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Picking Apart Nancy Nichols' Best New Restaurants, and Adding a Few of My Own

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D Magazine just released their list of this year's best new restaurants and for the most part I think it's a nice compilation of what's been good in the Dallas dining scene during the past year.

I sympathize with Nichols' task. There have been a slew of exciting new openings and picking the best of the bunch is surely a hard work.

Let's see how Nichols did ...

Zio Cecio Cucina Italiana (pictured above) I wasn't impressed when I visited this restaurant a month and a half after it opened. I found the dishes poorly executed and presented, and the prices a little high. When Leslie Brenner reviewed the restaurant for The Dallas Morning News she admitted she'd been recognized as a critic, but still complimented the outstanding service.

I noted mediocre service for my first visit, and doting on a second, though it was likely because I was recognized as well -- but not as a dining critic. While I was sure I'd been outed, as we left the restaurant the bartender approached me and asked me how the bar program at Marquee Grill was doing and asked what I thought of his cocktails. They thought I was Jason Kosmos.

Service aside, you could tell the kitchen had the potential for outstanding cooking. If Nichols claims Francesco Farris' cuisine has taken a turn for the better, I'd say Zio Cecio is ripe for a revisit.

*****

Urban Rio Considering the dining choices in this area of Plano, Urban Rio has to be a welcomed addition to the dining scene. Nichols' own closing line in the blurb sums things up best. "Yes, dinner with a view in Plano. Take that, Hooters."

Best of the year? I had better.

*****

Mr. Mesero I loved the service at Mr. Mesero, but the burger made me seriously burger sad. If you're a fan of thin patties you might find something to love in this Texas-dry double with cheese, but when I'm craving this style of burger, I'd rather go to Keller's.

The bulk of the menu? Nichols describes it perfectly as "a welcome respite from cheesy-greasy Tex-Mex." It's a nice addition to the neighborhood for sure.

*****

Driftwood I feel all alone on Driftwood. Over the course of two mediocre meals, I couldn't find much to redeem the restaurant other than exceptionally fresh seafood. A chicken dish I ordered was poorly cooked and unappealing, dishes seemed overworked with noisy ingredients, and I thought the service missed the mark at times. Still the Morning News, Texas Monthly and now D Magazine all praise the place.

Go figure.

*****

Boulevardier The restaurant previously known as Left Bank may have been one of the most hyped openings Dallas has seen in a long time. Unfortunately, an unsightly lamb's neck dish and a poorly roasted chicken soured me on the restaurant.

Still, there's some wonderful cooking here. The oysters are stunning and reasonably priced, and the charcuterie boards are generous and creative, not to mention the burger was sexy enough to inspire an endlessly repeating gif of burger porn. Graze on the right dishes at this beautiful bar, and you might think Boulevadier should be restaurant of the year.

*****

Off-Site Kitchen I have nothing to add. What a great casual restaurant and proof that fast and good are not mutually exclusive when it comes to food.

*****

Oak Oak was certainly my restaurant of the year. With a perfect and spacious dining room, flavors from around the globe that actually work together and charming service, Oak was one of the most pleasurable reviews I worked on since moving to Dallas.

It will be interesting to see what happens as the Design District's finest enters its second year of service, now in the shadows of Matt McCallister's spotlight FT-33.

I haven't dined at Tim Love's Woodshed, or Mi Dia From Scratch, so I'll leave them be, but here are a few restaurants I think are missing from Nichols' list.

Mughlai This cavernous Indian restaurant, tucked into a small shopping plaza near the Galleria, is one of Dallas' best gems. Sure, they opened way back in 2011, but so did Zio Cecio. Mughlai could easily beat many of the restaurants in D's list in terms of consistency and execution, and they throw together some amazing Indian food.

*****

Monica's Speaking of Tex-Mex, I have to say I prefer what I've had at Monica's over both Mr. Mesero and Urban Rio. Monica's enchiladas with cheese and and chili con carne made from hand made tortillas and freshly ground beef are the best I've ever had.

*****

Carbone's How can you forget about Carbone's!? I've visited this Highland Park ode to New Jersey Italian numerous times and have never been disappointed with the food. The dining room is a little bright, but decor can't be part of this contest if Nichols let let the terrible bar at Urban Rio slide.

What about you guys? What are your best restaurant moments of 2012? Hopefully you have a few more waiting to be discovered before the year's end.

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