Fitting for the Fashionista, but not for the Foodie (Luqa)

1 Aug

Dallas has a certain reputation for being glamorous, ritzy, and showey in a pretentious way.  The concept of the Dallas Roof Gardens fits that image perfectly.  This complex is comprised of an art gallery on the first floor, the restaurant Luqa on the second floor, the sleek Petrus Lounge bar on the third floor, and a gorgeous rooftop garden with a downtown view above the rest.   In short, this place is designed with the beautiful people in mind.  Fashionistas will flock here for the glossy scenery and couture labels.  But for a foodie seeking pleasures of the pure gastronomy kind, Luqa is…well, not the right destination.

We had a reservation for four at 7:30pm on a Saturday.  Valet parking was $8 (a bit steep for diners who are already shelling out some big bucks for dinner).  We entered the building, were greeted by the front desk, then rode the elevator up to Luqa’s level. 

The elevator doors opened to a dimly lit but handsome space.  Luqa was breathtaking in the flickering candle light: filled with elegance and zen with its mesmerizing ceiling architecture, anchored by an impressive glass enclosed two-story wine cellar, and… contained a lot of empty tables?  Never a good sign.  But I gave Luqa the benefit of the doubt since its target audience, the vibrant and glitzy with change to spare, prefers the later seating times for that immediate dinner to lounge sauntering transition. 

It struck me then that I should’ve picked this spot for a girls’ night out, not for a dinner with the boyfriend’s parents.

We were ushered to a table anchored on two sides by the chest height, smooth walnut wood divider, which meant I had to crawl into the booth side of the table, fearing that my backside would accidentally knock over a wine glass or two on the oh-too-close adjacent table in the process. 

I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally wedged myself in the booth and opened the menu, no broken glasses yet tonight.

Our waiter, courteous but terse, seemed disappointed that no one at the table wanted Pellegrino or Voss.  After four glasses of “regular” water were poured, we sent him with an order of the calamari for appetizer.

There were three other tables with customers.  Two tables filled with the expected glamazons and smooth shirt guys, and a third table with a young family, attractive parents in their early to mid-30’s and a rather rambunctious little boy. 

Before I had too much time to over analyze the crowd, the waiter set the calamari on the table:

img_2632.jpg

Crispy, golden battered calamari sprinkled with tropical fruits (mango, papaya, and pineapple) served in what can be best described as a dog bowl shaped plate/bowl with a side of jalapeno lime dipping sauce.  Is the dog bowl plate the new square plate?  I love the Asian-fusion chinaware trend and am guilty of buying quite a few pieces, but you won’t be eating out of any Petco inspired dishes at my house.  Chinaware preference aside, the calamari was fried to perfection, but lacking creativity.  The jalapeno lime dipping sauce pleased, but I found it barely different from the green sauce at Pancho’s Mexican Buffet.  The bite I enjoyed the most in this dish?  A chunk of papaya.

We had a rather lengthy wait for the next course.  Golden fried things on a lollipop stick were being brought to the tables around us.  I didn’t recall seeing an item fitting that description on the menu.  Then ours came out.  It was the complimentary intermezzo, seafood lollipops.

img_2633.jpg

One wonders whether the dish inspired the shopping trip to find these wooden lollipop holders or if the wooden item inspired the dish.  Best I can tell, this was basically a crab cake in a ball, on top of a stick.  Glorified State Fair fare?  The jalapeno lime dipping sauce made a reappearance in a thinner form.  But at this point, partly due to our fault for ordering an appetizer so similar to the intermezzo, I was a little tired of fried batter with tangy spiciness.  I guess it’s a good thing that they served us four lollipops for our table of four, though I did notice all the tables around us received two lollipops per diner.  I didn’t need more than one, but I did notice the inconsistency in service.

The entrees finally arrived.  Mine was the seared scallops with corn bacon flan, broccoli rabe, and black-tea lobster broth.  It didn’t photograph too well but to give a visual idea anyway:

img_2634.jpg

On the website, this is the description for the monkfish entree, which Guidelive raved about in their review of Luqa.  On our visit, the menu had changed to replace monkfish with scallops.  I was a tad disappointed, but nonetheless the scallops were large, plump, and tender.  The texture was perfect.  But the flavor?  A little boring.  The black tea-infused lobster broth was served in a small clear teapot with lobster broth in the hot water compartment and black tea leaves in the center infuser.  It’s a neat idea, but the tea flavor didn’t come through when the broth was poured on the scallops.  Maybe the broth needed more time in the pot to gain more tea flavor?  Maybe a stronger tea leaf would help?  The corn bacon flan was rather odd.  I’m not sure what I was expecting from the description, but I wasn’t expecting a mushy mess with no distinct flavor that had a slight resemblance to cafeteria-style cornbread dressing.  Actually,  I think I would’ve preferred the pre-packaged cornbread dressing.  After a bite of the corn bacon flan, I needed the tinge of bitterness from the broccoli rabe to re-awake my taste buds.

