Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rise No. 1: A Sinful Stay-cation

The thought of a soufflé brings many words to mind:  rich and decadent, lighter than air, perfumed with the essence of melting cheese.   The list could go on.   In reality, however, this seductive dish may very well leave you speechless…

Rise No. 1
5360 W. Lovers Lane
Inwood Village Shopping Center

Rise No. 1 opened in early 2008, a joint venture between partners Hedda Dowd of Antique Harvest, chef Cherif Brahmi and well-known restaurateur Mark Maguire. Dowd’s desire to share the flavors of her childhood summers in France inspired the restaurant’s menu, most notably its signature soufflés. A rarity on the Dallas dining scene, those ethereal egg creations were quick to charm local audiences, and over the past year word of mouth and favorable reviews have done well by Rise No. 1. Comely crowds consistently pack this cozy spot that soothes each of the senses, first by setting a scene part Alpine chalet, part Grimms' fairy tale.

Rise is not large, but the many shadowed nooks and crannies of its unusual space give the feeling of a more ample venue. A dramatic grouping of tall, sparkling trees at the center of the restaurant divides the front dining room from a small bar area in the rear. Those trees, barren as in winter, are flecked with tiny lights and dotted here and there by woven nests filled with translucent eggs. It is an eye-catching focal point that, rather than coming across as precious or Disney-esque, strikes a somewhat dark, romantic chord (hence the reference to those Gothic Grimms). Off to one side of this faux forest is a gleaming open kitchen which operates a muted hum.

Once treated to your own corner of this cottage, warm, knowledgeable staff members will carry on the sense of calm. Balance is key when serving a specialty dish with which many diners are unfamiliar – no one likes to be lectured, but there are often many questions to be asked and answered. Servers at Rise are informative without veering into know-it-all territory.

A soufflé is little more than eggs and air and a kiss and a prayer.

Needless to say, my first visit focused on soufflés, and our server that night was helpful in guiding me and my companion through our many choices. We settled on the Jambon and Gruyere Soufflé ($14), a classic choice, as well as the Herb and Spicy Sausage version ($16). Both arrived puffed and fragrant and I don’t believe a word was uttered across the table as we lifted our silver spoons and punched into their golden caps to carve out our first steaming bites. My little dish of heaven was heady with the rich flavors of sweet ham and nutty Gruyere, soulmate of the egg. The soufflé’s airy center evoked an omelet of the lightest sort, while browned exterior layers offered a chewy, toasted counterpoint with the irresistible flavor of caramelized cheese.

This magic, by the way, was achieved in record time in Rise’s specially-designed ovens, described in detail by that first astute server. They can bake off a perfect soufflé in about 15 minutes, as opposed to nearly an hour by traditional method.

Our second entrée choice that evening was also perfect in form, but its flavor failed to dazzle. Spicy sausage, while given top billing on the menu, took a backseat to the sweet variety in this soufflé, resulting in a fennel free-for-all that nearly overpowered the dish. The Rise No. 1 Salad ($11) also suffered from a heavy-handed performance by a single ingredient. In its case, an abundance of sweet pecan vinaigrette muted the delicate flavors of mild blue cheese and an uncharacteristically timid Granny Smith apple. Baby greens, however, were fresh and vibrant, and a lighter touch with the dressing would have saved this salad from its soggy fate.

Cherif Brahmi and Hedda Dowd

Speaking of starters, the soups at Rise are standouts, including a Soupe a L’Oignon ($7), which puts that other French bistro’s puny potage to shame. Featuring fragrant beef broth and tender, sweet onions, this classic version is capped off with a gorgeous gratinéed topping of melting cheese over a baguette crouton.  Marshmallow Soup, a frequent off-menu special, has earned something of a cult following among local foodies. A rich, sweet tomato and carrot purée, this soup is topped by a trio of feather-light goat cheese soufflés (the “marshmallows” in question).  Further gilding the lily, the bowl is drizzled with a vibrant basil pesto upon service. Who needs grilled cheese when tomato soup gets this kind of top-notch treatment?

Quick on the heels of that first visit, I was downright stunned by the Salade Nicoise ($15) upon my return. An artful composition of traditional ingredients and a seared ahi filet, the generous entrée featured tender French green beans (haricot vert), roasted potatoes, hard-cooked eggs and dusky nicoise olives dressed in a well-balanced vinaigrette. The tuna, glistening red and crusted in sesame seeds, offered a silky counterpoint to the salad’s many contrasting textures. Looking with longing across the table, my dinner date noted that she was surprised “to be jealous of a salad while eating a soufflé”. Yes, it was that good.

To accompany your meal, Rise offers a full menu of wines by the glass and bottle, presented with cheeky tasting notes. It’s a fun read between courses. The restaurant also features merchandise for sale, including kitchen accessories, vintage books and gourmet foods. While pricey, the selection was tempting nonetheless, and many items also reflect Rise’s commitment to earth-friendly practices.

On a final note, desserts at Rise are not taken lightly; there are as many sweet endings offered on the menu as entrée soufflés. Choices include sweet versions of their signature dish, as well as Crème Brulée and other classics. I sampled the Chocolate Soufflé ($10), and while creamy and decadent as expected, it did not pack the bittersweet punch I craved. With a flavor likened to “hot chocolate” by my date, it instead offered a gentle, comforting chocolate experience. This final quibble did nothing, however, to dull my glow as I exited the restaurant that evening, feeling relaxed and sated after something of a mini-vacation. Rise No. 1, in this girl’s humble opinion, is a must-visit when you’re in the mood for romance or a relaxing mid-day repast.


Anonymous said...

This place sounds heavenly!!

Margie said...

Great review! Now I'm really dying to go!!!

Amy S said...

I don't know if it's still on the menu, but I love, love, love their Cornichon and Brie sandwich.

My daughter squealed "A cheese and pickle sandwich??????"