A crew of horn-rimmed twentysomethings—faux vintage t-shirts worn by all, naturally—tap their unlaced Converse to a Jayhawks tune and debate the merits of a new Chilean Malbec the bartender has just opened. While adjectives like “smoky” and “sour cherry bomb” are batted about, a boisterous suit at the end of the bar extols the gridiron virtues of SMU football to his “bro.” His bored girlfriend orders another sangria and turns her attention to the aforementioned attentive bartender.
This Uptown-esque scene from the young and restless plays well in the trendy nightspots of that swinging singles candyland north of downtown. But the show has been taken on the road, and it’s the new cafe and wine bar Bolsa that’s drawn them south of the river to North Oak Cliff.
Here’s my issue: Bolsa deserves better. It’s a serious restaurant creating some of the best food in Dallas. Chef Graham Dodds, formerly of Dragonfly, has a vision. His food isn’t aggressive cuisine that’s over-sauced and overwrought. Yes, you can have a good time at Bolsa. It’s hard to avoid. But the food demands attention, single focus.
Housed in a restored World War II-era auto garage along Davis Street, the new restaurant has that cool factor that the tragically trendy seek out: rock posters by artist Dirk Fowler, open rafters and the original garage doors that serve as Bolsa’s windows, a great location just steps from the hot Bishop Arts District yet far enough away to feel “edgy,” a killer patio with slatted roof and packed crowds. Though carefully designed, the place feels effortless. Kudos to Bolsa partners Chris Zielke and Christopher Jeffers of Hotel ZaZa fame, as well as to Plan B Group’s Alexander Urrunago and Royce Ring. Their new creation reflects the eclectic nature and neighborly charm of Oak Cliff. After one visit, everyone will want a Bolsa in their own burg.
But for now, there is only one Bolsa, and I fear that the restaurant’s hip quotient and the designer-label-clad crowds that chase it could overshadow Dodds’ lovely fare. Maybe I’m being overly protective. But Dodds’ food and deft touch deserve the spotlight. Take for instance, the humble chicken. When Dodds cooks a chicken breast—albeit one from foodie favorite Windy Meadows farm—you can be assured that it will become your new favorite poultry. Bolsa’s seasonal menu is in constant flux, focusing on fresh and local ingredients. My chicken du jour was lightly seasoned and accompanied by bacon, sunchoke puree, and Brussels sprouts, the often-maligned vegetable enjoying its moment on menus across Dallas. It was a straightforward yet memorable dish.
The menu is littered with such delicious simplicity. A bruschetta sampler featured combinations such as prosciutto and fig preserves and Fuji apple, toasted pine nuts, and Pâ€™tit Basque (a wonderfully earthy French sheep’s milk cheese). Dodds says he never thought he’d be making pizzas for a living. But he should take pride in his flatbread versions. They’re all winners, with my favorite being the crispy “Twig and Branch”: bitter wild arugula tossed about with goat cheese and oven-roasted red grapes.
Entrees change regularly, which makes for wonderful discoveries. One night I feasted on braised lamb shank with roasted garlic polenta and fennel gremolata. As I looked for the lamb a few nights later, the waiter sensed my sadness and steered me toward the beef stew with Texas shiitake mushrooms, fingerling potatoes, and a fragrant broth enhanced by the sweet richness of Shiner Bock. I asked for more bread to sop up every drop. Other favorites include an egg sandwich with piquillo peppers and bacon, butternut squash soup with fennel pollen, and a white chocolate rum tart with graham cracker crust and bruleed bananas. “Best dessert ever,” my friend declared after dinner one night.
Bolsa’s winning wine list deserves accolades as well. Its simple structure—bottles are grouped in price points of $20, $30, $40, and $50—and fair prices are welcome relief from these troubling economic times. Heavy on South American choices, it’s an inventive list void of the usual suspects.
All of this—memorable food, great service, and a cool vibe—makes Bolsa one of the hottest tickets in town. The place certainly has that “it” factor. Bolsa’s early crowd of Oak Cliff families and blue collar Bohemians is ceding a place at the bar to those trendy tykes and their Malbec musings. And that’s fine. There’s room for all at Bolsa. But less posing and more savoring, please.
Get contact information for Bolsa.