That Was The Year That Was

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To me, Dallas was a very different place ten years ago.

Yes, there are names and places that seem to outlast the march of time. Gilbert Garza runs things at Suze, just as he did when the decade was young. Fearing and Pyles still top the city's list of true celebrity chefs. In 2000 people flocked to Mi Cocina for inexplicably popular margaritas. And, of course, we were coming through the devastation of Y2K then. Today we're fast approaching 2012 doom.

So much has changed over the span, however, that the city would seem unfamiliar if our past selves suddenly made an appearance. For instance, ten years ago good pizza meant Louie's or Campisi's.

It seemed strange to me way be then. I'd grown up in college towns, traveled broadly, and discovered that almost every town of 15,000 or more supported at least one decent pizza joint--except for Dallas. Then Fireside Pies ushered in a local pizza revolution. Now the area has Grimaldi's, Campania, Coal Vines, Eno's...

Ten Years ago, Deep Ellum was a destination, home to the Green Room, Daddy Jack's, Sambuca and other hot spots. Oak Cliff was its antithesis, a brooding and dangerous Mogadishu-like hole, at least in dining terms (as defined by those who didn't realize what was already going on in the O.C.T.). These days, as Deep Ellum struggles, diners flock to Oak Cliff for seats at Bolsa, Smoke, Tillman's and other draws. Cru opened in Uptown round about 2000 as the first of the city's slick wine bars. Now it's the weathered veteran among names like Dali and Veritas. Back then Chilean sea bass was featured on every menu. Today it's tilapia--unfortunately.

At the start of the decade you could smoke--and the city was in the midst of a cigar craze. Now...well, all that is over.

Some of the names I remember from that era include Samba Room (where Villa-O now sits), Il Sole (in the same complex), the Green Room (vacant, awaiting its promise "comeback"), 2900 (about to become a Tex-Mex place), Paris Vendome (now Mi Cocina in West Village), Nikita (Social House) and Voltaire (a bank at the corner of Keller Springs and the Tollway).

But at the start of the decade, Sharon Hage was about to open York Street, starting a ripple that has now emerged as a minor local-seasonal trend. In 2000 this was a city of leased BMWs and $30,000 millionaires, fashionably draped. Nine plus years later, the hottest restaurants welcome those clad in jeans, stepping out of whatever American-made cars still exist. And it seems to me that service standards--so high back then--have slipped dramatically.

Yet it is still Dallas--a city with nothing to do but eat, drink and shop...and a good place, at that. I don't know...somehow the decade seems very short, in retrospect.

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