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Amanda served the apple empanadas for dessert at La Perla Negra.

We all know what bar food is. Burgers, pizza, wings, and other heavy, greasy, salty fare to keep you from getting drunk too quickly on your mass-market beer. La Perla Negra has a different idea. The downtown Fort Worth establishment has no beer on tap. It offers some wine, but mostly its drink menu is built on its wide selection of tequilas. (The menu selections are helpfully accompanied by tasting notes to help non-tequila drinkers navigate the field of reposados and extra añejos.) The food follows suit, giving downtown drinkers some unusual and health-conscious cuisine to go with their after-work imbibe.

The innovative touches begin right when you walk in the door. Instead of the unsanitary communal bowl of peanuts that bars traditionally have — do bars do that anymore? — the staff pours you your own personal cup of freshly popped popcorn, whether you’re sitting at a table or at the eye-catching polished amethyst bar. The Tajín seasoning dusting the corn makes this amuse-bouche compulsively edible. They say that it’s a good sign when a restaurant puts out a basket of good bread to start your meal, but in this case, the popcorn boded well for what was to come.

The plate of two empanadas is perfect for sharing, though it can make a full meal for one person who’s not that hungry or an appetizer for someone who’s famished. They come in either steak-and-cheese or ham-and-cheese. The mozzarella inside was fresh and flavorful instead of the tasteless, rubbery kind that you find on chain pizzas, and it made for a perfect complement for either the heavily smoked ham or the well-seared flank steak. When Hot Pockets fall asleep in their freezer cases at night, they dream of being as good as these savory pastries.

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La Perla Negra

910 Houston St, FW. 817-882-8108.

11am-10pm Sun-Wed, 10am-midnight Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.

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In a similar vein, the bar also serves dessert empanadas as a last course, with the same flaky crust surrounding a sharply spiced apple-pie filling and accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel. The ice cream rather stole the show in this dish, and it was a nice way to finish up if you’re not tempted by the tequilas.

The side item also upstaged the main entrée when I went to the restaurant for lunch and ordered the Classic Cuban sandwich. Despite a bit too much mustard, the ham and roast pork rhymed well enough and made for a nicely filling midday meal. The sandwiches come with a side of quinoa, house salad, or plantain chips. The mandoline-sliced chips were so good, I wanted to take a giant bag of them home with me to snack on.

The main attraction is the selection of ceviche dishes, which are marinated in what the restaurant calls “tiger’s milk,” varieties of lime juice that are spicy, sweet-and-sour, or tangy. I chose the tuna ceviche with the tangy marinade and got an elaborate bowl piled high with corn, cilantro, and red onion topping the sesame-seed encrusted fish. Digging through all the vegetables on top to get to the meat proved to be well worth the trouble. The dish came with a side of two toasted corn tortillas, which provided a salty, crunchy accompaniment to the acidic meat and vegetables. I imagine it would do the same for the other marinades as well. It’s an inspired touch.

I walked out of La Perla Negra feeling light on my feet. Perhaps that was caused by the Casa Noble reposado tequila that I took in to end my meal (a buttery feel with overtones of chocolate and cinnamon, just like the tasting notes promised). More likely, it was from the fresh, locally-sourced food that didn’t leave me feeling like I needed to fast for a week to recover from it. In the city’s landscape of bar food, this restaurant is a healthy option that tastes great.

 

[box_info]La Perla Negra
Popcorn    free
Empanadas (two)    $7
Classic Cuban sandwich    $12
Tuna ceviche    $15
Dessert empanadas    $7[/box_info]

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