This weekend brought me two atypical dining experiences, neither of which are exceptionally worthy of review, have been reviewed before, and will probably be yawned over extensively by the readership.
No matter, I shall forge ahead anyway. Being a hardcore Dallas diner is tough work and only commenting on the very best or very worst experiences is too easy.
Saturday night found me dining somewhat late at Al Biernat's. Since its only a couple of blocks from my house, it sees some considerable business from my wife and I, and we find it as comfortable as cashmere socks. Consider me biased from the beginning.
Perhaps my reviews of Al's would be harsher if the restaurant evinced even the slightest bit of pretense. And surprisingly, at least for the frequent local celebrity sightings (sat next to Mike Modano couple visits ago-- really doesn't do anything for me, but if you're into that....), the place is immediately welcoming and friendly. We're ALWAYS late for our reservations and yet always accomodated graciously.
Overall, the service isn't intense, but it is attentive and well, forgiving. This last visit we weren't super hungry and split everything. Every item. The kitchen split the portions equally (perhaps even generously) onto two plates for everything, including Al's Salad, with nary a comment. Al's doesn't send a cloud of fussy underlings to buzz about your table, but the waitstaff is accomodating, cordial, and friendly.
The ambience isn't striking, but deftly blends upscale with comfortable. I've criticized restaurants for executing well but not leaving an impression. Al's might fall victim to that accusation as well, except that, well, Al's makes you feel appreciated. This is the experience that will forgive many flaws and find me continuing to be a regular.
On to the food: since we split everything, there wasn't much variety to our order. And we stuck with the "favorites": Smoked salmon served "traditionally" with sesame lavosh, Al's Salad, 14oz Filet Mignon, garlic mashed potatoes, asparagus.
Note well: the Kobe Angus filet is currently not available. This steak is one of the greatest I've ever had. I've had Kobe beef many times, and yet this hybrid tenderloin is without equal. Unfortunately, Al is out. His two suppliers don't have any in supply, and they're hoping to find out more by Wednesday, but it ain't looking good. We were sorely disappointed and wondered aloud if Mad Cow's appearance in Texas might be limiting supply.
We went with the regular filet, 25% larger and 40% cheaper. Honestly, the regular filet was damned good. great thickly cut almost fork-tender gently charred outside with perfect medium-rare inside. Absolutely yummy.
Salmon appetizer was good as usual, and for a light starter makes a wonderful first course. Nicely priced at $12.95 (I think). Al's Salad never lives up to my expectations fully, and yet I order it nonetheless. It's a weird combination of hearts of palm, asparagus, shrimp, and avocado (maybe crabmeat too?) in some kind of mayonnaise-y dressing. The rubbery resistance of the asparagus and palm creates an unusual mouthfeel that I find disconcerting, but there's something about the flavor that appeals. I should probably move on to another appetizer for my next visit.
Side dishes at Al's are typical for steakhouse a la carte sides. Both were good, but the garlic mashed potatoes are a study in decadence. Perfect hint of garlic, no shortage of butter, and the occasional chunk of potato.
Basic wine list is surprisingly sufficient, with prices slightly hovering at around 80% markup. Fair enough. Tab for two with tip was $160.00. Are there better steakhouses? Probably. But considering the unpretentious, yet very gracious and attentive service, and the opportunity to try the Kobe Angus filet (pray it returns), I'll be back, and often.
Moving right along... (and this part will be substantially shorter)
Sunday was an early and unusual meal at the Green Room for six. Most of the party were non-drinkers, and as they were my in-laws I too chose not to drink. Additionally, they're not big eaters so we largely ate only one course apiece. These are probably not typical Chowhound parameters, so take this review for what its worth.
The Green Room is a rather fascinating location, but includes some eccentricities of design that seem incongruous to the overall experience. The extremely cheap folding table in the center of the room didn't sit well, literally, for me. Still, there's plenty of visual distraction and the room has an interesting ambience that will bring me back, albeit in a smaller party.
Since we were not party to what I expect is a broad spectrum of the dining experience, this review will only touch on a couple of the relevant topics.
The only thing that sticks out in my mind is the fact that waiter was CLEARLY dismayed at our small order. He wasn't rude, or even close to it, but you could see him doing the math in his head as our big ticket 6-top turned into a small, non-alcoholic order. Say what you will, but I purposefully booked this table at 6:30pm on what would turn out to be an extremely slow Sunday: we weren't exactly holding anyone from being seated immediately. This switching of gears just wasn't what he was used to, and he didn't handle it with grace. That said, he didn't deny us proper service, but (despite a private conversation away from the table where I assured him I would overtip) there was a palpable attitude of disappointment.
I ordered the sole appetizer, a crab-chili relleno which was excellent. Perhaps a little significant for an appetizer, but edgy and interesting. In fact, all the dishes were served in very substantial portions and each represented an excellent value. Perhaps the greatest value by far was in the prix fixe menu-- "wine me/dine me". Four courses for $45, with wine pairings for $75. Of course, none of us had it, but considering the overall quality of the food, I have no doubt its one of the best values in town.
My entree was a buffalo filet over mashed potatoes with a mushroom reduction and some very nicely cooked wilted spinach. Quite good, although the reduction was unchallenging and the potatoes far too airy.
The duck received rave reviews, as did the seared ahi tuna (name one major restaurant that does not serve either seabass or ahi tuna, I dare you), although I felt the ahi tuna was served in far too large of a brick of fish and didn't have the delicacy of the dish I normally seek. Other raves were the chicken and ravioli.
No dessert for this light dining crew and we were off. Total tab for 6... with a substantial tip: $260.00.
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