Author Archives: KRKickshawPapers

Dreaming of The Charles

Song Pairing: A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman

The Charles

The steady hum of much needed interpersonal connection filled the space, the occasional percussive beats of laughter punctuated the atmosphere, then quieted, leaving a brief pause for me to hear the background music. It was reopening night at The Charles after its closure on March 16. Preshift earlier that day was electric, J stayed in the kitchen, head down and focused while Chas, emotionally charged and energetic as ever, recounted the difficulties of the past few weeks. He told this family of employees, whom he and his partners had been paying since Day 1 of the shutdown, that he missed them, even though he’d regularly video chatted with them during the shutdown. He took a moment to swallow the emotion that swelled in his throat. Chas looked at every staff member in the room as if he were trying to imprint this moment and their expressions into his memory forever and told them how happy he is to share this space once again with them. They all nodded in agreement, shifting back and forth on their feet like racehorses in their starting gates, ready for service to begin. Chas then took a sip of Drappier, put his glass down, and flew up his arms to signal the rise of the golden-tasseled red velvet curtain. “It’s showtime!”      And then I woke up, my dream about The Charles ended before I could even order.

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve had vivid dreams, many of which couldn’t be explained by the even the best psychoanalysts.  This dream wasn’t hard to decipher, though. I’ve been distancing in my dreams to places I would rather be, and a frequent theme is restaurants. I visited Bar Charles in December the day it opened and managed to squeeze into their reservation book for an early dinner in January.  I’ve since dreamt about The Charles and the Lemon Ricotta Gnudi and Veal Ragu Capelloni which compelled me to call Chas and find out how he’s doing and when The Charles might reopen. After we spoke, I had what I now refer to as “The Greatest Showman Dream” about the reopening.

The Charles celebrated its two-year anniversary May 1, not as they had wished, surely, but still optimistic that they would soon be able to open the dining room. Since late March, The Charles has served lunch and dinner for curbside pick-up and delivery via Alto and has opened their more than “Italian’ish” wine list for sale at attractive discounts. Recognizing that the well-healed crowd The Charles attracts appreciates great wine, Chas stocked up on impressive wines to add to the collection right before the pandemic decimated the hospitality industry. If he had known in January what he learned in March, he admits he would not have amplified his cellar to such an extent. Like other restaurants, The Charles is selling from its cellar to keep cash flow going, while still quite certain that when it reopens, $399 bottles of Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia (yum) will be ordered by eager and appreciative guests. For now, The Charles is selling bottles of wine under $250 at 50% discount and those over $250 at 40% discount.  If you price shop, you’ll recognize this as a very good buying opportunity.

J Chastain, Chef and Chas Martin, Owner of The Charles

J Chastain is an introvert, the complete opposite of Chas they both confessed.  J’s pedigree cooking in some of the most respected, if not chaotic, kitchens in Dallas proves his creativity, execution, and endurance.  He misses his team and the energy of the kitchen, he told me, but he’s rather enjoyed this relative downtime. He’s at the restaurant near daily, doing or overseeing maintenance and repairs of the equipment and space which was new construction, custom built but driven like a Ferrari on the Autostrada since its opening in 2018.  J feels fortunate to work for Chas Martin and the See brothers, Ross and Corbin. Prior to The Charles opening, they sent J to Italy to research, study, eat and drink to live la dolce vida, capture it like a firefly and release it within 1632 Market Center Drive. “They have vision,” he says of the owners and will accomplish great things in the future.  For now, though he isn’t a chef who works the dining room, touching tables, preferring to stay in his groove behind the scenes, he recognizes the challenges the restaurant, like all, will face when it reopens.

The Charles

When The Charles reopens, Chas and J wonder what the new normal will look like.  The restaurant is a compact 2700 square-feet.  The tables are close together by design, the long bar is set with tall chairs lined up for hip-to-hip seating while a row of two top tables sit only two feet away. It’s tight by design, sexy and energetic, intimate in a very public, voyeuristic kind of way. How will this work when you increase space between tables and reduce the number of bodies in there?  How do you articulate luxury with paper menus and silverware condoms? It won’t be easy but the stylish, positive, intuitive showman, Chas Martin, will figure it out.

Dallas is still a strong, viable restaurant market and destination city.  The Charles’ ownership group is bullish on the city and their ability to provide unique dining experiences for their clientele.  They are patient and measured, smart investors who are playing the long game and, in fact, invested back in The Charles for 21 months before making a distribution to investors.  They are currently at work developing new concepts which they are quite secretive about, but I will venture to guess that they could move into something textural and moderately exotic, such as Mediterranean-ish, to feature the bright cuisine of the region, beyond pita and hummus, and introduce local diners to the exciting wines of Israel, Lebanon and Greece.

Ross See, Chas Martin and Corbin See, owners of The Charles

Until The Charles reopens the dining room, I will order and pick up the polenta fries, spicy creste di Gallo and a bottle of one of their Sicilian white wines (at 50% off, remember).  I will distance in my dreams; I’ll visit The Charles and my other favorite restaurants in town.  In my dreams I’ll walk a clean, empty Venice, the canals clear and odorless; I’ll spend hours in the Victoria & Albert in London with no pushy queues forcing me to abandon the exhibits I want study for hours; my dreams will take me to sunrise over Angkor Wat with only those closest to me alongside.  I will dream a million dreams, the same as Chas Martin.

