NM Café at Neiman Marcus, 5200 Monahans Av, The Shops at Clearfork, FW. 817-989-4650. 12pm-5pm Sun, 10am-7pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat.
When Fort Worth’s very own Neiman Marcus (the fourth store for the Dallas-based luxury retailer) moved from Camp Bowie Boulevard to the newly opened Ridgmar Mall in 1976, the new location included Hedges Restaurant. Intended to embody the height of elegance and sophistication, Hedges came to represent an aspect of Fort Worth’s relatively high level of culture and sophistication, with a standard of quality and service that remained unparalleled for many years.
Hedges became Zodiac in 1995, but the high standards continued, along with a reputation for providing luxury without snobbery. When Neiman Marcus announced its move from Ridgmar Mall to The Shops at Clearfork, there was a genuine outpouring of affection from generations of patrons who, whether they dined there once a week or once a year, considered Hedges/Zodiac to be a truly special place.
My own memories of Hedges (c. 1982) mostly involve hot popovers served with strawberry butter or little tea sandwiches with the crusts cut off, awarded for my patience and good behavior while the women in my life had been trying on shoes. Though I hadn’t returned in many years, the place had made an impression. I was curious (and more than a little skeptical) to see whether the new iteration, NM Café, in its sleek new location, would capture any of the old magic.
My guest and I made our way over to Clearfork on a quiet Sunday afternoon and were directed through the gleaming white marble interior of the showcase store to a quiet corner of the upper level, where the NM Café bar welcomes shoppers into a well-lit dining room. Contemporary and sunny, with more white marble splashed with lime-green accents, the café has a very different vibe from the deep, secluded feel of Hedges/Zodiac, though it retains its sense of an oasis for the harried.
Within moments of being seated, we were greeted by our server with teacups of warm chicken consommé and the very same popovers — crusty, chewy balloons of egg bread, still steaming on the inside — that had made those ancient shopping expeditions tolerable. Along with service that perfectly balanced the friendly with the professional, NM Café had its first impression down pat.
Along with a small but respectable wine list, the café offers a selection of specialty cocktails and a few non-alcoholic mixed drinks. Pomegranate lemonade and lavender orange sparkles are the sort of chilled treats that make for fond memories.
The menu features some healthy and innovative takes on classic café fare, with full-meal salads and decadent sandwiches, along with a few main courses and daily specials. And if you’re going to start your meal with a bout of sticker-shock at the prices, you’re apt to ruin what should have been a good time. It’s true that NM Café is on the expensive side, but they are providing an experience that you aren’t going to get at the IKEA cafeteria. Remember that $17 grilled cheese sandwich already includes a popover, and it comes with a cup of soup.
My guest and I shared an appetizer of crab cakes, barely breaded but golden brown, made from beautiful lumps of fresh crab and little else. The tender croquettes were dressed with a remoulade of stone-ground mustard laced with tarragon and were as close to perfection as anything I’ve eaten recently.
My guest enjoyed an entrée of pan-roasted Frenched breast chicken served on a bed of garlic spinach and truffle mashed potatoes. The bird was magnificently crusted, with its drumette proudly displayed. The meat had been allowed time to rest and absorb its rosemary-scented juices.
I was very pleased with a pan-seared fillet of salmon, whose crunchy, salty bottom crust was offset by a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. The jasmine-orange hazelnut rice tasted, unfortunately, a lot like plain white rice — but the perfectly al dente spears of asparagus and baby carrots served alongside were more than compensatory.
We didn’t need dessert but were happy for an excuse to extend what had become a restorative experience, conducive to amicable conversation. A seasonal strudel of apples and cranberries was a home run, and a yellow layer cake with chocolate frosting was rich and decadent.
Most of us won’t be in a position to make a habit of dining at NM Café any more than most of us will be buying our sundries at Neiman Marcus. It’s worth remembering, however, that we all deserve to treat ourselves once in a while. Like its predecessors, NM Café might have the magic needed to give its patron a well-deserved lift.
NM Café at Neiman Marcus
Crab cakes $16
Salmon fillet $26.50
Rosemary chicken $22 Apple strudel $8
Yellow Cake $8