When Mark Stuertz reviewed Cafe Pacific, in 2004, he called the Highland Park Village seafood restaurant a cliché. The menu has crab cakes and veal Oscar, he said. Breaded veal cutlets with crab and asparagus were alive and well in Dallas. And here I am eight years later sitting at the bar at Cafe Pacific, looking at a crab cake Mark probably ate. I'm thinking not a lot has changed.
The veal is gone, but there's a sole amandine on the menu that could take you all the way back to 1980 when the place first opened. Just down the bar three older men sit and shoot the shit in the corner on barstools. One has the raspy voice of a Marlboro red smoker that's been at it since way before Cafe Pacific opened. I'll bet you anything he was sitting right here when Mark was out in the dining room.
The service is still polished as Mark described. My bartender handled my every request like a professional. He was polite, had charisma, wore a tie - I liked him. I didn't like the seafood platter he brought me, though.
For $36 dollars you get a pair of Texas Gulf shrimp, a decent lobster tail, two clams the size of your thumbnail, a small dish of "kinda-jumbo" lump crab meat, and two blue point oysters (when available) that were either shucked 90 minutes ago or hit with a hair dryer for a while before they came to the bar. Cafe Pacific was supposed to model itself after a San Francisco seafood restaurant experience, according to Mark's review. But anyone who's ordered a seafood tower on the coast will be disappointed here.
I followed my seafood platter up with a lobster roll that would have sent a Northeasterner into a fit of rage. Wrapped in rice paper, the roll was of Asian not New England origin. It came with a dipping sauce that was a little too sweet, but the lobster inside was fresh, and the cilantro tasted alive.
The lobster roll was decent, but it wasn't as good as the crab cake, which I lament Mark's not covering in more detail for historical purposes. Growing up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I've had more crab cakes than he has, I'm sure. And now I've found one in Dallas that actually appeals to me. (Though I'd never admit that to friends from home.) The lumps were still lumps, the filler was almost forgotten, and the whole thing was so loose it barely held it's shape. If they'd served it between two slices of white bread in a paper basket, I could close my eyes and take myself back home to that mucky smell of low tide.
It's a fine crab cake served in a time capsule of a restaurant that's been around for almost 32 years now. And judging by the busy dining room on a lazy Tuesday weeknight it might just be around for 32 more.