• The Dallas Diva Holiday Gift Guide

    Happy holiday season, merry chickadees! Are you shopping your butt off looking for the right gift for that special gal in your life? Let me help: I’d hereby like to welcome you to my very first Dallas Diva-tastic gift guide! This is my tightly curated list of presents for the Diva in yo’ life – which totally includes YOU, as you’ll see if you read on …


    The categories I’ve picked reflect my/our loves: food, drink and travel. I hope you love my first stab at a holiday gift guide aimed at the fantastic, fabulous, chic woman in your life – I hope to make it even bigger and better next year. Till then, dig right in and enjoy!

    Foodie Gifts
    Delicious gifts for the epicures and gastronomes you know.

    The Rancher’s Collection from 44 Farms

    Perfect for the carnivorous chica in your life, this pack of meat comes from the family-owned, Texas-based rancher with an eye for conscientious ways to raise cows. That means your Black Angus steaks are wholesomely raised with no added hormones, antibiotics or artificial ingredients. But let’s talk about what’s inside, shall we? The Rancher’s Collection includes two of each: USDA Prime 12 oz. Boneless Ribeye, USDA Choice 6 oz. Filet Mignon, USDA Choice 8 oz. Flank Steak and USDA Choice 20 oz. Bone-in Ribeye. Just make sure you gift this to someone who’s gonna invite you over when the steak hits the grill. Just sayin!

    Perfect for: Meat-lovin’ Divas
    Cost: $159.99 (Buy online)

    JK Chocolate Gifts

    Have you ever eaten a MICROCHIP? Not the ones in your personal tech – JK Chocolate’s tasty and adorable tiny, tiny cookies! One cookie fits on your fingertip, and several handfuls come in a jar. Not only are there classic and incredible flavors like original chocolate chip and peanut butter chip with sea salt, but also unique varieties like Cheddar Cheeses with Texas Heat and Pecan Sweeties. As if eating baby cookies by the handful isn’t enticing enough, you can buy sauces like Triple Peppermint and Caramel with Sea Salt to dip the baked goods in! Trust me, this is one gift that’s hard to part with …

    Perfect for: Sweet tooth Divas
    Cost: Ranges from $14 for single-jar gift boxes to $114 premium cookie towers. (Buy online or in-store)

    Fashion/Style Gifts
    For the on-trend lady in your life.

    City + Sky Jewelry

    Dallas fashion bloggers and sisters Courtney and Allison Edwards came up with a stylish way to immortalize the city’s famous skyline: in jewelry! Their new City + Sky collection, launched in October, features necklaces, rings and bracelets starring the Big D cityscape; my absolute favorite piece is the necklace with the skyline cutout. I also love that each piece is Texas-made and honed in gold and silver – a terrific and fashionable way to show your Texas pride!

    Perfect for: Fiercely Texan Divas
    Cost: Pieces start at $117.


    Ooh, la, la, do I love this gift! Wanting to share the best of France, Parisian-born Jessica Barouche hatched OuiPlease, a delightful curated service that delivers premium French products right to your door. Depending on the membership tier you choose, every month you’ll receive a set of apparel, jewelry, home, foodie and beauty gifts valued at $400. Each month’s box will be different and packed with thoughtful goodies – case in point, the first box, called “Paris, I Miss You” boasted items from Maison de la Truffe, Christian Lacroix and Hediard among others. Forget ooh, la, la – this is ooh, la, LUXE!

    Perfect for: The francophile Diva
    Cost: $150 for month-to-month membership, $175 for single-parcel membership, and $650 for premium annual membership.

    Boozy Gifts
     I likes my cocktails, so is it any wonder this category has the most offerings?!

     Ice Fox Vodka

    This triple-distilled vodka is a flagship in the new-to-Dallas label named Branded Spirits. Ice Fox Vodka id distilled in the only French alembic copper pot on U.S. soil and has a clean, bright flavor that makes it shine in my favorite cocktails. Plus, the attractive bottle comes in this hella-cool box that back-lights the fox illustration, which makes for a lovely surprise when the gift recipient opens it. Cheers!

    Perfect for: The vodka tonic Diva
    Cost: $24.99 in the light-up gift box, $19.99 for the bottle alone. Available at Spec’s and Goody Goody.

    Austin Cocktails

    Pre-mixed, bottled cocktails usually don’t bring to mind thoughts of high-quality drinking. That is, until Austin Cocktails arrived on the scene. These all-natural, six-times-distilled vodka based beverages come in simply irrestible flavors such as Cucumber Vodka Mojito, Vodkarita and Tea Twister. When I sampled them earlier this fall, I didn’t know what to expect, but I can tell you these ready-to-serve drinks were as fresh and artisanal as they sound, with my absolute fave being the mojito. No wonder  Austin Cocktails was picked by Virgin America to be available as a cocktail option fleetwide!

    Perfect for: The lazy tippling Diva
    Cost: $14.99 in Texas; $15.99 in California. Get them in Texas at Goody Goody, Total Wine, Pogo’s Wine & Spirits and more.

    Montelobos Mezcal

    Mezcal has been rising as a buzzy bartender favorite in the last couple years, so you’ll look especially on-trend gifting a bottle of the stuff to friends. The Mexican spirit—like tequila—is derived from the agave plant, but mezcal undergoes a different production method that produces a rounder, smokier flavor profile on the palate. The Oaxacan-made Montelobos is made from blue agave relative espadin agave and is distilled in wood-fired copper pots – it’s terrific not just in cocktails that support its heft but as a solo sip.

    Perfect for: The mixologist wannabe Diva
    Cost: About $45 at Spec’s

    Troy & Sons Blonde Whiskey

    If you or someone you’re gifting is looking to get into brown spirits like whiskey and bourbon, this buttery, caramel-y sipper is a terrific place to start. It’s a mild and mellow liquor that goes down easy. Best part (besides the taste)? Troy & Sons is headed by one of the nation’s few female distillers, Troy Ball! I met her when she was in town a couple months ago for the launch of her brand in Texas, and she’s a character; I’m happy to promote a phenomenal product she’s put so much heart and soul into (and Troy’s story is worth reading up on – check it out!).

