Category Archives: Dallas

Bolivian Art

“So, you’re a Mexican from Bolivia.”

The first time I heard a Texan refer to a South American as a Mexican I laughed out loud, it was too ridiculous to take seriously. But what I thought was a reference to South Park or some other 13-year-old boy humour was in fact, not. While the bulk of Texans are infinitely more sophisticated, there are still those whose geographical perspective is “Texas, Mexico and Other”.

Since there is no quicker way to piss off a South American than referring to them as Mexicans, I was careful to remember the country of origin for the artists displaying their crafts at this Dallas gallery showing – Bolivia.

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Living in Houston, which has a sizable Central and South American ex-pat community, I’ve had great opportunity to see art from those growing up in the regions. The Bolivian art on display had some of the same aspects: vivid colors, surrealist’s overtones, symmetric composure. I liked it. I really liked the orange and red piece dead center of the entrance to the gallery; it spoke to warm climates, casual afternoons of wandering conversations, no plans and order to chaos evolving naturally without intent.

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Then I saw the price tag, $20,000 and promptly moved the hell on. Galleries take a cut, but these pieces were well over 300% more expensive than comparable works. Loved the artists but their ’boutique’ prices were repellent.

 

 

 

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Mot Hai Ba

I don’t care much for Dallas as a city but having lived there I accumulated a few very good friends and I do like them despite their location. A support and distraction trip to Dallas for one friend dealing with some unsavory aspects of life produced an appealing culinary side effect – good Vietnamese food.

Atmosphere
Mot Hai Ba is the reincarnation of York St Restaurant, still the same NYC shotgun space although now the feeling is more pan-Asian with long narrow tables, button stools and a propensity for black and red. Despite its small size and odd location at the end of a residential street in East Dallas, it is fantastically busy; low-key and quiet conversation but the waiting list for lunch on Saturday queued up after 1p.

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Food
I’ve frequented many Vietnamese venues in Houston, which oddly has one of the largest Vietnamese ex-pat communities in the US, however I had never tried Green Papaya Salad. This time I did. I couldn’t differentiate the flavour of the green papaya however the overall experience was good; the fish sauce, lime and garlic dressing overwhelmed all other flavors – good thing I like those flavours. The crisp texture of the papaya played nicely with the toothy morsels of beef.

I only have two litmus tests for Vietnamese – Pho and Banh Mi. Mot Hai Ba had both so I went with  Banh Mi, the BBQ chicken rendition. The bun was crispy and light. The chicken had been sriracha and honey basted. Requisite cucumber and carrot slices were thin, fresh and sparsely applied which allowed the cilantro and purple basil flavours to shine. I located the most important condiment on the table – chili paste – applied liberally and enjoyed. As Banh Mi goes, these were above average.

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Drink
I read the wine and beer menu until I noticed Hitachino Nest, which is the very interesting brewery from Japan I noticed when in Ireland. So far I’ve enjoyed several of their beers, post-Ireland, which I can only categorize as quirky. This variety, Dai Dai, is distinct in its dominant flavour of orange zest. A very appealing pairing with basil or cilantro spiked food.

Service
No complaints; the servers were knowledgeable, friendly and efficient. Our meals came out at different times, which is always problematic in a large group but this is likely a consequence of a small kitchen.

Price
Reasonable. Small Papaya Salad $6, Banh Mi $7, however I can get comparable Banh Mi in Houston for $2. This could be artifact of Houston having a larger and more demanding Vietnamese community.

A few Dallasites recommended trying Mot Hai Ba for dinner rather than lunch since some items, like the Banana Flower Salad with Chicken and Crispy Whole Fish with Celery and Peppers are not available at lunch. I’ll likely try those options on my next Dallas visit since I haven’t seen those items on Houston menus.

 

Lunch: June 2014

Mot Hai Ba | 6047 Lewis | DTX 75206

Perot Museum

IMG_1239After hearing about how difficult it was to get into Dallas’ Perot Museum but how extraordinary an experience it was, I finally decided to go. I bought tickets on the internet about a week out and found that there were 400 available and they let in 400, so not so hard to get in at all. Actually quite a bit easier to get in than the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

About the experience, I had mixed feelings.

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First, the Perot Museum is a beautiful building and it is architecturally fascinating, somewhat presenting itself as the Borg having landed to assimilate downtown Dallas. You can see most of architectural aspects from the outside. And aside from some interesting views of downtown Dallas, there isn’t much of a reason to go inside, unless you are a kid or have them in tow.

That’s the rub here, the content is geared for those about 14 or younger. I would imagine even a high school student would find the exhibits trite since most of the content is taught in primary school; oil industry and Texas wildlife displays notwithstanding. That said, if you have kids in the tween or younger range, they are going to find it engaging if only for the plethora of hands-on, interactive displays. The interactive displays are extraordinary, however the problem with them is the ridiculously long lines that queue up for each experience. I didn’t wait in any lines since I wasn’t interested, however I did find the constant long lines of children forming a road block an irritating aspect of navigating the interior. Maybe its better during the week?

