There I was eating my chicken club salad ($13) at Charleston’s (3020 S. Hulen St.) when my teenage server asked a question that ruined the whole experience:
“Is everything perfect?”
“Well, no,” I thought. “A generic salad at a chain restaurant is far from perfect.”
I didn’t go to Charleston’s seeking perfection. In fact, I had been enjoying my salad of lightly fried chicken pieces with bits of bacon, egg, tomato, sliced avocados, onions, and croutons until that point.
After that, no chance.
It would have been perfect if I were in New York City, having a salad at Red Farm, Café Loup, or any of the other brilliant restaurants that occupy seemingly every corner in the West Village. I’m still decompressing from a recent visit there, and visions of recent near-perfect dishes are dancing in my head — but really, I’m thinking about stuff right here in the Fort.
Like the El Capitan ($3) taco at Salsa Limon’s hoppin’ new location (929 University Dr.) in the Cultural District. The melted jack cheese from Oaxaca, tender steak, pickled cabbage, and jalapeño-heavy green salsa inside fresh corn tortillas is still thrilling, hundreds of times after my first one. It ranks as the most decadent authentic taco in town, thanks to the perfect balance of creamy melted cheese, salty meat, and crunchy, vinegary pickled veggies.
For shellfish perfection, I still dream of the moules frites ($14) on the lunch menu at Ellerbe Fine Foods (1501 W. Magnolia Ave.). When Sapristi! closed its doors earlier this year, I worried about where I’d get my fix of mussels and fancy fries. Luckily, Ellerbe’s stepped up to the plate and added that very thing to its lunch menu. The Prince Edward Island mussels bathed in a broth of white wine, roasted 4th of July tomatoes — a type that ripens the earliest in the season — and tarragon oil are served with herb-dusted French fries, perfect for dipping in the broth.
I wasn’t expecting to find perfection in a strip mall behind Central Market, but Bombay Grill Indian Restaurant (4625 Donnelly Ave.) surprised me. The chicken saagwala ($9.95) with creamed spinach and curry was seductively rich and, with its wealth of spices, spellbindingly aromatic. The fork-tender chicken had been coaxed into absorbing what felt like twice its own weight in cream and spices. I was wobbly with happiness.
Almost every soup coming out of the kitchen at Black Rooster Bakery (2430 Forest Park Blvd.) is perfect. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a day when the chicken and dumpling soup ($6.50) is on the menu, order enough to fill your bathtub and luxuriate in the thick, peppery broth, with sliced carrots, chunks of shredded chicken, and pillowy dumplings. Be sure to wear a top hat and drink champagne out of a high-heeled shoe for the occasion. Because, as memorable as dining in the Big Apple is, I’m happy to be awash in great food right here in Fort Worth.
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