There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Press Cafe, by which I mean it’s really loud in there.
I found myself screaming at my husband during a recent dinner, and we weren’t having a fight — in fact, we were there to celebrate Valentine’s Day a few days early.
There was clanging of silverware and other related restaurant din, and then there were the boisterous voices emanating from girls’-night-out booths; there were high-topped tables full of well-heeled couples who also looked as though they were craning to hear one another.
It might be better to zone out/abandon any heavy conversation at Felipe Armenta’s third Fort Worth restaurant (after The Tavern and Pacific Table), which builds on the restaurateur’s legacy of delivering inventive veggie burgers and solid steak salads to a Polo-popping clientele — or just go for breakfast.
Located on a prized parcel overlooking the Trinity River in southwest Fort Worth, the place gets frenetic near brunch time. But at around 8:30 one recent weekend morning, it was half-full and quiet — a soothing sight.
It was too cold to enjoy the prodigious seating outside, which reminds you of Woodshed Smokehouse, so my dining companion and I settled into a booth, adjacent to floor-to-ceiling windows facing the river bank, and quickly ordered coffee (Avoca, natch), which was poured into Barefoot Contessa-esque clear mugs.
There are breakfast burritos ($6-$7) with cute names (The General, The Roadrunner) and decadent day-starters like the banana walnut waffles ($12), a tower o’ carbs overwhelmed by sliced bananas and dolloped with vanilla creme fraiche and candied walnuts. Slices of Nueske’s bacon come on the side.
The waffles ($5) and bacon ($4) a la carte sounded good, and they were. The salty, fatty and crisp bacon plus the sweet syrup from the waffles made a perfect pair, but a fruit bowl ($5) with surprisingly flavorful out-of-season cantaloupe and blueberries was the winner.
But back to that dinner.
The small — or as they say in the circles Press Cafe and its brethren travel, “curated” — menu has five starters, from a Mediterranean dip ($10) to steak skewers ($12). The tuna and shrimp poke ($14) sounded promising; the Hawaiian dish is currently trending in New York City dining, so I figured, why not try it in Fort Worth?
An overturned ramekin’s worth of diced sushi-grade tuna, avocado, mango and shrimp, the poke was dusted with macadamia nuts, drizzled with ponzu sauce and garnished with house-made potato chips. At first bite, you’d think the chips were crazy salty, but when matched with the more subtle flavors of the poke, the dish came together brilliantly.
Although sandwiches (including a pressed one, from which the restaurant derives its name) and salads grace the menu for lighter appetites, we gravitated toward the entrees.
I liked the Beeman Ranch New York strip ($27), expertly seared and well spiced, but unfortunately pre-sliced — something which I overlooked when ordering. I was looking forward to cutting into a steak, and instead, made do cutting bite-size morsels from the 3-inch-long pieces.
The steak had great flavor, and was complemented by the papas bravas, which I smartly substituted in lieu of the colcannon (mashed) potatoes.
The papas were an overwhelmingly spicy bowl of fingerlings laced with jalapeño slices and finished with a sriracha-like aioli. They were pretty, pretty good but could have been enhanced had the skins been crispier.
The Kurobuta pork loin chop ($24), flavorful but a little dry, was the better value — the thing was huge — and its accompanying creamed spinach played more like creamed spinach lite, with lemony, acidic notes that were not unlikable.
Dessert, made at The Tavern just across the river, beckoned. It was our Valentine’s dinner, after all. The Tuxedo cake ($8) was a huge, pleasant-enough wedge of chocolate cake, interspersed with a vanilla/marshmallow-y icing.
Notably, on both occasions, the wait staff seemed to flaunt a generalized disengaged mien. They were going through the motions, something that belies the upscale nature of the place and reeks of a lack of front-of-house oversight.
Press Cafe is a very attractive restaurant and very attractive people flock there, but it’s a head-scratcher of a goldmine. With a real-estate jackpot of a location, just-above-average food and laissez faire service, it is less than the sum of its parts.