Vee Lounge neatly embodies the high-energy, hybrid age we're all currently living in.
Located in the former Fat Daddy's club location, a short stroll from Sundance Square, it bills itself as a restaurant-lounge-bar, which it certainly is. The doors open at 3 p.m. every day (except for Sundays), which is a dead giveaway of Vee's nightclub bio-rhythms. Its decor, along with its $200,000 sound-and-light system, conjures images of New York's legendary, '70s-era, Studio 54 -- all tele-ported to Fort Worth with a contemporary update and vibe. LED lights gently carom off the central dance floor. Super-plush carpeting and columns encrusted in reflective tiles -- think vertical disco balls -- surround dark-wood tables and a granite bar built on what looks like the flashy grill of a '60s muscle car. Clusters of sofas group into lounge areas, where you can eat or, after 10 p.m., partake of the V.I.P. bottle-service ($275).
But all this club flash should not obscure the fact that Vee's owners, Houston-based Rick's Cabaret International, installed a $300,000 from-scratch, state-of-the-art kitchen, where executive chef Heath Rowe dreams up culinary adventures from the Mediterranean to Asia, often employing classic French techniques.
One of the downfalls of the Fort Worth Fat Daddy's was that it let its dance club denizens go hungry, choosing not to invest in building a kitchen. Vee Lounge seems intent on feeding our appetites on all levels.
The tapas starter of roasted garlic ricotta dumplings ($8) was a great way to start. Its cheesy pillows were delicious, and so was the sublimely well-balanced accompanying lemon-butter sauce. A deep bowl of Thai curry chicken soup ($8) hummed with curry spices, ginger and sweet basil -- so much so that I start slurping it as if I were wandering through a Bangkok market.
Meanwhile, the short-rib empanada ($6) was a textural delight, with its pastry a melt-in-your-mouth creation contrasting with the crunch of red onion relish. The short-rib quota needs to be upped considerably, however.
The most visually pleasing Vee Lounge starter is also its most basic: A charcuterie board ($24) that lives or dies based on the sheer vibrancy of its offerings. Most of the board's tenants, save for a bland dilled-Havarti, perform admirably: House-cured salmon, peppery Genoa salami and sopressata, complex Serrano ham, ultra-creamy house-made ricotta, nicely aged port cheddar, and the nutty, semi-soft Morbier all perform a harmonious charcuterie concert.
Vee's Akaushi filet mignon, at $38, is an investment -- but one that's worth making. The meat was cooked a perfect medium-rare, retaining a marvelous outer char. It sits on a potato pancake throne that attains the spud nirvana of a perfectly crunchy exterior, over a meltingly creamy inside.
There are countless ways to mess up seafood paella ($34), starting with overcooking the fish. But Vee's version manages to produce succulent mussels, a juicy slab of striped bass, a plump scallop, nonrubbery shrimp and the kicker of an Andouille-like house-smoked sausage -- all sitting on nicely toothsome, saffron-rice.
Desserts alternate between downhome and sleekly decadent. The upside-down coconut custard ($9), with its tiny sail of candied lime, is all key lime pie custardy goodness. Meanwhile, three chocolate cheesecake truffles ($9) are each the size of Dior business suit buttons, and just as elegantly presented, with each one so intensely packed with flavor that a knife is required to cut through their outer chocolate skin.
As a saxophonist fills Vee Lounge with smooth-jazz melodies, his volume is perfectly calibrated to the kind of restaurant Vee seems intent on being: Where glossy club surface, and substantial food offerings, can actually spend the night together -- and go home guilt-free.