    Perfect for: The whiskey-curious Diva
    Cost: $35.99 if you spot it at Spec’s, $42.99 at Sunset Corners (if you live in a state that it delivers to!).

    Travel Gifts
    These jetsetting travel-destination ideas are perfect for yourself, or for plotting a girlfriend getaway with you and a group of your Divas.

    Solage Calistoga Spa

    This award-winning Napa Valley resort’s spa is offering all manner of winter specials aimed at the discerning Diva. Case in point, the Winter Solstice Journey – a sea salt-and-eucalyptus body scrub, herbal bath and ginger oil massage combo that I imagine would make it hard to ever leave the spa. There’s also the Head to Toe Winter Warming Facial, featuring a coconut mask, ginger scalp massage and shea butter foot massage. All of the above may be enjoyed alongside Calistoga’s Merry-Mint Package, which includes welcome wine, cider or nog, breakfast for two at the Michelin Starred Solbar, a boozy hot cocoa turndown service and more!

    Perfect for: Spa Divas
    Cost: Merry-Mint nightly rates start at $395 midweek (Sun-Thurs) and $435 on weekends. The Winter Solstice is $285 (105 minutes), and the warming facial is $220 (80 minutes).

    JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa

    For some getaway fun a little closer to home, consider San Antonio’s JW Marriott, which you know I love. The resort comes alive at Christmas, with JW Illumination, a twinkly display of lights you can partake in each night with a mug of hot cocoa, as well as a challenging polar plunge into the property’s only unheated pool – brrrr! Don’t worry, as part of the Keep Calm and Plunge On contest, there be prizes if you spruce up your plunge. The on-site Lantana Spa is offering a hot ginger cocoa manicure and pedi to luxuriate in. Finally, oenophiles will love how close the JW is to the Holiday Wine Trail: Through the 21st, Hill Country vineyards and tasting rooms are decked out in holiday finery.

    Perfect for: Wine and winter-lovin’ Divas
    Cost: Holiday hotel rates begin at $199; hot ginger mani is $85, pedi is $70.

  • The Dallas Chocolate Festival is back!

    This weekend, Big D will become Big C — chocolate will rule as the sold-out Dallas Chocolate Festival rages at the Addison Conference Centre today, followed by chocolate workshops going down at 3015 Trinity Groves on Sunday. Can you handle it, chocoholics?

    If you’ve already bought your tickets, you won’t be alone in sampling rich treats from the likes of Valrhona, Dude Sweet Chocolate, Dallas Caramel Company and many, many more at the festival. Worry not if you didn’t snag tickets to the fest, though — you can still buy entry into tomorrow’s workshops, which include a dessert class, a chocolate-making seminar, and (my personal fave) a sweets and wine-pairing course. Even sweeter than the subject matter is the fact that you can get 10 percent off any of the workshops and/or the three-workshop package. Just enter the promo code “divachocolate” for a tidy little discount. Tell ‘em the Diva sent ya!

  • Early views of Boulevardier

    I stopped by Veritas co-owners Brooks and Brad Anderson’s new restaurant venture, Boulevardier this morning … it’s coming along quite nicely, and I’m jazzed about the French bistro-inspired menu.

    The about-100-seat resto is revamping the space most recently occupied by the short-lived Decanter, in the heart of Bishop Arts. As you can see, it’s going to be a light-filled space with exposed brick and plenty of warm wood touches.

    Boulevardier bar manager Eddie Eakin told me that the spacious counter area guests will see upon entering will accommodate a raw oyster bar, as well as 9 taps serving brews from a Deep Ellum IPA to a French lager.

    About 100 bottles of wine are slated to be stocked, with roughly 25 served by the glass. Eakin hopes for a bustling bar area and says the ultimate aim is to serve wine, beer and cocktails that are supremely food-friendly. Expect classic mixed libations with an emphasis on fresh fruit juices and premium spirits.

    On the kitchen side of things, the Boulevardier team includes chef-partners Randall Copeland and Nathan Tate, of Ava fame (Brad Anderson is also a partner), who will bring their rustic, simple approach to the Gallic-flavored fare. Among the dishes name-dropped were duck confit, super-caramelized French onion soup, cassoulet, and grilled rainbow trout, and The aforementioned raw oysters. The kitchen will feature a wood-fired grill for steaks, chicken and seafood.

    The construction on the space proceeds fast and furiously, with an eye on a mid-July opening. There’s still a patio to add, which should add a cozy, quaint touch … once temps drop by about a thousand degrees. I look forward to sipping a nice French vin and nibbling a fine charcuterie plate sometime soon …

  • NOLA: Esquire mag’s John Mariani gives NOSH some love

    So it turns out the Tennessee Williams Literary Fest is way more than simply seminars on the famed author and adopted son of New Orleans. I attended a couple of valuable foodie events, including one called Restaurant Scoop from the Virtual Gourmet, said gourmet being Esquire magazine restaurant critic John Mariani. He’s presented this seminar for a few years now at the TW Fest, and I can see why it’s been a popular one (certainly helps that there was a mini-reception featuring wine and savory snacks (above)!

    Mariani — who travels the country visiting restos — flips through an at-times humorous slideshow demonstrating trends that the nation’s best restaurants are employing. He also points out fads that are fading … or should. Interestingly, quite a lot of what he mentioned relates to stuff going on in Dallas, and notably, he kicked off the slide show by pointing out one Dallas restaurant that’s doing something right … VERY right.

    Mariani noted that NOSH bistro, one of my reliable fave places, makes an ahi tuna tartare that’s do die for. I’ve never tried the tuna, but I’ve never had a dish there that wasn’t outstanding. Mariani said to keep in mind that the restaurants he mentions in his TW Fest seminars tend to end up in his year-end Esquire roundup of best restaurants in the country. Hats off to NOSH, then!!

