Shall we step up to the counter, order carne asado and chile verde tacos and grab a seat on the patio? Or relax over a glass of vino and share a capricciosa pizza? Hmm ... maybe you'd rather slurp ramen, then stop for a Nutella crèpe and a good cup of coffee.
Such are the choices at Sylvan Thirty. The laid-back mixed-use development (don't you hate that phrase?) across the street from the Belmont Hotel and Smoke restaurant has already changed the quality of life for residents of West Dallas and North Oak Cliff.
You've probably already heard about Ten, Teiichi Sakurai's ramen joint, which opened last spring (I reviewed it in May). The tiny place -- no seats, you stand and eat at the counter -- is a hugely popular slurping station for restaurant industry types and other ramen lovers. If you haven't been and don't know what to choose, try the signature tonkotsu ramen, with its rich pork-and-chicken broth, springy noodles and luscious grilled pork-belly garnish. The 3-star restaurant was one of The Best in DFW New Restaurants of 2015.
Whisk Crepes Cafe
Adjacent to Ten is Julien Eelsen's Whisk Crepes Cafe. The sweet little spot, with white tile walls, potted cacti on the tables and reclaimed wood benches, opened in October. Order up front, where a crepe cook deftly smooths batter over the crepe plaque, folds and pretties up the creation, savory or sweet.
If it's lunch or a light dinner you're after, there are pre-configured combos – all involving buckwheat crepes – like one filled with smoked turkey, mushrooms, mozzarella and pesto. Or you can concoct your own, choosing fillings such as egg, bacon, spinach, creamed mushrooms and more. Eelsen, an affable native Parisian who lives in one of the Sylvan Thirty residences, suggests including cheddar-enriched béchamel in a custom savory crepe, so it holds together nicely. You can choose either buckwheat or white wheat flour batter for these; my friend and I went for a buckwheat crepe filled with ham, creamed spinach and cheddar béchamel. Both were very nice – correctly French; the buckwheat crepes have a lovely nutty, earthy flavor.
Whisk's dessert crepes are made with the white flour; again, choose an Eelsen creation or invent your own. The first time I stopped in I had a custom one: just house-made chocolate sauce and whipped cream. This too struck me as very French, not at all overdone; the sauce, clearly made from high-quality chocolate, happily went easy on the sugar. Next time my friend and I went with Eelsen's inventions. We loved a folded crepe triangle topped with whipped cream and a dollop of chestnut marmalade.
Line up to order lunch or breakfast from a vast menu of beef, pork, chicken, seafood and vegetarian tacos – 27 in all, with a choice of flour, whole wheat or corn tortillas.
You'll have to TALK VERY LOUD.
The acoustics are so clangy, there's a lot of "what???" and "I can't hear you!!!" from patrons and cashiers.
My friend and I sat at a high table in the window overlooking a covered patio and started with some thin, not terribly luscious guacamole that overdid the lime, salt and chile heat; it came with tortilla chips sealed in a cellophane bag.
The four tacos I tasted were a mixed bag. A "jack cheese glaze" did no favors for grilled Texas gulf shrimp that was supposed to be dressed with sautéed poblano-onion rajas (mine had raw onions and peppers; somehow it tasted like Chinese take-out); best was tender, saucy "Puerco Verde" (braised pork in salsa verde) with cilantro, onion and a crumble of queso fresco. Carne asada and "El Conquistador" (roasted pork shoulder with chile pasilla sauce), both dressed with avocado slices, cilinatro and onion, were respectable, if not exciting; I liked the "locally handcrafted" corn and flour tortillas. The tacos aren't cheap by taqueria standards: $3.95 for the Puerco Verde or shrimp, $4.25 for carne asada or El Conquistador. Buy any two, add $1.75 for rice and beans, and you've got a blue plate special. To drink, there are house-made aguas frescas (I liked sandia, watermelon), in addition to bottled Topo Chico Mexican Coke, fountain drinks and the like.
The atmosphere is more chill at CiboDivino Marketplace, the Italian gourmet shop, wine bar and and pizzeria Daniele and Christina Puleo opened in the next building over last May.
The sprawling, pleasant space has quickly become a laid-back hangout for neighborhood folk who stop in for breakfast (ordered at the prepared foods counter), or pizza for lunch and dinner.
The ingredients proposed on the house pizzas weren't doing it for my friend and me, so we went the build-your-own route, ordered in front of the pizza oven. After we browsed around the market, with its dried pastas, crocks of olives, house-made salads, mostly shrink-wrapped cheeses, pre-sliced cured hams and such, a friendly server delivered our prosciutto, red pepper and arugula-topped pie to the long, communal table where we had parked next to the floor-to-ceiling windows. Served on a corrugated cardboard platter, the Neopolitan-style number was decent, with a soft, lightly charred, puffy crust, outspoken tomato sauce and good prosciutto.
The market's selection of Italian wines is pretty wonderful, and a house-smoked Tasmanian salmon looked tempting, but the some of the salads and fresh meats looked tired, and I can't say I was excited by most of the market offerings.
Still, it's a very pleasant, relaxed place to gather with friends, sip Chianti, maybe share a pie.
Over on the other side of Ten and Whisk, you might step into Cox Farms Market. My friends who live nearby in the previously grocey-starved neighborhood tell me it has been a life-changer. On offer is a fairly standard selection of produce (some of it organic), with a few more unusual items like white asparagus and celery root. Eelsen says he buys 70 percent of the produce for Whisk there. "It's cheaper than Whole Foods," he says, "and it's the same quality." My favorite finds: Village Baking Co. loaves and buns, and a fabulous deal on Vital Farms eggs -- $6.99 for a flat of 30. Last week I paid $4.29 for just six of them at Whole Foods.