By Jason Gatsby, TSB's Chow Hound
Considering this past weekend was Cinco de Mayo (a holiday which many of us aren’t exactly sure what we’re celebrating while consuming copious amounts of Corona and Dos Equis), my fellow foodies and I were bent on celebrating and unanimously decided upon dining at La Duni Latin Kitchen.
Tres Leches cake will always have a place in my heart. I distinctly remember going over to my best friend’s house as a child and hoping his grandmother had made her version of the heavenly dessert. Reminiscing about it conjures a Pavlovian response, salivating as I think about sinking my teeth into the dense, homemade pound cake enriched with sweetened condensed milk.
Upon perusing the dessert menu at La Duni, which I just happened to do before I looked at the dinner menu, my eyes widened at the site of “Cuatro Leches Cake” ($7.25). Not just three milks, but four! Immediately, I was transformed 20 years prior as the decadent slice of vanilla sponge cake topped with a brulee’d meringue arrived, soaking in a pool of rich sweetened milk with caramel draped in lavish swirls. La Duni’s desert is so rich that it’s nearly impossible to finish the entire piece on your own. The cake is best shared with loved ones, because only those who are closest to you are deserving of such a slice of heaven. And yes, it deserves to be labeled “Award Winning.”
For Executive Chef Espartaco “Taco” Borga and his wife Dunia (who also happens to be the pastry chef), opening up their flagship restaurant, La Duni in Fairview, must have been a no-brainer. The Village of Fairview is growing rapidly as it is brimming with teenagers and young adults moving swiftly from store to store in search of the latest fashion trend.
The Village is “tres-chic” in it’s own right. The outdoor shopping center is equipped with volleyball courts, a residential farm, an iPic theatre and a Whole Foods. All components, which represent the ideal perception of Mecca for the average 20-something who is eager to make their footprint in the world. Recognizing their potential cliental, La Duni’s combination of European elegance and Latin soul fits appropriately with the patrons roaming the sidewalks in Fairview.
The Borgas are no strangers to the greater Dallas area. Contrarily, the couple has been a part of the North Dallas restaurant seen since 1988. Taco co-founded ZuZu and the acclaimed Lavendou before venturing off to establish his own family-run restaurant concept. Taco and Dunia made an immediate impact, and in 2001 La Duni was recognized as one of the nation’s best new restaurants. With their newfound success, the Borgas quickly grew and presently the couple oversees four La Duni restaurants and five Dulce coffee studios.
Seldom do I interact and converse with an impolite wait staff at La Duni, but on this occasion, I found dealing with our server frustrating. Clearly, her attitude portrayed the “I wish I could be anywhere else but dealing with people coming in to eat at this restaurant” vibe. It’s also frustrating to deal with an uneducated front of the house staff.
“In the mushroom empanada, is there anything else in the filling?” I asked. Following an awkward silence, her response was, “Um, I don’t know. Probably just mushrooms.”
Her second faux pas occurred as I sat down. I politely asked for chips and salsa, and I was taken aback by her response. “You don’t get chips and salsa until you order,” she said. Surely her intent was not malicious, but indifferent. La Duni takes pride in its family friendly environment, but for a restaurant that claims, “anyone who sits down and shares our meal is family,” we sure did feel like the red-headed stepchild.
At first glance, La Duni’s cocktails appear to be expensive at $9.75 apiece, but freshly squeezed juice, muddled fruit and fresh herbs along with homemade simple syrups make for a lavish cocktail. Although Mojitos are a favorite amongst my peers, the Caipirinha, a Brazilian cocktail composed of muddled limes, ice, sugar & Cachaca, provides a sophisticated take on the familiar margarita. My fellow diners and I were quite wild about the fresh lime-forward drink.
Fairview Panchos ($11.75) are branded as “grown up nachos.” The nachos and the empanadas were a delicious way to start our meal. The Panchos consist of four cheeses, rich black beans, lime roasted Serrano peppers, mashed avocado, Mexican cream, cilantro, and radishes. The complex take on the average nacho provides a balanced flavor profile with an intriguing mouth feel consisting of crunchy tortilla chips and creamy avocado, crema and back beans. I highly recommend this dish and if you aren’t extremely hunger, add the chicken or shrimp and this plate would suffice for the main course.
La Duni’s empanadas, their version of the Argentinian turnover is made from flaky puff pastry filled with savory ingredients. The dish is accompanied with a side chimichurri sauce to help cut the richness that the tender, buttery crust and rich filling provides. For meat pie lovers, empanadas might be up your alley, but for those watching caloric intake, steer clear of this deep fried Latin appetizer. (Or share with the entire table.)
La Duni offers a variety of entrees to accommodate most patrons, but the menu’s complexity may not be considered “child friendly.” Prices can be upward of $30 or labeled as “Market Price.” The intimidating entrée of a 16-ounce bone-in rib eye, carne asada, pork tenderloin and sausage serves two to three and is a meat glutton’s paradise. Enchiladas are easily recognizable and are a safe bet for diners. The “enchiladas suizas de pollo con queso Gruyere” ($14.50) are flash fried and full of flavor due to the chiltomate salsa. The roasted chicken filling was on the dry side but the Gruyere and Mexican crema along with the black beans reconstituted moisture into the chicken.
The most disappointing entrée was the Lomito Cubano ($17.95). A hefty portion of pork tenderloin that has been roasted and then grilled read as an appetizing entrée, but the overcooked meat was like chewing through leather. The mojo crillo provided much needed flavor, and even though there were only two, the sweet plantains were my favorite part of the dish.
Sadly, basmati rice is a common side that accompanies most entrees. Basmati rice is far from aesthetically pleasing. White rice with chopped parsley as a garnish leaves little to the imagination. The lackluster flavor left me longing for cilantro lime rice or Mexican rice. If your entrée included an appealing sauce, then the basmati rice does enable you to soak up every last bite.
La Duni is nestled cozily in the Village of Fairview directly to the north of Macy’s and The Broga’s have created an upscale, yet casual, restaurant that I continue to frequent regularly, especially when family shopping becomes too overwhelming and I’m in need of nourishment. I often find myself sipping on a cocktail or an espresso and eating the “Quinoa Salad Trio”, which consists of a green salad, chicken salad and the quinoa salad on the patio. Although the salad allows me to feel like I’m sticking to my diet, occasionally I’ll treat myself to a fresh pastry from La Duni’s coffee studio, Dulce, which is attached to the restaurant. Dulce offers cupcake versions of some of the decadent cake choices, serves up sundaes, sandwiches, artisanal vintage sodas and, a selections of specialty coffees. After all, painted on the wall on the restaurant is the phrase, “A day without cake, is a day without love.” In this place, I have to concur.
La Duni Latin Kitchen
233 Town Pl, Fairview, TX 75069
Over All: 2 and a half stars
Food: 2 and a half stars
Beverages: three stars
Service: 2 stars
Atmosphere: 2 and a half stars
FOUR STARS = Extraordinary; THREE STARS = Excellent; TWO STARS = Good; ONE STAR = Fair; NO STARS = Poor
$ = Inexpensive: entrees $10 and under; $$ = Moderate: $11-$17; $$$ = Expensive: $18-$24; $$$$ = Very Expensive: more than $25