Monday, December 31, 2012

Cavalli Pizza ~ Irving, Texas

The RJG has been on an artisan pizza craze of late. We've written about some of them like the declining Campania, the always excellent Coal Vines, and the super INZO. We have a couple of others to talk about, but since we're on the RJG Restaurant week, here was our next lunch, with Mrs. RJG back in the fold after a day of deliberatin'.

Cavalli's is proud to claim that they are the first pizza place in DFW to be certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana association. Campania also once held that designation, but have since fallen off this most sacred of pizza organizations. The RJG suspects they didn't want to pay the annual fees rather than being removed due to close inspection and a failed audit. All the same, Cavalli feels it's important to be certified by the VPN, and so we'll leave it at that. For what it's worth, the only other DFW pizzeria to obtain this certification is Il Cane Rosso in the Deep Ellum section of Dallas. We haven't been, but Mr. Music has recently tried it and reported back that it is indeed a must try place. So we for certain will embark on that journey at some point.

Certifications might give one bragging rights, but all we really care about is the flavor and texture of the pizza. To save you time of further reading, the answer is a profound YES. There is no harsher critic of pizza than Mrs. RJG, but she's already asking for the next return visit. The key to artisan pizza is the flavor and texture of the crust. And here Cavalli scores quite well. Now all isn't perfect, and I think the consistency of their crust doesn't quite penetrate the middle of the pie near as well as the outer portions. Mr. Music in fact had said on his one visit there was a puddle of grease in the middle. Obviously had we faced a similar fate, we wouldn't be recommending it. So it does appear great improvements have been made. But they have a little bit further to go. As for the ingredients, I tend to sample pizza with the most simple toppings as possible to ensure I'm evaluating it on a level playing field. So I tend to go with a Margherita (aka cheese pizza) with Italian sausage added. The sausage was very good, if not very distinctive. Mrs. RJG went with the Vegetarian, signaling to me that our future is inching closer to the crops than the ranch (sigh). On that same theme, I definitely recommend the side salad as well, with its excellent homemade vinagrette dressing.

Cavalli is located in NW Irving near Las Colinas, just south of 635 near Belt Line.

As it turns out, I was able to revisit the following week, as I met an old high school chum who now lives in Murphy. Seems like a good half-way point to me! We both tried the Texas Heat, where the heat part comes from jalapenos and Sopressata, which is a  type of spicy salami. I thought the texture wasn't quite as crisp as our first visit, though I suspect that may have to due with the amount of ingredients. The more you pile on the top, I think the harder it is for them to gauge the crispness. They should account for this, but just a quick observation on two visits. I'm not deterred though, and this seems like the ideal meeting place for anyone I know who lives on the Dallas side of the house and would like to meet in the middle. And there are a few other pizzas I'd like to try from here. And word on the street says their panini's are fantastic as well. Besides Mrs. RJG wants to go again!

Oh, it's BYOB for those who like to bring their own jug of wine to the party.

Website

Cavalli Pizza on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rodeo Goat Ice House ~ Fort Worth-TX

Continuing on with the RJG Restaurant week, today's post concerns a one Rodeo Goat. Mrs. RJG had her monthly Grand Jury duty to serve, so I was on my own for lunch on this mid-week day. In an act of solidarity, I felt that maybe I too should also venture down towards central Ft. Worth for the afternoon. A perfect scenario to try Rodeo Goat, a place that offers two of my favorite intake items: Burgers and Brew!

Rodeo Goat is the newest venture from some of the fine folks at Flying Saucer Draught Emporium and the Meddlesome Moth. From that, you probably already guessed that craft beer is going to play a major role in the Rodeo Goat concept. And indeed it does, with a specific focus on the burgeoning DFW microbrewery scene. They offer at least one beer from the following up and coming breweries: Four Corners (Dallas), Revolver (Granbury), Lakewood (Garland), Deep Ellum (Dallas) and Peticolas (Dallas), along with already established Texas brews from Rahr (local Ft. Worth), Real Ale, St. Arnold, Live Oak, and of course Spoetzl/Shiner. I suppose the only bummer is that they are, for now anyway, only going to offer two seasonals: One from Real and one from Rahr. I really do hope they consider more rotation than that. But otherwise, it's a very fine selection of beers on draft. They also carry an impressive array of craft beers in bottles and cans from around the US. Though nothing one can't find at a well stocked beer store.

