Saturday, February 28, 2009

Review: III Forks Prime Steakhouse, Dallas, Texas

My wife and step-daughters took me to my favorite steak haunt, III Forks, here in Dallas for my birthday. About four times a year we go to III Forks to satisfy our appetite for outstanding service and complete indulgence in everything good in life, namely; cocktails, heavily marbled never frozen beef; dishes prepared with fresh butter, heavy cream, and egg yolks; high butterfat ice creams made in house, and hand made desserts.

Upon arrival we were promptly greeted by the striking host team in the foyer. Even though we were early, they stated it was no problem, our table was ready. If you have never been to III Forks, you are immediately impressed with the architecture and ambiance. Towering ceilings, ornate molding, huge globe in the center of the foyer, western artifacts tastefully arranged throughout, dark woods, chandeliers, and a live piano player. If I were to describe III Forks to someone from outside of Dallas, I would have to say if J.R. Ewing from the television show Dallas owned a steakhouse, it would be III Forks; big, bold, masculine, Texan. Serious food for serious appetites.

We were seated in the dining area next to the wine "cellar" and (what used to be) the cigar lounge. Of all of the dining areas in III Forks, this is by far my favorite location. We were promptly greeted by our server who recited that evenings specials and took our drink orders. The fantastic classic French table bread arrives at the table fresh from their in-house bakery. Thin crisp crust on the outside; fresh, light, warm, and airy bread on the inside. It was served with 100% pure butter and was devoured in under 5 minutes.

We ordered the Beef Croustades as an appetizer, my wife orders the Prime Strip for her entree, and I order the best steak on the menu, Bone-In Ribeye! The croustades arrive in short order. Thin slices of the afore mentioned French bread has been toasted and arranged on a doily lined plate. Each "croustade" has been topped with the most tender chunk of fresh butter-broiled prime tenderloin; nicely seasoned with kosher salt and cracked pepper. Each tenderloin piece was then topped with a marvelous lemon-butter-dijon cream sauce. The croustades didn't stand a chance. They were quickly dispatched.

After another round of cocktails, a visit by Dennis the Dining Room Manager, and a visit by Chris Vogeli, the Chef Proprietor, the steaks arrive. Each plate is delivered to the table top, by multiple servers, in unison. Each steak has been broiled to perfection with a nicely seasoned crust on the outside, and a fork-tender medium-rare on the inside. Each plate automatically comes accompanied by fresh prepared Duchess Potatoes and crisp sauteed Sugar Snap Peas. But, wait, that's not all you get! There is another row of servers approaching the table, one holding a silver platter filled with fresh, large, thick beef-steak tomatoes seasoned with kosher salt and cracked black pepper and fresh, whole, green onions. We are asked, one at a time, if we would like either added to our plate. Another sever carrying a silver teapot filled with peppercorn gravy asks if we would like some for our potatoes. And, last but not least, another server goes around the table asking if we would like to add III Forks signature Corn-Off-The Cob Cream Corn to our plates. It is served from a piping hot casserole dish and the remainder is placed on the center of the table for second helpings if needed. This is one of the many things there is to love about III Forks, all of the accompaniments are perfectly prepared, perfect temperature, perfect textures, perfect portions, and absolutely included in the price of the meal.

A silence falls over our table as each of us basks in the prime steak experience (actually too busy gorging ourselves to come up for air). We each take turns ooohing and ahhing after each bite until we are pleasantly full. It doesn't get any better than this.

Extra food is quickly and smartly boxed up to-go as we look over the dessert menu. Before we decide which dessert we will all share, Dennis the Dining Room Manager shows up with a VIP dessert tray. It's not on the menu and I am assuming that only regular customers get it on their birthday (which my wife made mention of when making the reservation). The dessert tray is on a silver platter with a three-bite portion of every hand-made dessert in the house! A nice follow up to the perfect meal. Dennis announces that "we" don't sing happy birthday, to which I reply that he would get no rebuttal from me. Public happy birthday singing is a real turn off...anywhere.

I highly recommend III Forks to anyone seeking the perfect prime steak experience! You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Review: Dodie's II; "Ya don't havta go to new Orleans", Carrollton, Texas

My wife and I met up with some friends at our local hangout in Carrollton, Texas last night; Dodie's II. Its a genuine Cajun place, according to the Dallas Morning News, with a following. Their tag line is "ya don't havta go to New Orleans".

Dodie's II is located in a strip shopping center on the Northeast corner of Josey lane and the George Bush Tollway (SH 190). Its a nice hangout with about 70 seats and a full service bar. Service is always down home and friendly, food is always good, and the drinks keep coming. I have only had one thing that I don't particularly care for, but it is mostly a culture thing I think, and that is their vinegar based Cole Slaw. Otherwise; I have eaten practically everything on their menu and it is always well prepared and delicious.