Feed Your Mama Right on Mother’s Day

Being a mother and step mother is the hardest yet

most rewarding thing in life.

Traveling with these three is never dull
Traveling with these three is never dull.

Sunday is Mother’s Day, another great reason to celebrate in the month of May.  Whether you are a mom, have a mom, are married to a mom or just appreciate the strength of maternal bonds and the role that motherhood plays into shaping our society, let’s lift up mothers with great food, quality time together and by demonstrating appreciation for mothers everywhere. (Can you tell I’m trying to send a message to people I’m related to?)

These restaurants are offering curbside pick up and delivery so you can treat mom at home.

Homewood has a fabulous menu for pick up. Please order by end of day Thursday and plan to pick up at Homewood between 11 am and 1 pm Sunday. To order, call 214.434.1244 or info@homewooddallas.com minimum order for two is required. Menu: Choose one Strada: Nduja, swiss chard and ricotta or Mushrooms, asparagus, and feta; then, pick a spread: House cured Lox with the works or cured country ham with cultured butter and Calabrian chile cheese spread. Side dishes included are Greens with toasted seeds & herbs with mustard vinaigrette, bread and butter carrots, smashed cucumber salad and deviled eggs. Finish up with Maggie’s pound cake with macerated strawberries and mascarpone cream. $65 per person.

Al Biernet’s Roast Chicken Photo by Gustav Schmiege

Al Biernat’s offers curbside pick-up as well. Please place orders by 4 pm Friday, May 8. To order and schedule your pick up time, call 214.209.2201 or order via al biernets website. Orders will be available for pickup between 12:30pm-7pm on Sunday, May 10th. Al’s doesn’t everything well and Sunday’s menu includes some of the restaurant’s most popular menu items including Al’s salad, prime rib, grilled salmon, herb roasted chicken shown here and sides such as chopped salad, creamed corn, or lobster risotto. For kiddos, the menu also includes chicken fingers, noodles with butter or marinara, plain hamburgers. Dessert options include coconut pie, Texas pecan pie, NY style cheesecake.

Lobster Salad from Georgie

Georgie by Curtis Stone offers a fancy brunch with so many fabulous items from which to choose.  To order, call 469.466.8263 or go online here. Place your order and choose your delivery or pick up time from the available options.  Delivery is free within a two-mile radius of the Knox Henderson restaurant. The three-course meal for adults offers a starter, main and dessert choice for $50 per person. Children’s meals are $25 per person and include an entrée and dessert. Starter options include the choice of a Pastry Basket (best croissants!), White Asparagus Mimosa, Grilled Artichoke Salad, Tomato Gazpacho Crab & Avocado Salad. Entrée choices include Le Bilboquet’s famous Cajun Chicken and Lobster Salad shown here, Mango Grilled Halibut and beef options including Petit Filet au Poivre. Dessert choices are Chocolate Mousse, Strawberry shortcake and Keylime Pie.

Stock & Barrel offers curbside pick-up and delivery daily, on Sunday, though, pick-up hours are from 9 am to 1 pm. Orders must be placed by Friday at 9 pm. To place an order and set pick-up time between 9 am and 1 pm, call 214.888.0150.  The dinner for two menu offers a choice of Goat cheese dumplings with asparagus, green garlic, braised little gems, fava beans and tarragon or Cherry wood smoked range chicken with red onion marmalade or Wagyu meatloaf with green peppercorn butter. Dinner for four menu options include those choices plus sides including assorted grains with lemon, zucchini, fennel, pistachios, black currants, and herbs; cheesy polenta; mesclun greens with toasted pecans, clementines, feta, and a marmalade vinaigrette. Dessert is their famous sticky toffee pudding. Take the guess work out and let them pair your wines and cocktails for you.  Dinner for two is $75, dinner for four is $125.

Salum’s Mother’s Day take away special is perfectly on-brand for Salum with little Mediterranean twists to every dish. Order online by Friday at 5 pm for Sunday pick up between 10 am and noon. The four-course menu is offered for $65 per person plus tax and gratuity. Appetizers are Leek, spinach, goat cheese phyllo dough rolls (I’d love to see how Abri does that!, phyllo is so hard to work with!) served with spiced berry jam. Salad course is a Little Gem lettuce salad with English peas, grilled corn and heirloom tomatoes with a mint basil marinated burrata and you have a choice of three entrees: 1) Beef rib roast with mushroom saute and red onion horseradish compote; 2) Blood orange or rosemary crusted Cornish hen; or 3) Pan seared halibut with lemony crab topping and tarragon vinaigrette. The menu includes sides of baked potato, Brussels Sprouts, bacon and sage with aged cheddar and grilled spring vegetables with spiced walnut relish and dessert of a strawberry, apple and ginger cobbler with Henry’s Homemade Sweet Cream ice cream. Woah, that all sounds so good. Salum also sells wine and cocktail kits so ask for the perfect pairings for your feast.

Parigi has perfected curbside pick-up.  Please place orders by Thursday May 7 at 5 pm by calling 214.521.0295 and ask for Janice or Allison or email your order at orders@parigidallas.com.  When you place your order, tell you server whether it is for pick-up or delivery, for Saturday or Sunday and if you want Ready to EAT or Ready to HEAT. In addition to this fantastic Mother’s Day menu, Parigi will also offer its usual curbside menu.

