Restaurant Reviews

Flaccid Flirt

Tryst (the word) arouses with lascivious implications. A flood of them. The head swims in the salacious stew. Say the word. Tryst. Notice how sticky it is. Bound tightly between a pair of identical rigid consonants, tryst promises furtive sensuality.

Tryst Restaurant & Bar draws on this promise, flaunts it really. But in its sweaty clasp, the promise goes slack. Why? It would be easy to blame it on a lack of carnal seductiveness, but Tryst has venison carpaccio--or it did once. It would be easy to blame it on an unruly crowd, but Tryst is nearly desolate, even though it is joined at the hip to Gilley's Dallas. Or perhaps because of this.

The Tryst Web site defines tryst as "an agreement, as between lovers to meet at a certain time and place." Wikipedia defines tryst (under courtship) as "To meet Wikipedia's quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup."

How apt.

It's not that Tryst servers aren't friendly--they are.

"I tell ya, I'm not a wine drinker myself," says ours, as we scan the wine list and wring our hands over labels and flavors and finish until we finally brush our fingers over a Hayman Hills Pinot Noir. "I hear it's a very popular pinyun yoir," he says. He's a gin drinker, he admits. No wine. No beer. Good gin he drinks straight. Lesser ones he drinks with soda. "Gin is one of the few drinks I can't take a well version of."

Yet the well versions proliferate. In case you miss the significance of the name, the menu is divided into three sections--first date, second date and third date--which refer to appetizers, soups and salads, and main courses. We order our first and second dates with the wine because it made sense to decide on the third date while on the first and second, the third time being a charm and all that, even if one or both of its predecessors aren't.

But we were stood up. Gin Man brought the wine, but there was no food. After 10 more minutes Gin Man brought the bad news. There would be no venison carpaccio--a tryst without lace.

"Fine, fine. Well, how about the chicken-fried oysters Rockefeller? You got that?" Yes, there would be chicken-fried "oysters Rockefeller"--a tryst with support hose and Red Wing boots as lace alternatives. (On a second visit, a different server tells us the venison has been stripped from the menu because, you know, like who wants to eat thin shavings of raw deer? He also tells us that he too knows nothing about wine. He serves our tastes of Burgundy in smudgy shot glasses.)

It takes 10 minutes for the substitution to arrive, and they're surprisingly good: flaky, crisp, greaseless folds clasping juicy oysters resting in a dab of habanero hollandaise. The hollandaise, habanero notwithstanding, is cold and bland, more like pooled sausage gravy runoff before a skin metastasizes. But that doesn't mean the dish isn't successful. The oysters in their fried sheaths are near perfect. Their shells are embedded in a heaping salt berm to minimize shifting. Pinch a little of it over the hollandaise and it crackles to life.

Pinch a little over the caramelized garlic soup and you ruin it. It's not broken, after all. It's an exquisitely balanced composition, a chicken stock with shallots, parsley, thyme and roasted garlic reduced and puréed before it's dosed with heavy cream and butter and frilled with basil whipped cream--rich, sweet, smooth, creamy, tawny, wicked and nutty in aftertaste. Why pour salt in a wound that isn't there?

But chef Todd Erickson, who decamped to Tryst after a brush-with-fame stint at Hector's on Henderson, says he's dumping the soup. Too thick and hearty for summers on the expansive Tryst patio, he says. Bring on the golden pear tomato gazpacho. Throw in some rocks and maybe a splash of vodka--or gin if it isn't drawn from a well. That would be a true tryst soup.

After the reign of the Rockefellers and the garlic cloves, the foodless moments expand. Entrées bided their time. After our Hayman Hill was depleted, our server delivered complimentary glasses of the stuff to quell our ire. He apologized. The entrées were backed up because of a dinner ticket malfunction, he said. A ticket malfunction? Barely four other tables are occupied in the Tryst dining room. There didn't seem to be enough ticket traffic for a malfunction to tie up. Even if the lamb were blundered into someone else's venison carpaccio, at least lamb would be delivered to some table, and the raw deer apology to another. You would think, anyway.

The lamb arrived before the complimentary glasses were drained. Four lollipop-shaped chops coated in panko crumbs sassed with ginger and mint purée and settled in a three-vinegar reduction. The chops are chewy, juicy and ruddy in an appropriate medium-rare stroke. The ginger-mint coat is throttled back to the shadows. Other than the texture, I didn't notice it much. The kitchen must not have either.

On another visit, the lollipops are gray and fatty and overcooked (we left the doneness to the discretion of the chef). Plus, the kitchen dispensed with the ginger-mint crust. No explanation. Perhaps it succumbed to the fate of the raw deer.

It goes without saying that Tryst would have a hip vibe. Lavender and violet offset the plush burgundy chairs next to a raised seating area that lifts a large table maybe six inches above the handsome hardwood floors. Views from this perch glare into Oak Cliff and the backend of Dallas' urban ganglia.

The bar area is a gallery of plastic and chrome and other crisp materials. Silver beaded curtains hang like chain mail between leathery seating spaces lit by PVC tubing chandeliers enclosing a single red bulb. When lit they look like 3-D crucifixes crafted for a plumbers' local fund-raiser. They distract from the compelling urban views.

A couple of dishes distract as well. Drunken chicken is more like passed-out chicken. Though teased with capers and flat parsley leaves and marinated in wine, the flattened chicken pieces are as dry as frayed burlap, though not as exciting.

Meat and taters was enthusiastically endorsed by our server. "Good stuff," said Gin Man. It's a cleaved petite fillet served with horseradish baked Yukons in pink peppercorn gravy. The purple fillets swell like punched lips. The meat is lush, livery and spongy; the potatoes like mush.

Four breaded scallops are arranged in an orderly row over fanned arugula with a honeydew-cantaloupe medley (or melody, as our server explained) dispersed with specks of fried prosciutto and grains of Hawaiian rock salt. It's all splashed in lemon-mint dressing. The scallops are rubbery and chewy.

Yet there is a highlight: pan-roasted sea bass in a pool of fish stock dressed in shiitake, sambal (Thai pepper sauce) and thin slices of potato, is buttery, flaky and delicious. We finish with a banana split: a severed banana in a crème brûlée-ish sugar crust near melting blobs of chocolate and vanilla ice cream on a long narrow plate strewn with pistachio debris. It seemed thrown together, a disparate collection of masses and speckles and crust splinters oblivious to one another. The split was served with thin coffee that reeked of the instant stuff spat from vending machines.

Tryst is safe sex--the kind where the threats aren't even flirted with. 1135 S. Lamar St., 214-428-1500. Open 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday. $$

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Mark Stuertz
Contact: Mark Stuertz

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