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Scott -- DFW

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  1. As an update, I returned to Aurora (for the first time in several months) over the weekend. Highlights included "medallions" of diver scallop wrapped with Dover sole (served with a rich truffled butter sauce, a sweet radish salad, and mashed purple potatoes nestled in a gaufrette basket) and an excellent chocolate tart (liquidy, with a chocolate crumb crust, topped with a rippled sheet of gold foil), though the other dishes (i.e., amuse bouche of farm egg custard topped with a white truffle infused cream and a slice of black winter truffle, their signature salad as described in my earlier review, a roasted apple and foie gras appetizer, lamb two ways, an apple tart with mille-feuille crust, and mignardises of chocolate-dipped strawberries and white-chocolate-dipped ginger snaps) were also very good. Service was excellent from start to finish. This is definitely a top-tier Dallas restaurant. Scott
  2. I'm not a frequent fajita eater; and tastes can vary, of course. But my favorites are Mi Cocina's "sunset fajitas." Marinated beef, usually tender, with onions and bell peppers, served over their "sunset" sauce (a tasty, spicy chile con queso made, I think, with chipotles). Mia's also has the dish; but the meat has been tougher when I've had it there. Scott
  3. What are your experiences with electric countertop rotisserie ovens (e.g., George Foreman, Ronco, etc.)? Do they produce good results? Any problems with them? Are there better or worse brands and models to look for? Any help would be appreciated. Scott
  4. Elie, Glad to hear Nana and Ciudad worked out well for you. Scott
  5. Elie, Oh, well. It was worth a shot. Nana is a fine restaurant. In addition to consistently good food and service, they have what I consider the most attractive decor of any restaurant in Dallas--modern and sleek (but not flashy), with a tiered floor that gives every table a window view, and Asian art pieces on loan from the Trammel Crow collection. I think you'll be happy with that selection. Scott
  6. Richard, Their brunch menu can be seen at: http://www.dallasdinesout.com/restrant/l/laduni/brunch.htm Scott
  7. Badthings, I've never been in a Fiesta that *didn't* have cow heads. However, they're usually kept (wrapped in plastic) in the freezer section, rather than behind the butcher's counter. Keep your eyes open, if you want to get a head. Scott
  8. Elie, Sorry to hear they wouldn't let you in. (Also sorry to hear about the unfriendly service on the phone. That's never been my experience.) The main dining room is a pretty good value, as you noted. However, it's not in the same quality category as the Tasting Room or the other restaurants mentioned. Dishes can be heavy at times. Meats aren't always cooked as precisely as one would like. And it's definitely not a place for the salt averse. Flavors are big, bold, and rich, which can beat down the palate in a hurry, if you don't pick your courses wisely. Still, it's a good restaurant for the money. And it's one of few places you can get luxury ingredients at a moderate price. And, if you're a vinophile, they have a well-respected wine selection. Enjoy. Scott
  9. Elie, Before jumping ship, you might ask if they'd be willing to serve you the tasting menu seated elsewhere (e.g., the bar or main dining room). They might be willing to accommodate you. Plead a little. It's worth it. As for plan B, I would consider Aurora, the Mansion, or Nana. York Street is basically a B-grade Chez Panisse clone--not bad, but not terribly consistent (and, though CP often gets the same complaint, not a great value). Abacus is good, but not inventive. Their menu rotates little these days. Their entrees mostly consist of a slab of meat with a pretty good (but rarely great) side or two. However, they do tend to cook slabs of meat as good as or better than anyone else in town. Their service is the weakest out of all Dallas fine dining spots. Interesting design and decor, but a very noisy experience. Their pastry chef, however, does great breads and occasionally some inspired desserts. I wouldn't try to dissuade you from going to Abacus. But, if you do, I just wanted to let you know what to expect. Scott
  10. Bread Winners does have good breakfast offerings. For something a little more interesting, though, I'd recommend the brunch at La Duni. For something more upscale, the Mansion on Turtle Creek. Enjoy the trip. Scott
  11. I'm not too familiar with that area. The only thing I know of that I'd recommend is Railhead, for bbq. Scott
