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Monday, April 29, 2013

Gui-Rock Korean BBQ (구이락)

When warm weather hits - and it was in the 80's here in Texas today - so does my craving for mul naeng myun (물냉면). I decided to try a Korean restaurant that somehow looked promising, and I'm very glad I did.

Shortly after ordering, the manager brought over a delicious amuse-gueule of ever-so-lightly breaded fried fish slices... a delightful portent of what was to come.

The naeng myun was excellent, although one might argue that it's a little hard to screw up. Still, quality fresh ingredients always make a difference, and this naeng myun was as good as any I've ever had. Fine buckwheat noodles in an ice-cold beef broth, with slices of beef, cucumber, daikon radish, and half a hard-boiled egg. Add a bit of mustard and a dash of vinegar and you have hot weather nirvana.

But what was really extraordinary here was the array of banchan. I don't think I've ever had such good banchan anywhere (okay, I've never been to Korea). Every Korean restaurant worth its salt makes all their banchan in-house, and this is most definitely no exception. The cabbage kimchi (top right) was among the tastiest I've had - full, well-rounded flavor, rather than the overly vinegary kimchi one so often gets. The sliced fish cake (top left) was almost light and palpably fresh. The almost-standard potato salad was creamy and - once again - almost light. A sort of seaweed salad (inside 11 o'clock) was delightful, as was the dish above it, pea pods pickled with hot red pepper - a new one to me, and one I'd like to have again very soon.

Prices are reasonable, although if specific numbers are important to you, you might double-check prices with your waiter. The menu I was handed listed the price of mul naeng myun as $4.00 (!)... when they brought out that beautiful spread you see above, I was prepared to pronounce this just about the greatest food bargain I'd ever found. But when the check came, the price was a closer-to-normal $8.95.

Since this place does call itself a BBQ, I should probably mention that the barbecue at the other tables looked fine, if not life-changing. But in order to be life-changing, they would have to have wood embers over which to do the barbecuing, which they do not.

Gui-Rock Korean BBQ (구이락)
2625 Old Denton Rd., Carrollton, TX 75007


Monday, April 22, 2013

Lal-Qila Indian Food Palace (MOVED)

I don't know what's going on with Asian food in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but I definitely approve. Poking around the Chowhound boards - always the best source of recommendations when in unfamiliar territory - I found a write-up of a place called Lal-Qila Indian Food Palace that sounded interesting. It was.

"Indian Food Palace" is a bit of a misnomer, as this is definitely a Pakistani restaurant, and, fairly predictably, halal. They do serve several Pakistani versions of dishes usually thought of as Indian, and I ordered one of them. Goat korma was just fantastic, full of complex and robust flavors, and goat meat that was actually tender. It resembled not at all most kormas I've had, which tend to be much lighter in color and creamier. As you can see (hopefully - once again, dim lighting makes decent pictures almost impossible), this wasn't like that.

In the basket is a rumali roti, the perfect delivery medium for korma sauce. Rumali roti means, literally, "handkerchief bread". It's an apt name for a big, thin, floppy flatbread, served folded up, very much like... a handkerchief. Much more fun - and unusual - than naan.

Flavors here are all more complex, more assertive, and generally fresher than those of Pakistani food that I'm accustomed to in New York. I arrived just as they were tearing down their Sunday lunch buffet, and they were kind enough to let me taste a few dishes before they went back to the kitchen. Beef nihari - a long-simmered spicy, complex curry dish originally from Old Delhi, then brought to Karachi after Pakistan's independence - seems to be the house specialty. It's pretty great. There was also a fascinating ground beef dish, also from Karachi, called "seekh fry". It's chock-full of indecipherable (to me, at least), earthy flavors... rather amazing, in its way.

I'm definitely going to get there BEFORE 3 p.m. one Sunday before leaving Texas.

Lal-Qila Indian Food Palace
3044 Old Denton Rd., Carrollton, TX 75007


Friday, April 19, 2013

Mỹ Lan

Because of my great love for good Vietnamese food - and my deprivation of it in New York - I was almost as happy to learn of a sizable Vietnamese community around Fort Worth as I was to learn of a Lao community. There are a LOT of Vietnamese restaurants in the Fort Worth/Haltom City area.  I won't, unfortunately, have time to try all of them, but Nhà Hàng Mỹ Lan (nhà hàng means "restaurant") seems to have the best reputation, and I'm guessing it's deserved. It's great - the best Vietnamese food I've had since I was in Albuquerque a couple of years ago.

Although not particularly adventurous, I have to try the chả giò (fried egg rolls) whenever I try a new Vietnamese restaurant. Mỹ Lan's are as close to perfect as I've ever had - the minced meat-and-vegetable filling had great texture, and they were perfectly fried. Served with a plate of lettuce and various herb leaves to wrap them in before dipping in fish sauce.

