Thursday, February 22, 2007

I Heart Buli

3908 Cedar Spring Road
Dallas, TX 75219

You know those achingly earnest coffee shops full of teenagers in heavy eyeliner scribbling poetry in cloth-bound journals? Buli's not like that.

And, you know the ones that run like machines, full of hyper coffeebots in matching aprons who remind you a bit of the Stepford wives (except instead of smelling like White Shoulders, they smell like dark roast Sumatran behind the ears)? Buli's not like that, either.

This popular pick-me-up spot hides in plain sight along side gaychic clothing stores, gift boutiques, bars and danceclubs. Conveniently, if your coffee leaves you with vigor to spare, there is even a leather-and-chains shop around the corner. (If you go, tell the deceptively angelic Jason I said “hi”).

When you're at Buli, the world is friendly and stylish and maybe a little freaky on the weekend and you're sure of your own precious place within it. Buli's like that.

I hit Buli once a week for my standing date with Tall, Dark and Handsome. He's not my boyfriend; he's actually looking for one himself. Sigh. At least the paninis never disappoint. They always tempt us, buttery-crisp on the outside with those golden brown grill marks that tell you they're made the right way. On our last visit, mine was layered with moist white-meat chicken, two thick slices of cheese, fresh spinach, tomato and raspberry spread. I concede the cheese was so mild that it's specific type was lost among the other flavors, and the tomato was under ripe (in February, however, I fault no one for lack of access to ripe tomatoes). These flawed details, however, did not obscure the big, delicious picture. I ate the whole thing, saving room for just a few crisp potato chips and a small forkful of warm, fragrant cinnamon apples, both included with my sandwich.

Did I mention that these little gems are served in vintage tin character lunch boxes? I got a certain rubber-chested super hero last time. “Holy Cheap Lunches, Batman – all this for under $8!”

On past visits, we've greedily devoured the blue cheeseburger, chili and pastries. I've also drooled over a neighboring salad on occasion, but I'm a panini addict through-and-through. Check the special board to see what's been added to the menu on any given day. Then settle in for some free internet access, a newspaper from the rack or perch on the postage stamp patio and sip your Buli Coolie while watching the world pass by. You'll see at least half a dozen sassy toy dogs, three pairs of stilettos that you absolutely must have and probably a mohawk. Amuse yourself by guessing who might be picking up a little something for the weekend at the shop around the corner.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Adventures in Quinoa

I do pilates over my lunch break a couple of times a week, and this is the perfect thing to eat after it. I had this for lunch today, and it was to-die-for. Way better than the usual lean-cuisine, and way better for you. Plus, it's super-cheap to make and you get three lunches out of it, easily.

2 tbs. olive oil
1/2 a yellow onion
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup of white wine
1 cup of quinoa (sounds fancy, but it is just a cous-cous like whole grain. It's yummy--trust me)
1 can of chicken broth
About 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
A couple pinches of salt
A couple pinches of pepper
2 tsp. thyme
1 bag pre-washed spinach
Goat or feta cheese (optional, but highly recommended)

The night before, in a medium-sized sauce pan, saute on medium-high heat one half of a finely chopped yellow onion in about a tbs. of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Wait a minute or two and add two finely chopped garlic cloves. Cook until translucent, and then add one cup of quinoa, and sautee until it is well-mixed with the olive oil and onion and heated through.

Once it is hot, add 1/2 cup of white wine and cook until soaked into the quinoa mixture (this just takes a second).

Add 1 and 3/4 a cup of of low-sodium chicken broth, a few cranks from the pepper mill, a tsp. of thyme and a dash of balsamic vinegar and heat to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover for 15 minutes.

In a seperate sautee pan, heat 1 tbs. of olive oil over medium. Add a package of pre-washed mushrooms (whatever kind you like), a pinch of salt and a dash of thyme. Sautee until the mushrooms are covered in the oil mixture and are beginning to soften. Add two generous dashes of balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup of chicken broth and 1/4 a cup of white wine, stir until simmering and cover the mushrooms for five minutes until they are soft and have mostly absorbed the liquid.