  12. Raynickben, Have you had good experiences at Jasper's? I haven't been back since Staudemeier moved up there from Abacus's kitchen. But, before that, my experience was rather lackluster. The service was good; but I was getting B-grade food from the kitchen. That was shortly after they opened, though. It's possible they've worked out some of the kinks since then. Scott
  13. Frankly, I wouldn't recommend Paris Vendome. For moderately hip, moderately priced options, I would suggest: Ziziki's (Greek/Med), Ciudad (trendy Mexican), Adelmo's or Mi Piaci (Italian), Al Biernat's (steak/seafood), Cafe Pacific (seafood), the Green Room (eclectic New American), et al. There are plenty of good, mid-priced options that ought to fit the bill. Scott
  14. Every location of Mi Cocina I've been to has been unbearably noisy. It was the '80s that killed us--particularly the success of the "warehouse" design style (polished concrete floors, brick walls, no acoustical tiles, etc.). Finishing out a restaurant in that style was much less expensive. So restauranteurs happily jumped on board the popular trend. Economics also explain, in part, why it has lasted. But there's another component, as well. No restauranteur wants his establishment to feel dead. He wants energy, vigor, crackle. The idea is that such an environment is more appealling to the targetted demographic. The room's acoustic properties help to create a feeling that the place is really jumping, even if it's not full. I'm not sure, but I imagine there are industry studies available to support that kind of theory. Scott
  15. MD Hermit, I'm with you 100% on doing the bulk of my shopping at non-gringo supermarkets. Almost all of my cooking is Mexican/Southwestern, so I end up spending most of my grocery dollars at the Fiesta on Henderson. Not only are most produce items cheaper there, but they're often of much higher quality than I can find at Central Market or Whole Foods. Produce seems to turn over there a lot faster, so new shipments are always arriving. The quality gap widens even more for specialty items: chiles, nopales, tomatillos, sour/Seville oranges, chayote, etc. (They used to carry canned huitlacoche there, Richard. I haven't seen it there for a while, though.) BTW, there are also several small Korean markets along Beltline, south of 183, in Irving. Haven't been to any of them yet. Scott
  16. Abacus usually has an excellent tamale appetizer. And tamales sometimes appear on the menu at the Mansion (either as appetizers or sides). Very tasty. But, at $12 to $20 per tamale, not very economical. Scott
  17. The (non-Mexican) ethnic market I go to most is Taj Mahal Imports (southwest corner of Central and Beltline). Sometimes I'll hit the big Asian market on the other side of Central, while I'm up there. In addition to the others listed, there's a decent sized Vietnamese market on Maple, near Wycliff. And there's a small Thai market on Fitzhugh, a block or so east of Central. Really, though, small ethnic markets are all over the place. It would be a monumental project to catalog and compare them all. Scott
  18. Count me in for a DFW tamale tasting. I'd love to find some good ones. Scott
  19. I haven't been there since maybe early October. I'm tempted to go back for the eight course white truffle tasting menu he's doing right now ($150). Perhaps next week. (Then again, $150 equals two 15-course dinners in Lola's Tasting Room. Decisions, decisions.) Scott
  20. Theabroma, Chris Peters is no longer at Lola. (I'm not sure where he went.) Former sous chef Scott Gottlich is now running things in the main restaurant kitchen. I haven't been to that side of the restaurant since he took over, so I don't know how much has changed. David Uygur is still in the Tasting Room, though. It'll be a sad day for Dallas dining if/when he leaves. Scott
  21. The best option close to the airport, in my opinion, is Railhead (for BBQ). They have good ribs and great chopped beef sandwiches. Scott
  22. My Chowhound review of Aurora from early September: -------------------------------- Avner Samuel is back. And how. Aurora, his latest restaurant, sits in an Oak Lawn strip center across the street from Al Biernat's, just off the southern lip of Highland Park. Once you step in, you realize that the small space is a jewel box. The color palate is neutral--taupe walls accented with richly striated veneers, black and ivory calfskin chairs (less than fifty, all told), and dark chestnut carpeting. A semi-circular drape forms a small vestibule between the body of the restaurant and the entrance, shutting out light and the prosaic view. The open kitchen--a brightly lit showpiece glimmering with dangling copper pots--sits at the rear of the restaurant behind an offset glass wall with an etching of Aurora (the Roman personification of the dawn), while a