The entrees around me:

img_2638.jpg

Australian rack of lamb with sauteed fava beans, black truffle barley, and roasted garlic lamb au jus.  Kudos to the chef for achieving just the right level of doneness on this dish.  Apparently, it isn’t uncommon for restaurants to undercook lamb and bring out a bloody rack when the diner specified “medium,” at least from the experience of this dining companion.  He was pleased to see a pinkish interior and no dripping blood.

img_2636.jpg

Beef short rib atop roasted potatoes and asparagus.  This dish, though nothing like what the diner was expecting, was probably the surprising hit of the night.  The tender meat fell off the bone with the poke of a fork, and had a rich, slightly fatty (but not overwhelming) texture with great seasoning.  But again, what’s with the dog bowls?

img_2637.jpg

Berkshire pork three ways (chop, shoulder, and belly) with tamarind, apple jam, sauteed wax beans, and garlic whipped mashed potatoes.  I’m still surprised to see the popularity of pork belly on haute cuisine menus despite the fact that the trend has been alive in New York City since 2003.  My early notion of pork belly is by association with certain types of Latin American and Asian regional cuisine, the down and dirty kind where no part of an animal goes to waste.  But recalling how much I enjoyed the Scott Gottlich of Bijoux’s braised pork belly with Thai red curry sauce at the Dallas StarChefs Gala, I had to have a bite of this particular “way.”  It was delicious.  Crunchy, chewey, rich, slightly fatty… just an explosion of textures in your mouth.  If you over look the unhealthy aspect, I can certainly see why pork belly is a hot item, even for fine dining.  The other two “ways,” though tasty, didn’t stand out quite as much.  In fact, the pork chop and pork shoulder seemed to have been seasoned similarly and could only be differentiated by their varied textures.  I also had a small bite of the mashed potatoes (perhaps my all time favorite comfort food), and it was garlicky, whipped, creamy heaven.

The restaurant slowly filled up while we ate, and was more than half full by the time we were done with our main course.  Sometime during all this, the father of the young family at the table close to us stopped by to introduce himself.  I can’t recall his name but apparently he is one of the owners of Luqa and also the publisher of Envy, a life style magazine in Dallas and Houston.  It was a nice gesture, but also one that allowed me understand this gap between appearance and substance at Luqa.  The scene is trendy, the life style is trendy, the magazine is trendy… but trendy is one word that doesn’t always fare well with food.  Creativity is important, presentation is important, but of the paramount importance are the flavor and the texture, be it classic or nouveau.

For dessert, we had some sort of whipped mascarpone concoction:

img_2639.jpg

Dressing up sweet mascarpone cheese mixture with truffle honey, crushed pistachios, dried fruit, and a crisp wafer does please the eye, but does not justify the $8 price tag.

And that dessert sums up my experience at Luqa.  The food can be hit and miss.  It’s generally good but not for the price.  At $30-$40/plate, I’m just expecting something more… a little less imperfection, a little more unexpected excitement for the tastebuds.  Luqa bills itself as modern fusion, but is the addition of lime citrus here and there and tea leaves in a lobster broth really the essence of fusion?  Here, you’re paying for the atmosphere, the gorgeous people, the feeling that you with the “in crowd.”  The fashionista may find a lot that pleases the eye, but the foodie will have trouble finding anything that amazes the tastebuds.

Rating: 2 / 5

Luqa
1217 Main St
Dallas, TX 75202

An added note: Luqa’s Sous Chef Grant Morgan has jumped ship and gone to Dragonfly, according to Pegasus News

Advertisements

5 Responses to “Fitting for the Fashionista, but not for the Foodie (Luqa)”

  1. abe 08/01/2007 at 5:19 pm #

    another great review, donna.

  2. donnaaries 08/02/2007 at 9:06 am #

    Thanks Abe, and thank you for reading!

  3. donnaaries 08/08/2007 at 4:33 pm #

    As reported in the DMN Eats Blog today, Executive Chef David Gilbert is resigning from Luqa. Good move, chef. There’s got to be something better out there. http://eats.beloblog.com/archives/2007/08/luqas_executive_chef_departs.html

  4. donnaaries 08/16/2007 at 2:38 pm #

    Luqa is dead!

    Frontburner reports: http://frontburner.dmagazine.com/2007/08/16

    DMN restaurant critic Bill Addison experiences staff walkout at Luqa: http://eats.beloblog.com/archives/2007/08/sounds_like_serious_trouble_at.html

  5. abe 08/23/2007 at 2:59 pm #

    “Those diners unlucky enough to have reservations honored during Restaurant Week (just after chef Gilbert left) reported getting haphazard meals and service so abysmal that they wished they’d never ventured into Luqa. Luckier guests showed up when the place was already closed, and so were forced to dine elsewhere.

    Word from FrontBurner today is that Oncor turned off Luqa’s power yesterday and vendors began repossessing the restaurant’s supplies and equipment.”
    Posted by Joyce Harris at 02:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

    (cautiously poking a stick at the underbelly of the Luqa to check for signs of life. yep…it’s dead. grab a fork)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: