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The Texas Tapas Trail


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With tapas becoming ever more trendy throughout the country let's use this thread to discuss the tapas restaurant in Texas. I think of tapas as the Spanish version of dim sum -- plus lots of wine!

On July 23-24, Richard Kilgore and I visited three tapas restaurants in Dallas in two days.

Hola!

4831 McKinney Ave

Dallas, TX 75205

(214) 522-0505

We went to Hola! first. The restaurant was dimly lit filled with plain, unadorned wooden furniture. The atmosphere is suggestive of a small, cozy house. On the Friday night that we visited, the restaurant was packed and very lively.

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Boquerones en Vinagre. Fresh anchovies marinated in garlic ($5).

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Chorizo Soria. Spanish cured Soria-style chorizo ($5).

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Croquetas de Bacalao y Maiz (left). Codfish and fresh corn croquettes ($5). Dry and bland, hardly any cod flavor at all.

Blood Sausage (upper right). A bit bland and the sprinkled rice further diluted any flavor; not as good as Cafe Madrid.

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Poached pear in chocolate sauce.

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Black pepper ice cream with strawberries and oranges. I've never had black pepper ice cream before; I loved it.

We did order wine at each of these restaurants but I don't feel that I know enough about the subject to comment on it.

The complimentary bread was the worst I've ever been served. It was just downright underbaked with a chewy, raw flour center.

Overall, the food was simplistic, but of middling quality; not the best value for the money. No dish really stood out other than the black pepper ice cream. I've little doubt that Hola! will continue to stay in business, though, as it is located in a very busy part of town with an active night life.

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Cafe Madrid

4501 Travis St

Dallas, TX 75205

(214) 528-1731

www.cafe-madrid-dallas.com

Saturday, June 24, Richard and I went to Cafe Madrid for lunch. The restaurant is much smaller, very much a cozy cafe with tables on the sidewalk welcoming passersby to come in. The dishes offered there are also more homey, similar to what you may find in a Spanish home kitchen.

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Blood sausage. These were much better than the ones at Hola, more robust flavor and casing that has a nice snap to it.

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Oxtail stew. Fair amount of meat, wonderful high collagen broth that leaves your fingers sticky.

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Sweetbreads with lemon and capers. I much prefer seared sweetbreads as boiling them in a stew does not generate a sweet, crispy carmelized crust. This preparation is rather bland though the lemons and capers were a good choice to help to cut the fatty, organ flavor.

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Clam stew. No Spanish meal can be complete without a seafood dish. The broth was a joy to mop up with bread.

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Cantaloupe wrapped in Serrano ham, watermelon, cake. Ham and melon is a classic combination, the Serrano ham being a bit drier than prosciutto. The watermelon was unripe.

Pics of menu on my Flickr.

Cafe Madrid is a bird of a different feather. It is much more casual than either Rouge or Hola and focuses on home-style cuisine. Hola can also be said to be casual with simple dishes but the dishes at Cafe Madrid are much more traditional (e.g. oxtail and sweatbreads) and not just safe dishes adapted to the American palate.

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Rouge

5027 W Lovers Ln.

Dallas, TX 75209

214-350-6600

For our last meal, Richard and I met up with Kevin72, irodguy and their respective wives at Rouge. The cuisine is much more contemporary than either Hola or Cafe Madrid, with many dishes straying out of the border lines of traditional Spanish cuisine. Rouge has a very intimate decor, dimly lit with -- as the name suggests -- a lot of red. The semi-private section in which we were seated was reminiscent of an Arabesque boudoir -- not Spanish, I know, but the food is not strictly traditional either.

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Rápe. Beer battered monkfish served with a pear dipping sauce ($8).

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Berenjenas con Centollos. Crab and eggplant lasagna torte ($7.50).

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Croquetas de Jamon y Queso. Jamon ham and cheese hush puppies ($6.50). Not at all like the bland American version; both the Jamon ham and cheese were sharp and held their own against the flavor of the crust.

