The Fort Worth restaurant biz is a cruel villain sitting in a swivel chair stroking a hairless cat. It gets in the right lane at a traffic light and doesn’t turn. It flushes the toilet while you’re in the shower. And what’s the reward for enduring its spite? A dozen fanny-packed yokels from Tolar give your restaurant bad Yelp reviews. Reservations don’t show up or get canceled. Perfectly cooked steaks are sent back. A new place opens, and all of your regulars follow the new shiny object.
Why anyone would put themselves through that bottomless pain buffet is beyond me. The money ain’t great. The hours suck. People are demanding and generally lack empathy.
There’s something more than just profits driving some restaurateurs. Those masochistic few get to shape our lives in a small but significant way. Recently, however, this town is just getting me down with all of the great restaurants closing.
When a guy like John Marsh, owner of the recently, suddenly shuttered Sera Dining & Wine, opened his place about two years ago, it was visionary for Fort Worth. He wanted to create a warm, comfy space where people who didn’t want burgers and fries or chicken-fried whatever could go and sip great wine and enjoy a languid dining experience. His was the kind of eatery that was, for some, more like an extension of their living room. When other critics and I bellyache about what our foodie landscape lacks, I always took solace in the fact that Sera existed.
The place wasn’t without issues. The location, tucked away in a Mistletoe Heights strip mall, far from the glitz of Mc7th Street and West Magnolia, didn’t have much curb appeal. The kitchen went through three chefs and three menu concepts in a year –– though all of them were pretty darn good. The price point, while it was a bargain by fine dining standards, wasn’t what one might call approachable for most budgets.
On my last visit, only a couple of days ago, the dining room was half-full but lively. I went to review new chef Victor Villarreal’s classic American menu. The fare was miles away from the kitchen’s Spanish tapas origin. The roast chicken ($24), half a bird with crispy skin and moist and tender meat swimming in a pool of au jus, celery, carrots, and leeks, was a comfort triumph. Its accompanying savory bread pudding soaked up the soupy sauce like a greedy sponge. At the time, I thought the dish was a harbinger of great things to come from the Clay Pigeon and Grace expat. But the guy never got a shot to spread his wings.
I’m just going to say it: Fort Worth has a hard time supporting cool restaurants. Sure, there are still plenty of great ones around. And I don’t know what kind of business owner Marsh was. But the preponderance of evidence suggests that our bourgeoning little foodie scene still has a ways to go before it can sustain the kind of non-gimmicky, chef-driven neighborhood places that are just about everywhere in cities like New York, Chicago, Austin, and, yes, Dallas.
In the past year alone we’ve lost Sera, AF&B, 24 Plates, and Paco & John’s, and Revolver Taco Lounge will skip town for Big D in January. I’m sure I’m missing a few, but those names alone should make any local foodie shiver.
And before you send me angry e-mails (you know who you are) telling me to get back to reviewing and/or to move to another city, save your rancor for Yelp or Facebook. This is my last restaurant obituary for a long time. The villain gets to win this one. Again.
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