Mother’s Day brunch menu includes individual mushroom-leek-gruyere quiches, chicken and poblano stuffed crepes, polenta blueberry pancakes, chocolate chip bread pudding French toast and bites for the kids including chicken tenders and spaghetti and meatballs. Parigi is offering desserts from local legends including Mynetta’s strawberry cake, JR’s individual blueberry pie and Henry’s ice cream in a variety of flavors. Brunch isn’t brunch without Mimosas or Bloody Mary’s so add one of Parigi’s drink kits to go.

Sachet has been dark since this whole crazy thing started but it’s reopening for curbside pick up and delivery for Mother’s Day. Hooray! The Mother’s Day meals are heat and eat (or cool and drool) and should be ordered now so you can arrange pick up on Friday between 2 pm and 7 pm and Saturday between noon and 7 pm. Order by calling 214.613.6425 or emailing reservations@sachetdallas.com. The meal is served Family Style and serves four at $45 per person. The offerings include: Choice of three Mezes, a choice of salad, choice of two entrees, two sides and an assortment of desserts. To read the full menu in all its glory, click here.

Jon Alexis clearly loves mothers, look at this feast.

TJ’s Seafood Market’s Preston Royal location is offering a sweet brunch for pick-up that feeds four-six people for $110.  To order, call 214.691.2369  by Friday, May 8. The menu features a Ham & Cheese egg casserole, TJ’s famous shrimp cocktail, cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing, Caesar salad, bacon and breakfast potatoes.  You can add a Mimosa package for $25.

Festa della Mamma at Il Bracco

Il Bracco, The Plaza at Preston Center’s Italian restaurant from CEO Robert Quick, an SMU grad and former omelet guy at Dallas Country Club, serves up fantastic Italian fare and executes to-go perfectly. The Festa della Mamma menu must be ordered by Friday, May 8 and is available to curbside pick-up or delivery via Alto. Full menu is HERE and is also available please email you order to parkcities@ilbraccorestaurant.com. The special menu feeds four people for $100, a great deal, if you ask me.  The menu starts with a Chilled Carrot Soup, Kale Salad, whole Herb Roasted Chicken, Asparagus & Peas side and Panna Cotta for dessert.  Il Bracco’s pastas are excellent and the Spicy Gemelli for four people can be added for $40. You can also purchase a Mimosa kit and wine such as Nickel & Nickel’s “Truchard” for a few extra coins.

Asian Mint has created easy to prepare at home meal kits featuring some of their most popular dishes.  For Mother’s Day the Preston Forest (only) location is selling kits that include Edamommy (sorry, Edamame) Asian Noodle Salas, Shrimp and Chicken Basil with Jasmine Rice and Chocolate Flourless Cake. A 48-hour pre-order is required and you can order online at

LeGourmet Baking has the best shortbread in town.

LeGourmet Baking Becky Nelson’s Lover’s Lane bakery is still cranking out the best shortbread in town.  Her Mother’s Day gift tins are adorable and a perfect gift to drop off to let a certain someone know you are thinking about her. (PS – she does very cute school-themed cookies, too. Maybe a certain graduate needs some shortbread love, too.

Dinner for four costs $75.

Central Market has you covered for Mother’s Day.

Central Market has been a bright spot in an otherwise difficult time.  From the organization of their stores to the fantastic supply of the best produce, meat, seafood, flour, yeast, and TP, they have been a source of comfort for so many during this pandemic.   They are also going to make your Mother’s Day shopping easier with their Meals to Go. To order and schedule pick up, click HERE. Offerings include breakfast in bed set ups, lunch, dinner and everything between.  The little brunch set up pictured here looks great.

Whatever you decide, treat your mamma right. It’s a hard job that doesn’t pay well. 🙂

DIVE INTO THE LIGHT: FRANCHESCA NOR

Song Pairing: In the Light by Led Zepplin

When she was 30 years old, Franchesca Nor had her first baby, an aqua, navy and seafoam progeny she named Dive Coastal Cuisine. In 2016 she delivered something even more special, her son Archer James. Today, they have each matured and evolved; provided food for the body, soul and heart; and given back.

Cauliflower pizza

Dive continues to be a Park Cities restaurant phenom, serving fresh, sustainable, non-GMO, organic salads, seafood and sandwiches to families, locals and notable chefs alike. Chef/Owner Franchesca has beaten the odds as a restauranteur a few years before her 40th birthday. Though she is well educated and trained, she graduated top of her class at Johnson & Wales culinary school and has worked in virtually every position in a restaurant, she doesn’t directly attribute her blessings to those things. Rather, she says she is where she is today because she’s always believed in her passion and vision, she’s taken a non-traditional path, and allowed herself to make mistakes and learn from them. She’s loyal and believes in taking care of those who take care of you.

Franchesca and her business partner, Victor

Dive has more than 25 employees, many of whom have been there since Day 1, an almost unheard-of feat in the high-turnover restaurant business. The high quality, well-prepared food guests have enjoyed year after year is largely due to consistency in the kitchen. Franchesca’s exacting standards in food quality and preparation are understood by every member of her team and she credits them for Dive’s loyal customer base. In fact, when I asked her what her what she loves most about this business, she paused and got a little choked up. “I’m feeding 25 families,” she said referring to her employees and their families. “That’s the most fulfilling thing about this.”

