Thursday, August 30, 2007

Restaurant Review: The Porch

...or Why These Girls Love Big (Bowls of) Mussels

The Porch

2912 N. Henderson Avenue, Dallas

Who was there?

After work one night and at lunch the next day, the crowd at The Porch was primped, perky and positively precious. Come to think of it, so were the wait staff. Fresh highlights and a well-accessorized ensemble are a must. Don't go in sweats, but a cute pair of jeans will do just fine...Read on, though: the food is worth some extra time in front of the mirror.

How were the drinks?

One of our crowd was detoxing, so we didn't sample nearly as much from the bar menu on our evening visit as we've been known to tackle in the past. Still, a large and affordable selection of wines by the glass was more than enough to satisfy on a weeknight (or a weekend for that matter). Beer on tap was cold and fresh – what else can you say?

What were we eating? How did it taste?

Appetizers sampled were big on flavor and portion-size. The biggest hit of the meal (and there were several) was the Mussels in Hefeweizen broth - a generous bowl of bi-valves in a heady pool of brick-colored holy water. Garlic bread accompanied for dipping, and the combination proved intoxicating. Fried Port Salut cheese consisted of four large wedges of the French cows-milk cheese fried until crisp outside and satiny inside. The cheese was smooth, warm and creamy, not the usual molten lava. Tomato dipping sauce alongside was bland, but unnecessary.

Beef was a standout at The Porch – whether in a sandwich au jus, stuffed into a burrito and topped with hatch chile queso or simply sliced and served with sea-salted fries. Speaking of fries, one of our group aptly described them as “like McDonald's, only fancier”. Thin, but not too thin, and salty as could be, they were a favorite at the table.

The aforementioned French Dip Au Jus sandwich merited nothing but raves. One diner decided that it was better than Houston's, and possibly the best he'd ever had. Smothered in gruyère and subtle horseradish mayo, the meat was juicy and fresh-tasting. The salty beef broth alongside was a perfect compliment, not overpowering. Our only quibble was that the mayo could have been heavier on the horseradish, but it wouldn't stop us from ordering it again.

The sliced pepper steak entrée was another taste of beef nirvana. Sliced thick, revealing a rosy medium-rare interior, the lean cut was full of flavor. A side of creamy peppercorn dipping sauce bumped up the flavor quotient even higher. We suspect the sauce may have been none other than the stroganoff brew from another dish on the menu, but it worked, so we're not complaining.

Our dinner visit also included a generous side of Smoked Ham Macaroni and Cheese. Our self-described mac and cheese expert (none other than FP) was excited to taste The Porch's version of this classic comfort casserole. A crisp panko crust topped a well-cheesed and smoky sauce, but it failed to cling to the elbow pasta until it had been left to sit at room temperature while we enjoyed our other dishes. The ham struck us as superfluous and a little chewy; the Expert suggests bacon as a more suitable smoky substitute. Overall, however, she found the dish worthy of its roots and the table had no trouble polishing off the entire serving.

A lunchtime choice of blackened redfish “Dockside” sandwich was delicious, all dripping fresh with ripe late-summer tomatoes and mayo on a cushion of pain au lait. The fish tasted not at all blackened, but the dish was just as good without the added spice. Cole slaw substituted for fries was the chopped variety, low mayo-to-vinegar ratio, studded generously with celery seed; it pleased even a cole slaw skeptic at the table.

The only outright disappointments menu-wise were in the salad department. A blackened tuna salad featured off-tasting fish and lame, limp lettuce, and a balsamic chicken and roasted veggie salad was not even worth discussing. Our die-hard salad-lover (C&S) was down at the mouth, but FP rightly pointed out that expecting a good salad at a place like The Porch is like expecting a good salad...well, anywhere that features something like 'Smoked Ham Macaroni and Cheese' on the menu.

How was the service?

See paragraph one. Servers were bright, friendly, on-the-ball. Pacing of dishes was leisurely at dinner, despite a full restaurant. What a pleasant surprise!

How much did it cost?

Sandwiches from $10 up; Entrées under $20. Wines by the glass $7-10. We both agreed that the quality for the price at The Porch is excellent.

Better for a date night or a night out with the girls?

Both. Men: bring your dates here before the prices go up. Women: affordable, high-quality wines by the glass + cheap and elegant appetizers = Ladies' Nite.