While I'm giving top bill to the beers, the majority of the food community is buzzing about their burgers. And well they should. Rodeo Goat is the latest burger place to infuse the ingredients, rather than lay them on top after the patty is cooked. Infusion is a fancy term for mixing the ingredients into the burger before you cook it. It's a winning idea that adds new life to the hamburger market (we spoke of a similar concept with Yourway Burgers about a year ago). Well you already know that the RJG had to start with the Hot Bastard, a burger infused with chiles and spicy cheeses. And it truly was a corker on the Scoville scale. Definitely the best "hot" burger I can recall having. As such, I cannot wait to try some of their other highly interesting looking burgers such as the Terlingua, Salted Sow, and the one that has everyone talking: Caca Oaxaca (what a name!). And they cater to vegetarians as well, with at least one soy burger option. And there are salads too (one is vegetarian) and they appear to be much more than token items.

Another fine tradition that Rodeo Goat brought along is the idea of pretty waitresses and bartenders to serve the food. That's one concept I doubt I'll ever tire of!

I will be back as soon as possible, probably with Mrs. RJG along for the ride. Or maybe even Mr. Music if we can get the time. Both will really enjoy this place.
If you're anywhere near the Cultural District, and start building up a huge appetite after viewing all those classic oil paintings at the Kimbell, then by all means drop by for an infused burger and a pint or two of Texas craft beer!

Website

Rodeo Goat on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 28, 2012

Don Mario's ~ Arlington, Texas

December 2013 update: Don Mario's has moved to another location in Arlington. They are now at Randol Mill and Fielding near a Thai restaurant we used to frequent called Sukhothai. We didn't get a chance to go there this year, but maybe in 2014 we'll wander over for a revisit. You can follow their move via their Facebook page.

Back to the mythical RJG Restaurant week. I'm sure I'll be done reporting on it by, I dunno, 2014 or so? Maybe.

One of the official RJG grandmothers, a colorful lady who lived a full life (87 years young) and was once a Vaudeville star, was born (1902) and raised in Palestine and got hitched in Arlington in 1918 to a 35 year old dapper from Rhode Island, also a Vaudevillian star (times were 'a different then) - who I would have called grandpa... if I ever met him that is. So I guess in a way, I was destined to go to an Arlington based restaurant with a past in Palestine. Who knew?

But the real magnet for the RJG was the mere mention in a Bud Kennedy column of Don Mario's possessing a generations old recipe for New Mexico green chile! Now that's the kind of food item that is worth driving across town for. So we got the old Beverly Hillbillies jalopy loaded up, and with Mrs. RJG and her Ma' (aka Chula) in tow, we journeyed down south for some good Mexican grub.

According to what I've read, this location has just about guaranteed an immediate departure for all who think commerce will thrive here. Don Mario's didn't do much to enhance the place, sort of leaving its 1980s steakhouse appearance alone. I think it's a wise move. The decor is sort of "interesting" in that way old restaurants can be. It looks like the hybrid of 10 different places. But they have a full bar, and it's quite well stocked. In fact, the RJG was very impressed with their craft brew selection - certainly way above par for a Mexican restaurant. While on this topic, I decided to try their frozen margarita instead. Mistake. I didn't care for the mixture, and it certainly lacked potency. But that's about the only thing that went wrong on this visit. So on the next visit I will obviously imbibe in a beer. Or two.

Onto the food we go... the chips were somewhat typical restaurant tortilla chips, not really good enough to be without a salsa. They provide a standard tomato, cilantro and onion based red sauce that has a good flavor but no kick. But... ah yes, they do have a spicy one if you ask. Out comes a pretty mean looking green sauce, made from fresh chiles. It's definitely got some fire in it. And now suddenly even the red tastes splendid.

For entrees, Chula got chicken fajitas - which I'm fairly certain is the first time anyone in the RJG household has ordered such an item since my dear Dad departed this mortal coil some 10 years ago (Dad, as in son of Grandma above). Fajitas were all he would ever order at a Mexican restaurant. And beef at that, since he really liked the concept of a steak far more than Mexican food. Which lead to one of my Dad's favorite, and predictably corny, Vaudeville styled jokes (hey I sense a theme here): "There's only TWO dishes I like at a Mexican restaurant. Fajitas and.... (wait for it) my daughter-in-law! RA-ra-ra-ra-RA-ra-ra. Perhaps he was looking on from above as we dined at Don Mario's this fine day. So Chula's order was oddly timed indeed.

I cannot remember what Mrs. RJG ordered, but rest assured it had plenty of vegetables in it - with chicken. All I know is she loved it. For me, well it should be obvious by now that I was zoning in on any dish with green chile. So I ordered the grilled chicken enchiladas smothered in green. I have to say the grilled enchilada part was the real highlight. Slathered in melted white cheese (it may have been mozzarella rather than a Mexican cheese. Mrs. RJG couldn't tell, and she's native to the land!). The grilled chicken by itself was delicious, and the sizzling platter only aided and abetted the situation. The green chile itself was very flavorful, but I prefer more spice. Now it could be a situation of the season, and we all know that chiles can be spicy or mild depending. But I was hoping for a more Santa Fe experience regarding the heat level. No matter, as I will be back as many times as possible, and will find out for myself. Certainly if I'm back in this neck of the woods, I'll be dining at Don Mario's.