bar rests against the side. Tables are set with white Limoges china and Christofle flatware. Dishes arrive at the tables on silver trays and (for entrees) under silver domes. Salt and pepper shakers (provided without request) are silver. Even the sculpted crumb sweepers and accompanying receptacles are silver. Despite the opulent appointments, the restaurant doesn't feel stilted or stuffy. The majority of customers on both visits wore business casual. While some dressed up more, a few even wore jeans. Service was excellent. No mistakes (even when the restaurant was full, on the second visit). While the service style is formal, it is never imposing. The revealing of silver-lidded plates, for instance, comes off as fun rather than pretentious. (The diners at one table even burst into laughter and applause as their eight plates were simultaneously uncovered.) The maître d' dropped by to check on parties periodically. When there were lulls in the kitchen, the chef ventured into the front to shake hands and chat with guests. Drinks are filled, plates cleared, and bread replenished promptly by whomever happens to first see the need. A special note on service. One service element that I've appreciated in several Chicago restaurants (including Trotter's and Tru), but have not seen elsewhere, is the complimentary offering of a house bottled water. Aurora is the first restaurant in Dallas, to my knowledge, to do this. Diners are given a choice of sparkling or still waters (i.e., San Pellegrino or Evian) at no charge. Nice. The food equals or surpasses the service and décor. On the first visit, the waiter presented an amuse bouche of white truffle-infused custard served in a scalped brown eggshell, topped with a wild mushroom ragout and chives. The second visit’s starter was a wild mushroom pot au crème topped with a sweet truffle-infused whipped cream and a garnish of white gold foil. Though in different formats, each offered a pleasing balance of sweet and earthy flavors. Both were auspicious starts for the respective meals. The restaurant served two breads on both evenings: a whole grained cranberry-pistachio loaf and individual “fingerling” baguettes. The breads were good. But they were upstaged by the addictively sweet and creamy butter made from English goat’s milk. (Where can I get this stuff?) On the first visit, I took the waiter’s recommendations on two appetizers. The first was warm Malpeque oysters on a spinach puree bed, topped with a champagne sabayon (lightly scorched) and Sevruga caviar (served on a large half shell). The creamy spinach balanced out the natural saltiness of the caviar and oysters. And the sabayon’s citrus and champagne acidity added dimension to the otherwise simple presentation. In all, it was a fine appetizer. Next came a garden salad with roasted heirloom baby beets and sweet red onions. The lettuce was tied together with a scallion and set upright, like a fountain or floret, on one side of the plate. A fan of beet divided the halved baby beets (yellow and red) from the small, whole onions, all of which lay in a pool of delicious vanilla-bean red wine vinaigrette. Completing the plate was a warm, creamy, truffled goat cheese dumpling wrapped in filo dough. The flavors came together beautifully. While the dressing and onions tended towards sweetness, the lettuce, beets, and dumpling reined them back in. On my second visit, I had an excellent foie gras preparation. Slices of caramelized apple were topped with a pan-seared slab of green peppercorn-encrusted foie and plated with a quenelle of fig confiture. The green peppercorns elevated the dish, giving it an unexpected complexity--a fresh but subtle bite that went remarkably well with both the foie gras and fruit. With ten appetizers on the menu and a meaningful rotation even between these two visits, these early experiences are promising. On each visit, the restaurant provided a complimentary palate cleanser. The first time, it was a blood red pomegranate sorbet of eye-opening intensity. The second, a pink currant sorbet. Sorbets are presented in glass cones (the bottoms filled with frozen pomegranate seeds to keep the sorbet near the top), suspended from star-shaped holders made of silver (of course). Both were bright and effective, but the pomegranate sorbet left me wanting more. My entrée on the first visit was a “trilogy” of milk-fed lamb with truffled potato galette and summer bean cassoulet. The “trilogy” consisted of slices of leg and shoulder and one rib chop. The chop stood upright in a sweeping curve of bone. The slices of leg and shoulder were arranged over and around the cassoulet. The high column of galette completed the triangle. The lamb was cooked to medium rare, as requested. Each