    Among the other trends Mariani touched upon, and their relevance to Dallas:

    • Counter dining: Notably, NOSH has a popular counter that peers over into the open kitchen. But I like the personal experience of eating solo at counters such as those at Union Bear and Oddfellows.
    • EATaly invasion: Brought to you by chef Mario Batali, EATaly is a NYC haven for all things imported from Italy. Mariani reports that the enterprise has been so popular, plans are in the works to open seven in the U.S. — surely Dallas foodies deserve one!!
    • Charcuterie made in-house: I believe one Steve Doyle of CraveDFW recently posted on the topic of making your very own. Mariani noted the surge of great Italian sausages such as mortadella and guanciale, with a relaxation on USDA import rules. Yum for us!
    • Fine dining at local institutions: I, for one, LOVE dining at the Kimbell’s sweet little cafe and perusing the art on a full belly.
    • Upscale steakhouses: This has BEEN a trend in Dallas for ages; maybe the rest of the country is just catching on …?
    • Asian dumplings: They’re inexpensive, everyone loves them and their snacky delightfulness. Mariani predicts we’ll see more of this irresistible snack on menus.

    On the outs in the restaurant world, as Mariani sees it …

    • Dressing for dinner: He mentioned the sad phenomenon of rich (usually young) gents who show up to five-star dining in T-shirts then get gripey for being called out. VERY relevant to Dallas — how many times have I gotten dolled up to hit a really nice restaurant, only to see jean shorts and cut-offs walking out the door. Dislike.
    • Modern molecular gastronomy: Mariani predicts less “played with” food — so diners don’t have to work so hard for a nibble. Hear, hear!
    • Gastropubs: Now this I have to disagree with. I mean, a good bar can do good business. A good bar with decent food can do even better — but a good bar with great food? Win-win-win, I say! And when you’re eating at gastropubs as good as Common Table and Nova, for example, what’s not to love?

    Overall, Mariani entertained and gave the audience a lot of food for thought …


  • Q de Cheval’s prime rib party

    Examine that slab of tender prime rib above, y’all. Imagine enjoying that delightful piece of beef, satisfying your meaty desires with each juicy bite … and being allowed to have as many such slabs as you wanted. That, my friends, is the name of the game at Q de Cheval‘s new Friday night prime rib buffet. I was invited to check it out last week, and MAN, was

    there a lot going on!

    For a shockingly reasonable $19.95, the resto inside the Hotel Intercontinental Dallas supplies a four-course all-you-can-eat fantasy: crab and corn chowder (right); a small selection of salads; sliced-to-order prime rib with a variety of sauces to top it; sides including regular and sweet baked potatoes with all the fixins; apple cobbler a la mode; and rolls and corn muffins. And as if THAT isn’t a cornucopia of good eatin’, Q de Cheval also happens to offer half-price glasses of wine on Fridays, too. What recession?

    I found the chowder to be delicious — even more so with some extra pepper! — and the green salad was fresh, if not basic (there were also salads of the five-bean and potato varieties to be had). The traditional prime rib was a reliable version of the classic. But, pssst — there was a little-known platter of delights in the kitchen, revealed to me and my guest by head Chef Rex Turner. OK, it wasn’t exactly secret, since it was placed near the giant rounds of prime rib, but Chef Rex brought to our table THIS:

    Chef takes the actual beef ribs and slow-cooks them, then douses them in jus. My mouth thought it was dreaming — this baby was tender, unsurprisingly. But with less fat than the regular prime rib, the bold, tastebud-enveloping flavor of MEAT rang through loud and clear. If, nay, WHEN you stop in for the prime rib buffet (and it’s gettin’ popular, so reservations are recommended), it’d be in your best interest to request one of these ribs — why not?!

    You’d think after some heavy carnivorous snarfin’ like that, my tummy would’ve gone to sleep, and taken me with it! But I’m a sucker for apple cobbler, so I swore I’d try just a little bite. After that turned into two bowls of the stuff, I contemplated a third called it quits. Because I’m disciplined like that. But don’t you feel the need to be all dainty-like — attack that prime rib buffet with gastronomic abandon!

  • Breaking the fast at Bistro 31

    On Tuesday, I was bestowed an invite to sample breakfast at hot new Highland Park Village eatery Bistro 31. It’s rare that lunch and dinner eateries these days serve weekday breakfast — weekend brunch tends to be the norm. But Bistro 31 serves the morning meal Monday through Friday as well. And what a serene, lovely place to savor one’s first meal!

    The resto’s interior design was clean but not too spare — nice comfy touches such as vibrant wall art, cushy chairs and bright white tableware (above) made the space feel elegantly homey. Adding to the haute, fashionable feel of the naturally lit spot was the presence of model extraordinaire Jan Strimple at the next table!

    To start, my guest ordered a French press coffee whilst I opted for an eye-opening mimosa starring fresh-squeezed OJ — the balance of fruit juice to champagne was right-on, causing my flute to be empty too quickly!

    I suggested we start with the pain au chocolat (above) — fancy-talk for chocolate-studded croissants. The pastries were tremendously fresh and flaky, and did I mention warm?! If I’d lain down for a nap right after eating it, I would’ve had a dream of a day. But I dared to tip the decadence scale, adding butter AND blueberry preserves to mine. Staggeringly good. How happy was I?

    My friend selected the Basque omelet for his main. A blend of Spanish chorizo, sun-dried tomatoes and onions were folded into a fluffy envelope of eggs. My friend seemed disappointed a bit in the chorizo dice, perhaps preferring or just being really accustomed to Mexican-style ground chorizo, but I loved the sausage bits. They brightened an otherwise typical omelet, but unfortch, left the customary stamp of chorizo, no matter its region of origin: a meaty oil slick.

    Thanks to its inclusion of serrano ham, the house Benedict called my name. Instead of being built on a foundation of English muffins, the poached eggs sat on toasted focaccia, which was thicker, denser and much more substantial

    than English muffins — a win to me. The better to sop up all the drippy yolk that spilled over the plate. Mmmm. The serrano ham added a salty intensity you don’t get with Canadian bacon; the fingerling potatoes were tender roasted nuggets of yum, delicately flavored so as not to overwhelm the mains. Most notable with this dish was that it wasn’t overwhelmed by Hollandaise sauce. Too often, it’s a thick, gloppy, super-yellow gravy that’s just a barrier to the eggs. Bistro 31′s was a light affair, still sumptuous in flavor but unassuming, texture-wise, so as not to sabotage the runny yolk.

