Saturday, May 2, 2009
Old Warsaw Restaurant Review
Wow. From the Morning News Friday, May 1, 2009. And at one time I wanted to eat there.
The Old Warsaw
2610 Maple Ave.
Dallas, TX 75201
By LESLIE BRENNER / Restaurant Critic
The Old Warsaw. It conjured visions of roast duck and spaetzle and violins, of damask and crystal and deep, brocaded banquettes. The Old Warsaw. It sounded like a wonderful place that had been around forever, one that a newcomer to Dallas who loves old-fashioned dining rooms and tuxedoed waiters simply had to experience.
Still, I half-feared walking into an empty restaurant. Who dines like that anymore?
Well, half of Dallas, it looked like at 8 on a Saturday night. Wow – this was clearly the place to be! Women dressed in sequins and silk; not just a violinist, but a pianist, too; and sparkling chandeliers and clinking wine glasses and waiters flambéing things tableside. This was better than I had dreamed.
The maitre d' showed us to our table, a tiny one in the middle of the room. He wedged my two guests and me in so tightly that I literally bumped elbows with the woman at the next table. Our table was so tippy that if someone hiccupped, lobster bisque could go flying in all directions. Could we have a different table? No. They didn't have one.
After an aperitif, we settled in with the menu, contemplating champagne oysters and Dover sole and lobster thermidor and steak Diane. We were ordering from the two fixed-price multicourse menus. Roast duckling and braised pheasant came with a black currant sauce. "Is that very sweet?" I asked the waiter.
"You need a sweet sauce with game birds, or they taste awful," he said.
They do? I asked. "Yes," he said. "Terrible. Plus, they're so dry. You need a sweet sauce."
Nix that. "What are the 'woodland mushrooms' that come with the veal chop?" I asked.
"Shiitakes," he said. "And cèpes and morels."
I was sold. It was morel season, so that should be wonderful.
We asked for the sommelier, told him what we had ordered and inquired about a Bordeaux: a Sociando Mallet 1997, for $45. I love Sociando Mallet but didn't know how '97 was. He didn't answer, just flipped a few pages back and pointed to a Spanish wine I'd never heard of, priced at $100.
"What region is it from?" I asked.
"Spain," he said.
"OK, but what region in Spain?"
"There are many regions in Spain," I reminded him. "Is it from Ribera? Rioja?"
"It's from Spain," he said.
"OK," I said. "We'd like to stay in France." I flipped back to the Sociando Mallet, asking him again about it.
"Médoc doesn't go with what you're having," he said. That was quite funny, as one of us had ordered a rib-eye steak – known in the Médoc as entrecôte, and paired famously with, you know, Médoc.
I gave up, though, and tried getting his opinion about a Guigal Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He didn't think they had it. So I asked him about a Guigal Hermitage that was listed under Burgundy. What year is it? I wondered.
"That's not a very good Burgundy," he said.
"It's not a Burgundy," I pointed out. "It's listed under Burgundy, but it's not a Burgundy; it's a northern Rhône."
He looked at me as if I were insane.
"Is there someone here who knows the wine list?" I asked him.
He laughed. "No one knows the list better than me," he said.
We settled on a 1995 Château Gloria Bordeaux, and before long, the food started coming. Asparagus soup with hardly a hint of asparagus flavor. Lobster bisque that tasted more like roux and spices than lobster. Large, gloppy baked oysters with spinach.
When my veal with woodland mushrooms arrived, there were lots and lots of white mushrooms and a few slices of shiitake, but I couldn't find any cèpes or morels. And the veal, a gorgeous piece of meat, was seriously overcooked. Six shriveled string beans shared the plate, and the garlic potato purée tasted not like fresh or roasted garlic, but like garlic salt.
My friend's filet with foie gras was topped with pâté, but if there was any foie gras in it, I couldn't taste it. A waterlogged-looking tomato à la provençale on his plate was so glopped up that he had to ask what it was.
The violinist hit a sour note; my tablemates winced. The pianist continued to play, scowling the whole time. The chandeliers were missing crystals; the Barbizon-esque French paintings looked faded. The Old Warsaw could use a face-lift.
Despite the fact that the place had by now almost completely cleared out, no one showed up to check on us – the whole time. (All those diners must have had early reservations.)
The waiter finally showed up tableside to flambé our crêpes Suzettes, and I mentioned that there weren't any morels or cèpes on my veal – what happened? He said he'd go ask in the kitchen. We never saw him again.
The bill for three of us, pre-tip, was $332 – and we had been careful not to order the $110 Beluga caviar with vodka.
Of course, any restaurant can have a bad night. And maybe the servers had been stressed from the big hit of the early crowd. So I returned on a Tuesday night, with my husband, both of us up for a romantic evening in what could be a romantic spot.
We arrived at 7 to find only one couple seated, and soon they left. Now there was no live music, but piped in Muzak-style Bridge Over Troubled Waters. The maitre d' seated us in the middle of three booths along one wall; two other couples were soon seated on both sides of us. The wrap-around banquettes shielded them from view, but we heard the man next to us order the caviar extravaganza.
This time we ordered a la carte, and the whole time, the waiter was completely attentive. Of course, there were only six diners in the restaurant.
The time-warp quality of the place now came into high relief: The silverware placed precisely in the old-fashioned European manner, with the spoon placed horizontally at 12 o'clock from the plate; the squishy, cottony dinner roll; the quaintly continental menu, mine with no prices this time. If you squinted, you could be in an Edgar Allan Poe poem.
Our appetizers came: a respectable salad with artichoke hearts and hearts of palm for me, a sodden crab cake (not much crabmeat, lots of filler, a drizzle of sweet, fruity sauce that fought it) for my husband. Then a palate cleanser: grape sorbet.
I felt sorry for the cook who made the stacked potatoes that came with the beef Wellington. They looked so labor-intensive: cut wafer-thin, stacked high and baked with butter. They were completely flavorless and unseasoned. All that work for naught. The beef itself was perfectly cooked, but with a soggy crust and no discernible pâté of any kind this time, and especially not goose liver.
Lobster thermidor was a bit better, creamy and gooey, with plenty of tender chunks of nicely cooked lobster. But that night marked the first time I had ever tasted a completely flavorless baked potato. Not so the French green beans with butter: Those tasted as though they had been frozen. (The owner, Al Heidari, says they weren't frozen.)
We were powerless to order anything for dessert other than the crêpes Suzette – what a great show! – and the Grand Marnier soufflé. (Who can resist that?) Unfortunately, it was overcooked, just as it had been on my first visit, and that left me walking out of the Old Warsaw with the faintly unpleasant taste of overcooked egg in my mouth.
Service – Haughty and dismissive, bordering on rude when the restaurant is crowded; charming, attentive and professional on a slow weeknight
Atmosphere – Fading 18th-century-style French decor, white tablecloths, tuxedoed waiters; violin-piano duet.