“You are a leader if your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream, learn and become more.” This was the daily affirmation that happened to pop up on my phone the day I interviewed Franchesca at Dive, where I devoured her new Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Pizza on cauliflower crust, and she inhaled her Tuna Melt. When she told me about the work she does with Youth With Faces, a Dallas-based organization that provides practical life and work skills to youth in the juvenile justice system, the quote immediately came to mind. By any definition, Franchesca is a leader. She and others help the teens discover a passion, purpose and a view of their potential far bigger than what their environments have offered so far. She introduces new foods, like the time she served a group of uneasy teens quinoa and calamari (they loved it) and has written and cataloged recipes for the program. She recently was invited to join the Dallas chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an international philanthropic group for women in the culinary arts.

Franchesca and me at her Les Dames d’Escoffier Induction

Throughout our lunch, Franchesca was full of optimism, passion and light, appropriate since her surname means ‘light” in Arabic. She exudes gratitude and stokes a dream that will go beyond Dive’s current footprint. Her priority today, of course, is Archer; a little boy who, she humblebrags, prefers to chew leaves from his mama’s backyard chocolate peppermint plant rather than bubblegum.

This article originally appeared in the July 2019 edition of People Newspapers.

LISTEN TO THE MOCKINGBIRD GOURMET

Song Pairing: Listen to the Mockingbird

George Lewis Band – Jazz at Preservation Hall

First Impressions . . . 

The first time I met Stephanie Magilow, she was sampling product at Central Market and wearing a food-server’s hairnet. The second time I met her there, she was wearing a hair net. The third time I met her, I didn’t recognize her without her hair net, but I recognized the small jars lined up like buttons on a blouse on an upstairs table at Royal Blue Grocery. She’d brought samples from her new food company, Mockingbird Gourmet.

Stephanie Magilow, creator of Mockingbird Gourmet

The co-creator of Jammit Jam is spreading her wings into a new line of comestibles made with fruit and other ingredients sourced from farms within a 50-mile radius of Dallas and in some cases, even closer – like the herb garden in her Highland Park backyard. The inspiration for the name of this endeavor came from the street on which her grandma lived: Mockingbird Lane, just around the corner from her home. Though she will continue to produce and sell Jammit Jams, she will expand the Mockingbird Gourmet product line to include gems such as limited edition preserves, jams, caramel sauces and, eventually, pastry.

Local sourcing plus fixed seasonality means each batch of jams will be limited editions, with only 60-80 six-ounces jars per run available for sale. Stephanie’s relationships with local famers and Market Provisions at the Dallas Farmer’s Market grants her access to straight-from-the-plant produce which she immediately adds to her recipes. Since North Texas is resplendent with fresh blueberries, figs, strawberries, peaches, tomatoes, peppers, pecans and more, Magilow has great bounty with which to showcase her affinity for combining flavors and developing recipes. If you’ve tasted her jams, you know she can pair surprising flavors to bring out the best of each.

Caramel Sauces are $$$$.

Mockingbird Gourmet debuted in May at the St. Michael’s Farmer’s Market where she sold her Fig Jam, Strawberry Jalapeño Limeade Jam, Moroccan Tomato Jam and her caramel sauces, which are sublime. The Bourbon Vanilla Bean Sea Salt Caramel is made with raw cane sugar and Madagascar vanilla beans which have been soaked in Dallas’ own Herman Marshall Texas Bourbon Whiskey for a year. She also males a vegan and paleo version of the sauce sweetened with maple syrup (obviously not from Texas) and includes coconut oil and almond butter.

Mockingbird Gourmet can be found at the St. Michael’s Farmer’s Market all summer, Market Provisions at the downtown Farmer’s Market and Scardello’s on Oak Lawn. 

Pairing notes: Since I met with Stephanie, the song “Listen to the Mockingbird” has been tapping around my brain. I’m partial to the version from the George Lewis Band recorded at Preservation Hall in New Orleans. My roots run deep in Louisiana; why I love food and music so much, I suppose. I grew up listening to jazz and eating my grandmother’s fig jams and kumquat preserves, made right from the trees in her garden. Stephanie’s jams are made much the same way, with an almost maternal love for the fresh fruit ingredients and farmers who grow them.

This article first appeared in the Park Cities People May 2019 print edition.

 

 

LET’S GATHER TOGETHER AT GATHER KITCHEN

Song Pairing: Pretty Woman, the Roy Orbison version

In mid-bite of a fried green tomato slathered with creamy chipotle mayo, it hit me: Soraya Spencer is Julia Robert’s twin. Soraya’s gigantic smile, sparkly brown eyes, vivid with passion, and her animated speech conveys the eager, kind and hopeful Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman; the sweet but gritty girl seeking a better life and taking care of others seeking the same along the way. That is Soraya Spencer and her Gather Kitchen business model.

Soraya Spencer
Photo courtesy of Gather Kitchen

Soraya’s story has been told before but I only read them before meeting her in the bright, communal feeling Gather Kitchen in Preston Center. She’s originally from Algeria and lilts a lovely accent which sounds French-ish, she’s well-traveled, well-educated and lives the American Dream with her husband, son and Gather Kitchen family in Dallas. I visited her space on Luther Lane that’s been open since August, though word of its presence just reached me in April.