When the quinoa is done, add the mushrooms and the remaining liquid to the quinoa, stir and cover and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed (because you will be reheating it the next day, it is okay if it still is a little liquid-y).

Put about 1/3 of the quinoa/mushroom dish in a medium-sized tupperware container and cover with a paper towel. (If you do this three times--you have three lunches already!) On top of the paper towel, put a couple of fist-fulls of pre-washed baby spinach. Put on the lid and store in the fridge over night (or over a few days--whatever).

The next day when you heat it up in the microwave at work, pull the spinach off the top in the paper towel and set it aside. Heat up the quinoa until pretty warm and then add the spinach and stir it up. Put it back in the micro for 30-45 more seconds (until the spinach is starting to wilt) and remove. If you remember to pack it, sprinkle some cheese on the top. Eat and enjoy.

Monday, February 19, 2007


Okay, I know it’s been around for awhile and is probably past its coolness factor prime, but damn it if I don’t love Fuse. I’ve eaten there twice in the last couple of weeks—the first time with colleagues on an expense account budget, and the second time with my husband for our Valentine’s Day date (part two). Here’s what I’ve found.

Who was there?
On the Thursday, it wasn’t too crowded. We walked right in around 7:30 and were seated immediately at one of those large tables with the plush chairs by the bar. We were seated next to a table full of Neiman Marcus girls (and one very mystic-tanned fiancée) who were fresh from a Neiman’s event. Very chic, and kudos to the girl sporting the strapless dress with the collared white shirt underneath with black tights and leopard wedges. LOVED the outfit.

On the Saturday night around 8:30, it was much more crowded, although not in an off-putting way. I love the mixed crowd, which was neither predominantly young nor old. We saw attire ranging from jeans to cocktail dresses to full-on suits.

How were the drinks?
Between by two visits, I had a pomegranate martini (yummmmmmy), a very berry martini (which tasted like vodka with a raspberry floating in it, not too appealing to me), and a dirty martini (pretty straight forward, but good).

I also had a couple of bottles of good, reasonably-priced (almost surprisingly so) wine, and I would recommend the Forefathers Sauvignon Blanc they had on the menu. It was really good with the sushi and just plain tasty.

What were they eating?
Both times I ate almost exclusively sushi, because it’s my favorite food on earth (or at sea). From the appetizer menu, I also tried the Diver Scallops with Green Apple Curry Sauce and Asian Mushrooms, Braised Brisket Potstickers and the Chili-Scented Edamame.

They also have several entrees available, and a guy sitting at an adjacent table to ours raved about the Mediterranean Sea Bass.

We tried a couple of desserts on our second visit, but their list wasn’t that extensive.

How did it taste?
In a word—great. Specifically, the food is really fun and interesting and happens to taste awesome too.

I’ll start with the appetizers. I (and everyone else who tried it) adored the chili-scented Edamame. Even my husband loved it, and he’s not a big fan of traditional edamame. But this is covered in spicy goodness that is irresistible. The Diver scallops were also a big hit with us. Huge and tender and swimming in a sweet/spicy/apple-y sauce that is to die for. Compared to these two dishes, the brisket potstickers were kind of disappointing. Seems like a great idea, but they were only so-so.

Now on to the sushi. My absolute favorite was the Super-white tuna from the “five senses” menu. It was sashimi style with a citrus ponzu sauce and a jalapeños. The tuna just melted in your mouth and the sauce was a perfect compliment. As someone who loves spice, the crunch jalapeño also added a lot of punch. Yum.

Also from the “five senses” menu, the unagi was delicious. It was paired with poached pairs and caramelized foie gras. Sounds kind of pretentious, but it was surprisingly yummy.

We tried several of the rolls, including the downtown roll (mmmm, cream cheese), the spicy tuna roll (they aren’t playing around with that name—it’s freakin’ spicy), the tiger shrimp roll (only so-so), and the spider roll (crunchy and delish). The big standout for us, though, was the volcano roll, which was a California roll topped with bay scallops in a creamy, spicy sauce. I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical about this, as I pretty much can’t stand mayonnaise, but it was really good. More spicy than mayo-y, and the scallops were plentiful and cooked to perfection. It is a “must try”.