Cơm chiên dương châu is Vietnamese for Yang Chow Fried Rice, but I don't think I've ever had ANY kind of fried rice as superbly flavorful as this - thanks, in large part, no doubt, to the beautiful addition of thin slices of Chinese sausage to the standard roast pork and shrimp.

One of my favorite Vietnamese dishes naturally involves meat, and I tend to try it at every place I go that serves it. Bò lúc lắc is often translated as "shaking beef", a somewhat mysterious moniker for a dish that consists essentially of cubes of stir-fried marinated beef. Apparently, "shaking" refers to the motion one makes with the wok or skillet while frying the beef... lúc lắc means "baby's rattle" ( means "beef"). A lot of restaurants in the U.S. make this dish with filet mignon - Mỹ Lan uses flank steak. It's just as good, if not better: flank steak has a lot more flavor than filet mignon (it also means they can only charge nine bucks for it). Delicious - it's simplicity is its greatness. Served with a side dish of a lovely sweetened garlic and black pepper sauce for dipping.

On a subsequent visit, the chả giò were just as perfect as the first time, and a trio of meat and shrimp items served over bánh hỏi rice noodles were all excellent.

From right to left: chạo tôm (grilled shrimp paste, or shrimp surimi, surimi being the processed fish paste with which the Chinese make fish balls), thịt nướng (grilled marinated pork), and tàu hũ ky (grilled tofu skin stuffed with shrimp paste). All tasty, but the grilled pork was extraordinarily good. This is just the kind of dish where having real Vietnamese around the kitchen makes a HUGE difference. The balance of flavors from the marinade was - there's no other word for it - perfect. This was made by people that really know what they're doing.

Gà xào xả ớt - a stir-fry of chicken, chili, lemongrass and bell peppers - was lovely. Moist, tender, and flavors, once again, were perfectly balanced.

Closed Wednesdays.

Nhà Hàng Mỹ Lan
4015 E. Belknap St., Haltom City, TX 76111

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Angelo's Bar-B-Que

My first gig in Fort Worth was over 10 years ago, and Angelo's Bar-B-Que was at the top of the list of places I wanted try. All these years later, it is - along with Babe's - my favorite return destination here.

Angelo's is an institution in these parts, and it's classic Texas barbecue. Down here, beef - not pork - is king, especially brisket (sliced or chopped). And the sliced beef is excellent. Be sure to ask for it fatty! (The kind of restaurants I like in Texas all seem to have terrible lighting for picture-taking, so apologies.)

Plates come with beans, potato salad, and cole slaw.  The sides are fine, but not worth spending much time on.

Although beef reigns supreme, the pork ribs are surprisingly good - a truly worthy alternative. Barbecued chicken, on the other hand, not so much... the white meat is, predictably, dry. The pork loin is nice and moist, but not particularly exciting. If you like salami, though, that's a winner:

My favorite item here, though, is the sausage. Just get a pound of these marvelous barbecued hot links to go - trust me. Here are some on a loaded baked potato:

Closed Sundays.

Angelo's Bar-B-Que
2533 White Settlement Rd., Fort Worth, TX 76107


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hong Kong Royal

I felt like dim sum yesterday and ended up at Hong Kong Royal in Carrollton, a northern suburb of Dallas. I had no idea there was such good dim sum out in the provinces!

I ordered three of my favorites, and each one was excellent. The taro puffs were perfectly fried - the lightest I've ever tried. The ground pork filling was enlivened with a bit of preserved vegetable.

My all-time favorite dim sum item, sticky rice steamed in lotus leaf, was top-notch. It can be a bit tricky to get right, but this was steamed the right amount of time, with lots goodies like black mushroom, roast pork, and Chinese sausage inside.

The fried glutinous rice shrimp and pork dumpling was also exemplary. Slightly crispy, chewy - almost light.

I would be thrilled to be served dim sum this good anywhere in NYC.

Dim sum is served all day, from carts until 3 p.m., to order after that. Not cheap, but the quality makes it a great value.

Hong Kong Royal
3030 N. Josey Lane, Carrollton, TX 75007


Sunday, April 14, 2013


Doing a bit of internet research on possible interesting things to eat in Fort Worth, I was quite surprised to find out there is a decent-sized Lao community here. And when an ethnic community reaches critical mass, restaurants - thankfully! - pop up. Sure enough, there are at least three Lao restaurants in Fort Worth and neighboring Haltom City - which is three more than in NYC or its immediate environs. I decided to check out the one with the best reputation first, Sikhay. It did not disappoint.