    At this point, I’d run out of mimosa and so switched to plain OJ — I feared it’d be as pulpy as the mimo (which I actually liked in that drink), but, amazingly, it was pulp-free and perfect.

    I didn’t want the meal to be totally egg-centric, so I ordered the lemon-ricotta pancakes with a side of sausage to share with my friend. Astoundingly simple, the tart, light flapjacks came with blueberry preserves, creme fraiche (“Avoid!!” said my waistline. Shut up, waistline.) and syrup. The combo melded in the mouth to become a sweet tooth’s dream; the sausage added a needed (for me) savoriness to the dish — I’d order the two again. Wish I could’ve stuffed more of it into my face, but I was so full!

    “Dessert?” our server asked. I felt as if just reading the dessert menu would make me fuller, let alone ordering part of it! I’ll save that sure-to-be-heady experience for a future dinner visit.

    Bistro 31′s breakfast is just building buzz — the resto was medium-busy on my visit — so you best stop in for an early-morning bite before word gets out and the line gets long! The most important meal of the day runs from 8 to 11 a.m., Monday through Friday.

  • Recent-party recap

    Ah, a Diva’s partying is never done. Alright, alright … her blogging is never done because of the partying. Guilty as charged!

    I’ve been to a handful of elegant gatherings recently, featuring food, festivity and, of course — drinky-drinks. Here’s the quick-and-dirty:



    The new, luxury-skewing, art-centric publication (pronounce PAY-tron, not Pah-TRONE!) celebrated its first issue, which contains a story from yours truly on pre-theater dining. It’s a lovely mag, and seems poised to become a force in local arts coverage. You can’t have enough, if you ask me.

    My favorite part of this shindig was its location — in the beautiful, well-lit Rotunda at Chase Tower, which you see whilst driving up Ross Avenue in the Arts District. I’ve always been so curious about the space — it’s sooo lovely, how come it’s not packed to the gills with parties every evening? Dunno, but I was left even more baffled after being inside it — gorgeous space indeed.


    This dress-up event involved 20 of the city’s most talented chefs coming together for the cause of feeding me. I mean, fighting birth defects in babies. Each celebu-chef served

    mini-servings of a dish from their respective restaurants: a yummy dumpling from Pyramid; this succulent ricotta-filled, pork-topped ravioli from Charlie Palmer; scallops from Sevy’s. All washed down with a variety of wines and bubbly flowing at bars scattered through the Fairmont’s Regency Ballroom. A fun touch: a couple of photo booths for silly pics in your nice get-up. The after-party left a bit to be desired (what? A cash bar after an open-bar situation? Sacrilege, I say), but Fairmont rooftop is always a sight to behold.


    I was hella excited for this food and wine event, as it took place inside the spankin’ new Omni Dallas Hotel downtown. The building didn’t disappoint — I wanted to peek around every corner! But we were off to the spacious Dallas Ballroom a couple floors up. The hosting French-American Chamber of Commerce picked well — the crowd was considerable!

    The party was a toast to the arrival of the 2012 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, which was my first sip of the evening. Talk about fruit-forward! The vino was suggested as a perfect base for sangria, and I agree.

    From there, it took a while till my guest and I realized that if we were gonna need to join the long, slow cattle call to get some grub. Every line seemed to be about 20 people long and flowed into the line for the next table of food. Grack! No worries — we skipped straight to the wine tastings, and after about six mini-pours and an attack on the La Madeleine cheese bar, lines were no bother. I wish there’d been more notable restaurants in attendance (umm, Eddie Deen’s?!), AND I wish I’d been notified about the Austin Powers theme of the event, but nonetheless, I had a really great time.

  • NOLA, Night 3: Boys and booze

    I really wanted to title this post Cocktails and … ahem. Boys and bevs, definitely a dangerous mix, and did we get plenty of both Thursday night.

    Detroit Diva and I were positively blazing our way through town when my guy friend Dimples drove into town to meet us … and to take the partying to the nth level! Our first outing together included a return to Magazine Street for Detroit and I, to a restaurant named Jackson.

    With its exposed brick walls and date-night lighting, Jackson had the feel of an urban loft. We were seated on the second floor, which wasn’t much wider than our table. No worry, we were hongray!

    Jackson featured serious cocktail specials when we arrived, with $2 or $3 cocktails, or something ridiculous like that — yes, please!

    Detroit suggested we start off with the Diablo Dip, which was basically a seven-layer dip of the Super Bowl variety. It was kind of exactly what we needed, though, and it was pretty good.It went well with the drinks

    we were knocking back, too.

    Speaking of drinks, I don’t know how we stumbled onto this knowledge, but when we started asking for crazy, off-menu cocktails, the waitress said the bartender would be more than happy to create almost anything we could come up with. Sweet!

    I requested a sweet, minty bev, since they grew the herb on-site. It was moderately well-executed, but the best thing was the waitress said I could name the drink since I was the first to request it. I present to you the Divatini! Hmmmm, maybe I should write a song: I Left My Drink in Old New Orleans.

    After Jackson, we had a cabbie take us straight to Bourbon Street, to get our party on. We drank in the streets and checked out a brass band of young guys entertaining passers-by near Canal Street. Wait, is that homeless-looking guy part of the show or just cray-cray??

    So we wandered around a bit when Dimples told us about the gay bars on the other end of Bourbon Street — let’s go!

    We started at Bourbon Pub and Parade, which was well on its way to becoming super-packed. Turned out there was a second floor, and karaoke night was under way — yes! After loosening up (further) with several a couple of drinks, the three of us decided to perform Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory.”

    Detroit was the only one who knew how the song went, and Dimples and I just contributed to the chorus … and we had everyone on their feet!! Seriously, folks came up to the stage from the bar and started singing along — I felt like a celeb, for sure. After the high of performing, we decided to check out the gay bar across Bourbon, called Oz.

