Cafe Toulouse impressions [DFW]
I haven't seen any topics on Cafe Toulouse, located on Knox Street in uptown Dallas. I've been their twice now - once this spring, and once a couple of weekends ago. The food was superb on the first try, but very disappointing the second time.
Let me start off by saying that I love the Parisian cafe ambience. It is warm and inviting and relatively authentic, with a great patio.
But, what is going on in their kitchen?
I came on a Sunday night and ordered from the chalkboard on the recommendation of the server - a pork tenderloin with asparagus. The tenderloin came in 3 slices. Each was thin and tough, surrounded by a ring of flavorless fat and drizzled with bland gravy. The asparagus was skinny in diameter and chewy; another disappointment.
I ended up picking off my friend's plate - who had ordered the seared tuna. It was served on a tomato/veggie base. The tomato overpowered any of the subtle fish flavors you'd generally get from a rare-cooked tuna. Pretty boring stuff.
Halfway through the meal, someone from the kitchen (possibly the chef?) came to check on our meal. I didn't want to be too negative in front of my guests, so I said the food was "fine" in a lukewarm tone. If he had been listening at all, he could have pried to better understand by lack of enthusiasm. Instead, he answered confidently, "That's what we like to hear!" Thanks for the lip service, guy.
After he walked away, my guest (who was also picking up the tab) said, "Should I have told him the duck sucked?" Which made me cringe, since I suggested the restaurant.
Has anyone had similar or better/worse experiences at Toulouse? This place generated a fair amount of hype when it arrived on the scene a year ago... a creation of restaurateur Alberto Lombardi with direction from former Lola chef Scott Gottlich. I personally had high hopes for a comfortable neighborhood spot with fresh French-inspired food and mid-tier prices. But I fear something is amiss in the Toulouse kitchen these days.
A little over two weeks ago, Cafe Toulouse had a change in chefs. I don't know if that was before or after your meal, but you may have caught them in a transition period (either for the better or worse).
I think the atmosphere at Toulouse is the biggest draw. Unfortnately I've never found the food to be very well executed. Co-workers do rave about the hamburger, and the fries are delicious (although twice I've had to ask the server for different fries, as the ones he brought us were soft and cold), but to me, Toulouse is more of a "4pm drinks on Saturday" kind of place than a serious culinary destination.
We stopped in for a late afternoon snack once and the quality of the food was indifferent bordering on almost bad. Can't really judge a restaurant on one visit, but it was enough to put it way down on my list to visit, even though it's within walking distance of my Dallas pied a terre'.
The food has definitely been hit or miss in my experience. Most of the seafood dishes have been less than stellar, but the quiche (very fluffy and light) and croque madame (almost can't go wrong with ham, egg, and cheese) on my last trip were great. I've decided to stick to the basics there and will probably continue to go back just for the ambiance.