Chow, Baby: Wednesday, October 18, 2006
La Onda del Sur

Looks like Salvadoran cuisine is the new black — at least for Chow, Baby, who loved everything about La Campiña Salvadoreña (1115 E. Pioneer Pkwy., Arlington) when it visited a couple of months ago and is eagerly looking forward to checking out Gloria’s as soon as the Dallas-based micro-chain settles into its new Montgomery Plaza location. The middle ground between La Campiña’s hole-in-the-wallness (it’s inside a small grocery store) and Gloria’s hipness is Reyes, which recently opened at 1712 N. Sylvania Av. Though the building has the aura of former used-tire store, the restaurant is simple, pleasant, and ultra-clean. Big tv, too.

Maybe El Salvador doesn’t have that many indigenous dishes, because all three restaurants also offer many Mexican standards. Actually Chow, Baby didn’t notice the Salvadoran corner of the Reyes menu until it had already eaten a plate of middling-good cheese enchiladas ($7.29) and a great fish taco ($2.75), ordered some tamales to go, and was asked which kind it wanted. Well, gee, that would have to be those large Salvadoran-style tamales ($1.95), creamier and juicier than Tex-Mex, with chunks of delicately spiced chicken and potatoes. Unfortunately, by then Chow, Baby had spent all its money (Reyes is cash only) and couldn’t afford any pupusas, the queso-and-bean-stuffed corn tortillas that serve both as Salvadoran street food and as Chow, Baby’s new favorite snack. Should have skipped the housemade flan (good, but $3.99).

If It Ain’t Broke

You know what Chow, Baby misses? Busboys/girls. In olden times, restaurants had a staff of cute kids just to keep Chow, Baby’s water glass filled, clear its dirty dishes, and scrape away its breadcrumbs with one of those cool metal thingies that Chow, Baby keeps forgetting to buy at Ace Mart. And if they were good, maybe someday they could work their way up to server. But these days ... .Actually Chow, Baby doesn’t remember if Sardine’s (509 University Dr.) used to have busboys. Memory lapses like that made Chow, Baby’s mission — to see whether Sardine’s has changed now that former manager Jon Castleberry has ascended to ownership — pretty darn difficult.

Well, Johnny Case is still there, noodling on the piano as he has since, what, 1983. (Here’s a change: He now uses his Muslim name, Jhon Kahsen, on his albums. This is probably not related to Sardine’s new ownership, though, so Chow, Baby won’t count it.) And the place is still as dark and lovely as a former Cactus Flower can be (a sigh for Sardine’s old, cozy Camp Bowie location). On this visit, service wasn’t snap-snap, particularly regarding the yummy-garlic-bread crumbs all over the table, but personality goes a long way.

Chow, Baby didn’t notice anything different about the menu: same delicious escargot-stuffed mushrooms ($6.95), classic pastas, fancy entrées, and fabulous zuppa di pesce ($18.95). And the filetto alla David ($21.95) is as crispy-edged, garlic-crusted, and perfectly medium-rare as it ever was. But didn’t it use to come with sautéed vegetables on the side instead of a heap of oiled and garlicked spaghetti? Which was fine, just not what Chow, Baby vaguely remembered. (Maybe it was a rice pilaf?) So Chow, Baby was a little nervous at dessert time: Sardine’s tiramisu ($5.95) used to be one of the best in town, heavenly sweet ricotta with chocolate liqueur and fresh-tasting cream. Would it ... ahh. Yes. Thank you, Mr. Castleberry.

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