Certainly by December, the fickle Texas weather has turned colder. Mussels, the beloved bivalve of choice for many a foodie, seem to taste better when the air is crisp and the leaves have fallen from the trees. Add the fact that they are usually served in some sort of warm broth, and you have a read-made wintry meal. We recently flexed our (stomach) muscles around the area to see how some noted restaurants' mussels stacked up.
Sapristi! Bistro and Wine Bar
2418 Forest Park Blvd., Fort Worth, 76110, 817-924-7231, sapristibistro.com
The options: The restaurant recently changed the names of its well-regarded mussels. For whatever reason, they used to go by color. (My favorites were the Blues, a traditional preparation featuring shallots, white wine, parsley and butter.) Now, they are known by region. The Blues are now called French. There's also Italian (basil pesto, black olives and cream), Asian (lemongrass, cilantro, ginger, chili, lime and lager beer) and Spanish (tomatoes, chorizo, garlic, smoked paprika, kale and white wine). A small order is $10; a large is $20, which comes with french fries.
Mussel-ometer: They range in size from slightly-larger-than-thumbnail to about an inch long.
The taste: Although the larger mussels can sometimes be undercooked, and the smaller ones on the tough side, these mussels are overall a solid bet. The broth is where it's at here: Rich and earthy, the French mussels have a nice texture, thanks to the crunchy shallots. I like to take a piece of sourdough bread to mop up the broth once the mussels are long gone.
Starchy side: If there's one thing Sapristi is known for, other than its mussels, is its french fries, or pommes frites. These Belgian-style fries are addictively salty and dusted with herbs de Provence. Ask for spicy mustard in addition to the mayonnaise-y sauce they come with, and you'll have an array of dipping options. The fries also taste amazing after a soak in the broth, too.
Paco and John Mexican Diner
116 Eighth Ave., Fort Worth, 76104, 817-810-0032, pacoandjohn.com
The options: Mussels are not a standard menu item, but you can find them as a frequent special at lunch and, sometimes, dinner. They are prepared in one way, in a tomato-flavored, peppery broth. A lunch order is $9.95 and comes with a side salad. At the moment, Paco and John is temporarily closed for dinner.
Mussel-ometer: Nicely sized, on the average, 1-inch length.
The taste: Very good. These are on the spicy side, which lend the dish a nice kick. Cilantro antes the proceedings up a notch, giving the mussels a pleasing nudge in the Mexican food direction.
Starchy side: The chile-lime potato sticks ($1.95) are a match(stick) made in heaven for the mussels. Place a heaping handful of them in the remaining broth, and you're in for a treat. The crispy potatoes retain some crunch but also bow slightly to the broth, yielding a delicious bite.
3314 Knox St., Dallas, 75205, 214-520-8999, toulousecafeandbar.com
The options: Similar to Sapristi, there are a few options here. Choose from the Mariniere (garlic, white wine, butter and shallots), the Thai (coconut milk, yellow curry, tomatoes, lemongrass, ginger, cilantro and lime), the Provençale (tomatoes, kalamata olives, white wine, garlic and herbs), the Green Room (jalapeño, ginger, shiitake mushrooms, champagne and garlic) or the Saffron (kaffir lime leaves, creamy saffron broth, cherry tomatoes, leeks and fresh herbs). As an appetizer, they are $13; served as an entree with pomme frites, $19.95.
Mussel-ometer: Huge. Like, ridiculously big. According to my amateur measuring unit (the second segment of my index finger equals one inch), some were nearly an inch and a half long.
The taste: So good, they're worth the drive from Fort Worth, even stewing in Woodall Rodgers Freeway traffic. (Hey, it'll only make you hungrier.) I ordered the Green Room version, a plentiful serving with big pieces of mushrooms. The jalapeño gave the dish a nice spice, but it was the julienned pieces of ginger that spoke to me. Add the champagne, and there's a sweet note to a taste sensation of a broth. The mussels, despite their size, were cooked perfectly. My companion's Mariniere was also a stellar rendition.
Starchy side: The french fries taste like they were fried at least twice: The exterior is crispy with a capital C and the inside fluffy. These are easily the best fries in Dallas, if not the world. (Hey, all that time on Woodall-Rodgers made us really hungry.)
711 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, 76104, 817-923-2695, Shinjuku-station.com
The options: The dinner menu features sake-steamed black mussels ($12), a moderate portion perfect for sharing.
Mussel-ometer: Average size.
The taste: Quite spicy, the mussels benefit from the well-seasoned broth.
Starchy side: Our waiter (who was wonderfully knowledgeable and helpful) suggested we order a side of steamed white rice. All the better to dump in the seriously buttery broth. The yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit) adds a sweet element to the broth, but basically, the taste is sticky rice + melted butter = me proposing marriage/debating whether to pick up the bowl to slurp like cereal milk.