Thursday, February 12, 2009

Aboca's Italian Grill ~ Richardson, Texas

According to my notes, it had been almost exactly 4 years since the RJG dined at Aboca's. In fact, it's probably been 4 years since I did anything in Richardson. Strange to think about that now, considering that I was a summer intern for two years at one of the many hi tech firms that dotted the Richardson landscape at the time (mid 1980s). Today I have little reason to visit this way, except to try the numerous interesting food choices. I hardly recognize the place anymore. But back to 2005, Mr. Music came down from Shady Shores and joined me for a music session at Mr. Unemployed Former DJ's apartment. Naturally, no food was offered, so Mr. Music and I conjured up an excuse to leave, and then figured out later where we would eat. Consider that Mr. Music is one of the only people I know who actually samples more restaurants than the RJG . He suggested that I try a new Italian place he just discovered called Aboca's.

And so here I am again, this time with Mrs. RJG, enjoying a Saturday night dinner. The place is packed, and the majority of the diners are older than we are. The RJG likes this, as it demonstrates quality food for a reasonable price. In general terms, older folks are less impressed by restaurant du jour's and marquee chefs and more interested in a good meal with friends or a loved one. While nothing is 100% iron clad, this proved true once again.

The dish:

It's BYOB, so good news right off the bat. We had our bottle of red in tow and ready to devour. They charge a $1 corkage fee, which is fine with us. The RJG can remember many a business trip to California where corkage fees bordered on imperial taxation.

The complimentary bread is a sliced loaf and complemented with a dipping sauce oil, garlic and pepper.

Salads are delicious (though they add olives, not something I enjoy personally, which I had to pick out and add to the Mrs.' dish), with a nice balsamic vinagraitte dressing. For those of us in NE Tarrant, who are a bit tired of the tomato based dressings, this was a nice treat.

The wife enjoyed a place of Spaghetti Bolognese, a dish that never fails to fill the spot while wandering Europe. She usually goes for a mixed meat and vegetables dish, but she was in the mood for some comfort food. Their variation has lots of spiced meat, which is a huge plus as far as the RJG is concerned. I had the Chicken Parm with two meatballs. The Parm wasn't crispy enough for me, but that's a rare find in any restaurant. But it still tasted great. The meatballs were firm and tasty - the kind I remember from the 1970s.

The desserts were heavy on cakes and pastries, so we passed.

The citizens of Richardson are very fortunate to have a neighborhood joint like Aboca's.

Aboca's sits on the SW corner of Belt Line and Central Distressway (US 75). It's just off the service road, south of Belt Line.

One note on the atmosphere: Christmas lights are strung throughout. All year. You get points for that. Only thing missing is a rollaway sign out front, with flashing bulbs and a billboard stating "Tuesday night is Ladies Night - Two Meatballs for free".


Aboca's Italian Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cristina's Mexican ~ Trophy Club, Texas ; Southlake, Texas

Cristina's, a DFW area chain, is part of the second wave of Mexican restaurants: A determined focus on taste, but with an eye for high style. And while their primary audience is the "gringo", those from the old country won't be disappointed either. In that way, Cristina's is similar to other Mexican restaurants in NE Tarrant like Mi Pueblo, Anamia's, and El Paseo.

This is not Cristina's first venture to NE Tarrant, as they first successfully opened in Trophy Club a few years ago, and that's where the RJG first sampled the restaurant. But we wanted to try the Southlake location, if for no other reason to see how they converted the former Baja Fresh (later Buster's) fast food outlet. Unrecognizable. Whoever did the renovation, did a remarkable job with the space. It feels considerably larger, and about the only extra space they added was the enclosure of the former porch. Very nice. Cristina's has 10 locations in the DFW area overall.

The components:

Frozen Margarita: Strong and sweet. Went with the 10 oz. and felt it. Probably the 20 oz is too much. But, hey, I'm willing to sacrifice for the blog!

Chips: Traditional corn chips. Light and crispy. Large chain style. Nothing special and needs salsa, or otherwise too bland.

Hot Sauce: A variation of the tomato, onion, peppers and cilantro sauce. Not like the Colorado styled salsa we had at Kassandra's , but still good.

"The hotter one, please": Ah yes, a habanero salsa! I love the tangy taste and the slo-burn. Beautiful! We could eat this all day.

Entree hits: Carne Asada (yum... hickory grilled meat), beef enchiladas (nicely spiced ground beef).

Entree misses: Cheese enchilada (already hardened - not hot enough); Chicken Soft Taco (naturally not separated from the platter (c'mon - you can afford it!), so the whole thing collapsed into a pile of mush. Didn't care for the seasoning, and would prefer more white meat).

Refried Beans: HUGE PLUS! Both the Mrs. and I agreed, best refried beans we've had. Super smooth and with a taste that reminded the Mrs. of the state of Sonora. Personally, I tend to never finish my beans, but I was looking for more this time!