EAT

New menu items for Gather Kitchen launched in early May and include the Crepe Taco, a nod to her French culinary education, and the Gather Burger, a grass-fed beef burger spiced with Ras El Hanout among other things, that’s stuffed with sweet potato fries. Also new are the aforementioned Fried Green Tomatoes, coated in gluten-free panko crumbs, tapioca flour and spices. They are served with a chipotle mayo that was perfected after more than 30 attempts. Soraya had never tasted chipotle before coming to Dallas, but she whipped them together with boiled cashews, almond milk and other ingredients to come up with this condiment masterpiece that I will order as a side for sweet potato fries on my next visit.

Poke Bowl
Photo courtesy of Gather Kitchen

My favorite item on the menu is the poké bowl. I normally avoid doing the hokey poké because its ubiquity makes me really wonder how fresh the tuna is at all these places, but I acquiesced here, fortunately. Gather Kitchen’s take demonstrates Soraya’s brilliant ability to combine flavors and textures. Her travels and training combined with an innate talent for taste were summarized for me in this dish. The combination of the spicy wasabi, kiwi, oily rich tuna punctuated with crunchy nori and togarashi and ginger, cooled by cucumbers and smoothed by avocados was refreshing, exciting and comforting all at once.

DRINK

In keeping with her approach to serving clean, healthy food, there is no soda or alcohol on the menu. Rather, “Wellness” concoctions such as the Immune Boost with lemon, ginger, honey and cayenne and Cacao Baby with raw cacao, raw maple syrup, almond milk, vanilla and Himalayan salt are served hot or cold. An assortment of waters, kombucha and lemonade are also available, as is coffee. Alcohol is served at the Boozy Brunch every Saturday morning.

BE

The vibe at Gather Kitchen Preston Center is very down-to-earth. Warm but sparse décor, exposed brick and woody tables make it feel a little a little Magnolia Market-y, feminine but not girly, strong but not harsh. Like Soraya, I suppose. She’s gathered a team of underdogs to run her restaurants, folks who are enjoying second chances and third acts. Men and women with scars inside and out, with tough breaks and heart breaks in various stages of healing. She requires survival for herself, also a victim of abuse, and her team. She coaches, trains, mentors and leads. She believes and loves and is loved back. As we were wrapping up our meeting, a former employee came in to pick up some food for take away. I can’t tell how old she was, sometimes life makes you look and feel older than you are. She stopped to speak with Soraya, and they gave each other words of encouragement and advice. Then the older woman kissed Soraya on the top of her head, a motherly, tender gesture that almost made me cry with its sweetness.

Gather Kitchen is a place to nourish your body and soul. Clean, healthy food with flavor combined with a positive mission should be a winning combination. Her space on Luther Lane has turned over a few times, which is why I am asking you to try this restaurant. Give it a chance, check it out and support this local gem of a restaurant and the pretty woman who owns it.

UPDATE: Gather Kitchen closed the Preston Center location. The Downtown location remains open and thriving.

SKINNY FATS: WORTH THE PRAISE

Song Pairing: Praise You by Fatboy Slim

Opposites attract, don’t they? At least they do at SkinnyFATS, a new fast-casual restaurant in the West Village that rolled in from Las Vegas last month. SkinnyFATS is the invention of Reed Slobusky, a Big Lebowski Dude-looking dude with a talent for developing a stand-out concept and an eye for design. Reed’s irreverence is on full display throughout the menu, with item names like “Stuff On Curry,” “Thai Knee Dancer,” and “More Cow Bowl” and in the décor, with the word MALONE written on an imposing structural post near the beverage bay. (If you don’t know what that reference means, ask your teen). 

Have you ever seen someone order a triple cheeseburger, large fries and a Diet Coke? Makes sense, right? Splurge on some things and go easy on others. SkinnyFATS gives you essentially the same choice – go healthy or go happy but with flavorful, innovative options on each side of the menu.

Sweet Cheese Us

The menu is divided into sections featuring Sharables, Soups, Bowls, Tacos, Sandwiches/Burgers and Sides. Breakfast is served all day and has sweet and savory items that sound complicated, such as Chickawaffadopolis (chicken and waffles), and Chiamisu, a coffee-flavored chia pudding with banana and cocoa nibs. Not so complicated.

On the Healthy Side, each menu item is 600 calories or less and everything I’ve tried, which is a lot, is packed with flavor, hardy and sizeable. You don’t just get a clover and a nut on your plate to make it come across healthy and low-cal here. SkinnyFATS loads you up. The Healthy dishes including the Caulifire, Tu-Nuts and Brussel Crowe shareables are robust in flavor and size and each well below the 600-calorie threshold. The Happy Fried Pickles and Pimp Shrimp are guilty pleasures, but they don’t feel fattening and heavy. The calorie counts are not on the Happy side so I assume Reed’s position is “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Bowls, burgers and sandwiches are compelling on both sides of the aisle. All bowls offer optional protein or vegetable supplements including filet mignon, portobello mushroom, ahi tuna, tofu and chicken. Different bowls have different greens or grains and, in the case of the Happy Buff Chix bowl, you get truffle fries which are crisp with not too much truffle. Really good. Burgers and sandwiches are huge, and each order includes one side, making the price range of $9.95 to $13.95, depending on the item, a good value for the high quality.