    The above photo represents the only image from Oz that I’m authorized by Detroit and Dimples to share with the public. It’s a Whitney Houston impersonator “belting” and dancing to “I’m Every Woman” while a line of hot mens looks on. Turns out we landed smack in the middle of a hot body contest — meow! This club put these guys through sooo much — looking back, it seems like the thing lasted two hours! But it was some of the best sightseeing we’d seen yet, ha!!

    After having to beg a girl to serve as my door in the doorless communal bathroom (Doorless nightclub bathrooms, I’m over you. Sincerely, La Diva), the pageant was cleared (who even won?!) and dancing commenced. Memory gets hazy after this, though I do remember Dimples wanting to take us to his favorite gay bar, the Corner Pocket. Alas, it was closed … we surrendered for the day and went to bed.



  • Big fun at Sewell MINI of Plano

    Yes, that is your neighborhood celebu-chef and mine, Kent Rathbun, peering under the hood of a MINI at the opening bash for Sewell MINI of Plano. But he’s not checking the transmission (that’s under the hood, right?), he’s perusing a bevy of sweet treats set up on a clear serving platform tucked under the hood — coolness! And that was the tip of this crazy party’s iceberg …

    I arrived late — and hungry. As local geek ’80s band the Spazmatics waged a rock war against KISS tribute band Destroyer outside, I nibbled on some Rathbun-catered mini-dishes (wink!) and sipped on wine. My friend was dying to lead me around the facility, so I followed, chicken leg in hand.

    Wow, and what a facility. Back inside, the centerpiece of the main room was a popcorn bar (above), complete with all types of flavors, including the addictive favorite, jalapeno ranch. I must’ve eaten a pound of it!

    Through a couple doors, past some giant snack and candy containers and a mini-arcade (wink-wink!), we stumbled upon DJ Lucy Wrubel doing her thing right near the dessert car. Sweet standouts were the little fruit tarts and those insanely yummy chocolate crinkle cookies. Funness!

    On the opposite side of the popcorn bar, a MINI was used as a blank canvas (above), with brushes and cans of paint nearby for guests to leave behind their artistic signature. I didn’t want to get my hands dirty, since I was going to need them to shovel more jalapeno ranch popcorn down my throat, so I headed out the front door to sit on a live longhorn and smile for a photo. And the evening ended the way it began — full of very interesting randomness!

  • Summer at Ristorante Nicola

    Last week, I ventured up Preston Road to check out Italian eatery Ristorante Nicola‘s special summer menu. About 11 dishes later, I had to proclaim that it was, indeed, quite special.

    But, first, some background: I’m an Italian food fiend. I attribute it to my Brooklyn roots (fine, I only lived there till I was 1. Shush.), so what I’ve always loved the most is mom-and-pop, red tablecloth, red-sauce Italian-American fare. You know, the rich, resplendent chicken parm, the manicotti brimming with ricotta, the cannelloni stuffed with spicy sausage — the kind you get in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco’s North Beach. Sadly, I’ve yet to find anyplace that serves up just that kind of grub — Dallas chefs seem to veer toward aiming for authentic Italian-from-Italy food or fanciful Italian fusion, with varying success.

    Happily, Italian-born Chef Luigi Iannuario finds a delicious middle ground, appeasing Italian food purists with heavenly house-made pastas topped, filled or accompanied by out-of-the-ordinary combos (walnut-crusted lamb chops, Alaskan cod with cream of sweet onions), and enticing fans of familiar faves with approachable hits like caprese, fried calamari and veal scallopine, all of it delicious.

    My evening opened with a special bruschetta that featured chopped fresh beets with crumbles of goat cheese atop a crostini. Now, I’m a fan of neither beets nor goat cheese, but when I popped this little bite into my mouth, it sang! The cheese kind of melted over the beets, and the crunch of the crostini added some terrific texture. Win!

    Next, we moved on with the aforementioned calamari fritti (above), lightly breaded and fried to tender perfection … and none of those creepy little mini-squids some places throw into the mix. Ack!

    The seafood was presented with a pizza-like focaccia Nicola (above), a rosemary flatbread topped with parm-regg and pecorino cheeses and baked. WHY did they start us off with this?! A too-tempting starch to fill up the belly before the mains even appeared?! Hell, before the salad appeared? Gack! But I couldn’t stop reaching for a slice of the stuff.

    Our third app (yep, this gon’ be a looong post) was the classic prosciutto e meloni, super thin slices of salty Parma ham curled over planks of cantaloupe and served with grissini and pistachio-coated ricotta. I’d forgotten how great this simple salty-sweet pairing could be.

    I will go ahead and just skip the photo and discussion about the insalata di tonno (salad with ahi tuna) we had … which I requested well-done instead of seared. Bad foodie, BAD! And this concludes the appetizer hour.

    On to the meaty stuff. Kind of — a bowl of fusilli Nicola (above) and a black cod piccata (below) were whisked to the table, where they fought for my attention.

    Although the outstanding black cod was sauteed to a T, sitting in a pool of white wine, lemon and caper sauce, the fusilli won my heart. The spiral pasta was unlike any other fusilli I’d seen — a testament to its handmade qualities. It was bathed in a mascarpone-white wine sauce with plump shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes and baby arugula stirred into it. I’ll take a moment of silence now to recall this entree. Ommm. Utensils were clinking, vying for the next forkful of this creamy plate of delish: the shrimp burst in my mouth at the slightest nibble, the pasta was light yet still toothsome and the sauce … that sauce was bath-worthy. But it was time to move on …

    Chef Luigi delivered the special meat dish of the night, describing it with his special Italian accent. Porco buco was a braised shank resting on pillowy gnocchi swimming in a Barolo wine sauce. The flesh, tender and pliant; the gnocchi, wet and fluffy; the sauce, tart and velvety. Ahhh, an opera on the tongue. Somewhere a fat lady wasn’t singing, but eating.