A few of my favorites are the Fried Crawfish and Crab Claws Dodie's Style appetizers; Cream of Crab Soup; Fried Crawfish Salad; Blackened Tilapia with Angel Hair pasta and a side of their delicious Crawfish Basil Cream Sauce (I use it on the pasta); and any Po' Boy. I'm not a big crawfish boil aficionado, but I understand that Dodie's has the best anywhere in town. In fact, when in season (Dodie's only sells it fresh, not frozen), it is a destination spot for mudbug loving crustaceanovores to get their fix, by the pound!

I am a chef by trade and rather particular about the food I prepare for friends or for sale, but when I go out, I want good food (not gourmet or fancy most of the time), good conversation, and free flowing liquor! Dodie's is all of that, but what "genuine" New Orleans hangout would be any less. Head to Dodie's II to get good food, mud bugs by the pound, and get rowdy!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Review: The Cheesecake Factory in Stonebriar Mall, Frisco, Texas

Its inevitable that the Culinary Wiz will have to, at times, eat at chain restaurants. Its where I make my living. My wife and I dropped into The Cheesecake Factory last Saturday in Frisco, Texas for a lunch of appetizers; sort of our version of American Dim Sum. We like variety and we like eating with our hands when the mood hits.

At 2:00 in the afternoon, there was a 20 minute wait for a table. The bar was packed to capacity, so we couldn't "skip" the line and dine in our favorite spot in the restaurant. After the wait we were seated at a two-top table (for restaurant new-comers, that jargon means the table will only seat 1 1/2 people). To make matters worse, we were seated in that row of two-tops that have about a 12" clearance between tables so that you can see what your neighbor is eating, what they are talking about, and what cologne/perfume they are wearing today...or not. I always strive to hide my annoyance when being seated at such tables because they were only designed to maximize profits, not customer satisfaction. This is done by restaurant designers jamming as many tables into as small a space as humanly possible, without regard for comfort, minor privacy, or gustatory indulgence.

We placed our order for three of the appetizers, a Bloody Mary, and a glass of German Reisling. I can't recall the name of the Reisling, but neither could my waiter, he had to come back and ask me what I had ordered.

The food arrives after a short wait and we immediately run into another problem with the two-top situation. The table can only comfortably hold a Bloody Mary, a glass of Reisling, and only 2 of the 3 appetizer plates that we ordered. After being called into service to re-arrange our table to accommodate our meal, we were finally able to begin eating our Dim Sum.

The Vietnamese Shrimp Summer Rolls were nice and fresh. I prefer a little mint in my summer rolls, but these would do just fine. The peanut dipping sauce was a nice, chunky, blend of peanuts and heat. Highly recommended.

The Crispy Crab Wontons were crisp, hot, and not greasy. You can tell they are handmade, like the Summer Rolls, due to their mis-shapen construction. But that's fine with me. However; I have had the Wontons on an earlier visit and remember that the filling had "chunks" of crab in it. This time, the Wontons had a crab flavor, but the filling is what we in the industry call "spooge". In other words, an over-processed filling of any kind. There were no visible chunks of crab meat, which leads one to wonder, in this day and age of processed foods, did the crab flavor come from "crab flavoring" or real crab meat? They were, however; decent enough to pass for OK for the average Joe. Who can resist deep fried anything. Especially when the Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce was a great addition to the dish. But, I would still like to see more real crab chunks, in the crab filling, in a Crab Wonton.

Last, but not least, we had also ordered the Avocado Eggrolls. It was a nice blend of chunky avocado, sun-dried tomato, red onion, and cilantro. Deep fried in a crisp Chinese wrapper and served with a Tamarind-Cashew Dipping Sauce. I remember the first time that I had an avocado eggroll. It was at B.J.'s Restaurant and Brewhouse, a Santa Ana, California transplant. It was very unique, very tasty, and craveable. But just like any good idea in the chain restaurant industry, it isn't long before someone copies your work. The Cheesecake version isn't as good as the B.J.'s version in my opinion, but it still hit the spot for a crisp fried, creamy centered, hand held appetizer.

I had another drink and got out of there. Overall;

Service - OK; the waiter only forgot my order once. He wasn't very personable, only talked to us twice, but, he kept my cocktail glass full. One thumbs up!

Atmosphere - Needs work. The people to the right of us were having breakfast (served all day), the people to the left of us were having a giant salad of some kind and a pizza. If they offered, I could have reached over and had a sample of anything my neighbors were eating without getting up and joined their conversation without raising my voice. I can't shake the feeling that we were being treated like cattle; move 'em in and move 'em out, which is the expectation at lunch during the weekdays. But, today is Saturday, lighten up.

Food - Good, on a scale of 1.) Bad, won't come back 2.) Poor, won't come back 3.) Good/OK, will come back if the Price to Quality ratio is in balance. 4.) Very Good - The Quality ratio is much higher than the Price ratio. 5.) Excellent - Everything is exceeded in every way.