Restaurant Reviews

Fat is where it's at

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Sliced sugar- and chili-cured hanger steak, a hanging tenderloin similar to a flank steak, was a flavorful, juicy cut of meat with just a hint of sweetness from the curing. It was slathered in a wild mushroom guajillo sauce that was surprisingly tame given the ferocity of guajillo chilies. But the steak was served cold, and a side of delmonico potato gratin was bland and pasty.

Flavor focus was keenly evident in NorthSouth's black bean soup, a silky black bean puree with meaty white beans, thyme, oregano, bay leaves, and juniper berries. It elegantly transcended the blandness all too common in this preparation.

Another item that worked well was the Gorgonzola-roasted beefsteak tomato on field greens with pancetta vinaigrette. The tomato was robust--not a small feat this time of year--and perfectly roasted without any mushiness. But while the Gorgonzola added a welcome tang, the pancetta balsamic reduction was perplexing. The taste was fine, but it was speckled with tiny, tarry solids--presumably the pancetta--that were flavorless, tough and fibrous, like boiled card stock.

As is perhaps to be expected, the low-fat stuff barely out-finessed your average protein shake, and my advice would be to treat those little arrows as stern warnings. Oven-roasted four-herb chicken in apple-smoked tomato pan gravy was a dish only a dedicated iron-pumper could love. Allegedly seasoned with thyme, Italian parsley, basil, and oregano, the thin, dry chicken breast was coated with a mixture of egg beaters, flour, Japanese bread crumbs, granulated garlic, and white pepper. But the only flavor in evidence was a pepper spike. The gravy, enhanced with house-smoked Roma tomatoes, seemed to have coagulated, and little assertive flavor--smoke or otherwise--was evident. A side of corn mashed potatoes, however, was creamy, fluffy, and satisfying.

The low-fat coriander-grilled pork chop in a house-made barbecue sauce was another confusing creation. Treated with a rub of coriander, ground cumin, and kosher salt for 12-24 hours, the chop was dry, fibrous, and chewy instead of silken, dense, and moist, which would be expected from this curing process. The sauce was light and slightly sweet, but it didn't have much depth or dimension. A side of whipped sweet potatoes with grilled scallions, though, was light, clean, and smooth.

Interestingly, NorthSouth still offers north and south versions of its Key lime pie, and here the north side actually tasted better than the south side. The light, fluffy textures suffused flavors more effectively than the fat-fortified version.

NorthSouth offers a mildly eclectic wine list with mostly California selections loosely arranged by flavor profile: aromatic refreshing whites, robust concentrated reds, and medium-bodied reds. There are some interesting wines here: an R.H. Phillips Viognier and Syrah, an Amarone, an Oregon Pinot, even a Washington Cab.

NorthSouth's big news is the fashioning of the N Bar, a live music and dance club, out of its Quadrangle digs. The original NorthSouth entrance is now the N Bar entrance, with a new entrance for the restaurant at the other end of the building, a process that shrunk the dining room a bit.

And it's not bad. The N Bar space is energetic and inviting with a good cross-section of folks, while the staff in the bar is fiercely professional, attentive, efficient, and accommodating--as opposed to the "ain't we hip?" jocularity that seems to set the tone in the dining room--even when packed. The dance floor is spacious, while the bay window-like alcove of a stage is as attractive as it is functional. They could drop the sound system a few decibels during band breaks to facilitate forms of social interaction other than dancing.

Unfortunately, the separate N Bar menu has some of the same drawbacks as NorthSouth's offerings, even though it's been cleansed of those pesky arrows. Grilled andouille sausage links with sides of two cheeses and mustards were spicy, but hard and dry. Tempura shrimp and vegetables with wasabi ranch dressing, cleverly served in a large Chinese take-out carton, had a clunky, gooey tempura coating. The broccoli was so soggy, it was little more than a tempura gumball. Better to eat from the wine list.

NorthSouth is one of the more attractive restaurants in Dallas, accented with columns and archways, soft draperies and cone sconces, and louvered doors dividing the bar from the dining area. It's a space that's begging for a jaw-dropping menu.

But for now, its semi-interesting wine selection and crisply retrofitted N Bar make it more of a place to imbibe than nibble. Maybe it's taking more cues from New Orleans than we realize.

Contact Mark Stuertz by e-mail at [email protected] or call (214) 757-8422.

NorthSouth, 2800 Routh St., (214) 849-0000. Serving lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday. Open for dinner 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Saturday, and 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday. N Bar (214) 374-NBAR opens nightly at 5:30 p.m. with live music Wednesday-Saturday until 2 a.m. $$$

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Mark Stuertz
Contact: Mark Stuertz