Merchants Grand Café

San Antonio You might wonder what this simple, white, “big box” space used to be. Then a local tells you it was a hardware store. Ah, that makes perfect sense. The Alamo Heights newcomer has a name chef at the helm (Jonathan Parker, from the River Walk’s Pesca, is the man in the apron visiting tables and asking how guests like their food), and its menu appeals whether or not you intend to partake of the extensive wine list (the bar area occupies almost as much real estate as the dining room). We began with extraordinary chicken- potato chowder, as flavorful and intriguing a soup as we have had in months, then sampled the spicy barbecued shrimp and the salmon with a sauce of pomegranate, grapefruit, and tarragon. With its inventive menu and location, Merchants has that indefinable vibe that suggests it could be a hit. Bar. 5939 Broadway (210-957-4544). Lunch Mon–Sat 11–2. Dinner Mon–Thur 5:30–10, Fri & Sat 5:30–11. Closed Sun. Reservations recommended. $$ W+

Charlie Palmer

Dallas To live in Dallas today is to have a roster of glitzy upscale “chain restaurants” to choose from. Yet the words hardly fit a place like Charlie Palmer, the offspring of one of New York City’s most prominent chefs; in case you’ve forgotten, Palmer’s progeny include Métrazur, overlooking the main concourse at Grand Central Station, in Manhattan; Charlie Palmer Steak, in Las Vegas; and Aureole, in both Vegas and New York. Now his signature “Progressive American” cuisine has come to the still-under-construction Hotel Joule. The Adam Tihany–designed space features a refined but earthy color scheme, dark woods, limestone flooring, and streamlined ceiling fans that will remind you of airplane propellers. Here Scott Romano, an accomplished Palmer protégé, is busy dishing out the likes of rich and creamy littleneck clam chowder, brimming with large clams and diced potatoes, and a monster bison ribeye steak; topped with roasted capers and sided with a mix of watercress, red onion, and parsley, the tender meat is perfectly prepared, simple and straightforward. Bar. Hotel Joule, 1530 Main (214-261-4600). Dinner Sun–Thur 5:30–10, Fri & Sat 5:30–10:30. Reservations recommended. $$$ W+