Other than weight gain, heartburn, and permanently food-stained shirts, the only drawback to Chow, Baby’s job is that the constant hunger for the new and unusual means it rarely revisits old favorites.
(Otherwise, every second column would begin “Chow, Baby ordered a Fredburger … .”) That’s why Chow, Baby was doubly excited to hear that chef-de-cuisine-throb Ian Connally was leaving Piranha (335 W. 3rd St.) for Café Modern (at the Modern Art Museum) – a before-and-after excuse to revisit two old favorites!
Except that Ian’s last Piranha-night was a Saturday, and the wait for a ringside seat at the sushi bar was an hour and a half. (Apparently Chow, Baby isn’t the only chef-pants fetishist in town. We should start a sleazy club.) Other options? The only downtown place new to Chow, Baby is Cantina Laredo, an outpost of the “gourmet Mexican” chain that doesn’t even have a location in Laredo, much less Nuevo Laredo. Seemed like a good time to revisit Reata (310 Houston St.).
Which turned out to be quite the refresher course for Chow, Baby. As we all know but maybe hadn’t thought about in a while, Reata is one of the standard-bearers for Fort Worth cuisine; though its early star chefs (Grady Spears, Brian Olenjack, Tim Love) have moved on, the restaurant still sets the bar high. When Chow, Baby whines about other restaurants’ candied pecan crumbles instead of full halves in the field greens salad, or soggy chicken-fried with bland gravy, or underaged and overcooked buffalo rib-eye, Reata is the unconscious reference point.
Certainly everything we ate that evening was all-around wonderful.
Chow, Baby’s 6-ounce tenderloin filet was cooked over an open flame just until the outside was almost charred, leaving the inside pink and juicy, and then topped with a Tabasco-cream sea of crawfish tails and shrimp; with cilantro mashed potatoes and simple grilled zucchini, it was a perfect plate ($37.95). The indecisive-beloved’s vaquero plate ($25.95) held a tenderloin tamale, a nicely gooey shrimp enchilada, and a chile relleno, all just gussied-up enough for Saturday-night dinner but still homey and comforting.
Service was also both comfortable and perfect. Samantha’s attention to detail ranged from discerning the beloved’s slight Chicago accent to spotting from across the room that we had been delivered the wrong starter, and she quickly fetched our hurrah-for-autumn roasted butternut squash soup (cup $4.95). She was a big help at dessert time, too, warning that we’d have to finish all of the ice-creamy dessert tacos ($6.95), with caramelized bananas and chocolate “gravy,” but that any can’t-eat-another-bite apple crisp ($6.95) would travel home well. Most good servers are people persons, but Samantha made us feel like special people. Not in the “challenged” sense, either.
Speaking of special people, on the way out of Reata we ran into Chef Ian and serverthrob Cheryl (Fort Worth Weekly’s Best Server 2006) knocking off work at Piranha – Ian’s last night ever, and Chow, Baby’s last excuse for a Piranha revisit (until it thinks of another one). But now Chow, Baby has an excuse, no, a professional obligation to revisit Café Modern when the next menu comes out. Officially, to see if there’s any Ian in it, but really because if Chow, Baby could eat at old favorites all the time, many a column would begin with “Chow, Baby ordered the Moroccan chicken salad … .”
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