Is anyone else obsessed with those restaurant fix-it shows, like Restaurant Impossible and Kitchen Nightmares? I can’t get enough of British chefs yelling at hapless American restaurateurs, reducing them to blubbering children, all while scheming of ways to fix their messes. The best part is the end of the show, when the angry chefs reveal not only their sensitive sides but also the restaurant’s new décor and menu, somehow managing to fix pretty much every problem that plagued the place. I often imagine myself able to sweep in, diagnose, and fix every shortcoming in a restaurant and have things wrapped up in an hour. So I thought I’d go freelance around town.
My first self-appointed mission was Buffalo West (7101 Camp Bowie West). The newish upscale comfort-food eatery is the brainchild of super chef Paul Willis, who certainly doesn’t need me to tell him how to run a successful business. He’s the culinary architect behind Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, Yucatan Taco Stand, Cabo Grande, and Buffalo Cantina. But my job was to fix stuff, even if it meant nitpicking a little.
The opening scenes of those shows always have the grumpy Brit walking into a place and picking apart the décor. Buffalo West’s space was formerly occupied by a Steak and Ale, part of a defunct chain, where I spent more than a few nights as a youngster filling up on free bread while watching my folks get tipsy. The dining room still pretty much looks the same, with a few modern twists.
While the kid in me was feeling nostalgic about the good ol’ days, my inner-angry British chef was wishing I hadn’t shown up on karaoke night, out on the covered patio. Throughout dinner my guest and I were treated to what sounded like bawdy cats wailing along to Journey tunes. That, to quote Gordon Ramsay, “won’t do.”
The next scene of Chow, Baby’s Bitchin’ in the Kitchen (working title) would be when I eat and complain bitterly about the fare. As it turns out, there wasn’t much of a need.
Buffalo West has an enormous salad bar, but I wasn’t in the mood to graze. On our server’s recommendation, we tried the Texas Torpedoes ($8.50), bacon-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with smoked cheddar cheese and cream cheese and served with what the menu calls a “Southwestern dipping sauce.” The peppers themselves were flat and gushed with cheese, which made picking them up and dipping them difficult but worth the mess. Ordered as another appetizer, the lightly battered chicken-fried calf fries ($8.95) were nice and tender and served with the same sauce. At that point in our dinner, the kitchen’s fine work held my inner-Englishman at bay.
I couldn’t really find a flaw in the moist and delicious entrée of pan-fried pork chop cordon bleu served with a lemon Dijon sauce ($13.95), although the accompanying jalapeño-and-cheese grits were powdery and dry. But the next entrée finally brought out my inner-Robert Irvine. The 12-ounce Texas rib-eye ($17.95), our server said, was marinated in brown sugar, a fact that isn’t noted on the menu. I wasn’t expecting my steak to taste like candy. Equally disappointing was how rubbery and tough the meat was. If I had been in front of a camera, I would have stormed into the kitchen and yelled at anyone within earshot. But since I wasn’t, I just set it aside and told the server that I couldn’t eat any more.
Clearly, Willis and company do not need my help. The dining room was full, and, perhaps thanks in part to the awful karaoke singers, the place just seemed alive. Maybe I need to come to terms with the fact that I’m just not cut out for televised restaurant fixing. I guess it’s time to focus my on-camera ambition somewhere else. Does anyone need a nanny?
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