    Good thing, because the curtains couldn’t close without dessert! So a mere 11 hours after we were seated our server dropped this one-two punch on us:

    Panna cotta afloat in a sea of Nutella (top) and an apple tart with gelato. Let’s observe this moment as the first time I’ve had a panna cotta I’ve really loved. Rather than being too airy and almost spongy like so many I’ve had, it was … well, custardy and solid. And I love Nutella enough to marry it, so enough about that. The apple tart was a little less loveable in my book, but, mmmm — dipping that gelato in the Nutella? Now you can sing, fat lady.

    Overall, the service at Nicola was sharp without being cloying, the atmosphere richly well-appointed without being stuffy, and the cuisine wondrous and welcoming.

    FYI, Nicola serves weekday lunch and an after-work happy hour, too.

  • Lightbulb Oven underground din

    This past Saturday, I attended an underground dinner — my first evah! Pardon me for the enthusiasm, I’ve never actually been a part of the process of learning about a private dinner, buying a seat for it and arriving to … who knows what?

    Saturday’s gathering was hosted by Lightbulb Oven, aka cooking pro Sara. She’s a Star Canyon alum who worked alongside Stephan Pyles — not a bad way to get your start.

    So it was with breathless anticipation that I walked through the picket-fence gate with my bottle of pinot greege and into the back yard where the undergrounding was just getting going. It felt like a secret only me and a handful of insiders knew about — wicked fun!

    A handful of us spent the first hour awaiting the remaining guests and sipping the provided sangria and opening the wines and beers that guests had been encouraged to bring. As folks arrived and mingled, some snackies came around! First app was Stephan Pyles’ own Hell’s Eggs. These didn’t quite inspire thoughts of Hades, spice-wise, but they were plenty delicious, and I’m never gonna turn down a deviled egg, y’all!

    Next app was a crostini topped with melted Camembert cheese and a dollop of plum jelly. Absolutely fabulous! People at my table raved …

    And what a motley bunch — there were young-ish singles, some high school friends of the chef, marrieds with kids, and an out-of-this-world cool older couple that I sat next to. Soon, Hostess Sara rang the dinner bell, and we all got seated at the two picnic tables.

    The first course was presented as a chilled red pepper soup with a crawfish “funnel cake” (above), but what I tasted was a bit different. I wanted more pepper flavor to it; sadly, it tasted a bit like jarred spaghetti sauce. And the crawfish fritter I was so excited about had no crawfish in it! No bueno. But maybe it was just me — my fellow diners sucked their soup down in, like, two minutes and talked about how much they loved it :)

    The soup course turned out to be a minor stumble, as things improved by leaps and bounds with the arrival of the main dish, pork two ways. I never knew how much I loved non-Oscar Mayer-bacon pig …

    Check out the aerial view of this plate: pork confit, rhubarb chutney, mustard, pork belly over corn puree, pickled blueberries and greens. Sara encouraged us to try everything in different combinations, and I did. I have never understood the fascination with pork belly, but thanks to this dinner, I get it. This piece of meat was lovingly rendered and the flavor sang when I paired it with the silken corn puree and plump blueberries. Meanwhile, the confit shreds melted in my mouth, it’s meaty flavor going nicely with the sweet chutney. The greens tempered the sweetness of the corn and chutney. This plate was phenomenal. Here, let’s take a closer look.


    After the main dish plates were cleared, and as the sun finally began tucking itself into bed, we were served the palate cleanser in cute little glasses — a refreshing cucumber granita that definitely did the job.

    The meal ended on a really high note. Dessert was a pillowy, berry syrup-soaked slab of challah bread topped with creme fraiche and berries of the season (!!!). Perfectly cool ending, in temperature and in execution — who knew something so simple could taste so grand?

    One wonderful thing was that even after the dessert plates were cleared, folks stuck around to chat and mingle. In such a cozy setting, beneath strings of sparkly party lights, who wouldn’t want to stay? The wine and sangria continued to flow, why not? It sure reinforced a tremendous sense of community and feeling … well, local.

    Saturday’s was the fourth local Lightbulb Oven dinner (Sara also hosted them when she lived in NYC!) and the chef’s first in her new home. She may as well set aside a permanent chair for me, because I see myself attending some more LBO meals.

    To find out when the next Lightbulb Oven dinner is, become a fan of its page on Facebook! (And whilst you’re at it, go ahead and Like my page as well!)

  • Super Bowl: Hennessy and Badu

    At the last minute, a Super Bowl-closing Sunday night party entered my life. The so-called House of Hennessy was holding its 5th annual Game Over party, with special musical guest DJ Lo Down Loretta Brown, aka Dallas songstress extraordinaire Erykah Badu.

    And though it started at the school-night-unfriendly hour of midnight AND was located about 45 minutes in Dallas Diva-unfriendly Arlington, I kinda had to check it out. And when the words “we’ll be rollin’ in a stretch limo” were bandied about, well, I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a Diva by declining, now, would I?!

    Well, the stretch Chrysler 300 showed up late, and we didn’t arrive in A-town until about 1 a.m. But, damn, that party was hype. First of all, the house was SICK. Nineteen gamillion square feet, 11 stories and 37 bedrooms or some such stuff — extravagant!! But not much going on once we walked in, besides a couple of Hennessy-dispensing bars. It wasn’t until we hit the lower level of the home — near the heated indoor pool, natch — that we found the party hopping.

    There, in a huge room, were a glassed-off VIP room, another VIP corner with several leather sofas, and the main area anchored by the DJ booth. Folks were dancing and sipping on cocktails — atmosphere was lively and the people watching was fantastic.

    Erykah Badu showed up to a flurry of snapping cameras and Grey’s Anatomy Jesse Williams (Jackson Avery, right) deftly avoided my camera, booo! Too bad — he foyne!!

    Anyway, the music by DJ D Nice was incredible, and Erykah more than held her own. She seemed to favor old-school hip-hop and soul favorites but gave shout-outs to current hits (“Like a G6″), too. All that talent and swagger AND she’s a cutie to boot — not fair!!

    With all the dancing and star-gazing and mansion-adoring, our limo’s return to pick us up felt like it came too soon! But the House of Hennessy bash made for a heavenly bow on the gift that was fantastic Super Weekend partying!!

