If “soft opening” is a restaurant’s final dress rehearsal, “mock service” is the casting audition. This is where friends and family are invited to dine for free at a soon-to-open restaurant so the servers and cooks can practice on them. Which brings a dilemma: Chow, Baby’s default dinner is rib-eye steak.

But Chow, Baby will look like a greedy pig if it asks for the most expensive thing on the menu. But that’s what Chow, Baby would have ordered anyway; it’s not trying to get over on anybody. So Chow, Baby asks for a rib-eye. And the kitchen is out, because that’s what everybody else already ordered. Greedy pigs.

A few weeks ago Chow, Baby was mocked on at Sparks, which inhabits the former Tippin’s Restaurant and Pie Pantry at 5209 Rufe Snow Dr., North Richland Hills – not as a critic (critics are never invited to these events, for obvious reasons) but as a friend, the guest of statuesque bar manager Julia “Hey, My Eyes Are Up Here” Adams. Service and food were actually just fine then, but conscientious Chow, Baby waited until its “official” visit last weekend to form an opinion. (Drum roll.) Executive chef Ivan Vasquez used to chef at the Southlake Blue Mesa, and he’s reinterpreted the Southwest-Mex menu for the NRH crowd. For “reinterpreted,” read “dumbed down, but not all the way”: no adobe pie or grilled swordfish, but the super-tender beef fajitas ($10.95) recall Blue Mesa’s churrascarita. The soups are marvelous: smoked-brisket chili (cup $3.95) tastes as good as it smells, which is saying a lot, and the housemade tortilla soup (cup $3.95) is muy satisfying. Burgers, pastas, quesadillas, and entrée salads ($6.95-$10.95) are classic rather than inventive but still raise the bar a notch for this Don Pablo’s/Applebee’s neighborhood. Break a leg, Sparks, and have a nice long run.

Eat with Your Boots on


Chow, Baby’s thrill of the week, thanks to a friend visiting from out of town, was finally getting to see the inside of one of the Worthington’s $257/night rooms. At long last Chow, Baby understands the mystique that lures all the hay-society Texans here: Next to the (free) lavender shampoo and mint thyme crème rinse in the bathroom is a little boxed “boot buffer.” Looks like a teeny oily eraser, and it’s just there in the bathroom as standard issue. Because the people who stay here are going to have boots. Isn’t that cool? Well, Chow, Baby thought it was cool.

Chow, Baby also thinks Kalamatas is cool. (Apologies to the people waiting behind Chow, Baby at Kalamatas’ green tea & white chocolate fondue fountain at the Sweethearts Dessert Fantasy a couple of weeks ago. That stuff is crack.) The Mediterranean-style restaurant inside the Worthington is closed between lunch and dinner, so we ordered some tapas (no, Chow, Baby is not getting into whether “tapas” is used correctly, because it no longer cares) from the bar menu: a Mediterranean salad ($7) of field greens exoticized with chick peas, black olives, and feta; tenderloin tips ($6) grilled with tomatoes and spinach, very tender but in a canned-tasting gravy; and the fried calamari ($6), a spilling-over portion of the crispy critters with a nice lemon caper aioli. It’s a Chow, Baby Best Buytm, and if that don’t buff your boots you’re just not from here

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