For dessert, we tried the Tahitian Vanilla Bean French Toast. Once again, it’s a must-try. It’s topped with banana/ginger ice cream and caramel sauce. Need I say more? We also had a desert special of churros with cinnamon and sugar with dark chocolate dipping sauce, which was good, but not particularly note-worthy.

How much did it cost?
I’m not sure about how much the expense account meal was (and frankly, I don’t want to know), but for me and my husband to have two cocktails at the bar and a bottle of wine, plus the edamame, two appetizers, two “five senses” sushi plates, four sushi rolls and dessert, it was around $200 total with tax and tip. Obviously, this was more food than we needed, and we were totally stuffed, so you could get out of there spending much less than that. The bottom line is, though, no matter what, it’s going to be fairly pricey.

Was it worth it?
I wouldn’t (and couldn’t afford to) eat there every week or anything, but for a special night out, it’s totally worth the money. It’s not only yummy, but it’s visually and tastually (yes, I am allowed to make up words) interesting. To me, that goes a long way.

Is this place better for a date or a night out with the girls?
I’m actually struggling with this question. I did it both ways, and had a blast both times. I’d say that it’s equally good, though maybe leaning slightly toward night out with the girls.

Would you go there again?
I went there twice in two weeks. What do you think?

It's Fake-Off Time, People

The Bake-Off Returns!

It's that time of year again – time for home cooks everywhere to figure out what in heavens name to roll up in one of those soggy refridgerated dough triangles in the hopes of winning a cool mil (a good portion of which will undoubtedly go toward replenishing their stock of felt-appliqued sweatshirts and necklaces strung with painted wooden beads). This most famous off all brand-sponsored cooking competitions will culminate in Big D this year, and, Lord knows, we're no strangers to the bland, mushy and/or shredded-cheese-topped.

Why, oh why, must the Bake-Off always showcase such plain Jane recipes, uninteresting by design so as to be inoffensive to all members of the family? I would bet my red “Will Cook For Sex” apron that this doesn't have to be the case! Just a quick glance at the "Eligible Products" led me to believe that deliciously innovative concoctions (or ridiculously easy and entertaining craft projects) were just waiting to be invented. They may not be contest-winners, but believe you me, your friends and family will thank you for these “Fake-Off” recipes.

1) Chilaquiles - hangover cure extraordinaire

The traditional Mexican hangover cure is a polarizing soup called menudo (tripe, anyone?), but in my opinion, nothing does the trick like this cheesy, spicy casserole topped with a fried egg. Serve it for dinner if you like, garnished with chopped black olives and green onions. Another note: this recipe is incredibly flexible, so feel free to experiment with different types of cheeses, meats, beans and salsas.

2 cups tomato sauce
1 cup Old El Paso Thick n' Chunky Salsa (or your favorite)
½ cup water

2 boxes Old El Paso taco shells or equal amount tortilla chips (about 12 oz.), crushed slightly
1 pint sour cream or lite sour cream
2 cups shredded Mexican-style cheddar cheese blend
1 cup cooked chicken, chopped or 1 cup browned ground beef
or 1 can black beans, rinsed (or a combination of any of the three)

1 cup tomatillo salsa (green salsa, availalble next to the regular ones at the store)
1 egg per serving

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine tomato sauce, salsa and water. Spread 1/3 of sauce in bottom of a medium-sized casserole dish. Top with half of crushed shells or chips. Dollop half of sour cream at equal intervals on top of chips and sprinkle with half the cheese. Spread another 1/3 of sauce over cheese. Equally distribute meat and beans, if using. Layer on remaining chips and sour cream. Finish with remaining sauce, then cheese. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Remove casserole from oven and let sit at room temperature while preparing eggs and tomatillo salsa, below.

