SATISFYING THE URGE FOR FOOD AND FURNISHINGS
Byline: Lynne Richardson
DALLAS — Dallas’s reputation as a shopping mecca extends beyond fashion to home furnishings.
The corner of Travis Street and Knox has for years been the hot spot for such stores. But the small, independent retailer of linens, appliances or household goods has been replaced in recent years by larger, upscale, nationally known stores such as Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware.
The accessible location — just minutes from downtown on Central Expressway — and the appeal of the area, with numerous new apartment buildings, have attracted custom-furnishers Expression, garden suppliers Smith & Hawkin and the new Laura Ashley-Home, which is displaying fall-hued merchandise in the entire store.
But even these relatively large stores are due to be dwarfed by a 37,000-square-foot Crate & Barrel opening this week. The architecturally impressive building, on a former supermarket site, will house furniture, housewares and accessories, and will replace the existing store at NorthPark Center, which closed Sept. 23.
Shopping and dining have always been complementary, and the Travis/Knox area has an abundance of eateries, from the basic Tex-Mex of Chili’s, Chuy’s and On the Border to Hoffbrau Steaks and upscale dining at Adelmo’s and L’Ancestral.
Among the most popular spots is Cafe Madrid, a tapas and wine bar that has drawn crowds for years. Open only in the evening, Cafe Madrid is unpretentious and verging on grungy, and attracts an eclectic crowd of chic uptowners, college students and soccer fans, whose response to the televised games can become raucous. The disparate habitues can all agree, however, on the tastiness of the tapas selections and the excellence of the wines. Whether by the glass ($2.50-$6.50) or the bottle ($10-$63), the accent is on the wine.
The informative wine list is almost a geography lesson; each of a dozen pages is devoted to a region of Spain, map included, and the characteristics of the wines are described. The classic La Rioja wines, the cafe’s most popular, take up two pages. Bottle prices range from a $15 Monticello Cumbrero Crianza ’91 to the $20 Bodegas Breton or Lorinon Blanc to Gran Reservas and reach $50 for the Cune Imperial ’86. Bottles are also available to go.
The novelty of tapas — small food plates originally designed to tide one over until a late dinner, in the Mediterranean fashion — would have faded long ago if Cafe Madrid’s food wasn’t so tasty. For those who have felt daunted by the sight of an overloaded plate, or whose willpower is weak, the delight of small amounts cannot be overestimated. Add to that the camaraderie of sharing multiple dishes among a table of friends, and it’s no wonder tapas are popular.
Cafe Madrid’s selections are authentic, interesting and, like the wine, quite reasonably priced, at $1.95 to $5.75. Marinated or stuffed olives, bread and cheeses are a good basis for a table that is soon groaning with platters, as everyone chooses a dish. Fried calamari, shrimp in garlic, octopus vinaigrette, roasted bell peppers — the menu is 30 items long, and there were no disappointments among the eight dishes tried. In fact, three were requested again and nothing was left but olive-oil-smeared plates and a few crumbs.
Across the street from Cafe Madrid, in the pedestrian shopping area called Travis Walk, Ziziki’s continues the Southern European trend, serving Greek and Italian food to a lively clientele, many of whom are also patrons of the tapas bar.
Ziziki’s is a Mediterranean bistro, but smarter than most, with an elegant decor and unusual layout. The main dining room is connected by a brass awning-covered patio out front to the adjoining, smaller dining room, used for private parties or overflow crowds. And the crowds do come. Open for lunch and dinner, this spot is popular for business lunches and group dinners; there is an occasional wait for a table on weekends.
The house specialty is Greek cuisine, and the lamb dishes are exceptional. The wine list is extensive and holds some Greek wines, such as a mellow Domestica ($4.50 a glass) and the genuine Retsina ($5.50), not for the fainthearted.
Salads and sandwiches ($5.95-$9.95) are fulsome, and plenty for lunch. Entree portions are also good-sized and reasonably priced. Chicken and mushroom fettuccini ($8.95) is rich, tender and aromatic with Greek herbs. The spanakopita, available as a starter or entree, has light, fluffy filo dough and a creamy spinach and feta cheese filling, which harbors an unexpected spiciness. Only one special is offered each night and the small menu keeps the standards consistent, according to owners Costa Arabatzis and Mary Cloutier.
The owners have melded their respective skills as restaurateur and designer to create another dining experience on the upper level of Travis Walk. Tarazza is billed as a Pacific Rim restaurant, but the decor eschews the cool, sparse style of the Orient for warm and welcoming tones of ocher and gold.
The food, however, has more elements of the Pacific, with coconut shrimp soup ($6.50); polenta-crusted sea scallops in ginger ($19.95), and beef and prawn sakurai, which is marinated tenderloin, crusted with pepper and pine nuts ($22.95). The top-rated appetizer is marinated sweet prawns on a bed of Napa cabbage and sprouts, topped with crawfish vinaigrette ($9.95).
But since this is the South, pork is popular. Here, a tenderloin is given “Texawalian” treatment, with ginger, green onion and toasted coconut. The result is delicious, and the pan gravy and mashed potatoes were “real good.”
Tarazza’s clientele can support the higher-priced menu, and business is building since the opening (for dinner only) just eight months ago. Still, reservations are easy to come by. The excellent service is low-key and unobtrusive, which would also describe the superb piano-playing of David Williams, who adds to the comfortable ambience. The attractive bar also has a lounge area — with deep leather chairs for the non-bar-stool types — adjoining the dining area. The patio off the bar could become popular as a drinking spot, especially if the music could be heard out there.
The balcony patio at Tarazza affords an overview of the ambling street scene on Travis, including the front-porch diners of Cafe Madrid across the street, who can in turn survey the Travis Walk denizens.
Only half a block away is the household-furnishings cornucopia of Knox. The tired shoppers have no need to go home for supper; they can choose any one of the local eateries to argue about whether their new couch will fit in the den, or if the new dinner service they just bought is really nicer than the plates in front of them.