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Dec 20, 2009 10:32 AM

DFW - Leslie Brenner's "Favorite Plates of 2009"

Doesn't look like this has been discussed yet, but in this morning's Dallas Morning News, critic Leslie Brenner listed some of "her favorite plates of 2009". In no particular order:

Twig and branch flatbread at Bolsa

Matsumae zuke soba at Tei An

Cochinita pibil tacos at Taquerias el Fuego (picture of this was "above the fold" on page 1)

Tres Vasos at Samar by Stephan Pyles

No.14 Pho at Pho Pasteur

Foie gras and chicken liver moose at Smoke

"My Mussels" at Park

Lotus-wrapped sticky rice at J.S. Chen's Dimsum and BBQ

Butternut squash tart with gingersnap crust at Ellerbe Fine Foods

I haven't had any of these dishes, but I really like el Fuego and Pho Pasteur. I've been meaning to try Bolsa, Smoke and J.S. Chen;s, so maybe I have some things to try when I go.

Any thoughts on her selections? Agree? Disagree?

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  1. Chen's is passable, but the service renders the place totally unworthy of a visit. This based on numerous occasions. For better dim sum and wonderful service try Kirin Court or Hong Kong Royal. Dim Sum can be very personal, Leslie told me she didn't really enjoy Kirin, but it is a staple not only with most Chinese in the area, but everyone else that has been.

    Bolsa is fantastic with its ever changing menu and fresh choices. Priced well and worth a visit.

    Smoke and its creators are more like who I am. Foggy at times, with a definite and almost evil grin giving way to whims that mostly work. But the basics of Smoke definitely does work. The barbecue is more Memphis than Carolina, and positively not Texas. Regardless, it works, and is the better of most any local rendition I can name at this moment. If some should recall John Bloom, formerly of the long gone Times Herald and man behind the Joe Bob Briggs persona, he had an article in 1983 that dispelled the myth that lies between bbq and barbecue. I leave a link at the end of this post for those wishing to relive this bit of nostalgia. For sure what Smoke produces is barbecue.

    The center vaso at Samar is the star of the restaurant, in my opinion. The foie gras brulee with Ximenez fig, crisply crowned with jamon serrano. perfect. Nothing is a dissapointment at Samar, but other standouts are the Mejillones en Escabeche (needs a more pronounced jalapeno piquant and a few more mussels, but otherwise flawless), and the haloumi cheese stuffed squash blossoms.

    I have not had Ellerbe's tart that Leslie mentions, but have had their curried lambchops and also the bread puddin. Both are blessed with the givings of a local dairy, Deborah's Farmstead, whose handmade chevre is my drug of choice. The lamb was simply amazing and the spices were spot on for a dish that was not supposed to necessarily emulate an Indian dish such as a vindaloo (the curry hints were vague giving way to the lambs goodness). Consider this one of the better choices for the locavore.

    As to your original question, do I agree? I would not necessarily agree, but these are a fine springboard to conversation, which is probably more what Leslie had in mind. I did not see the article, but should I make a ten list for 2009, for sure Samar would make it. Chef Pyles is a saint.

    1. I can't wait to try some of these! I had the tre vasos at SAMAR which was unbeleivable! I have not tried the foie gras mousse at Smoke but it must be great because everything there is. We want t o go to JS Chens but its so far away from us.

      6 Replies
      1. re: OCNC

        Seriously, pass on Chens. If you don't like the others I mentioned I would be nothing short of amazed. Dim Sum is one of my passions.

        1. re: DallasDude

          Leslie Brenner knows from dim sum and if she says Chens is 4 stars maybe youshould try them again.

          1. re: OCNC

            From my experience, Chen's has been very inconsistent and the gap in quality is easy to recognize. When they are on, they have some very good shu mai. However, I've had some bad xiao long bao, but they've managed set a whole new low, theirs was mindblowingly dry. DD is right, you will be disappointed
            as Chen's simply just does not compare to Kirin, Maxim, or HK Royal.

            Reviews are helpful if there's a new restaurant that I want to try that is pricy or far away, but there's no sense putting so much faith into the hands of a restaurant critics when it comes to dining decisions. Regardless of location, it's inevitable that there are places where I'd disagree with a critic's assessment.

            1. re: OCNC

              I don't know what makes you say that. She's reviewed one dim sum place in town and didn't exactly establish any great sense of familiarity.

              In my experience, their dim sum is better at dinner than it is on the typical Saturday morning rush, where I had the worst shu mai I've ever had.

              1. re: luniz

                So she only reviewed one dim sum restaurnat in Dallas? She is from CALIFORNIA where they have more dim sum in any zip code than there is in all of Dallas. Her review shows she knows more about dim sum than most Chowhounds.

                1. re: OCNC

                  Echoing what luniz said, I'm not sure what makes you say that. I'd like to see her review a place in LA though.

                  It makes sense why the review discusses the more typical items, but they wouldn't take much (if any) knowledge to order them or spot them, and you'd be unlikely to hit a communication barrier if you ask one of the waiters about the dish. In my eyes, if a restaurant executes the typical dishes well, then that means it's time to raise the stakes. I know I'm far from being a dim sum encyclopedia but it's still nice to hear about items like suan bao niu jin (beef tendons), fung zao (chicken feet), or my favorite dim sum dish: douhua/taho (soybean custard) - it's the Chinese take on a Filipino street food. Don't see that on a cart too often, so gotta ask for it.

        2. Seriously avoid Chen's, the service is horrid, and the chance of having a decent meal is about 50/50. My opinion is that the only reason DMN is endorsing the horrible place is due to a large amount of advertising dollars...
          the place is 2 minutes from my office, very convenient...i've given it four chances, and only had one meal that was "okay"...
          Leslie Brenner doesn't know dim sum if she's giving Chens 1, much less 4 stars...

          1 Reply
          1. re: DallasChowChick

            Makes me wonder if they knew who she was ... perhaps they *can* do good dim sum ;)

            I tried Kirin Court and it certainly wasn't worth the drive for me. I noted that just as everyone was getting to the point of not being able to eat another bite, better looking things started coming out ...