The fact that I don’t have children has never stopped me from judging parents who can’t control their brood in public. I was at Los Paisanos (1446 N. Main St.), enjoying what I consider the best caldo de pollo ($6.99) in the city, when the little demon … uh, kid … in the next booth decided to engage me in a staring contest. As his brother (or sister — who can tell at that age?) systematically opened Sweet ’N Low packets and poured the contents out onto their table, he just stood there gawking at me with beady little eyes.
“He likes you,” his mom said to me, stroking his hair and gazing at him with the same kind of adoration those beauty pageant moms have for their human Barbie dolls.
I was still unnerved enough the next day to go looking for a grown-up lunch place. One of the many things I enjoy about Ellerbe Fine Foods (1501 W. Magnolia Ave.) is that its diners tend to leave their little bundles of joy at home. I also enjoy the food.
The lunch menu at Ellerbe’s is all about fresh ingredients delivered in a restrained, straightforward presentation. That’s not to say the food isn’t artfully crafted, because it is. For example, the squash soup ($7), with grana padano (a hard Italian cheese) and lemon zest was a great example of the muted elegance of Molly McCook’s menu. The bright squash flavor shone through the rich cream. Similarly, the Scott Farm heirloom tomato salad ($10), with zesty pesto, burrata mozzarella, arugula, and lemon garlic croutons was a tasteful amalgam of harmonious ingredients. The mozzarella was soft enough to be mistaken for a poached egg.
The entrées were so grown-up good, they made me want to take out a second mortgage or form an opinion on the works of John Updike, or whatever adults do. The grilled andouille burger ($11) with Brazos Valley smoked gouda and a Tabasco aioli was rich and oily and packed with spicy flavor notes. It’s not a burger for anyone who is scared to get their hands a little dirty.
Then last week, I found another place to add to the grown-up supper club tour of Fort Worth. Bravo Cucina Italiano (3010 S. Hulen St.) is a spacious, swanky new eatery in the space formerly occupied by the directionless, though underrated, Covey Restaurant & Brewery.
The décor is somewhere between an upscale department store and a movie set in the home of a Roman aristocrat. It’s the last place I’d want to be during an earthquake, for fear that one of its giant orb light fixtures might fall on me. But I’d be happy to take up residence there the rest of the time.
The menu is dressed-up classic Italian fare, with a high creamy/garlicky content in many dishes. For example, the artichoke and spinach formaggio ($10.29) was an intensely cheesy and gooey mound of dip that featured just the right amounts of chopped artichoke hearts, leaf spinach, cheese, and garlic. It was served with parmesan flatbread.
A bowl of the lobster bisque ($8.95), with chunks of chopped shrimp, was big enough for an entrée. Though the soup could have used more of a lobster taste, it was still a nice, warming dish with a touch of sherry that came close to the savory taste called umami. The chicken caprese ($15.99) from the “light menu” was a beautiful balance of elegance and comfort. The dish had elements of a caprese salad, with huge amounts of basil and sliced tomato, perfectly cooked orzo, and a sweet/tangy pesto vinaigrette that tied the flavors together. The chicken was tender and well seasoned.
As my guest and I finished the artichoke and spinach dish, I started to whine about how no one serves soft bread with dips. But my lunch partner gently shushed me.
“I think someone needs a nap,” she said.
I shut up. The last thing I wanted was to get kicked out of my grown-ups lunch tour for throwing a tantrum.
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