Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, August 4, 2004
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Banderas

4255 Camp Bowie Blvd., FW 817-731-9104. Mon-Sat 11am-10pm. Closed Sundays. All major credit cards accepted.
Banderas Tortilla Soup (cup) $3.50 Crab fingers $7.95 Banderas old-fashioned burger $5.95 Cabo chicken $11.95 Tenderloin with shrimp and crab $20.95 Bread pudding $4.95
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
Raise the Flag

Banderas’ schizophrenic quality makes a visit there a roller coaster ride.

By NANCY SCHAADT

The Banderas menu is mostly Mexican with some continental items but reads like a travelogue. Its architect likely spent time in Mexico, specifically Cabo, as well as on the Gulf Coast. Dishes from these regions -- as well as a few classical French beef treatments -- are well represented.

Unfortunately, the overall quality of the food suffers from attention deficit disorder. The starters were horrible, the entrČes were good, the hamburger was great, and the bread pudding was fantastic.

The crab fingers appetizer was old, dry, and utterly devoid of flavor. Twenty claws (with one inch of meat on each) came in a wine sauce that tasted as if someone had spilled a glass of white table wine in by accident. The bowl was studded by frisČe -- a.k.a. curly endive or the stuff you pick out of salad because it tends to be tough, woody, bitter, and unpleasant. However, when these failings were pointed out, the fingers were whisked from the table and the cost whisked from the bill, proving that it pays to complain.

As for the tortilla soup, it is, according to the menu, "one of a kind, a house specialty." One of a kind is correct. No one should serve chicken bullion, so freshly reconstituted that you could almost taste the granules, and call it tortilla soup. Although the bowl had elements of the Mexican standard -- chicken, chunks of avocado, and tortilla strips -- it was just gussied-up bullion.

The entrČes proved more satisfying, starting with the Cabo chicken. A preternaturally large chicken breast topped with avocado, jack cheese, and sautČed red and green pepper, the dish came with curiously red-hued garlic mashed potatoes and perfectly sautČed asparagus. The meat had a unique savory, salty flavor that was as compelling as it was baffling. The only way to make chicken taste this velvety good is by careful poaching at a constant temperature of 180 degrees. Since this chicken had grill marks, it wasn’t poached, which probably means that it was injected with stock to add moisture and flavor. Even though it was salty, it wasn’t dry or tough. A miracle.

If you’ve ever had prime grade tenderloin, the 8-oz. no-grade loin steaks at Banderas will come up short on flavor and texture. But if you aren’t fussy about the grade of what is the most tender part of the steer, Banderas’ steaks will satisfy. The meat had a good smoky flavor and was fairly tender, especially when topped with crabmeat, two shrimp, and a very passable sauce bČarnaise (mostly butter and egg yolk, with tarragon and black pepper). It’s odd to find continental cuisine classics at a Mexican restaurant, but given the lackluster tortilla soup, mixing up the menu is a good thing.

The hamburger was hand-formed and lumpy -- in an endearing way -- and came on a toasted bun with fresh iceberg lettuce, tomato, and onion. Upgrading it with sliced avocado and jack cheese was an unnecessary expense. The beef tasted like succulent ground sirloin instead of boring ol’ hamburger. Although it was overcooked, it wasn’t dry.

The bread pudding -- often a dense, overwrought dessert -- was darned near perfect, made from thick slices of French bread layered so gently that they retained porosity and bread-like structure. The flavors -- cream, raisins, cinnamon, and vanilla -- merged to form a not-too-sweet union. Whatever sweetness was present came from the smooth crĖme anglaise (vanilla-spiked cream sauce) on top.

Banderas is housed in what was Goose West. The interior is stark, heavy on the treated wood, and undecorated except for a few flags hung in honor of the name (Banderas is Spanish for "flags"). At the time of my visit, the liquor license was pending, so drinks were being given away, two per person. The first margarita was letter-perfect. The second had a touch of what tasted like Pine Sol cleaner.

But the drinks perfectly encapsulated the entire Banderas experience. Its highs are high, and its lows are low.

One final note. This will be my last review for the Fort Worth Weekly. Last spring, I began chef training in the culinary arts program of a local community college and to graduate I have to work in a restaurant. I can’t, in good conscience, review restaurants while working in one. The next time you see me on the "Eats" page, I’ll likely be on the other side of the notebook. Please. Be kind.

If you want to follow my adventures, check out my blog: http://batgirl42.blogs.com/culaconfidential/.



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