There was something deeply cathartic about watching my server prepare the Chocolate Destruction ($9) at Restaurant 506 at The Sanford House Inn and Spa (506 N. Center St., Arl., 817-861-2129).
The concoction arrived at the table as a perfectly round ball of chocolate about the size of a Nerf basketball (or a doll’s head, for those who have never Nerfed) sitting in Jackson Pollock-esque spackles of mango and berry purees. The server poured scalding caramel over the globe, and as the shell disintegrated into a pool of sludgy, fruity, chocolatey goodness, it revealed a hidden scoop of ice cream.
Watching the spectacle left me with the same sense of satisfaction that an adolescent might get from watching the rising tide destroy a rival sand castle. My pleasure was bolstered by the fact that the dessert was tasty, although a little cloying and super rich. The dish definitely could have used more ice cream, but it would have just melted and created an even bigger mess.
My recent visit to 506 was easily the most I’ve ever felt like I was living some kind of Texas-meets-Downton Abbey fantasy. That place puts the “ain’t” in dainty. The converted house’s elegantly appointed dining rooms are plush with Victorian-looking carved wooden chairs, starched cloth-covered tables, wood floors, tasseled curtains, glass chandeliers, and oil paintings of pastoral scenes and dramatic portraits lining the walls.
The menu has some ladies-who-lunch options, as the frilly décor demands, but there is also a pretty decent selection of bistro fare. Our server suggested my guest and I try the sup du jour, a silken yet under-seasoned lobster bisque ($4). My chief complaint was that the kitchen had run out of bread, and I had nothing to sop up the remnants of the empty bowl.
The entrées were mixed. My Cajun risotto ($13) barely resembled risotto at all. The badly overcooked rice was caked in cheese, covered in a chalky, overpowering spice mix, and topped with rubbery shrimp and scallops that were also buried in the various red powders. The scallops had zero caramalization. Beneath the pile were misplaced stalks of limp broccolini that wilted beneath the heat of the dish. To make things worse, the whole thing was topped with some kind of sweet fig sauce that clashed with the seafood and did nothing to balance the spices. It reminded me of college dorm food that you make out of whatever is left in the fridge.
Luckily, the short rib flatbread ($15) was every bit as good as the risotto was bad. The fork-tender ancho cut of beef was nestled atop a soft but not doughy housemade bread, along with grilled onions and bell peppers, grape tomatoes, arugula, and white cheddar cheese. The morsel was also topped with the fig sauce, but the sweetness proved to be a well-conceived counter-weight to the savory meat. It was the kind of high culinary concept that would bring me back.
The restaurant is attached to a spa and inn, and I bet it’s the sort of place that fills up around Valentine’s and Mother’s days. I can’t imagine there’s anything in the spa that is more relaxing than watching that chocolate buckle under a cascade of caramel. That image will be with me for awhile.
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