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Huevos al la Russa. Crab stuffed eggs with garlic mayonnaise ($7.50). I don't think I've ever met a deviled egg that I didn't like; this, however, was certainly one of the best ones I've had.

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Gambas al Ajillo. Gulf shrimp sauteed with roasted garlic and smoked paprika.

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Atun ceviche. Marinated ahi tuna terrine with mangos, avocadoes and basil tomatoes ($9). My favorite dish of the meal. Smart combination of tuna with the complementary texture of mango.

Photos of menu on my Flickr.

Rouge is my favorite of the Dallas tapas restaurants, by a wide margin. Traditional or not, this was unique, well-executed food.

It was a great pleasure to meet everyone. I had a terrific time

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  • 2 weeks later...
Have you been to Malaga?

Yes, nearly a year ago. I'll have to go back to take some photos. They have a pretty good happy hour deal. I believe Fino is also doing a pseudo-tapas thing by offering "small plates".

I had meant to revisit Malaga last week but one person in our person was not of age and so we went across the street to 219 West, which serves "American tapas", basically just tapas-sized portions of all kinds of cuisines. That was, um, interesting. Not sure if I'd go back.

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Thanks for the great report, Kent. I was also disappointed with Hola!, espcially given the glowing "Best of" review by D Magazine. Most dishes were merely okay, but the underbaked bread and the over-cooked blood sausage were not even nearly okay. Oddly, the desserts were the best of all the dishes we tried. While one visit may not be representative, I don't see any reason to return, especially given the alternatives.

I have eaten at Cafe Madrid several times and always enjoyed it. The ambience and the staff are a plus. We had a Cabernet with the dishes, and probably would have been better off with a tasting flight, since the Cab went well with the oxtails but overwhelmed the sweetbreads. Cafe Madrid has an extensive Spanish wine list and will sell bottles and Spanish meats and cheeses for take home, as well.

I agree that Rouge was terrific. Service was far and away the best of these three places. The only negative from the evening was getting hit $8 for a double espresso at the end of the evening. Ouch! A return trip for dinner from the not-tapas side of their menu is on my list of things to do...the rabbit sounds good. I also notice that they have a happy hour with half-price tapas. Perhaps something to check out sometime.

Thanks again for the report, Kent.

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Have you been to Malaga?

Yes, nearly a year ago. I'll have to go back to take some photos. They have a pretty good happy hour deal. I believe Fino is also doing a pseudo-tapas thing by offering "small plates".

I had meant to revisit Malaga last week but one person in our person was not of age and so we went across the street to 219 West, which serves "American tapas", basically just tapas-sized portions of all kinds of cuisines. That was, um, interesting. Not sure if I'd go back.

I liked Malaga when I went, and I LOVE their extensive selection of wine, but as I don't know a lot about tapas, I was curious as to what you thought of it.

Fino is great for the small plate happy hour deals. You can eat really well for not a lot of money.

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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I liked Malaga when I went, and I LOVE their extensive selection of wine, but as I don't know a lot about tapas, I was curious as to what you thought of it.

Compared to the Dallas restaurants it's slightly better than Hola, except with none of the really egregious errors like the underbaked bread. I went with a large group and out of the nearly dozen or so dishes we ordered I thought that only one or two were really of note. Of course there's not much competition as far as tapas goes in Austin.

Fino is great for the small plate happy hour deals. You can eat really well for not a lot of money.

Really? What's the deal? It's not on the website. Is Fino happy hour a better deal than Malaga?

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Really? What's the deal? It's not on the website. Is Fino happy hour a better deal than Malaga?

Half-price small plates, and wine specials Tuesday-Thursday. I went with my aunt one day, we had several small plates, two glasses of wine each, and the bill only came to about $20 per person. For what we had, it was a really good bargain. However, this was a few months ago. I hope they are still doing it.

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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