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One of the more interesting hands-on activities was the bio labs. Kids are queued up for their white lab coats, goggles and gloves then they travel from station to station inside the fishbowl area performing experiments and looking at results through microscopes. There is a focus here on DNA, so I’m thrilled that single digit kids are being exposed to the fundamentals of biotechnology, there is no reason they shouldn’t.

If you do have kids, this is a great stop for 2-3 hours, otherwise I would do a 1-2 stop about the exterior, snaps some shots, then move on to something more interesting.

Glad I went, won’t be back.

12 July 2013

Perot Museum | 2201 N Field St | Dallas, TX 75201

Ellen’s

Th-upFor years, attempts to revitalize downtown Dallas had failed. Not for lack of trying, rather lack of perspective. The replicazzi mentality copied and pasted successful efforts from the inner city to the suburbs; the results were hit and miss for the suburbs but it completely undermined the success of downtown.

It seems Dallas woke up from its decades-long stupor to realize if it wants to be taken seriously as a major city, it will have to develop its inner city with transportation infrastructure, culture and activities. Poof!, light rail has exploded in all directions out to the massive collection of wonder bread suburbs. Poof!, cultural venues have been erected all over the narrow corridor loosely separating downtown from uptown. Poof!,  now there is a beautiful park over a stretch of downtown freeway, a welcoming transition to downtown.

When good friends told me they had become the principal investors in Ellen’s, a southern kitchen restaurant in downtown’s West End, I had a visceral reaction, not a good one. West End has seen many ups and downs but my previous trip to the area was forgettable; no people, no activity, a bleak wasteland of lovely, historic brick buildings that were wallflowers to the party going on in shiny, happy Uptown. But after a recent trip to support their new business venture, I’m happy to report the West End is in an upswing. It shouldn’t surprise with Dallas’ center of gravity shift toward downtown, it is clearly a destination now.

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Ellen’s offers Southern classics per Chef’s mom, Ellen. Also, they offer breakfast as dinner, which is something I truly enjoy but rarely find in the inner city. They are not participating in the elitist one-up-ism frenzy that has out-priced and killed many a venue in Dallas. They have a niche and they want to stay true to form while being responsive to the wishes of their customers.

Atmosphere

Ellen’s is small, perhaps eight 4-tops inside, a few table outside and space for 6 at the bar. As such its cozy and comfortable, however with a L bank of large windows looking over the hustle of West End, it simultaneously feels lively; a place for leisurely conversation without losing connection with the crowd. Dressed mostly in black and white, it feels more like a sophisticated diner; a diner without the truckers, the smell of grease and the post-meal indigestion.

Service

No matter how good your food is, if your service sucks, you aren’t going to last. Service here is seasoned. Our “culinary care” expert, Judge Tracey, had what I consider an innate ability to set expectations, treat people as they want to be treated and juggle the many conflicting requirements one faces when dealing with the general public. Since Ellen’s does not pre-make anything, the wait time for table delivery might be a little longer than a conventional diner. Judge Tracey was very good at managing the wait time.  I called her Judge Tracey since she is also studying to be a paralegal. Personally, I think  she will consume that career rapidly and then she’ll be looking for more. I’ll be checking up on her.

Food

All wins

  • Fried Red Tomatoes: Red vs. green tomatoes, not sure why the red but these were delicious. The secret here is the cornmeal crust, which I find infuriating to make. The wrong ingredient proportions or fry time and you’re looking at a hockey puck. Chef knows the secret balance since the crust was grease-less, flavorful and crunchy. A reduced balsamic drizzle enhanced greatly.
  • Stuffed Jalapenos: Same flawless cornmeal crust, different target. These are shrimp stuffed but you get to customize how you want the shrimp prepared – blackened, fried or sauteed. We went for blackened but that might have been too much hot. Quite good otherwise. Layers of texture; crunchy crust, toothy pepper and shrimp, soft melted cheese. You’ll need a side of ranch to cool down the pepper.
  • Omelet : Customized. I ordered mine with Chorizo, Tomato and Avocado. Massive and delicious. They forgot the avocado but quickly corrected by bringing an entire avocado, sliced thin.
  • Manhattan : I wanted a Makers Mark Manhattan – dry, up, no fruit. Chef came to table apologizing for Bartender since the last of Makers Mark had just been consumed. As a fellow Manhattan consumer he recommended a substitute and it was excellent.

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Price

Very reasonable;  mains average about $10.

I’m thrilled for my friends and I believe they are acting with the smart money mentality, getting in before the sheeple figure out the trend. Good on them.

Ellen’s | 1718 N. Market | Dallas, TX 75202