Park vs Ava: Mussel Mayhem

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In 2006 we witnessed the death of a good friend in The Green Room.

The classic gem of Deep Ellum was brash and ripe with imagination for its time. Since then, the diaspora of the alum that made the kitchen great helped rock the Dallas restaurant landscape.

Now, as Green Room resurrection talks fly, I hear Cassel's name bandied about almost every day. However, the good chef seems quite pleased with himself at Park Restaurant. With beehives and his very own herb garden, and a stones throw from the most insane green grocer I have ever met, Tom Spicer. What more could an imaginative chef ask for?

Oh, that recipe for the Prince Edward Island mussels from the old Green Room days.

There are more than several versions of this classic Cassel recipe floating around. Chef Randall Copeland from AVA offers variety that he refers to as his homage, appropriately called The Green Room Mussels. Toulouse also does a send up.

The dish is pretty simple. Start with fresh PEI mussels, steam them gently in a sparkling wine broth with the additions of julienned jalapenos, garlic, Shiitake mushrooms, fresh slices of ginger and a smattering of baby spinach. Serve this with a loaf of crusty bread.

January is when I think the mussels are at their flavor peak, so perhaps it is time to check out a few versions. I visited Park shortly after they started serving and bellied up to the bar. When offered a menu, I shrugged it off and said "mussels." Within minutes I sat before a large bowl of heaping shells, was handed a spoon and assured I would need that to gather every drop of broth.

The mussels were extremely tender. The strips of jalapeno danced across my palate. The ginger slices lent a sophisticated sting to the dish. The ginger. There was a lot of ginger.

Next I made my way to visit another Green Room alum, chef Copeland. I truly like this guy. His passion for food is evident in the way he speaks, and certainly in the way he cooks. When I sat at the bar of AVA, he was darting between duties and took time to share a little of the white and black truffle shipment he had just received. This is why we drive to Rockwall for dinner.

I shook off the excitement of breathing in thousands of dollars worth of truffles and stayed on task. Minutes later I stared down Copeland's homage. I didn't find the over abundance of ginger. Points. However, I didn't find much in the way of Shiitake and jalapeno either. In fact, if you want to get specific, I found two thin slices of mushroom and two of jalapeno. And there was not nearly enough broth to bathe in.

The mussels were delicate, and the broth was sound, but I felt somewhat disappointed in the version on this day. There was no kick as I experienced with Park's.

Win goes to Park Restaurant, but I hope for a rematch soon.

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