Not knowing much about Lao cuisine, I had a look at the extremely informative Wikipedia page. While it's difficult to know whether it has been edited people with strong national pride, it appears that Lao cuisine has strongly influenced neighboring cuisines, and that many dishes I had thought of as typically Thai are, in fact Lao (such as larb and papaya salad). If I had actually consulted the article before going, I would not have been slightly puzzled by our friendly and helpful waitress's answer when asked what the most typical Lao dishes were. Her response: larb (or laap, spelled on the menu here as luap) and sticky rice. Laotians apparently eat more sticky rice than... anybody. It's beautifully presented here in its own woven bamboo basket:

Companions on this occasion were my wonderful Fort Worth Opera colleagues from the Fort Worth Opera Rosa Betancourt (a fabulous soprano - you really must hear her sing - and, as it turns out, cousin of my friend Josue in Puerto Rico who introduced me to Diana's!) and coach/conductor/chorusmaster Stephen Dubberly. They were, fortunately, game to try just about anything, and seemed to like the food as much as I did. The beef luap was a hit - more interesting and memorable than most Thai versions I've had because of the utterly fresh flavors, and the inclusion of bits of stomach, intestine, and tripe with the not-quite-ground, minced beef. (The lighting is terrible in there for picture-taking, so pardon the uneven quality of the photos.)

Even more extraordinary was the koi pa, a sort of fish larb. Freshwater fish of some stripe (Laos is landlocked) is minced and marinated in lime juice and fish sauce, then seasoned with cilantro, mint, lemongrass, and chilis, and served as a salad. Clean, vibrant, yet subtle flavors make this a truly special dish, seen here with the typical Lao meal accompaniment of chopped, raw greens (in this case, cabbage and cucumber):

I thought I saw what looked like fresh dill in this dish, but couldn't isolate its flavor in the mix, and thought, "dill isn't used much in southern Asia anyway". But apparently Lao cuisine, in fact, does use dill - who knew? Perhaps there was some in there after all.

The appetizer section of the menu contains some true gems. "Fried chickens" is a plate of disjointed chicken wings that have been beautifully seasoned and deep-fried.

Utterly extraordinary are the "Asian Sausages" (sai oua). These are the most beautiful sausages I've had since those of Sister Zhu's now-defunct Maple Snacks stall: quite obviously homemade sausages made with pork, galangal, lemongrass, hot pepper, kaffir lime leaves, and fish sauce (for just a hint of sweetness). You MUST taste these.

Our waitress seemed keen on on the seafood ladna (often spelled lard na). This turned out to be as mellow in flavor as the other dishes were vibrantly spiced: bits of scallop, crab(stick), shrimp, and squid in a mild brown gravy, poured over chow fun noodles (the wide, flat rice ones). Very nice.

Their red curry with chicken is also well worth eating. A really beautiful balance of flavors: curry, coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, basil, to mention just some of its components. This marks the first time I actually enjoyed eating Thai eggplant (the small, round ones - just not a fan).

The papaya salad (tam mak hoong) was, flavor-wise, the fieriest dish on the table. Shredded green papaya in a marinade that is a bit less sweet and quite a bit more robustly flavored than any Thai version I've had. Fantastic.

Closed Tuesdays. But you should definitely give them a call before going - twice now I have gone out there at times they were supposed to be open, only to find them closed.

3301 NE 28th St., Fort Worth, TX 76111

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Drew's Place Restaurant

The opinion of my operatic colleague Michael Mayes is always worth asking when it comes to barbecue and Texas eats. Luckily, I had the good sense to do so last week. It yielded a real find: Drew's Place.

This joint serves the best soul food I've had in years. On my first visit (for which I, unfortunately, forgot my camera), my friend ordered fried pork chops - a much better choice than what I ordered. They were perfectly fried - still moist (how easily American pork chops dry out, thanks to American pigs having had the fat bred out of them), with a delicious, slightly-peppery breading. The meal was capped with the most delicious pecan pie I have ever tasted (photo coming soon): tender pecans in a rich, not-too-sweet filling. This is a dessert that's worth the calories.

Since I had been having dreams about those pork chops, I returned today to try the smothered pork chops. Two of the same fried pork chops are stacked and smothered in a brown onion gravy. They were divine.

Each main dish is served with your choice of two sides from a list of fairly typical Southern "vegetables" (like macaroni and cheese). Quite possibly the star of any meal where they appear is the turnip greens. Beautiful - simmered long and slow with lots of cured pork product and some finely diced turnip and onion.

The mashed potatoes are fantastic and, of course, homemade, with just enough tender little lumps of potato to confirm the fact. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I can't particularly recommend the macaroni and cheese here - it's not bad, exactly, but it's not baked, and the cheese sauce almost certainly comes from a can.

Their sweet potato pie is almost as good as their pecan pie, and - naturally - palpably house-made.

As a New York City resident, the early closing times of restaurants in other parts of the country takes some getting used to, but one definitely needs to plan around Drew's closing time of 6 p.m. if one is thinking dinner.  Closed Sunday and Monday.

Drew's Place Restaurant
5701 Curzon Ave., Fort Worth, TX 76107