Uh, yeah. So. Dallas.
Not my favorite city.
One strip mall blurred into the next, mile after mile, day after day. I tried making reservations at decently-reviewed restaurants I found online. Then we’d plug the cross streets into our navigational system, head towards the address full of hope, and drive up only to find the restaurant located in…yet another strip mall.
If it weren’t for the preponderance of steak houses and Hooters—or my new personal favorite, a Hooters-esque mini-chain called “Twin Peaks”—we could have been in any city, anywhere. It was nothing but mattress stores, fast food joints, and big box chains, as far as the eye could see. (And trust me, I could see for a long, long while. Dallas is as flat as Gwen Stefani’s stomach, circa 1995.)
Folks are sweet down there, though, I’ll give ‘em that. Helpful, kind, and open. Too bad the food was so bad. If you’re not eating meat, you’re not eating much.
Day one: Salum. Contemporary American. A nice place, actually—incongruously dropped into a strip mall. There wasn’t a single veggie option on the menu, but the waiter suggested that the chef could make me (drum roll, please) risotto. I was starving, so I played along.
The risotto was crunchy and devoid of flavor. Strike one, Dallas.
Day two: Ciudad. Haute Mexican Cuisine. Another nice venue—in a strip mall. Great staff, well decorated, and featuring a singular veggie option. They had a breaded, fried, butternut squash-stuffed chili relleno over (another drum roll) risotto. Now, I feel bad saying this, because the place was “family” run and the people were extraordinarily welcoming, but the meal was a huge disappointment. My salad was limp and over-dressed, and the butternut squash pushed the chili relleno into sickeningly sweet territory.
Day three: Lunch at the Veracruz Café in the newly developed Bishop Arts District. At least this one wasn’t in a strip mall, and there were actually two things on the menu I could eat. I give them props for trying, and the space was really cute inside, but my Enchiladas del Jardin fell flat on a complete absence of flavor.
Unfortunately, strike three didn’t mean Dallas was out. I was stuck there for another whole day.
A decent lunch at Central 214 in the spankin’ brand new Hotel Palomar gave me a tiny flicker of hope. But at this point—on Thursday afternoon of a ridiculously trying week—I was glad to eat at any table that wasn’t located next to parking lot. The highlight was a Lemon Cream Canoli in the lightest, crispiest shell I’ve ever tasted. The candied lemon zest on top wasn’t overly sugared, so it retained a touch of bitterness that vaulted the dessert from good to fantastic. Let’s hear it for small victories, people. Those few bites kept me going through the end of the week.
(By the way, I’m sparing you a review of some weird chain restaurant we ate at when we were stuck out in the suburbs. My salad was so horrible, I’m trying to block it from my memory.)
Our final meal was at an “Italian” place called Avanti. Note the use of quotes. A five star rating from Zagat? They must have sent their intern. Possibly while stoned. I started with an asparagus salad with blue cheese and vinaigrette. It was passable, but the dressing tasted suspiciously like Newman’s Own. Then, when I wavered over ordering the cheese-laden Spinach Lasagna (hey, at least it wasn’t risotto) the waiter offered to bring me Pasta Primavera instead.
I ordered the Primavera. I ate it. That’s all you need to know.
I arrived home yesterday and heard that Dallas was under attack from tornados and baseball-sized hale. I looked up at the crystal blue San Francisco sky, and felt that familiar hot-cold mix of California sun tempered with chilly coastal air. I made Saturday night reservations at TWO, walked to Rainbow Grocery for my dinner ingredients, and praised Jah Rastafari that I live in foodie heaven.
I am spoiled. I am hard to please. I am lucky.
And I am thankful.