It's an against-all-odds scenario: The owners of Ruffino's and Piola, two of Fort Worth's most beloved Italian restaurants, open a new place in an area of town notoriously devoid of mom-and-pop restaurants; in a strip mall on a street riddled with construction zones; and, hold your breath, here it comes, with nary a baked ziti in sight.
Red Door Bistro is a big step, a big chance, for Bobby and Donna Albanese to take. Years after they established Piola and Ruffino's (the latter of which closed 15 months ago, after 21 years) as hubs for authentic Italian cuisine, the two are moving far, far away from their comfort zones and into Mediterranean, French, Greek and American cuisine territory. Who'da thought Bobby Albanese would ever do a catfish sandwich?
It's a gamble that has paid off handsomely. Our experiences at Red Door were, from top to bottom, delightful and memorable, from the quality of the globe-trotting food to the outstanding service.
Located within a stone's throw of the new tollway construction, the restaurant doesn't look like much from the outside, but its strip-mall facade gives way to a handsome, elegant room, with wood-colored tables and chairs, floor-to-ceiling windows, concrete floors and an extensive wine list. It manages to be cozy and classy.
While chef Bobby designed the menu, Donna owns and runs the restaurant. She's a constant presence, shuffling from table to table, treating customers like old friends. During our visits, her hands-on attention was mimicked by the servers, who, like those at Piola, are detail-oriented and knowledgeable but not annoyingly hovering.
Dish after dish showed a deft hand at cultivating a multitude of dynamic flavors. One of our favorites was a chicken roulade ($16), composed of thinly sliced chicken breast wrapped, sushi-style, around a mix of mushrooms, shallots, ricotta and mozzarella, then served atop a mound of soft pesto couscous and a pool of faintly spicy red pepper sauce. It was artfully constructed, the colors as vibrant as the flavors.
Another runaway hit was the quail ($17), served with a shiny marinade of honey, chipotle and a touch of tequila. The bird was neatly cut into six pieces, each with a good portion of meat, the skin crisp with a nice, sweet flavor. A significant amount of heat came from a double-dose of poblano -- a pillowy poblano risotto upon which it was served and a bright green poblano pesto that encircled the plate.
A far less complicated Angus burger ($12) was good, too. Served on a lightly toasted brioche bun, the patty was cooked a little beyond our requested medium but still retained plenty of juice and beefy flavor. A slice of smoked gouda was a nice touch, and a basil-infused mayo kicked this burger up a notch. Shoestring fries, seasoned with salt and pepper, were simple and solid.
Lighter fare included a wonderfully citrusy potato and artichoke cream soup ($7), brimming with pureed specks of artichoke heart, and a tricked-out Waldorf salad ($8) made with curly endive, green apple slices, candied walnuts and a thin, tangy dressing.
Housemade beignets ($8) made a good starter but could have been an ender as well. Served six to an order, they were crisp and brown on the outside and hot and fluffy inside. With no sugar coating, they were savory, but were easily sweetened by a ramekin of honey. They also came with olives and feta, for those who want to stick to savory, although combining all three brought out some lovely flavors.
For dessert, our server recommended the addicting limoncello lady finger cake ($6), which bore a striking resemblance to tiramisu, an Italian dessert. Old habits.