Authentic Italian Café Food In Downtown Dallas

The area around Dallas' The Joule hotel exudes a tony vibe. The hotel itself displays creative design and quirky touches. The food and drink options include the one-of-a-kind CBD Provisions, a European Belle Époque-style rendering of afternoon tea at Taschen, an aspirant for Best Cocktail Bar in town in Midnight Rambler and, most recently, the bijoux restaurant Mirador, owned by The Joule and located across the street,. The restaurateur behind it all, Tim Headington, is aiming high. Little wonder the whole Joule empire has emerged as both a magnet for and provider of superior culinary talent.

Americano doesn't claim to push boundaries the way these others do. It is the casual eatery designed for hotel guests and downtown visitors alike. The design speaks casual, right down to the plywood panels on the walls. We would have headed straight for the patio, but Dallas had rain pouring down in buckets on the night we visited (what with it being June and all). This visit to check out chef Matt Ford's menu updates was actually my second — an earlier visit focused on the pizza offerings, so I skipped all pizza this time, confident in my recommendations.

We started with the small plates, zeroing on the albacore tuna crudo with capers, lemon, and olive oil ($13). It was laid out on the plate precisely as described on the menu. Charred eggplant spread, cucumber, red onion, feta, and pickled vegetables with warm bread ($10) was a kind of Italian baba ghanoush with vegetables, especially since the accompanying bread resembled pitas. Heartwarming stuff for a cold night.

We had a gestalt shift when our wine arrived — in tumblers. I don't deny that this is done in certain osterie in the Old Country, but that wine typically comes from the owner's barrel behind the counter and commands a pocket-money price. Americano serves some impressive wines (especially the Italian selections) and these deserve proper glasses. If they want to project the casual image, fine. Use stemless wine glasses, not tumblers that eviscerate the aromas and bouquet.

On the wine list, check out the Arneis, a Piedmontese white wine, and the Montepulciano-grape red wine from Duchman, one of the best wineries in Texas. Both are available by the glass (er, tumbler) or the bottle.

On to large plates. We devoured all of the delicious cioppino ($23), in which the mussels and squid shone. The dish named simply "Spaghetti" ($17) must be one of the most inventive incarnations in town of this most prosaic of all pastas — the menu serves notice that it contains roasted mushrooms, braised Tuscan kale, marinated tomato, and farm egg, but it doesn't let on that the presentation is so inviting. The ingredients are served in a bowl all lightly tossed together, except for that quail egg which is plopped centrally on top, gurning at you, daring you to dig in. Good work, chef Ford.

You don't really need sides, given the portion sizes, but if you do decide to get one (ideally for the table), check out the broccoli rabe. For dessert the choices are mainstream. We hit the gelato, but you can go with tiramisu, ricotta cheesecake, or panna cotta.

What I would like to see is a cream sauce offered with some (or at least one?) of the pastas — an alfredo or a carbonara maybe. I realize that Americano is trying to project a healthy menu image, but the Renaissance would have more likely happened in Australia had Italy not had cream sauces. Also, does the wine list have enough soft red wines? No pinot noir, dolcetto, etc. (Maybe I missed the substitute.)

There are good cocktails and a reasonable beer selection including the local (Lakewood Temptress), and an esoteric import (Duvel, Belgium).

Check out Americano, the moderately-priced casual cousin of the Joule's impressive restaurant portfolio.