“EXCUSE ME, WAITER. Knowing that life is short, we’d like to eat dessert first. I’ll have the funnel cake, and my friend wants the s’mores. After that, we’ll split the banana split and the fudge brownies. And—wait, we’re not through, come back—bring us some of those PB&J lollipops.”
I know, I know. Just reading this brings on sugar shock. But I actually have a point: Amuse, the new kid in Dallas’s edgy-but-gentrifying South Side Lamar neighborhood, is fun.
Said fun starts with Amuse’s American-slash- Mediterranean menu and continues with decorative details such as curvy bar stools that look a bit like oversized ice cream scoops. But at the same time, nothing at Amuse is cheap or slapdash (the graham crackers with the s’mores, for instance, are homemade). The result is a serious restaurant that doesn’t take itself seriously. And that is a smart notion when your target audience is the youthful mod squad that lives in the lofts across the street.
But first, before you go in, pause for a cocktail on the restaurant’s small wooden deck. Tell me now: Is that not the best view of downtown Dallas since the opener for that infamous TV series where somebody-or-other shot J.R.? Step inside and you’re immersed in an aqua-blue fantasy outfitted with a cushy little lounge area. If you’ve come early enough to catch the weekday happy hour, from 5 to 7, you’ll be treated to a terrific lineup of affordable nibbles that are guaranteed to spoil your appetite. The “Avocado” is guacamole tricked up with crushed hazelnuts and orange juice. The “Pizza” consists of the kitchen’s flavorful flatbread lavished with melted blue cheese and sweet tomato confit. Complex? Nah. Subtle? Hardly. Plate-licking good? Yes.
Assuming you’ve saved room, turn to the reasonably priced, bistro-esque menu. Of various entrées sampled, my absolute favorite was the braised lamb shank, a bone-in hunk o’ meat that made me think of giant medieval fireplaces filled with glowing coals. This hefty indulgence came atop Moroccan-style couscous spiked with almonds and raisins. Equally fine was the ahi tuna niçoise, a twist on the classic French salade centered on a huge, stunningly rare slab of fish gilded with a tart balsamic marinade. Mashed potatoes, kalamata olives, and skinny French green beans came alongside. By comparison, two other promising entrées, the cider-marinated pork chop and the garlic flank steak, turned out more than a tad dry and tough to boot.
As observed, the kitchen’s strongest commitment to fun is its street-festival-worthy dessert menu. Just so you’ll know, the s’mores come build-’em-yourself with a bowl of dark-chocolate fondue topped by toasted homemade marshmallow cream. The funnel cake is a mountain of crisp fried squiggles of batter sided by honey ice cream and strawberries. Pretty yummy.
Who’s running this show? The dynamic duo of Doug Brown (age 33, chef) and Jason Foss (age 31, pastry chef). The grads of the Culinary Institute of America honed their chops at two upscale venues, Nana and the Landmark. Then they opened their own catering business, Beyond the Box. Now they’ve made their “Hey, kids, let’s open a restaurant!” enthusiasm a tangible reality. So far, their commitment to the pleasure principle seems to be paying off.