Fry one egg per person to be served in a dry non-stick skillet, season with salt and pepper to taste (sunny side up for a soft yolk or over easy). Warm tomatillo salsa in a small saucepan over medium heat or microwave for approximately 1 minute. For each serving, place a small amount of tomatillo salsa on plate, place a square of chilaquiles casserole on the sauce and top with a fried egg.

Casserole yields 6 large or 8 small servings.

2) Salty Balls...Are they like Schwetty's? You be the judge.

1 roll refridgerated sugar cookie dough
¾ cup all-purpose flour
6 oz. Honey-roasted peanuts
½ cup sugar
3 tbsp table salt

Preheat oven to 350.

Finely chop peanuts, either by hand or in food processor. Combine cookie dough, all-purpose flour, and chopped nuts with hands. Mixture will be stiff.

Form into balls with hands, roughly 3/4” in diameter. Spray balls with non-stick spray, being sure to coat thuroughly. Combine sugar and salt, and roll each ball in the mixture.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until very lightly browned and still somewhat soft in the center. Sprinkle with additional sugar/salt mixture while warm.

Yield approximately 30 balls

3) Butter Faces - fun craft project for the whole family!

Bake up a batch of Grand's Butter Tastin' biscuits and let the fun begin! Create a motley crew of Butter Faces (so ugly they're cute!) by decorating the biscuits with Smucker's squeezable jams and jellys, cake sprinkles, chopped nuts - the possibilities are endless. See photo.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Chaparral chapped your hide

That sucks! Good for you for aborting the mission and heading elsewhere...I totally believe that in this case it was right to salvage what was left of the evening, as opposed to letting the place dig itself deeper and deeper into the hole.

That said, it's usually a good idea ask for a manager in this sort of situation and allow him/her the chance to make the situation right. Bad waiters happen, and good waiters have really bad days, so always give the manager an opportunity to their job.

I totally stand by your actions in this case, however, because it was after all Cupid's Big Night. An uncomfortable talk with the manager of a sucky restaurant is not my idea of an aphrodisiac - and isn't the whole holiday, along with the trappings of flowers, candy, dinner and dancing involved therein designed to get one laid?


Don't waste your time at this joint. My husband and I thought dinner and dancing at this old-school spot might be a fun way to celebrate Valentine's Day, but we actually found it to be the worst service we've ever received (or not received) at a restaurant. It was also much more out-dated than retro, and the Adam's Mark hotel as a whole was pretty skanky looking.

We had reservations for two at 8, and we requested a window table. When we got there at a little before 8, they told us our table wasn't ready yet (not a problem) and that we could grab a drink in the lounge (definitely not a problem). Except that we sat in the lounge for almost 30 minutes, and NOBODY would even stop long enough to take our drink order. At one point, one of the waiters actually looked at us, shrugged, and moved on. It was at that point that I started to get a wee bit irritated.

So, we finally got seated, and who was our waiter but the SHRUGGER. Then, to make matters worse, he comes over to our table and says, "Sorry I couldn't stop, we're just so swamped." Then he walked off (clock is at more than 30 minutes, and still no drink), and didn't return for 5-10 minutes. When he did come back, he said, "I'll be back in a few minutes to take your drink order." We didn't even have a wine list! At that point, I whipped out my cell, called Fuse a couple of blocks away, and put us on the wait list for a table.

We then exited the restaurant 45 minutes after we arrived--still waiting for someone to take our drink order.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Where's a Girl to Eat?

Have you ever noticed how completely boring and stodgy the food reviews in the Dallas Morning News can be? Do you really care to hear their reviewers wax philosophic about how a new chef's "New American cuisine is daring yet accessible"? I thought not.

That's where we come in. We're ready to tell you:

Who was there?

What were they eating?

How did it taste?

How much did it cost?

Was it worth it?

Is this place better for a date or a night out with the girls?

How are the drinks?

Would you go there again?

In a town like Dallas, where there are so many options and so many great places to grab a bite or have a luxuriously decadent dinner--why waste your time at a place that sucks?