Friday, August 10, 2007
Ciudad may be closing, but Monica Greene says her vision of giving authentic Mexican cuisine the cachet of fine dining will burn on
Ciudad's last day in its current space is August 26.
Those old enough to remember when Monica’s was called Eduardo’s know that Monica Greene has been a staple on the Dallas dining scene for a long time. Monica’s Aca y Alla has endured as the great success story of Deep Ellum. Greene added an Aca y Alla in Addison (it closed in late 2005), and Pegaso (a downtown experiment ahead of its time that never really took off).
But as fantastic as Aca y Alla is, in many ways, her crown jewel has been Ciudad D.F., the Oak Lawn restaurant that combined fine dining with a gracious, casual style. Literally the cornerstone of the Turtle Creek Village shopping center since early 2000, Ciudad has been Greene’s smart interpretation of authentic urban-Mexican cooking. (The name is a reference to Mexico City.) It became enough of an institution that when the Turtle Creek Chorale bid farewell to Tim Seelig, its artistic director of 20 years, that party was held there.
But all the accolades and customer loyalty couldn’t stop Greene from announcing earlier this week that at the end of the month, the current location of Ciudad will close its doors.
Construction and turnover at Turtle Creek Village led to near-daily calls from customers inquiring whether Ciudad had in fact already closed.
“They were trying to push us out for a long time,” Greene says of the landowners. “We had to deal with that never-ending innuendo.”
Ciudad was always one of the most beautifully appointed restaurants in Dallas, not because of luxurious fabrics and glamorous accessories — that would be far to European for its defiantly New World style — but because of its authentic textures: Saltillo tiles, rough-hewn woods, boldly-mixed earth-tones, mood-filled lighting. But while the space may cease, Greene’s vision is far from over.
“Absolutely,” Greene says when asked if Ciudad might reopen in a new locale. “I only know restaurants. I tried politics and that didn’t work out. I think that I have the right concepts at the right times. It’s just a question of location.”
The concept that Greene pioneered was the idea of fine Mexican food, not the hybrid creation known as Tex-Mex. “I love Tex-Mex. But it is not Mexican food,” Greene cautions. “People would say, ‘Let’s get Mexican,’ and other’s would say, ‘Yes, let’s go to Gloria’s, or Mi Cocina.’ Those people have an idea what Mexican food is” that differs from her own.
Ciudad, she says, was the first restaurant to challenge local food critics — and diners — to approach Mexican cuisine with the same seriousness of French or Italian cooking.
“It would be ridiculous if, in 2007, we continued to do the same as in the past,” she says of the progression that has elevated Mexican cuisine.
“Why do they look down on our food while licking our spoons?” Greene asked rhetorically eight years ago. “Why was there no four-star Mexican restaurant in all of Dallas?”
After Ciudad, no one looked down on it again. Since 2000, eateries like Trece, Café San Miguel, Veracruz and Taco Diner have sprung up, building on the idea that regional Mexican cooking deserves a place of honor in the culinary pantheon. Even Stephan Pyles took inspiration from the flavors south of the border when launching his latest restaurant.
“We were hoping to last for a long, long time at that location,” Greene says, but ultimately her achievement was something great: Being able to “inspire people about what Mexican food was about. We wanted to bring forth some culinary aspect of Mexican food. I’m very proud of what we did.”
As pleased as she was with her successes in the kitchen, Greene also touts the restaurant’s role in the community as an equal source of pride — as a meeting place, as a supporter of community events, as an anchor along the Oak Lawn corridor. And she wants it to serve that function one more time.
“I want to thank everyone for their support, for allowing us to participate in the community,” Greene says, her voice cracking slightly from emotion. “I told my employees I want to go out with a bang. Call all our friends and invite them to come back. If you haven’t been in, come and try us now. Until the day we close we will be giving perfect service.”
Ciudad’s last day in its current space is Aug. 26. 3888 Oak Lawn Ave. 214-219-3141.
- Video: Dirk honored in NBA Finals commercial
- Dogged pursuit of fun leads pet owners to Deep Ellum's Bark Park
- Theater review: DSM's glittering production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert never "drags"
- Did you know Mary Suhm was a high school beauty queen in Beaumont? 10 things about her:
- Dallas-based Pecan Lodge is Texas Monthly's second-best barbecue joint, sort of