Would you go there again?

Without a doubt, and we're looking forward to it!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

FoodiePrincess' Top Five Neighborhood Restaurants

My “neighborhood” is kind of hard to define. We’re sandwiched between Munger Place, Lakewood, and the Knox/Henderson area, so we’ve got a great mix of eclectic restaurants in our backyard. To be fair, I am eliminating any restaurant where the average entrée costs more than $15 (sorry, York Street and Kitchen 1924) and any chain restaurants (sorry, Chipotle.) These are the places we go back to again and again, and for good reason.

5. Gold Rush Café (1913 Skillman Street): My favorite breakfast place, if only for the varied cast of characters always in attendance. Plus, an omelet filled with taco meat with a side of refried beans can cure ANY hangover.

4. The Old Monk (2847 Henderson): Okay, maybe it’s not a restaurant as much as it is a bar, but the food is really, really good. I love the smoked salmon sandwich with cream cheese and capers as much as I love the beer.

3. Brother’s Fried Chicken (4839 Gaston): Okay, technically, this could be considered a chain, because they did recently open one in Plano, but this is the original. The chicken is crispy and spicy, and on a Sunday afternoon, there’s absolutely nothing better.

2. Matt’s Rancho Martinez (6332 La Vista Dr.): Bob Armstrong dip. Need I say more?

1. Alligator Café (4416 Live Oak): If you haven’t been to this converted Wendy’s for the best Cajun food in Dallas, I suggest you hustle. Everything we’ve tried on the menu, from the Crawfish Enchiladas (my favorite) to the fried catfish to the Atchafalaya with Crawfish Ettoufe (my husband’s favorite) is unbelievable. This is the place we always end up going when we can’t figure out what we want.

Just missing the top five: Cuquita’s, Angelo’s, Lakewood Bar & Grill, and Tipperary Inn

Monday, August 20, 2007

... but then I'd have to kill you

Warning: what you are about to read is a closely-guarded family secret. So closely-guarded a secret, in fact, that I am the only member of my family who knows it. I am, truth be told, the originator, cultivator, propagator and, now, dispeller (is that a word?) of the Myth of My Salsa.

I've been offered money, items in trade and, in one notable incident, 24-hour access to a hot tub, but up until now, I've kept my recipe a secret. I've never even let anyone watch me make the salsa, much less record the ingredients and procedure on paper, making it possible to photocopy, scan or transfer to microfiche what I consider to be my most valuable culinary commodity.

But now, in the interest of self-promotion (if you're reading this blog, it worked!), I've decided it's time to divulge my secret. This is the best, the very best, salsa you will ever make. What makes it so great? Well...

  1. It's easy. Not quite as easy as buying a jar of Pace, but fairly easy.

  2. Speaking of easy, the ingredients can be easily halved or multiplied.

  3. The heat level is adjustable.

  4. The flavor is amazing, addictive and pleasantly complex. Complex, even though it's easy to make. Well, pretty easy. See #1 above.

The Best Homemade Salsa

2 cans stewed tomatoes (14.5 ounces each)

make sure and use stewed, not just diced or crushed...stewed tomatoes contain other veggies and seasonings

1 bunch cilantro (1 cup of packed leaves)

1 medium onion

Walla-Walla or Vidalia sweet onions work best, but a regular yellow onion will do

1 jalapeño

olive oil

salt to taste

Preheat oven to 425. Quarter the onion and half the jalapeño. Place them in a small baking dish, rub them lightly with the oil and sprinkle them with a little salt. Roast for 25 minutes or until soft and caramelized on the edges.

Place both cans of tomatoes, cilantro and the roasted onion in a food processor or powerful blender. Blend until well incorporated. At this point, put in half the jalapeño and blend again. How hot is it? Just right? Stop here. Would you like it hotter? Add the other half. If you're a total weenie, you could have seeded the pepper before you roasted it. If you like pain as a flavor, you could have roasted two or even three peppers and then chucked 'em all in. I usually use one whole pepper, seeds included. After all ingredients are incorporated, salt it to taste. Be generous; salsa loves salt. Placed in a tightly sealed jar, this will last 7-10 days in the fridge.

Much like another Secret gaining popularity these days, if you truly believe in the greatness of this salsa, you'll be rewarded in kind.