cut was tender and (especially for the leg) surprisingly mild. The cassoulet consisted of white beans, black-eyed peas, English peas, and fava beans--all firm and flavorful. The galette stacked thin layers of Yukon Gold and Peruvian purple potatoes, without becoming dense or heavy. While the dish wasn’t innovative, the execution was flawless. Flavors and textures meshed satisfyingly. On my second visit, I ordered beef tenderloin with a Syrah glaze, English pea puree, and steamed baby vegetables. As before, execution was spot on. While I enjoyed the tenderloin (topped with a dollop of a buttery foie gras mousse), the most interesting feature of the plate was an assortment of baby heirloom carrots--white, yellow, and orange--amounting to an enjoyable “carrot tasting.” On both nights, the menu offered eight entrée selections (half sea, half land), and several had changed between the visits. On my first visit, I had two desserts. First up was a truffled risotto rice pudding. The pudding was served in two demitasses, lightly scorched on top, with candied orange swizzle sticks protruding from the tops. Fat grains of carnaroli rice and the faint hint of truffle added an interesting spin to rice pudding, a dessert that is unfortunately rare in restaurants. (Sure, you can get kheer; but that’s a very different animal.) Next came a molten chocolate torte topped with pistachio ice cream. The cake, with a light milk chocolate liquid center, was good, but not stellar. (There’s enough competition in that bracket to make distinction elusive.) The pistachio ice cream was good, but served too cold. Once it started melting, the flavors emerged. And, once it started melting, you could take bites of it without flattening the soft torte beneath. On the second visit, I followed the waiter’s recommendation and ordered a berry soup. A large bowl was filled with a thin, blueberry puree, with a variety of whole berries (i.e., strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, gooseberries, and raspberries) surrounding a center scoop of ricotta sorbet. It was a striking-looking dish. But it didn’t speak to me. The blueberry puree was intense, but not sweet. It overwhelmed everything in the bowl, except the sorbet. (To reference an earlier discussion, I think a ricotta ice cream would have been preferable. As it melted, that creaminess would have taken the edge off the blueberries, rounding the dish out better than water could.) And blueberries being blueberries, the dessert left my lips, tongue, and teeth temporarily discolored, despite valiant countermeasures with napkin and water. (The night a waiter drops a bowl of that stuff on the carpet--or, heaven forbid, a customer--will be its last night on the menu.) Overall, I found the desserts good, but not quite at the same level as the appetizers and entrees. Along with the check, the waiter delivered a small (silver) tray of mignardises. (Speaking of mignardises, I haven’t had any in my last couple of visits at Abacus. And Nana is now handing out boxed manufactured truffles, rather than house-made ones. Is the economy really that tight?) On the first visit, there were six--almost all of them as interesting as I’ve found in Dallas: (i) a vanilla and raspberry tuile corkscrew; (ii) a whole gooseberry, with its husk pulled back and left attached as a handle, dipped in white chocolate; (iii) a buttery, divinity-tasting ball rolled in nuts; (iv) an exceedingly dark chocolate truffle; (v) an airy, almost meringue-like, macaroon topped with pine nuts; and (vi) a thimble-sized chocolate cup filled with pastry cream and topped with a raspberry. On the second visit, I received another of the pine nut macaroons along with a nearly golf-ball-sized, perfectly ripe, chocolate dipped strawberry. Aurora finishes like it starts--in style. With this opening, Avner Samuel is gunning for the big boys in Dallas haute cuisine. And, from what I’ve seen, he’s getting off on the right foot. Those aspirations do come at a cost to the customer, however. Aurora’s prices are right up there with the Mobil four-star players. With appetizers in the low to mid teens, entrees in the upper twenties to upper thirties, and desserts at nine bucks each, it ends up being a little more than Abacus and a little less than The Mansion or French Room. (Nana is a close call.) While there’s no nightly tasting menu offered at this time, the chef has indicated that he’s willing to devise tasting menus for parties, given a little advanced notice. (If anyone would be interested, perhaps we could get a group of Chowhounders together for a blow-out tasting menu.) In summary, I recommend Aurora and wish them every success. Scott
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