family-friendly neighborhood atmosphere to a grand air of elegance and a clientele that doesn't have to ask the price of the nightly specials.

Yet, if the fish specialty I tried is any indication, those specials are worth it even if enjoying one means cold cereal and baloney sandwiches until the next paycheck. Grilled sea bass filets were nestled between crab cakes and served over sautéed onions and spinach leaves with spinach pasta and scallops in red sauce. On paper, it sounds like a mess, a mishmash of ideas something like the upscale seafood variety of the KFC Double Down: a fish sandwich with crab cakes as the bun. On the plate, however, it was a marvelous symphony of crispy crab cake and tender, moist fish. The harmony was embellished by delicate pasta—just hinting at the flavor of spinach that gives it its pale green hue—and a rich tomato sauce offset with sweet seared scallops and the tangy notes of scattered capers.

Simpler but just as satisfying was the pasta entree gulurgiones de casu canne al vento, half-moon pasta shells filled with cheese and served with a veal-and-tomato sauce. The menu describes the pasta's stuffing as "mild imported cheeses," but in this case "mild" must have been a relative term. It was assertive enough to hold its own against the sizable chunks of hearty veal.

Fortunately, the waiter was more than adequately knowledgeable to suggest a wine that could pair well with the disparate entrees. Steering us away from a lighter rossi, he recommended the similarly priced Cassegi Barbera—gracefully, without trying to push a more expensive wine on us. It proved a light-bodied, unoaked but brightly spiced red that neither overwhelmed the seafood nor backed down from the sharp, strong cheeses of the pasta.

The wine went equally well with our antipastos. Our starters included San Daniele grana e pere, an extraordinarily soft prosciutto that thankfully lacked the sodium overdose usually associated with the thin ham, served with salty, grainy grana padano cheese and caramelized pears in the restaurant's signature bitter honey. Together, they combined for a marvelous mix of sweet and salty tastes and soft and firm textures. Just as outstanding was the calamari fritti: Exquisitely tender and tossed in a light breading, it was served with fried slivers of zucchini. The squid was accompanied by a spicy red sauce.

If the white linen, polished silverware, decorative plates and other such touches of elegance are intended for the genteel, the $14.95 "Power Lunch" specials must be for their grandchildren who have a taste for finery but are still decades away from receiving their inheritances.

The lunch menu features many items from the dinner menu, but the Power Lunch menu offers a deal too good to pass up: one of three antipastos and one of four entrees for a buck or two more than most entrees would cost on their own.

Make that three entrees to choose from on our visit, as the chicken scallopini was sold out. But the ravioli in a rich cream sauce proved a fine stand-in. Even better was the salmon, cooked perfectly and served in a sweet bitter-honey and balsamic vinegar glaze on a bed of spinach and onions. The bruschetta antipasto—four toast points with diced tomato and pesto—was acceptable if not terribly exciting. The carrot, potato and fennel soup, on the other hand, was perhaps the most memorable moment of the meal. The pureed root vegetables could have been immensely bland, but a drizzle of sweet glaze, a few slivers of cheese and that incredibly simple yet impressive cooked parsley made it a highlight.

Desserts of panna cotti (flan-like custard drizzled with Grand Marnier) and a trio of sorbetto scoops were a fittingly light but sweet end to lunch. Fans of dessert will be glad to know that the restaurant serves meal portions proportioned so that most diners will have plenty of room left for a little something after the meal. The chocolate tiramisu is excellent, with a thin top layer of chocolate that provides a bit of resistance before giving way and allowing the spoon to easily penetrate deep into the lusciously soft layers of mascarpone and sponge cake.

One thing that hasn't changed since the move into fancier digs is the adherence to recipes from Sardinia along with the more-familiar Italian dishes. If you picture the Italian peninsula as a thigh-high boot, Sardinia is the large, roughly rectangular island about 120 miles west of the knee. It's considered a region of Italy and certainly shares culinary similarities with its neighbor, but also has its own distinct dishes. Many of them are available at Arcodoro & Pomodoro, such as pane carasau "guttiau" (crunchy "music bread," so named for its nearly paper-like thinness) suckling pig and panadeddas, which are fried ravioli pillows filled with pecorino cheese and wild boar meat.

The only real missteps are in the design department. The food usually looked just as good as it tasted, but the aesthetics of the restaurant itself (not to mention the Power Lunch menu's brush-stroke font, more fitting of a PTA newsletter than an upscale eatery menu) have more pastels than an entire season of Miami Vice. If the dining room must be brightly lit, does everything have to be white or some hue of pink—including the cheap-hotel worthy paintings? One object was allowed to break this color code, however: A giant, bright-red tomato (or pomodoro) that looks as if it was sculpted from tempura-painted papier-mâché takes up a good portion of a wall in the main dining room.

But aside from the boring pastel art and the wealthy oldsters it must soothe, Arcodoro & Pomodoro offers a thrilling take on Italian, and a welcome respite from heaping platefuls of mediocrity.

Arcodoro & Pomodoro 100 Crescent Court, Suite 140, 214-871-1924. Open for lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday; open for dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; open for brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $$-$$$$
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Jesse Hughey
Contact: Jesse Hughey

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