  • Super Bowl: Love me some Usher

    So last night I hit the DirecTV party hosted by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, in a gigantic tent in Victory Plaza. Fabulous! Headlining musical acts were Usher and celebu-DJ and Lindsay Lohan’s ex Samantha Ronson.

    This party wasn’t in just any tent — it was decked out for partying, that’s for sure. Actually, it was decked out for a beach party, which is exactly what it had been used for earlier in the day — a celebrity sand volleyball game. In the far corners of the tent there was still tons of sand that the occasional partygoer was tempted to play in. As for the volleyball game — missed that — recovering from the SI bash, you know, haha.

    Anyhoot, my girls and I started off at the open bar and checked out the scene. Apparently, the Situation was roaming the room — damn, when would I snag him for a photo?! Also floating about were Spike Lee, Jared from Subway and, of course, Mark Cuban.

    Oh, and Ronson took a seat at the table right next to ours. The girl is skeletal, to say the least. Crazy thin. She seemed to enjoy herself. But soon enough, it was time for the main attraction — Usha, Usha, Usha!!

    As with every show of his I’ve been to, Mr. Hotlanta was on point with the performing — sharp dance moves, sexy interaction with his dancers, and great vocals. Man, he had that crowd in the palm of his hand, running through his hottest hits like “Caught Up,” “OMG” and “Yeah.” The girls and gays were absolutely swooning. Nice set from the R&B vet. Even got Cubes (off to the side of the stage in a supremely well-cut suit) grinning from ear to ear!

    About an hour or so after Usher’s set, Ronson took the stage … and disappeared from it about 15 minutes later. What the what?! Guess when you get paid the big bucks, performing a whole show is just an option …?

    Overall, Cubes’ party didn’t have quite the celebu-factor or exclusive feel of the Sports Illustrated party — though the broken-glass factor trumped most every club I’ve been to in the past two months. I swear someone was breaking one every 7 seconds!! — but it was plenty fun, and Usher brought the house down.

  • Super Bowl madness: Ashton & Demi – get off my coat!

    The above photo is what you get when you tell two A-listers that they’ve sat on your coat. Which is precisely what I did last night to Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore at Sports Illustrated’s pre-XLV fete. But more on that later.

    After checking out the backstage action at the NFL Gospel Celebration that afternoon, I jetted straight to a party thrown by Nivea for Men. It was on the 29th floor of the W Residences, and hawwt! Not too crowded, lots of purty people, a nice selection of snackies, a DJ and — of course — an open bar.

    Entertainment Tonight had a red carpet set up in the front room, by the bar. I didn’t see any celebs there, though word was that The Situation was roaming about. Missed him! And why was I even so excited that he was there?!

    Anyway, after grabbing some nibbles and swooning over the view in the back room, it was off to the after-party. Apparently, it was switched at the last minute to a spot in Fair Park. FAIR PARK?! What kind of glitz and glamour would there be there?! Sadly, my hopes weren’t high.

    Buuut, this spot was HOT — set up in the tower building at Fair Park, it was definitely the place to be! And when I realized it was the Sports Illustrated party, I just about fainted!

    This ginormous room was set up to look like a swank ultralounge, with VIP nooks and white leather sofas scattered throughout. Go-go dancers were doin’ their thing, and the cocktails were flowing like water.

    We situated ourselves in the Nivea for Men spot, sipping premium liquor and enjoying a prime view of the stage where the Black Eyed Peas and David Guetta were slated to perform.

    And there were celebs — man, were there celebs. Footballer Michael Strahan, Prison Break actor Amaury Nolasco (both above), The Bachelor host Chris Harrison, Dallas Cowboy Jason Witten, The Situation (all 5-foot-7 of him), Boris Kodjoe and, as mentioned, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.

    Which brings me to our encounter. They scurried into our booth, promptly running to the back bench and sitting down … right on my and my girls’ coats! So I moseyed over to them with my camera and said, “Since you’re sitting on my coat, how ’bout a photo?” They stood up in a flash, with Ashton saying, “I didn’t know we were on your coat.” Mere minutes later, they went to the next VIP booth over. Damn, you’d think they’d have their own space to party in!!

    Ah, well … check out my other pics from the party.

    The bottle selection at our table consisted of Sapphire Gin, Moet champagne and Grey Goose. Holla!

    David Guetta made me and my girls his “Sexy Bitch,” and we loved it!!

    At the very end of the night, Glee star (and former Dallas resident) Mark Salling (right) hit our booth — he was sweet enough to take a pic!!

  • Super Bowl: NFL Gospel Celebration

    I’m blogging and watching the action in the backstage gifting suite at the NFL Gospel Celebration! The walls are thumping as the musical acts rehearse — looks like Mary Mary’s on stage now — but we’ve seen some footballers roll through, already! Stay tuned for updates!!

    UPDATE, 6:15 p.m.: Buffalo Bill Bryan Scott is cah-yute! As is (the very married) gospel singer James Fortune (below right). Scott spent quite a while at the M-Clip table for some luxury money clips, while Fortune seemed to really dig the Maui Jim sunglasses.

    Can’t blame him — I picked up a pair of the shades last year at Emmitt Smith’s debut charity event! Faboosh!!

    UPDATE: 6:24 p.m. Mary Mary is jamming up a storm during their rehearsal. Totally bringing the house down, and it’s only practice!!

  • Din-din at Cedars Social

    Last night I wined and dined at Cedars Social the new restaurant and so-named “cocktail den” across from Southside on Lamar. It’s in the old Sala space, which gave me cause for concern — “this location is cursed!” I told my companion — but, thankfully, that fear was put to rest.

    First of all, Cedars Social is a John Tesar venture, which instantly gives it some huge buzz and favor. Second, the space has been entirely redone from wall to wall. If I can recall correctly from my one visit to Amuse (the eatery that predates Sala), the restaurant was a fairly good size, but it seems maybe the kitchen was expanded, because the dining space is intimate and cozy. Centered by a fire pit (above), the room feels like … well, your neighbor’s cool den. I loved the mildly retro feel of the decor, featuring little touches like kitschy votive holders and light fixtures (below).


