Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, April 05, 2006
The Duke looks like heíd rassle ya for a bite at Pilarís.
Greek salad $8
North Atlantic salmon $20
Beef tenderloin filet $26
Dig In, Pilgrim

The widow of a famous screen cowboy does justice to her native Peru with Pilarís.



4608 Bryant Irvin Rd (in the Cityview Centre), FW. 817-423-4488. Tue-Sat 6pm-11pm. All major credit cards accepted.

Before she married Fort Worth travel tycoon Jesse Upchurch, Pilar Upchurch was the wife, and later widow, of screen legend John Wayne. An artist in her own right, Pilar came up with the unique idea of introducing her work to Fort Worth by opening a small art gallery that also happens to serve outstanding, upscale American-Peruvian cuisine.

Her restaurant, Pilarís, in the Cityview Centre-Shopping Center, turns out to be one of the handsomest dining spots in town. With tailored black furnishings and white tablecloths in subdued lighting, the room is divided neatly into sections by several mullioned glass screens. In the center, a huge masonry cupid struggles to support an enormous floral arrangement.

Along with a portrait of the Duke, a small bar and art exhibition space greet you at the entrance. In the dining room, one wall is covered by a massive forest scene painted by Pilar over several weeks of climbing up and down scaffolding.

After so much work, the food had better be good, and, fortunately for Pilar, it is. The menu features seafood, chicken, and beef dishes that all reflect her South American heritage. The most exotic entry ó not sampled on this visit ó was something called Jumping Filet Mignon or Loma Sallada, thinly sliced steak sautťed in cayenne demi-glace with sweet bell peppers and onions.

Though the kitchen was out of Chilean sea bass on a recent visit, its replacement, North Atlantic salmon, proved to be a happy choice. Gently grilled with white-wine butter sauce over a bed of rosemary garlic mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus, the fish ó and the sides ó were incredibly flavorful and tender. Without overpowering the taste buds, the salmon had a lot of tangy zip, and the mashed potatoes were a dream ó fresh and creamy, and with the herbs adding extra kick. The asparagus, al dente but not crunchy, tasted right from the garden. You could tell all of the food came straight from the stove and didnít have to wait beneath a heat lamp.

Equally delicious on another visit was the evening special, the grilled halibut. Served with champagne-and-wine sauce over rice, it was wonderfully firm and flaky. Grilled to perfection, the thick portionís almost sweet flavor was wonderfully enhanced by the slightly pungent sauce.

For an opener the Greek salad is highly recommended. A mound of chopped and boiled shrimp with feta cheese in champagne vinaigrette dressing on shredded greens, the plate is topped by what looks like a dollop of caviar but is really finely minced black olive. The cream soups are also yummy. Both potato and celery varieties were rich with heavy cream and selected herbs. Soups arenít listed on the menu, so ask the waiter whatís available. You may also want to ask for wine selections, offered by the glass or bottle and designed to complement most of the food selections.

The dessert menu is also exotic yet comforting, featuring two cheesecakes ó key lime or strawberry ó as well as tiramisu. But the standouts were the drop-dead decadent chocolate mousse cake and the sabayon, sliced strawberries in whipped cream with a splash of Amaretto served in an oversized martini glass. The classic recipe calls for a slightly bigger custard base than served here, but Pilarís iteration was still a symphony on the tongue. The coffee, too, was also great. Husky and aromatic, it could have shown Starbucks a thing or two.

For a touch of old-world entertainment, Pilarís features some new-world talent. On Saturday nights, 20-year-old vocalist and TCU student Jennifer Mac and her 17-year-old brother Glenn Mac perform traditional cafť tunes. Jennifer sings and plays accordion and piano, while her brother provides accompaniment on guitar, and they deliver the classics from Piaf to show tunes with surprising panache for such young musicians. The player piano that serves as background entertainment on weeknights is wonderful, but an odd kick to its gallop throws off the rhythmic flow every now and then and will bring you up short if youíre paying attention.

When Pilar is in the house, she makes the rounds, visiting each table, making friendly small talk, and checking on the quality of food and service. She usually wears some sort of hat; and on the night of a recent visit, it was a fur-trimmed pill-box number. Seems you can take the woman out of Hollywood, but you canít take the Hollywood out of the woman. l

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