Dallas: Tastes Beyond Texas

You may be in Texas, but you'll taste your way around the world at these trendy Dallas restaurants.
Dana Adkins Campbell

Lola
In a city rich with high-energy restaurants, this tiny house tucked away in Uptown soothes with quiet decor, a subtly amazing menu, and sleek service. The wine list stuns and beckons, offering hard-to-find bottles (such as Turley, Harlan Estate, Williams Selyem, and Penfolds Grange), as well as a whole page of likable, unassuming "twenty-somethings."

The fare, like the wine, covers the globe. Begin with homemade ravioli stuffed with silky foie gras, garnished with shaved black truffle and port reduction. The soup pot nods to Texas with a vibrant puree of tomatillos and poblanos, cooled with avocado relish. From the Mediterranean, mild seared halibut, crowned in bright tapenade (olive relish), sits atop pungent chickpea puree.

Finally, surrender to fluffy French chocolate bread pudding with hazelnut crème anglaise. Chef Jamie Samford worked under Kevin Rathbun at long-ago Baby Routh, while sous chef Chris Peters came from Dean Fearing's kitchen. They surely make their mentors proud. 2917 Fairmount; (214) 855-0700. Prix fixe menus offer two to six courses for $34 to $59 a person.

Salve!
This swanky place hardly looks Italian, but it sure tastes it. While surrounded by cool, celery-green walls sparsely accented with botanical prints, make your way through classics such as beef carpaccio, fried calamari, handmade tagliatelle with meaty Bolognese sauce, and risottos served family style in copper pots. Go light with mild seafood, such as John Dory with asparagus and artichokes, or opt for earthy with tender, braised veal shank or rosemary rack of lamb. Perfection rather than creativity with abandon rules here--and rules nicely. The wine list, like the menu, hails only Italy. 2120 McKinney Avenue; (214) 220-0070. Dinner entrées: $26-$36.

Citizen
I wanted to dislike this hip, loud restaurant where it seemed only the young and glamorous were allowed; it made me tired. But everything I ordered swayed my opinion to thumbs-up. It seems that a restaurant can hardly be stylish anymore without having sushi as an option, so I nibbled accordingly. I liked that my choice spiked the soft, mild fish with a Texas kick of jalapeño and a single leaf of cilantro. The salad wooed me most: a cold, creamy cylinder of crabmeat next to roasted artichokes splashed with spunky cumin-coriander vinaigrette. And each bite of the sweet crème brûlée brought a refreshing Asian wash of fresh ginger. 3858 Oak Lawn Avenue; (214) 522-7253. Dinner entrées: $16-$29.

Abacus
We've long loved the Rathbun brothers. Kevin left Dallas years back to cook in Atlanta, but Kent carries on the family tradition at this stellar McKinney Avenue spot. We gave you his recipe for Lobster Scallion Shooters (August 2000, page 92), but I prefer them straight from his kitchen. Bites of Asian-spiced lobster meat wrapped and fried in won ton wrappers sit in sake cups, waiting to be bathed in sweet, fiery chile-coconut sauce and tossed back in one luscious gulp--thus the name. As complex and ethnic as his admirable menu gets (including sushi), a playful dessert comforts the less adventurous. Ask for the Chocolate Taste: exquisite miniatures of a milk shake, candy bar, and peanut butter-chocolate candy cup. 4511 McKinney Avenue; (214) 559-3111. Dinner entrées: $24-$35.

Ciudad
Locals know this Turtle Creek Village newcomer as the second successful eatery by Mexico City-born Monica Greene. (Her first, Aca y Alla, lies in Deep Ellum.) Think far beyond the "burrito plate #4" scenario. Here, pretty, high-ceilinged dining rooms shine with white tablecloths, elegant dishes, and bright flavors from Greene's home country. Chef Joanne Bondy's ceviche gently coaxes octopus, conch, and shrimp to doneness in vanilla-pineapple vinaigrette. Precise flautas (rolled, filled, and fried tortillas) surprise with roasted duck and sun-dried tomato cream. Caesar salad really zings with chipotle and blue cornmeal-coated oysters, and creamy flan gets fancy with Grand Marnier. 3888 Oak Lawn Avenue; (214) 219-3141. Lunch entrées: $9-$16.50; dinner entrées: $16.50-$26.

Cuba Libre Café
Man cannot live by fuss alone; he needs casual, affordable options too. Try this fun, lively spot with a rainbow of dishes by chef Nick Badovinus (formerly of We, Oui). Plates here are intricate, busy, drizzled, and dripped-full of flavor and value.

My favorites include a generous grilled pork chop spiced with achiote seed, served with fabulous banana-curry sauce (trust me), and mango-barbecue glazed salmon garnished with roasted red pepper mojo and--the best part--mojito sauce, a clear syrup with lime and mint. Late night turns into a real party in the attractive bar upstairs. 2822 North Henderson Avenue; (214) 827-2820. Dinner entrées: $7-$18.

Jeroboam
Right behind the Asian food trend in this country comes the fetish for French bistros. This restaurant could be just another, but its approach to wine wowed me. (The name hints at its focus: "Jeroboam" denotes a French measure for an oversize bottle of wine.)

I could spend a week here mulling over the thick, friendly, truly educational French wine list. Finally, someone has drawn lots of maps, organized the list by region, and given extensive tasting notes on each wine. Although I want to, I haven't memorized the wonderful world of French wine in totality, and this restaurant is the first to make me comfortable with that. The onion soup, cassoulet, and cheese plate rate pleasant, but I most applaud the wine course--which I'm ready to study. 1501 Main Street; (214) 748-7226. Lunch entrées: $9-$15; dinner entrées: $18-$24.

"Dallas: Tastes Beyond Texas" is from the November 2001 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.