My wife is a fashion gal born and raised in Dallas. She witnessed decades of rise and fall of the local retail businesses. As of today, many malls she used to visit in the past have either closed down or are slowly fading into obscurity, except one which actually saw a great deal of expansion lately. Yes, you know I’m talking about The Shops at Willow Bend!
A New Spot for Nightlife
I’m no expert in retail or real estate business, but I can feel that SCG is transforming Willow Bend from a shopping center into a hub of entertainment and nightlife. There’s a mini-park behind the mall, known as “The District”. It has already become a playground for kids while the parents hung out and browsed the surrounding restaurants. I was quite intrigued by these new fares and I’m sure many are, too. So I have decided to try out all of these new restaurants as they gradually open up and review each one in detail. Hopefully, this will give everyone an idea what The District has to offer.
Today I will introduce Terra, an upscale spin-off of the Ali Baba Mediterranean Grill from Richardson. Terra’s menu is a mix of Turkish and Greek cuisine. In my opinion, they are aiming to extract the essence of Mediterranean cuisine and infuses it with our familiar entree formula – a protein, a vegetable and a starch. I believe Terra is going for simplicity and abstraction rather than authenticity. Therefore I came with the right expectation, which helped me enjoy the experience.
The Dips You Don’t Wanna Miss
We ordered two dips for appetizer. This menu items lets you choose from one to three types of dip out of four: Hummus, Baba Ganoush (roasted and then pureed eggplant), Lebni (Greek yogurt with olive oil), and Muhammara (minced red pepper and walnut).
We picked Baba Ganoush and Muhammara since we wanted to see how they interpret these complex and challenging dishes. At first we thought the portions might be small, but when they arrived, my first thought was “how are we supposed to finish these!” Seriously, with the complementary pita bread, just a couple of dips will be more than enough for one person’s entire meal.
The Baba Ganoush is nothing like what I had elsewhere. Roasted eggplants tend to have a gelatinous texture, especially when pureed. However, Terra’s version wasn’t like that at all. In fact it had a hummus-like consistency, thick, creamy, and easy to pick up with pita bread. It also had a noticeable smoky flavor from the charred skin, which makes it “real Baba Ganoush.” The nutty richness of the Tahini (sesame paste) was perfectly balanced by the refreshing tartness of lemon juice. Every component in this dish stood out without overpowering the rest. It was nothing but one amazing Baba Ganoush!
The Muhammara, on the other hand, was bold and complex. It took me many bites to figure out all the ingredients: red pepper, walnuts, scallion, oregano, chopped mint and crushed cumin seeds. It wasn’t spicy, so the kids loved it. When I took a bite, I found the most pronounced flavors to be cumin, oregano and mint, and the seasoning was a bit on the sweeter side. It’s been two weeks now since I ate at Terra, and I can still taste this distinctive combination in my imagination. If you are going to Terra, I highly recommend these two dips! Since we loved it so much, I’m going to recreate it at home, so keep an eye on this blog – an original recipe is coming soon!
Saffron Chicken – A Rather Strange Contraption
I normally don’t order chicken breast dishes when I eat out. The reason being, restaurants usually overcook the chicken to avoid the risk of food poisoning. When overcooked, chicken breast will just turn into tough pieces of rubber. Worse yet, when the line is busy, some restaurants might even serve the meat still raw in the center! There is only a tiny window of perfect done-ness for the chicken breast, somewhere between 160 to 163 degrees (yes, I know, it needs to be 165 to be safe, but that’s already overcooked), which makes it very difficult to execute in a high-stress environment.
But! To take one for the team, I decided to try Terra’s Saffron Chicken. It definitely sounded delicious and I always loved saffron:
Sauteed chicken & mushrooms in a creamy curry sauce & saffron rice
The dish appeared to be similar to a yellow Thai curry, with thick slices of chicken and mushrooms. After tasting the sauce, my facial expression must be somewhere between amusement and disgust, since my wife asked me “what’s wrong?”
The sauce tasted eerily like Chinese cooking wine, so it seems to contain some kind of alcohol. The saffron provided the signature yellow color to the cream. Later I began to understand the style Terra went for with this dish: the saffron cream sauce from southern France, usually paired with shrimp or shellfish. Sadly though, the strong taste of cooking wine completely masked any taste of saffron, unlike the actual French version I had before. It was just strange, and probably a waste of good saffron. The chicken breast was overcooked and tough. I guess I should have ordered the Rotisserie Chicken, which I do have high confidence for since I had it many times back in Ali Baba.
The saffron rice that came with the curry (and many other entrees here) was much better in comparison. It tasted exactly like the rice from Ali Baba, with the cut vermicelli and all. I did see quite a few strands of saffron in it, but for some reason I still couldn’t detect any of it in my palate. Perhaps the saffron chicken dish had dulled my senses.
Gyro & Beef Kabobs
The gyros platter came with a very generous portion of meat. The gyro was thin but very moist, with a good amount of fat mixed in. I have always loved Ali Baba’s gyros, and Terra was no different. I’ve had other styles of gyros too, and I love how every restaurant has its own unique twist.
The beef kabob was a little different: I think it used flat iron steak instead of the usual sirloin or chuck, mostly by the hint of gaminess and texture.
I have cooked a lot of flat iron steak in the past. The flat iron comes from the shoulders and is rich in myoglobin, which causes a strong “iron-y” gaminess. On the other hand, this cut has great marbling. Therefore, if executed properly, it will be rich and flavorful, and still tender like the sirloin. One caveat is that heat transfers within this cut of steak is much slower compared to strip steak and ribeye. From my past experience, grilling alone couldn’t easily cook the meat through, and I always had to pop it in the oven to finish it off.
Not surprisingly, here at Terra, when I asked for medium-rare it arrived more on the rare side. Perhaps the chef treated it like the premium cuts and didn’t account for the flat iron’s longer cooking time. The charring did provide a nice smoky aroma which helped with the gaminess, and it was well-seasoned too. If you decide to order the beef kabobs, make sure to ask if it’s flat iron – if so, go one step up with done-ness to compensate.
Overall, I think Terra is a good place for a deluxe Mediterranean experience. Not really authentic, but you can expect quality and generosity.