    The bar area was cool and spacious, and at one end of it was a little library-like room, perfect for sharing drinks and nibbles with a small group of friends. Which is great, as that’s what Tesar tells me to expect — lots of small plates, and some regular entrees, too. I can’t forget to mention that the cocktails here — featuring the dangerously smooth Russian Standard Vodka — including the divine Moscow Mule (top) and the potent, fruity Red October, were created by mixologist Michael Martensen.


    But what about the food?! It was fabulous and included two dishes I never thought I’d eat, let alone enjoy … read on. Major kudos to the chef of the evening, Matt McAllister!

    Our first dish was cabbage glazed in a cashew sauce — unusual but delightful. I like how the sauce channeled peanut butter but was much lighter.

    After a one-bite portion of hiramasa (yellowtail sashimi), a seared duck breast was served. I tend to like the skin on a duck rendered a little more crisply, but DAMN, this piece of meat was insanely good. Tender and fresh and so juicy. But the biggest feat was that the dish got me to like brussels sprouts! Granted, they were prolly braised in duck fat, and duck fat makes anything taste better, but … I won’t deny Chef Matt this accomplishment, ha!!

    Next up was the dish I had figured I would immediately decline — hell, I didn’t even want the plate delivered to me! Sweetbreads!! These are the usually discarded portions of the animal and can range from genitalia to pancreas to … well other organs we don’t typically eat. But when this lovely piece of fried goodness was set in front of me, my walls came down. Still, I had to have someone else try it first. My guest, Hal2000, took a bite and proclaimed, “you’re gonna like this.” And I did!! It was super tender and texture-wise had less bite than, say, a piece of dark meat chicken, though it kind of looked like it. Come to find out from Chef Matt later that it was, in fact, pancreas thymus gland — thanks, The Steven! Kudos Part Deux for getting me to like it, Chef. Bravo (ooh, speaking of Bravo, Top Chef favorite Tiffany Derry was in the house, as a guest, just a few tables away! I totally recognized those dimples from across the room!).

    Now it was time for the meat course. Well, the thymus was meat, technically, but you know what I mean. MEAT meat — BEEF!! That meant a sumptuous short rib in a root beer gel served atop vanilla lemon mashed potatoes. Call my tastes pedestrian for not seeing the potential in a typical dessert flavor being used in a savory dish, but the vanilla in the mashpots threw me WAY off. It overpowered the flavor of the meat, to me, which is too bad, cuz it was prepared expertly. I dunno, maybe it’s something I could get used to …?

    Last but not least was dessert, which was blessedly light — a gratin of strawberries swimming in a creamy custard. Not too sweet and not too heavy. Perfect ending!

    Overall, I had a superb time at Cedars Social — I’m going to return and become a cocktail den-izen, ha!

  • I’m baaaaack … with brunch!

    Yawwwwwn! Just waking out of my holiday hibernation, y’all. So glad to be back! I’ll admit I’ve slacked these past couple weeks, but now that party season is ramping up again — helloooo, Super Bowl!! — I have so many events to share with you! Let’s get started, shall we?

    A while ago, I checked out the brunch service at The Place at Perry’s in Uptown with Curl Girl. I needed a change of pace from the many super-casual bar brunches I’ve partaken of in Dallas — not that there’s anything wrong with those; I LOVE the Meridian Room’s wif all my heart — so I was happy to go upscale this once. Place at Perry’s was my favorite Restaurant Week destination last year, so I knew it wouldn’t disappoint …

    But just to make sure, I started with the very wedge salad I so-super-loved at RW. Mmmmm, crisp wedge of iceberg topped with blue cheese crumbles, bacon chunks, tomatoes and a luscious champagne dressing — it’s just one of the best I’ve had. Definitely woke up my tummy and taste buds.

    The variety of benedicts at Place at Perry’s is insane, so Curl Girl and I went with a couple. She had the California benedict with roasted turkey and avocado pico on an English muffin (above), and I went with the crab cake benedict (top) with poached eggs over thick, meaty crab cakes, all of it topped with chipotle hollandaise. Yurm. Both dishes came with a side of delicious purple potatoes.

    Curl Girl and I decided that we wanted to explore the menu outside of the savory stuff, so we ordered a fruit-topped Belgian waffle to share (above). Definitely satisfied the sweets craving … as did our potent Morning Sun cocktails — OJ, Prosecco and Aperol. I can’t wait to have a decadent, splurge-y brunch at The Place at Perry’s again.

  • The lips have it!

    One of my favorite parts of my face is my mouth. I have full lips, so there’s plenty o’real estate to take care of, haha. And this time of year, as with most folks, my lips tend to get dry, chapped and ill-mannered. That’s when I have to employ my not-very-secret beauty trick: Before I lay me down to sleep, I slather a generous helping of petroleum jelly on my lips. When I wake up, my mouth is moist again and ready to take on the world … or at least an Egg McMuffin. I used to keep a mini-tube of plain petroleum jelly in my purse to dab on when needed, but now that I have Kiss My Face lip balm in a vibrant peach flavor, I have a nice flavor and SPF boost when I use it!

    Soooo, let’s celebrate your lovely lips today, shall we? Up for grabs today is a spectacular set: a Dazzling Duo Pack from Kiss My Face (above), featuring all-natural Sheer Organic Shimmer and Sheer Organic Shine, both in garnet; a three-pack of Kiss My Face lip balms (above); and a selection of Lip and Liner all-in-one makeup pens from Target’s Pixi by Petra line (top). Fabu! So kiss your mouse for good luck and click on over to the Comments section to enter to win.

    Here’s how the giveaway works:

    • You will click on “Leave a Comment!” at the bottom of this post and type out a number from 1 to 1,000.
    • Then, because you are that spectacular, you will “Like” my Facebook fan page and/or follow me on Twitter or via Networked Blogs.
    • Comment-entries for each day’s giveaways must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CST. I’ll select the winning number using the good, ol’ Random Integer Generator and whoever’s number is closer to the number drawn wins; I’ll post the winner the following day. Winners can then contact me at farah@thedallasdiva.com to claim their prize! Faboosh, no?

Got any book recommendations?