DALLAS - This city seems to be all over TV these days. Lamar Odom, who rose to fame as a Los Angeles Laker and is married to reality TV star Khloe Kardashian, was recently traded to the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks. Entertainment news shows have been asking, “But what will California-bred Khloe do with herself in Dallas?’’
And then there is the anticipated return of the popular ’80s series “Dallas,’’ which hits TNT airwaves next summer. The show will pick up where it left off, starring a few characters from the first series (Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, and Patrick Duffy) alongside a new generation of Ewings.
When I thought about the city, I envisioned the first “Dallas’’ cast, living in a world of oil and cattle ranching - with the stereotypical cowboy hats, big hair, barbecue, and Tex Mex. But once I saw an episode of Bravo’s sexy TV series “Most Eligible Dallas,’’ I began to wonder what Dallas is really like. Is the night life that hot? Are there young singles everywhere? Does anyone dress down? This last question weighed on my single thirtysomething mind when my aunt asked if I would join her for a long weekend there to visit my twentysomething cousin. What would I wear?
As a Cape Cod-raised, Boston-dwelling, khaki-and-cardigan-loving gal, I needed a lesson in all things Dallas. When friends asked what I planned to do there - all I could imagine was eating steak and learning the two-step - I realized how little I knew about the seemingly glamorous city. I hoped my wardrobe wouldn’t stick out like a cranberry bog in the middle of a dude ranch.
My aunt and I packed our bags (think jeans, dangling earrings, and boots that weren’t for snow) and off we went for three days of eating with a hefty helping of pleasant surprises.
Yes, I ate my way through Dallas. But I also toured a sprawling arboretum where I got lost in a fairy tale world of pretty pumpkins and gorgeous gourds (even the gourds were glamorous), and ventured to the symphony. I walked from downtown through uptown, and drove a few miles north of downtown to check out Southern Methodist University with its tasteful brick buildings and manicured campus. The nearby Highland Park neighborhood was jaw dropping. “Everything’s bigger in Texas’’ rang true there, and my impressions were right on since watching HGTV’s “Donna Decorates Dallas.’’ The houses are sights to be seen: one after another, flawless and picturesque. Size does matter in these parts. I pictured Donna going door to door, transforming great rooms and master suites.
We spent much time in uptown, a strip of restaurants, bars, shopping, hotels, and condos with droves of young people. “Most Eligible Dallas’’ unfolded before my eyes. But I saw no big hair. Jeans? Yes. Boots? Yes. Dressed to the nines? Oh yes. But no big hair. I was at least in the clear in the locks department.
I quickly stopped paying attention to style, though, when I tasted the food. While we ate everything from juicy burgers to tapas to Vietnamese, I drooled over the Mexican food. I had hoped to find an authentic Mexican restaurant and Javier’s, north of uptown, didn’t disappoint. There were no tacos or chimichangas on the menu, but rather elegant dishes featuring anything from red snapper to shrimp to chicken and steak. I ordered the Filete Azteca, tenderloin tips in Mexican sauce with guacamole, rice, and beans ($22.95). The meat was juicy and tender with just the right amount of heat for my mild-medium taste buds. The margaritas were a hit, and then there was dessert: Tres Leches cake ($6.95). With every bite of its smooth and creamy rum-flavored richness, I melted. The table shared the dish, and while the conversation flowed up to this point, our words became syllables as we tasted (“mmmmm,’’ “wow,’’ “yum’’).
But, the food is not the only thing worth talking about. The restaurant has character and charm. With dim lighting, green plants all around, and plenty of framed art and wall decor, the atmosphere is homey. The multiple dining rooms with dark wooden tables and high-back chairs made us feel like guests at a crowded dinner party. And the mounted game on the walls certainly commands attention.
Brunch was up next. We ventured to Bread Winners Cafe in uptown, and when we arrived, we almost didn’t make it past window shopping in the front bakery. We were greeted by mouth-watering sweet treats - homemade strawberry and banana cream pies, cheesecake, chocolate brownies, breads, cookies. The place was packed. We walked through several formal dining spaces en route to our table in an enclosed garden patio with plenty of greenery and light. We quickly relaxed and dug right into the basket of moist breads. The menu included everything from the more traditional eggs any style and a smoked salmon bagel to the spicier breakfast burrito and tacos. I ordered a scramble of eggs, grilled chicken, ham, onion, tomato, and jack cheese with potatoes ($9.99).
If I had planned a picnic of this scrumptious food in the middle of the Dallas Arboretum, it would have been a match made in heaven. The arboretum was simply a delight. Sixty-six acres of fall gardens, sculptures, and pumpkin displays on White Rock Lake were stunning, the vibrant autumn colors mesmerizing. We passed several bridal photo shoots along the way. I found myself lost among the flowers and trees, and didn’t want to find my way out. Open year-round, the arboretum also offers dining, concerts, high tea, and educational programs for children and adults.
The downtown Arts District is also worth a visit. We took in a “casual Friday’’ performance of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, a shortened program of Chopin and Stravinsky without intermission at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. For a three-day weekend, it was just the right length. Before the performance, we sipped wine in the lounge area of the lobby, listening to piano by candlelight as we watched operagoers mingle next door at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House. The symphony center, opened in 1989, feels spacious and still new, and the music was splendid.
While we visited only the symphony, the list of other performing and visual arts venues in the Arts District is impressive, including the Dallas Museum of Art and the Nasher Sculpture Center. Opened in 2009, the AT&T Performing Arts Center includes several indoor and outdoor performance spaces. Also in the area, the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the St. Paul United Methodist Church add a touch of history to the district’s otherwise contemporary vibe.
But keep in mind that the downtown area is a long walk from the plentiful dining out and night life options in uptown. The McKinney Avenue Transit Authority, known as the M-Line, does offer a free vintage trolley service through uptown into the Arts District (www.mata.org). If you are not driving, there are taxis, and the city has other public transportation by way of Dallas Area Rapid Transit, or DART (www.dart.org).
If you are dying to two-step into the wee hours, boogie on over to Cowboys Red River Dancehall. It’s a bit of a drive from downtown, but the spirited scene is worth the trip. The country-western dancing takes center stage, and the live music is rocking. If you feel brave, kick up your heels and give it a whirl - or just have fun watching couples step in time. And don’t forget your cowboy hat. It is Texas, after all (Khloe and Lamar, take note).
If you go...
What to do
8525 Garland Road
214-515-6500 www.dallasarboretum.org Adults $12, age 65 and older $10, children 3-12 $8, members and under 3 free. Parking $7.
Dallas Symphony Orchestra
Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center
2301 Flora St.
214-692-0203 www.dallassymphony.com Cowboys Red River Dancehall
10310 Technology Blvd.
Lively country-western music and dancing will keep you on your toes until the early morning hours; age 18 and older.
Where to eat
Javier’s Gourmet Mexicano
4912 Cole Ave.
Bread Winners Cafe and Bakery
3301 McKinney Ave.
214-754-4940 www.breadwinnerscafe.com Where to stay
214-468-8399 www.hotelzazadallas.com Boutique hotel features concept suites, luxury guest rooms, fine dining, and day spa. Pet friendly. Rates typically $299-$2,500 per night.
Dallas Marriott City Center
650 North Pearl St.
In the Arts District off the DART Rail Pearl Street Station. Rates typically from $109 per night.
Katie McLeod can be reached at email@example.com.