If you're looking for something a little different from your Mexican food, definitely consider a drive to Don Mario's. It's a far cry from your typical Tex-Mex joint.

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Don Mario's Mexican Cuisine  on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Il Calabrese (fka Patrizio Osteria) ~ Southlake, Texas


December 2014 update: Il Calabrese is no longer part of Patrizio's in Dallas.

OK, where were we? I thought I was going to have a slow week at work, but I should have known better. Now I think it's going to slow down. So let's get back to that RJG Restaurant Week, shall we?

In my European backpacking days 20+ years ago, I quickly learned that Osteria is Italian for "beyond my budget". I find it interesting to read that the term obviously has evolved, since technically it should be just the opposite: A small place with locally grown ingredients carefully cooked to order. And apparently Highland Park based Patrizio agrees with my personal assessment. In fact, this place could be called Patrizio's Ostentation.

For anyone who commutes up and down 114 in these parts of NE Tarrant, you no doubt saw the palatial villa going up near the Southlake Town Square. There was a tremendous amount of buzz surrounding its opening, and the restaurant frequently suffers from long waiting times. This makes for a lot of hungry, and potentially grumpy, diners-in-waiting, which may explain some of the bad mouthing the place has already had bestowed upon it. But the RJG is smart (on rare occasion that is). We don't go at 7:00 on a Friday night without a reservation. We go at 11:00 in the morning on a Monday. When we arrived, we had the place to ourselves. When we left over an hour later, a line was beginning to develop. Ah, the sweet joys of planning.

Of course, the other aspect of the critique comes naturally to a place that charges a lot of money, and sits in such glorious surroundings. It's easy pickins'. And the RJG concurs with this philosophy as well. I want a restaurant to put their money into the food, not the ambiance. I'll go to a fancy hotel lobby for that, and pretend I'm staying there. And drink their free coffee. While it's tempting to diss places like Patrizio, one must ignore all the window dressing and focus on the main reason we're all here (or the main reason we all should be here): The food. And it is on this latter point, Patrizio delivers a high quality product.

We've spoken at length about the dearth of original Italian restaurants in NE Tarrant. Which is not the same thing as saying a lack of Italian restaurants. It's just that they're all about the same. They have roots in the Balkan countries, and they use a similar cookbook. I wouldn't call these places a chain per se, because they have a great amount of latitude - especially around their nightly specials. And this is not a complaint - they do a fine job at traditional Italian cooking. But it gets boring when one is looking for perhaps some original recipes, especially around the basics. There are exceptions of course, places that we've blogged about already, like Oliva and Italianni's. And then there's the chains like Macaroni Grill and Brio. Now we've never spoken about the Ohio based Brio before, but we have been a couple of times (once in Southlake, once in Denver), and I have to admit they are quite good at what they do. Patrizio Osteria is a local response to Brio - and perhaps not surprisingly the location of our local Brio sits in the Southlake Town Square - literally a hop, skip and a jump away from our featured restaurant today.

One of the RJG's rules about fancy restaurants is that if you can't cook the basics, why should I trust you with something more intricate? If a restaurant can't make a decent red sauce, or a good salad dressing, or bolognese - then I'm not going to bother to dig further. We started with an Italian sausage appetizer, since they stated they make their own (good sign). And sure enough, an absolutely delicious sausage was delivered, with the right texture and bold flavor that we prefer (though not overly spicy, but that's to be expected). The salads were excellent, with crisp field greens and an excellent vinaigrette. Mrs. RJG settled on the Conchiglie con Spinachi which is shell pasta with bacon and spinach in a creamy cheese like sauce. She loved it. I had to go with test dish #1: Chicken Parm. With a side of angel hair. Now angel hair is tricky - and in the hands of mere amateurs will almost always come out mushy. Nope, it was al dente. Bravo! The red sauce is very much a tomatoey taste. I think I would have preferred something a bit more hearty but it was still great. The chicken parm was crispy with high quality white meat chicken breast (oh how I tire of those super thin chicken parms with a mushy bread coating). So they scored big on the basics!

Their beer selection was a bit disappointing, though I admit to preferring red wine with Italian food. Didn't matter too much, because on this visit we stuck with water (a rare sober moment I guess...)

I'm all in now, and cannot wait to try some other dishes. Of course, we'll need to plan that visit right?

Website

Patrizio Osteria  on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The RJG is back (again)

Hi everyone! Hope some of you are still out there?

I have a whole new batch of restaurants to report from Tarrant County. A couple of them are (gasp) actually new places that are all-the-rage. So let's blow the dust off this thing and get rolling. I plan to get started tomorrow.

To celebrate the new start, I redesigned the blog. I hope you enjoy it!