The side dishes are interesting. The aforementioned truffle fries on the Happy side are in good company with the Healthy sides, for instance the Cauliflower Rice with capers, golden raisins and almonds that really help the cauliflower not taste like cauliflower. The House Salad is vegan, as are many of the menu items and is sprinkled with hemp seasoning (don’t worry mama, it won’t get you high and it’s totally legal in this state).

The restaurant is spacious and well appointed, and the bar is really cool and inviting, with an expansive window making the space indoor-outdoor. And, yes, it will be hot in the summer. SkinnyFATS is familiar with heat, it originated in Nevada, remember? The wine list is a pleasant surprise considering the cheekiness of the menu. With the help of some of the Las Vegas team members, the wine list features wonderful and still not well-known wines, both red and white, from Sardinia and Sicily as well as cabs and cab blends from California and French and California Chardonnays. All are available by the glass or bottle. The beers are all thoughtfully sourced by Reed’s brother who is a beer nerd.

The cocktail menu includes classics like the Noble St. Old Fashioned (my favorite, I’m a whiskey girl, BTW), and the witty “99 Problems, But a Spritz Ain’t One” riff on an Aperol Sprtiz.

The lucky number seventh store, the first outside of Nevada, is located on the corner of McKinney Avenue and Noble Avenue and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and a full bar. The menu offers gluten free, vegetarian and vegan items. The patio is pet friendly and waiting for you, with giant TVs in your sight-line so you can watch the Stanley Cup playoffs. I have to praise SKinnyFATS. It’s really good and I can’t wait to try breakfast.

This story originally ran in Park Cities People and Preston Hollow People. Read it here.

FB: SkinnyFATS (Uptown)
IG: eatskinnyfats

In my first post as food writer for People Newspapers, I should tell you that while many folks pair wine with food, I’ve always paired music with food. I have a vast appetite for both food and music, and they come together for me naturally and, sometimes, improbably. Many of the articles I write here will include a pairing, and I hope you’ll understand and enjoy the thought behind each.

The Flowers of Guatemala

Song Pairing: Flowers of Guatemala by REM

Stepping into San Martín Bakery and Restaurant on a rainy spring night was like walking into a tidy garden of bright flowers, edged by brick and marble, cradled by lush greenery and illuminated by firefly-like lamps. It felt like a Viennese coffee shop except, the décor of Guatemalan owls and tiny little worry dolls and the elegant letters that spelled out Pasteleria and Panaderia was an obvious tell that it’s not European, rather Guatemalan.

This charming eatery opened in December though I had, sadly, never heard of it prior to the media dinner invitation. I feel I missed out on cute Valentine’s cookies, Easter sweets and by having morning meetings at Starbucks, not here. Well, that’s about to change. San Martín is perfect for morning meetings, lunches, brunches, dinners and just dessert-only dates and I can envision baby and bridal showers, girls’ night out and after-tennis lunches too. On nights when my husband and I have our 7:30 Spanish class, I can see us popping in for a quick, easy dinner.

Comida

The dinner menu is diverse and, for me, surprisingly Italian in offerings. There are several different pastas on the menu. I tasted a one with a light, tomato sauce with a hint of smokiness from pancetta but would like to return to try the lasagna and ravioli (confession: I could eat pasta every day). There are also several pizzas, all of them using a light, thin crust, a nod to the lightness of Guatemalan Pan de Agua. There are also soups such as the Sopa de Elotes, a creamy sweet corn soup and the Guatemalan staple Frijoles al Albañil a salty, rich soup with panela cheese, avocado and tortilla strips on top. They are both delish. There are great-looking salads and appetizers including Guatemalan style Tostadas and Carpaccio, beef and avocado.

I didn’t try any of the hamburgers or sandwiches but will definitely return to try the traditional Guatemalan options, such as the Shuco, a hot dog loaded with guacamole and white cabbage salad and the Arrachera, skirt steak on a baguette with a chili mayo and avocado, seriously all good things to eat. I’ve never been much of a Bruncher, probably because I’d rather eat breakfast AND lunch instead of just one brunch, but I would like to check out the Belgian omelets, the chilaquiles and every single pastry they sell (except the ones with banana, I do not eat banana under any circumstances).

Panes Dulces

What shines most to me are the pastries, breads and cakes that are all made fresh in a nearby commercial kitchen. Beautifully-made cakes, cookies and cupcakes will draw your eye, but the taste will draw your soul. The light Rosca Vienesa is a San Martín original and is a light, not-too-sweet almond-kissed bundt cake that I brought to the office and was gone in half an hour. Croissants, strudel and eclairs are laced between Guatemalan specialties such as pan dulce, sweet bread; polvorosa, a shortbread cookie and the Guatemalan Quesadilla which is nothing like the quesadilla we know as Texans, rather it’s a sweet cheese bread/cake. All fresh pastries and breads are available for dining in or takeaway, and there are take-and-bake offerings of the Pan de Agua, Pan Francés and Chapata rolls as well.

Bebidas

San Martín serves and sells all-Guatemalan coffee. If you’ve been there and didn’t think much of its coffee, it’s probably because, according to Gabriel Castillo, the director of U.S. operations of this Central American chain, the best Guatemalan coffee is exported. Numerous coffee drinks are available from the coffee bar and include espresso, macchiato, americano and cappuccino and well as the house specialties Café de la Casa with and without milk. The restaurant is beer and wine only, with the red list serving only American wines from California and Washington State, and the white list offering a bit more diversity, with American, Italian and New Zealand wines and Italian and French bubbles. Beers are also mostly American with two Central American beers added to the list: Famosa from Guatemala and Pilsener from El Salvador.

