Chow, Baby: Wednesday, October 6, 2004
A Canvas of Canapés

Boy, Chow, Baby has discovered a sweet little scam, except you can’t really call it a scam when nobody loses. Let’s do the numbers: A basic membership, including a window decal, at the Arlington Museum of Art costs $35 annually. Members get invited to opening receptions, of which the AMA has at least half a dozen each year — let’s say seven per year, just to make the math work out. These receptions are catered by local luminary restaurants like Blue Mesa, Lonesome Dove, and, kicking off the fall season a few weeks ago, Zoë Italian. (The current show, “Texas Paint, Part One: More True Stories” will be up through Dec. 18, but Chow, Baby won’t bore you with its opinion about the paintings. We have art critics for that.) The semi-scam part is that if you chat up the roving waiters, the extremely handsome and charming roving waiters, you can scarf yourself a whole lot more than $5 worth of appetizers in one classy evening. But there’s no downside! The museum wins, because every little bit helps. Fort Worth Weekly wins, because for once it doesn’t have to pay the actual cost of Chow, Baby’s meals. Zoë wins, because Chow, Baby is now going to rave about its food, and not because it put away about $80 worth for practically free.

Now, this was a special catering menu; not all of these items are available at the Sundance Square restaurant. But Chow, Baby may get up a petition to make the risotto balls a permanent fixture. Lord, these were delectable; crispy on the outside, al dente on the inside, flecked with herbal goodness. The same attention to culinary detail went into the mini crab cakes with chunky salsa and the seared tuna with tingly raita; by comparison the beef satay was a little dry and bland, so Chow, Baby grabbed only a dozen or so of the skewers. The star of the show was the risotto bar, where freshly sautéed shrimp and mushrooms were stirred into creamy rice and topped with reggiano. If Chow, Baby had been smart, it would have worn its patent-pending buffet-going pants, the ones with the elastic waistband and plastic-lined pockets.

You’d think a lot of museums would have discovered the give-them-free-food, they-will-come concept, but apparently not. The Kimbell does have patron-only opening receptions, but members have to buy tickets for them on top of the $65 membership fee. (Chow, Baby might consider joining if it could earmark its contribution for more tarragon in the Buffet Restaurant’s chicken salad.) Over at the Modern, $50 gets members 10 percent off at Café Modern, but with their prices you don’t get that scam tingle: Whoo-hoo, a burger for only $8.10. Chow, Baby stopped by the other day to check out the Café’s new fall menu; the pumpkin cavatappi was neat, corkscrew pasta and shiitake mushrooms in a creamy pumpkin sauce ($11), but the elderly chicken-fried venison ($13) was an overcooked dud. For dessert, the Merlot-poached pear ($5) was as delicious as it was beautiful, confirming Chow, Baby’s newest theory: good food and good art make a delightful casserole — and a soupçon of scam makes it divine.

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