Rice: Again delicious. Perfectly cooked, fluffy, with a slight buttery taste. Wonderful!

You know, I don't think I've ever had dessert at a Mexican restaurant! Who has the room? Yet they never fail to ask/demand "Want a sopapilla?!?" Uhhh, no.

As for the NE Tarrant restaurants we've compared Cristina's to, I'd say Anamia's is first, with El Paseo and Cristina's neck and neck for second. And Mi Pueblo trails slightly in 4th. All are very good and recommended!

The Southlake location is on Southlake Blvd, about 1/2 mile west of TX-114, on the south side of the road. Currently, Cristina's has 10 DFW locations, 8 of them on the "other side" of DFW - the Dallas suburbs.

Adding the Trophy Club location as well, since we frequent that one just as often. It's located on TX-114 (exit Trophy Club Dr.). In addition to these two locations we also have been to the Frisco location (off of 121) and the Addison one, which is now closed.


Cristina's Southlake on Urbanspoon

Cristina's Fine Mexican Resturant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

*** CLOSED *** Herrera's ~ Carrollton, Texas

In the 1980s, me and my running pack would occasionally head down to Maple Avenue to devour some delicious Tex-Mex. That's where we would find our quartet of favorites, and they're all still operating to this day: Herrera's, Avila's, Rosita's, and Ojeda's. This was the era when Tex-Mex was a burgeoning phenomena, and long lines greeted visitors to all of these places. So much was the rage, that even National Geographic featured the original Herrera's when they inhabited a tiny pueblo hut.

So when the RJG relocated to Carrollton in 1991, I could not believe my luck that Herrera's was going to open their first location outside of Dallas, and their 4th overall, right near where I lived! Situated in a former Mexican restaurant that no one seems to remember, Herrera's became an overnight sensation in the area. Today, some 18 years later, it's a surviving institution in an era where restaurants barely last out more than 2 years. When visiting back to the "old neighborhood" on trips from Colorado, Herrera's was a regular stop. Ironically, now that we are back in DFW, we probably eat less at Herrera's then we did as visitors from another state. But the main reason for that is the Herrera's chain has always stayed east of I-35E / Stemmons Fwy.

Herrera's version of Tex-Mex is from a different time and mindset, and is definitely geared towards the "gringo", though over the years they've added more traditional fare. Which means it's kind of "heavy Mexican", so be prepared to waddle out. But the RJG remains steadfastly old school, and places like Herrera's will always have a special place in my heart (presuming it's not clogged afterwards).

To the routine we go:

Chips - always excellent. Real corn taste and crispy. You can eat them alone, without salsa, and be happy.

Hot sauce: Huge plus, and always has been. Of the quartet of restaurants mentioned above, Herrera's has always been the most reliable in delivering taste and a fiery quotient. I've noticed a tendency for the Carrollton store to wimp out more than the originals on/near Maple, but it still doesn't require the RJG standard "Do you have a hotter one?" I also like that they deliver the sauce in large containers, and they provide separate bowls. This keeps the conversations going, without the RJG constantly eyeing some poor passer-by and yelling frantically "CAN I GET MORE?"

Bean and bacon soup: The one and only. This is complimentary with your meal. A delicious soup made from whole beans and bacon. Many places call this "charro beans" and can be used as a substitute for refried beans. But none is better than Herrera's, and I prefer it as a free appetizer.

Entrees: Stick with the basics. Highly recommended is the soft cheese taco, basically a flour tortilla smothered in a delicious melted yellow cheese. Their ground beef is heavily spiced, and I love their tacos (even though they do use some filler, I like the mushy consistency). And they actually separate the taco from the rest of the platter - hooray!! We do not recommend anything to do with chicken. The RJG's Mom calls it "rooster"; the wife says it's "gross" and I have to agree. I don't know what Herrera's does with the white meat, but can't say I've ever seen it in one of their dishes. Mrs. RJG also recommends their chorizo and eggs.

Beans: Heavy and lardy. Get something else to substitute.

Rice: Decent, but tastes a little too much like "rice" if you know what I mean. Somewhat akin to how chicken can taste "chickeny". Get it? They could stand for some more seasoning.

I think in 1991, Herrera's had to be considered one of the best Tex-Mex restaurants around. In 2009, Herrera's is more in the middle of the pack, but still second quadrant. Does that mean Herrera's has gone downhill? Not at all. They haven't changed, but the competition has, and we're all the victors for that.

You can find the Carrollton location of Herrera's on Josey, not far south from Keller Springs Rd. (north of Belt Line). We've also been to the original on Maple (not technically the original as they moved across the street) and the one on Denton Dr., just off of Maple. They once had one in Addison on Restaurant Row (Belt Line), but couldn't compete with the stiff competition. And I think they also closed the one near Bachman Lake in the old Joy Inn Chinese restaurant spot. We've never been to their South Dallas location off of Illinois.

A nice mini-chain that is a Dallas institution. The RJG still recommends it!