Let the Chef Drive
Chow, Baby was strolling through the charming new plaza in Sundance Square, pondering the future of our culinary scene. As I looked one way, there was the new Del Frisco’s Grille, flanked by the soon-to-come eatery, Bird’s Diner, the latest project by Shannon Wynne, the man who started various other flying restaurant/bars (Flying Saucer, Flying Fish, Lark on the Park). On the other side of the square was a sign in the window of an empty space that promises a Taco Diner will be coming soon. It all reminded me of one of the stark realities of living in our great city: The vast majority of our restaurants are concept-driven, not chef-inspired.
There are a lot of great chefs in this city, but most of the restaurants, at least the ones in downtown and West 7th, work backward, starting with a design or concept and then figuring out a menu to fit. It’s no coincidence that some of the restaurants I consider to be the best in town — Ellerbe Fine Foods, Bonnell’s Restaurant, Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana — are all chef-owned and do it the right way, starting with the food.
Del Frisco’s Grille (154 E. 3rd St.), winner of Nation’s Restaurant News’ 18th annual Hot Concepts Award, is a good example of what I’m talking about. I got a press release about the place that told me the concept takes “the traditional bar and grill to new heights.” My dining guest put it more succinctly, calling it Del Frisco’s for poor(er) people.
The décor is upscale but laid-back, with concrete floors, brushed stone bars, wooden tables, and modern-looking light fixtures. The two-story dining room is inviting, if a little generic. The servers wear black, which for the women includes scandalously short skirts.
The menu is a little kitschy. The appetizers are called, “Food to Fight Over” the salads are “Ruffage.” There is also a section of “Big Greens” (salads with a protein), “Two-Fisted Sandwiches,” “Suit & Tie,” and “Knife & Fork.”
The menu itself is — dare I type it — upscale comfort food and reads like a list of dishes that were hot items five years ago, including fish tacos and shrimp & grits.
But before you go thinking this write-up is a hatchet job, let me just say the food was pretty good. Not excellent, but good. My guest and I tried two starters: the deviled eggs ($7.50), with a truffle-and-chive vinaigrette, and the buffalo-style grits cakes ($10), with avocado ranch sauce, blue cheese crumbles, celery, and something called a “buffalo jus.” Both dishes were excellent, though I wished the cakes had been a bit firmer. They were slightly undercooked and limp.
The entrees were more problematic. I went for the “gulf fish” tacos ($13), with roasted tomato salsa, corn-jicama slaw, avocado, and a serrano-honey vinaigrette. The dish was surprisingly sweet, and the fish was so overcooked it fell apart like a Chinese motorcycle. The lamb burger ($14.50) was like a re-imagined gyro, with a soft brioche bun, a lamb patty, arugula, roasted tomato, and tzatziki sauce. The meat was juicy and cooked a perfect medium rare. The tzatziki was zesty and fresh.
Del Frisco’s Grille is a good restaurant, but nothing, save its name and location, stood out. It may be an award-winning concept, but Chow Baby isn’t nominating the food for anything any time soon.
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