Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, July 25, 2002
Reata RestaurantFort Worth
Cowboy gimlet $8.95
Smoked quail $9.95
Game special $28.95
Dessert tacos $6.25
Back at the Ranch ...

Re-opened and really good, Reata Restaurant kicks cowboy cuisine up a notch.


Reata Restaurant Fort Worth

310 Houston St, FW. Phone 817-336-1009. Lunch daily 11am-2:30pm, dinner daily5-10:30pm. AE, MC, V.

f you want Reata to be lovely and the food excellent, you will not be disappointed. If you want a dining experience rather than a meal, Reata will comply. If you want to pop in without reservations, you will wait. In late June, the lunch wait was 25 minutes, and the wait for a table at dinner was 15 minutes, an amount of time that’s likely to spiral up to infinity as this new version of the Reata attracts more and more patrons.

Although the legendary restaurant lassos the wild west mystique, the food is “fine dining” — not chuck wagon. Executive chef Todd Phillips uses gourmet ingredients to create heavenly versions of ranch cuisine and to recast Tex-Mex favorites.

The setting is classy cowboy with burnished copper, wood, and lots of leather all around. Vintage and noteworthy saddles and boots decorate the main level, and the large wooden doors in the dining room are from the set of the television series Bonanza.

The Vaquero Sampler is all Tex-Mex. One tamale, one enchilada, and one stuffed chile relleno. The tenderloin tamale we tried for dinner was like a beefy, fat-free sausage, cradled in masa, and topped with pecan mash. The mash was most intriguing. It tasted like a pecan praline flavored with soy sauce. Its sweet, musky taste flattered the tamale.

The chile relleno was pretty much perfect. Shredded chicken was mixed with tomatoes and stuffed into a poblano pepper. The confection was deep-fried and then topped with queso blanco (Mexican white cheese). The chicken was moistened by the tomato, and the cheese augmented the overall effect rather than overwhelming the relleno.

No such luck with the enchilada. It was all hat (cheese) but no cattle (shrimp). I exaggerate: There were about four shrimp packed into a 5-by-3-inch wad of jack cheese wrapped in a large flour tortilla, topped with more cheese. Cheese is nearly my favorite ingredient. But even a cheese nut has limits. This enchilada pushed mine.

At lunch, we tried a burger, which was predictably top-notch, and the seasoned goat cheese enchiladas topped with tenderloin chili — another checkmark in the win column. Mild goat cheese grew in gustatory stature when paired with the tenderloin chili.

For lunch we also tried a cup of sauce-like soup. The jalapeño cilantro soup was so creamy it could have been ladled like gravy over a biscuit. The essence of jalapeño had to fight to make its presence known. Although the soup was speckled with mushrooms, tomato, avocado, and other undistinguished veggies, the only real flavor was that of cream.

A guest and I ate dinner in the geodesic dome on a warm Saturday night. It was steamy at 8 p.m., but it cooled down to a comfortable temperature when the sun sank. Serious eating is best done in cooler environs, and we ate as though a grade depended on it.

Dinner began with a spot-on perfect tossed salad with goat cheese and a smoked quail dish that my guest proclaimed as the best quail he had ever eaten. While he enthused, I embarrassed myself by letting out a vaguely orgasmic moan when I tasted a smoky bird thigh and jalapeño cheese grits. These grits are the stuff of heaven, and they brought together the jalapeño with aged cheddar.

Will, a self-proclaimed Jedi of servers, opened a bottle of King Pinot Noir, and my guest and I lit into our entrées — the Vaquero Sampler and the game special, CF ranch venison. The venison medallions would have been perfect if they had been the kinds of cuts of meat you could order rare. They weren’t, so we didn’t. Nearly a half-pound of quarter-inch-thick slices of the mildest venison I’d ever tasted were topped with sautéed mushrooms and came with mashed potatoes.

The dessert tacos were amusing and delicious, and they looked exactly like crispy tacos. Two hard taco shell-shaped cookies were filled with cinnamon ice cream and topped with caramelized bananas and chunks of apple. The apples and banana resembled chopped peppers, and shaved white chocolate added to the illusion by mimicking shredded cheese. The tacos were presented on a bed of chocolate fudge syrup. The tacos won’t be new to Reata regulars from the Bank One building, but these treats will always be worth the splurge.

Although the prices are out of reach for a poor writer, I’ll take out-of-town friends to Reata (if my friends are paying), and I’ll recommend it without hesitation. Heck, I might even spring for a T-shirt.

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