 

Prices here are very reasonable. One person can easily spend just $20 for a nice dinner and less for lunch and brunch, depending on your drink and pastry options. The restaurant and bakery are open daily from 7 am to 8 pm. If you haven’t been, go. It’s great for everyone at any time. Parking is ample and the setting is really lovely, like all flowers of Guatemala.

This article was originally published in the Park Cities People Newspaper

3120 McKinney Avenue, Uptown

Website: sanmartinbakery.com (it’s all in Spanish)

Drooling While Writing

Getting seduced by food is an occupational hazard when you write about it, especially when the food is incredibly fresh and the chef is incredibly handsome. I had a great time working with Chef Yvan Mucharrez, Exec Chef at Auberge Resort’s Chileno Bay on this post. Yvan is very passionate and serious about his craft and using sustainable, fresh, local ingredients for his five-star cuisine. As I was getting to know the chef, we discovered that he opened Rosewood Mayakoba in April 2008 when I was also the global PR Director for Rosewood. Though I didn’t meet Yvan during my many trips there, we share many mutual friends and memories of the resort. In fact, he shared with me a story about when legendary chef Thomas Keller dined at Rosewood Mayakoba.

Though only an except appears on the Chileno Bay website, here is the article I wrote in its entirety. Enjoy.

The Mexican Chef Who Made Thomas Keller Happy by Kersten Rettig for ARC

I don’t cook for words, I don’t cook for any other reason than to make people happy. A few years ago, before arriving at Chileno Bay, I cooked for Thomas Keller. I knew he was staying at the resort where I worked at the time, so I prepared a menu for him and waited . . . I didn’t know if he would show up in the restaurant, but he did. I was so nervous, but just took a deep breath and said, “Let’s do this,” and greeted him and his fiancé at the table. He must have seen something in me because after dinner he asked me to come visit him at The French Laundry which turned into a job.

My days start early and end late but allow me the opportunity to experience the resort unaccompanied and when it’s quiet. It’s as if the solitude amplifies the radiance of the Cabo sunrises I see in the morning and the stars that guide me home at the end of the day. My title is Executive Chef at Chileno Bay, but I don’t consider it my job. For me it’s fun, it’s not work. I’ve worked in the kitchens of Michelin-starred chefs and days blurred together in a montage of sights, smells and sounds – brightly colored produce, bone stocks and the repetitive clapping of knives prepping vegetables. Here in Cabo I live at a different pace.

Image courtesy of Chef Mucharraz

The land and waters surrounding Cabo San Lucas are abundant with super fresh ingredients I can use in the kitchen and they all have the unique taste of the area – a little minerality from the land and the salty, sweet flavor of the Sea of Cortez. I use only what is in season, organic and sustainable. For example, we source our totoaba from a local fish farmer who is helping to raise and reintroduce it back into the sea. The crudo and ceviche we prepare is made from locally caught kanpachi and shrimp, too. They’re so fresh, we don’t cover up the flavors, we just add a little acidic citrus, a pop of chile or a rich avocado. Sometimes we host barbecues at the resort and, for that, I prefer to use local mesquite or pecan wood for the smoking wood. I have everything I need around me to prepare really good food.

When I was young I liked hanging out in the kitchen and learning from my mom the basics of cooking. I still like hanging out in the kitchen, there’s a lot of camaraderie here, both among the team and suppliers. There’s really nothing that compares to having our suppliers show up each morning with their best seafood and produce. The moment they walk in and start unloading, I feel the creative energy that swells throughout the culinary team. There is a hum in the kitchen as some of the culinary team inspects the product. I see they are as excited as I am about getting their hands on this bounty and make something memorable from it.

As satisfying as it is to be in the resort’s kitchen, visit new suppliers at a local farm or fish market, I do take time to recharge find inspiration. Cabo offers so many personal adventures – fishing, boating, hiking and going into town – but my personal adventures are a bit different. I like to read and immerse myself in history, different cultures, cooking, art, everything.  I also like to escape and explore places that are in the middle of nowhere. Baja is a state of contradictions in some ways; the desert is harsh, there are fertile lands here too and, of course, the dramatic coastal areas. On days off I will head out on a scenic drive – one of my favorites is the drive to Todos Santos which is about an hour drive north along the coast.

Spending my days at Chileno Bay is a dream. There is lightness all around and a desire to please running strong. I’m proud of the talent among the culinary team and the positive energy that they put into every bite of food they produce. When our guests leave here, I hope they leave here energized and relaxed, well-nourished and with a sense of well-being, because that’s also how I feel about working here.

Occasionally, my team and I participate in local food festivals such as the Sabor a Cabo, a food and wine festival that takes place in December and is a great showcase for the talented chefs and kitchen staffs here in Cabo. When I travel internationally, to Napa Valley for example, I make a point of trying the best restaurants in the area. There is great fellowship among chefs, I’m offered such warm hospitality and enjoy repaying that generosity in Cabo.

Scaling Cliffs for Dinner

Using my voice to tell others’ stories . . .

