Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, November 5, 2003
Josephine’s
Prince Edward Island
mussels $10
Seared diver scallops $11
Red wine-poached pear
salad $8
Pistachio-crusted Chilean
sea bass $24
Osso bucco $27
Cheesecake $8
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Italian-Plus

World cuisine influences the traditional fare at the redesigned Josephine’s.

By NANCY SCHAADT

Josephine’s

1239 Main Street (Town Square), Southlake. 817-912-0990. Mon-Fri 11am-2pm, Mon-Thu 5-10pm, Fri-Sat 5-11pm. AE, D, MC, V.

fter a summer fling with world cuisine, Josephine has returned to her first love, classic Italian. But this doesn’t mean that her Italian hasn’t been at least a little bit influenced by her globe-trotting. It’s now more “worldly.” What else could explain the fact that ponzu-marinated grilled tuna with Asian risotto shares the menu with veal scaloppine?

Here’s the backstory: When Josephine’s opened in September 2002, the cuisine was classic Italian. Think lasagna, veal saltimbocca, and pasta.

During the summer, the owners (the Chidiac family, who once owned Marco Polo Pizza in Arlington) brought in a fancy chef/consultant who 86’d all the Italian dishes and created a new world cuisine menu. Think truffle mashers, seared foie gras, and nut-crusted sea bass.

In October, the new menu, with elements of both old menus, debuted. As if hearing a great diva complete a tricky aria, I wanted to jump to my feet and shout, “Bravo,” when I heard the news. The new menu is a winner. It melds in-your-face flavors, like pesto with fish, and finds beauty in ordinary beef shanks.

My guest and I started with a variation of shellfish and pasta — Prince Edward Island mussels and linguini tossed with Italian sausage in a citrus-tinged saffron sauce. The dish was a riot of flavors. Fennel from the sausage and sweet citrus, with a hint of saffron, were the strongest tastes. Each of the dozen mussels was clean, and the linguini was firm. The wildly different flavors flattered one another in the manner of cheddar cheese and apples — very different tastes that coexist happily.

The other starter: seared diver scallops on a bed of spaghetti-sliced cucumber tossed in an Asian vinaigrette with cilantro. Scallops, God bless ’em, are really hard to mess up. The mild, milky flavor of a good sea scallop is enhanced by just about any flavor combination (except maybe peanut butter), and the flavor of the scallops at Josephine’s was no exception. And the warm cucumber was particularly interesting — subtle yet strong.

I loathe pears. They’re gritty, mushy, nasty, and the skin is tough. So at least once a year, I challenge my palate by eating one of these gawd-awful fruits. Lucky me, Josephine’s offers a poached pear salad that features the horrid p-fruit as well as pine nuts and goat cheese. I love pine nuts and goat cheese, so I was stumped. After much consideration, I decided to face the dreaded pear for a taste of the cheese and nuts. The pear was poached in red wine, giving the fruit a lovely outer layer of red that tasted like a spiced apple. Actually, the salad (sans pear, which I found only slightly offensive rather than disgusting) was delicious. It was loaded with red onion, and the herb vinaigrette was colored by a hint of nut oil. The soft goat cheese added a sour bite and textural relief to the dish.

The entrées were no less impressive, and the osso bucco was magnificent. The three-inch-thick shank had more meat clinging to it than I could eat in one sitting. Almost six inches in diameter, it reclined on a bed of wild mushroom risotto within a circle of wilted spinach and walnut halves. The shank was blanketed by a slice of crispy, fried prosciutto. Each perfect bite combined savory meat, walnut, perfect risotto (it was the slightest bit firm), thick slices of shiitake mushroom, and a bit of spinach. The shank was finished with a demi-glace (really thick brown sauce) of beef stock and fig with a subtle taste of wine. It was fancy, earthy, and the product of a bold chef who is unafraid of flavor.

The kitchen’s culinary fearlessness was less fully realized in my companion’s entrée — pistachio-crusted sea bass with pesto mashed potatoes and asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. The dish was perfect when each item was eaten alone but was somewhat disagreeable when one bite contained every item. It’s easy to see why: Pesto and pistachio are normally not good bed partners. But the pesto at least did save the mashed potatoes from boredom, and the firm, fleshy fish was so flattered by the almost delicate flavor of pistachio that I’m disinclined to raise a ruckus over it. As with the osso bucco, the dish was perfectly executed.

We ended the meal with a New York cheesecake to swoon for. It was an individual serving about as big around as an orange and was topped with strawberries marinated in wine. Although styles vary, most New York-style cheesecakes are dense and rich. Josephine’s is no exception. It was sweet with sugar and cream but with the slightly acidic flavor of ricotta. Sublime doesn’t even begin to describe it.

The frenzy that accompanied the opening of the restaurant — lines to get in and frantic service — has been replaced by quiet. The service is good, and the wait staff knowledgeable, even if you have to wait while the staff resets a four-top as a table for two. (Why not set two-tops?) Something else as equally puzzling: There were bread plates but no bread. Weird.

When we first wrote about Josephine’s, we found food that was beautifully executed if familiar, served in a restaurant as lovely as a Pottery Barn catalogue. The décor hasn’t changed, but the cuisine has. Josephine’s has matured a lifetime in one year.


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