Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, February 01, 2006
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A Saporé specialty, like this seared ahi tuna dish, is as drama-infused and elegant as the restaurant itself.
Saporé
Randolfo burrito $9
Vodka pepper tenderloin skewers $7
Portobello, brie, spinach sandwich $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
A Many-Splendored Thing

Dim lighting, dark interior, and exquisite gourmet comfort food make Saporé one helluva romantic retreat.

By JIMMY FOWLER

Saporé

907 Houston St, FW. 817-336-2253. Tue-Fri 11am-2pm, Tue-Thu 5:30pm-9pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-10pm. All major credit cards accepted.

If there’s one restaurant that epitomizes the concept of romantic atmosphere — and just in time for Valentine’s Day — Saporé is it; starting with the downtown eatery’s general aura of subdued smokiness (the smoldering-passion kind, not the toxic-cigarette variety), fueled by dark brown wood floors, dusky brick walls, and black iron chandeliers hanging from the tall ceiling. The white tablecloths are a stark contrast in this space, as are the wine glasses that expectantly adorn each table. Any restaurant at which vino is a given rather than an option to be requested has been designed with serious woo-pitching in mind.

And yet, because of its hyper-“clandestine urban fling” vibe, Saporé (né Randall’s Gourmet Cheesecake Co.) also looks like a great place to stage a lover’s quarrel or a recriminatory public breakup — Woody Allen has milked more than a few comically uncomfortable moments during his prolific film career from the atmosphere that this restaurant trades on. Whether you’re looking for a gentle peck on the cheek or a cold drink in the face, Saporé provides an ideal setting.

It also works hard at not appearing to work too hard — or feel too formal, for that matter. At a recent lunch visit, both the bartender and co-owner Jarrett Joslin — the latter decked out in t-shirt and blue jeans — did double duty as servers. They may not have appreciated the extra work, but it lent the noon hour an unexpected, casual grace that Saporé tries to follow up on with its menu. “All reasonable requests will be honored” in the preparation of dishes, according to the menu, including things like substitutions and skipping the use of butter for diet-conscious patrons. Any item paired with a particular entrée can also be ordered à la carte. So if you’re hankering for the basmati rice but not the fatty duck breast, they’re all over it.

Lunch began with an appetizer of vodka pepper tenderloin skewers with grilled squash slices. The wooden skewers themselves weren’t toothpicky runts but heavier “you could puncture a carotid artery with these” types. Four of them were crossed on the plate like musketeer blades before a duel. Medium-thick, ragged-edged cuts of beef rested on the very end, giving a meat-lollipop look. The tenderloin, seared on the outside and ever so pink inside, retained just enough fat to make it simultaneously tender and a little stringy. It was a pleasing texture, and the palate gratefully surrendered to its pure beef flavor.

Even better was the French-Tex-Mex collision known as the Randolfo Burrito. Where a pure Gallic approach would’ve made this a crepe dish, Saporé uses a thin, almost brittle flour tortilla, wraps it around a savory mixture of chicken breast chunks, solid mushroom pieces, and English peas in a heavy Stroganoff-style cream sauce that also contains the mild Danish cheese known as Fontina. It’s prettified on the plate with a drizzle of dark berry sauce and two small green asparagus spears, but at heart this is the kind of comfort dish where you look forward to watching the thick, steaming contents gush out each time you press the fork into it. The chicken breast and the mushrooms had been sautéed and utterly maintained their character in the creamy sauce and the slightly sweet Fontina.

A more standard lunch bite can be had in any of the variety of specialty sandwiches, and the bartender assured us that the roasted portobello mushroom with brie, pesto, and spinach was one of the best. He was right. Served on a golden, cake-like deli roll, with the inviting prickly smell of basil adding an olfactory dimension that most ’wiches lack, the two-hander was a dreamy veggie creation for those who insist that portobello fungus is indeed a reasonable substitute for meat. The brie crumbles might’ve been a too-bland mixture with the mushrooms, except that the basil and the other pesto herbs kept everything vigorous. The spinach leaves were stem-on, bright green, and brought a snap to almost every bite.

Indeed, pretty much everything at Saporé snapped, along with a laid-back sophistication that recommends the joint as a smart choice for an early date, a Valentine’s Day celebration, or the softest of letdowns for a fading love.


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