I was fortunate enough to be hired by Auberge Resorts Collection to write for Our Stories, the section on their Esperanza and Chileno Bay websites that shares first-hand stories from the resort team members of their experiences on property and in the region.  My favorite interviews were with the culinary and F&B staff, I extracted colorful detail to write about. I would interview the team member then research and write their story in first-person.  As I’ve always said, having worked in the hospitality industry for so many years, the very best of every hotel company is the team on property.  They work with joy and purpose of sharing their unique hospitality.    Chef Guillermo Gomez of Esperanza is a genius and a gentleman.  Here is one of the story intros, followed by the complete article.

Scaling Cliffs for Dinner

There is a cliff at Esperanza where I go to retrieve live sea urchins that cling to the sides of the warm granite, as they sunbathe and seek refuge from the constant crashing of the Sea of Cortez. The cliff is one of my favorite spots at the resort and I go there to carefully collect the urchins and bring them to my kitchen to prepare and serve them. Foraging for fresh seafood among the backdrop of Cabo’s dramatic cliffs is one of the most surreal and best things about my job here, and to have immediate access to high quality food is any chef’s dream.

We are blessed by more than the sea, the organic farms in Baja Sur provide an abundance as well, with exceptional fruits and vegetables that nourish tourist and locals alike. On weekends and days off, my family enjoys going to Miraflores, a small town almost 50 miles northwest of Cabo which was settled more than 300 years ago by French sailors. We make a day of it there, visiting leather craftsmen, the farmer’s markets and sometimes we make it to the hot springs. My daughter and son love to pick their own produce at the farms we visit.  In fact, the Valentina’s salad we serve at Cocina del Mar is inspired by my daughter who is a “foodie” and eats everything, including raw oysters which she first tasted at age two.

We moved here almost three years ago from Sicily, Italy. Like Cabo, Sicily is perched on deep blue and turquoise waters and the view is sometimes obstructed by hills and cliffs that taunt curiosity and beg for exploration. Cabo San Lucas surprised me, in some ways.  I wasn’t expecting such rich nature and biology, so much depth in the landscape and not just in and around the town. When I’m walking around the resort, my gaze still gravitates to the trees where red and yellow birds sing and dance from branch to branch.

As a chef, every day is a new day.  I can prepare the Chocolata Clams for Cocina del Mar every day for five days in a row and it will not exactly be the same each time. The chocolate clams that are native to our waters, the cucumbers from Miraflores and avocados from Michoacán are different today than they were yesterday, and they will be different tomorrow.  Maybe our guests cannot tell a difference, but I absorb the subtleties of product and approach them new every day.

It’s my good fortune to work and live here in Cabo.  My colleagues around the resort and especially within the culinary team have formed a family and I find it very satisfying to work with them. Every day I see beauty here, the views from La Palapa and Cocina del Mar are unforgettable. Some of my favorite times of the day are when I come out to the kitchen to greet guests and get a peek and the deep blue sea and sky behind them.

 

 

Did I Just Drink Actual Poison?

Snake oil cures what ails you, or so they say. They say the same thing about Digestifs, the category of alcohol-based after dinner drinks that claim to aid digestion, reduce effects of hangovers, cure menstrual cramps, make you feel younger, healthier, more virile, etc. etc. Even if you don’t regularly partake in digestifs, you’re probably familiar with a few of them: brandy, sherry, cognac, sambuca, fruit-infused liquors such as Grand Marnier and limoncello, and, the ubiquitous college-party staple, Jägermeister.

How about herbal-based digestifs, are you into them? Have you tasted Underberg, Herbs de Majorca, Unicum, the drink that sounds like something you’d find in a hospital’s hazardous waste barrel, or Fernet-Branca, which actually tastes like it came from a hospital’s hazardous waste barrel? Well, I have so you don’t have to.

On a recent trip to Italy, we stopped at a little bar in Trieste to enjoy a digestive after a long day of eating and drinking.  By “we” I mean my lovely Austrian friends, Mischa and Fritz, and my husband, Clark.  The three of them ordered Fernet-Branca and I ordered a Bailey’s on the rocks.  My husband ostracized me for my drink choice, maybe because the bottle cap of Bailey’s was encrusted with a greyish crystallized substance indicating an age no longer compatible with consumption, or maybe because he still thinks you can’t drink the water there because of the plague.  Regardless, I chose, instead, to join them in Fernet-Branca, up.

Oh! my merciful God in heaven. I was completely caught off guard by the oily, black elixir. Bitter is an understatement, as is terrible, revolting and vile.  It tasted like pureed penicillin, and I would know that because I took a lot of penicillin for ear infections as a kid. My mother, a really good cook but less so a caregiver, crushed up penicillin tablets and put them in prune yogurt in an attempt to get me to take the medicine (it was before it was available in pink bubble gum suspension fluid). So, that night in Trieste, I was assaulted again with a taste so bitter, it caused facial gyrations and dry heaves that left the three others doubled over with laughter. When I recovered, I declared that my lips would never again meet “Franca,” the rechristened designation for Fernet-Branca.

I’ve tried Underberg and found it quite tolerable, almost pleasant in an “I dare you to drink this” way.  A few days after the Franca incident at a tiny bar in Venice, I tried again to consume a digestive.  The Averna was a bit softer, not as bitter and less offensive, but still not for me. I will stick to my Bailey’s, maybe a Sambuca now and then, or maybe I just won’t eat and drink so much to require a digestif.

Or, naaah . . .  Say ciao to Trieste . . more to come on this beautiful seaside town soon.