Restaurant Reviews

Tough Sledding

Orson Welles has managed to resuscitate his badly decomposed reputation and promise from the grave. Since etching himself in our collective memory as the butt of fat jokes and the intoner of the unforgettable line "we will serve no wine before its time" in television commercials for jug wines by Paul Masson (not to mention narrating the trailer for the film Revenge of the Nerds), Welles' classic 1958 film noir Touch of Evil has been restored to reflect the director's original intentions, winning critical acclaim. And then there are the posthumous celluloid tributes: Tim Robbins' Cradle Will Rock, based on the mayhem surrounding the pro-union opera The Cradle Will Rock, directed by Orson Welles for the WPA at the height of the Depression; and RKO 281, HBO's story of the mayhem infecting the making of Citizen Kane, which originally carried the working title RKO 281.

But Welles' newfound glory has not only inspired directors and actors and writers. It has inspired restaurateurs as well. Mico Rodriguez named his restaurants The Mercury and Mercury Grill after the Mercury Theatre in New York, the thespian organ founded by Welles and John Houseman in 1937. Rodriguez yanked the moniker for his heavily Asian-fused Citizen directly from Citizen Kane, the thinly veiled William Randolph Hearst biopic that earned the then-25-year-old Welles the title "genius" (as Vanity Fair critic James Wolcott once wrote, Citizen Kane set in motion Welles' tragic evolution of "handsome messiah turned blob").

But Rodriguez isn't the only Dallas restaurateur smitten by Welles' aura. Lewis and Carol McHenry, one-time owners of Jennyvine, also have a thing for the one-time fixture of Dean Martin celebrity roasts, or at least the film that drilled his genius into cinematic history. Carol McHenry says they originally planned to name their new State-Thomas Historic District bistro Jennyvine, but quickly scotched the idea, wisely concluding the name was too firmly imbedded in the old homey structure on Lemmon and McKinney to survive the move. So they borrowed the name from Citizen Kane, specifically the word Welles burbled at the end of the film--the name of Kane's sled. (Rosebud was also reputed to be Hearst's pet name for his mistress Marion Davies' whoopee button.)

To entrench the Citizen Kane reference, Carol McHenry says her husband sought and discovered a "Rosebud" look-alike in an antique shop and placed it above the bar. In addition, they froze the closing frames of the film showing the sled and replicated the rosebud image imbedded over its wooden planks to craft the restaurant's logo.

Yet unlike Citizen Kane, Rosebud the restaurant is not a work of genius--far from it. But it is a robust slice of engaging charm. (Charm leavenings include afternoon tea and a pre-theater menu.) It's parked in a State-Thomas structure that was once a Masonic Lodge and perhaps a church. (Arched windows are throughout, even in the kitchen, according to McHenry.)

But this place hangs its hat on wine, and though the bookish list packed with labels and wine-geek cartoons isn't a spectacle, it's brief and features a generous slate of more than a dozen by-the-glass pours, including a Gravina Greco and Malvasia blend, and a Burgundy.

There's plenty to wash down, too, though little that dazzles with innovation. Crab cakes are better than most that puff-up on Dallas' appetizer plates: firm, taut, flavorful and greaseless with generous crab.

This is in contrast to the pecan-crusted scallops, which slipped out of their coating at the slightest fork pressure. Once denuded of pecan lingerie, the scallops displayed textures more closely resembling a rubber shim than a mollusk. But the spinach chiffonade (which in French means "made from rags"), studded with walnuts and pear and splattered with a racy Stilton and champagne vinaigrette, was a patch of brilliance all its own.

Snails were planted in and around a puff pastry tower in a flood of Stilton-mushroom cream sauce raced with a musty cheese tang. Though firm, a couple of the meat bulbs were gritty.

Entrées proved distressingly uneven, ranging from sublime to dismal, none worse than the herb-crusted pork medallions in apricot brandy sauce. Substantial slivers of dried apricot topped these tiny discs, which were dry and hard, almost brittle.

Linguini, tossed with shrimp and chicken strips, was overcooked into a knot of mush, which floated parched chicken strips along with coils of shrimp that were firm and tasty (with a puff of smoke on the finish).

Though visually tempting with the rib bones attractively entwined, the lamb chops in tarragon mint sauce were loose, fatty, stringy and spongy--not bad attributes for cleaning wipes (chiffonade, anyone?), but tragic when flaunted by an entrée. Plus, the meat was a little shy on flavor.

Rosebud is a bright and crisp space with hardwood floors, tables draped in blue and skillful spot lighting illuminating the environs, which means you don't need to bring night-vision goggles to pick an appetizer. The spacious room is divided into separate dining sections, set off by fetching wood barriers topped with glass blocks.

And our experience with the restaurant mimics the Kane from which it was spawned, though thankfully in reverse. Instead of sinking from a "handsome messiah" swell to a Nerds voiceover squat, Rosebud rises from mangy chiffonade to compelling chamois.

But there was a bump in the transition. Cordon bleu, a special, was founded on chicken that was dry, and prosciutto wasn't well dispersed, fresh and light though it was.

Pecan-crusted trout was as well herbed and delicious as it was moist, rich in that subtle sweet aftertaste that gives trout such understated allure. Equally compelling were the scalloped potatoes, rich and creamy with hints of smoke, though a little more scorching over the top would have been welcome.

Almond-crusted chicken in caper lemon cream sauce was a socks knocker. This moist and thin breast was feathery with a smooth understated balance. Plus, despite its implied fried crispness, nearly resembling something that was battered and fried deep, it wasn't the least bit greasy.

Grilled salmon in basil butter sauce reached these same heights, with flaky, healthy pink flesh that was rich in robust, yet clean, flavors.

While it didn't reach these lofty positions, roasted duck in rosemary orange sauce was notable. Strips of juicy and rosy-gray breast meat were positioned among slips of crisped golden skin. Though the meat was a little pliable, it was rife with flavor.

Strangely, dessert kind of did a nerd squat. Sticky toffee, slices of cake drenched in a toffee sauce, was cloying and unimaginative, kind of like eating a thick flapjack in a syrup flood. Or bellowing about jug wines with the earnestness of a Last Supper speaker.

2701 Guillot, 214-468-0919. Open for lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday (tea menu served until 4 p.m. Saturday). Open for dinner 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday (pre-theater dinner menu served 5 p.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday). $$-$$$

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Mark Stuertz
Contact: Mark Stuertz