Friday, August 8, 2008
Best Bites: Dining out in Dallas-Fort Worth August 8
Ecuadorian restaurant branches out with Peruvian dishes. Firewheel Town Center has bubble tea.
Amongst the long list of Latin American options in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, we have Brazilian churrascarias up the wazoo, we have Peruvian, we even have Argentine-style pizza. Now we have Ecuadorian food by way of El Fogon, a Latin restaurant with both Ecuadorian and Peruvian food.
It started out strictly Ecuadorian, the vision of Pablo Intriago, an Ecuadorian native who dreamed of having his own place. He partnered up with James Terrell, and the two of them opened the place on Labor Day 2007. But then they were joined by Peruvian chef Connie Walker, and she expanded the menu to the point where it's now about half-Ecuadorian, half-Peruvian. That means ceviches done both ways: the classic Peruvian where it's like a seafood salad, and the Ecuadorian style which is soupier, with the fish in what is almost a tomato soup.
The fritada is a typical Ecuadorian dish, says Terrell, starring fried pork mixed with hominy and served with lime-soaked red onions and fried yuca. So is guatita, which is beef tripe and potatoes in a peanut butter stew with white rice.
"Ecuadorians use a lot of peanut butter, and they're fond of soups," Terrell says. "Oh you should try the peanut-butter crab soup, it has a whole crab, the shell and everything, looking up at you, in a broth with a noticeable peanut flavor."
On the Peruvian side of the menu, the big seller is the lomo saltado, which he describes as fajita meat sautéed in soy sauce, with red and green onions and rice -- on a bed of French fries. "Peruvians like to put food on top of French fries," he says.
Mochi Kitchen is a small Asian-fusion restaurant in Haltom City, seating maybe 34 people. Yet the menu is long, with more than 120 items -- shrimp tempura, udon noodles, and teriyaki bowl, to name a few -- and 100 kinds of rolls. There are dishes with Chinese influence, Laotian, even curry.
Credit chef-owner Banh "Ped" Phommavong, who was born in Laos, grew up in Thailand, worked in Japan, then came to Texas 18 years ago. He worked with Reata, including heading up the Beverly Hills branch, and also at the now-defunct Sushi Samba.
Finally he gets to do his own place, and he's keeping it small, using the fresh, non-greasy approach he learned while in California.
"I wanted to keep it very small, for quality control and consistency," he says. "I want to get to know individual guests. I want to put my passion on the table."
Firewheel Town Center in Garland may be losing its Starbucks but maybe Icey can ease the pain. Icey, which opened in May, sells bubble teas, coffees, smoothies, chai drinks, fruit drinks -- "everything that has to do with smoothies and bubble tea," says owner Rose Xiong.
She and her husband moved here from Minnesota four years ago in search of opportunity, particularly in real estate, which was her field in the Twin Cities. Here's something interesting: Their nationality is Hmong, a people who mostly resided in Laos and don't have a country of their own, and who emigrated to the U.S. after the Vietnam War. Minnesota has a large Hmong population and gave her an appreciation for the benefits of having two cities adjacent to each other.
"We liked that there’s two big cities here, Dallas and Fort Worth -- whatever you can't find in one is in the other," Rose says.
It's unfortunate that, right after they moved here, the real estate market took a downturn, but it's lucky for bubble tea fans that Rose decided to branch out. She chose bubble tea because she couldn't find a place she liked. She's created a menu of unique drinks including the strawberry "swirl", a smoothie that combines strawberries with white chocolate, oooh. And she promises they're using Grade-A "pearls," the chewy tapioca drops or "bubbles", a la bubble tea.