Good eating in Dallas

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Bullion

In a world dominated by mega franchises and celebrity-chef chains, it’s refreshing to see a handful of new and original dining options emerging deep in the heart of Texas. Dallas might be proud of her storied reputation for Barbecue, but I stumbled upon a couple of culinary standouts that are taking the city of big hair to even bigger heights.

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Bullion

Curiously suspended in mid-air like a golden-tiled hornet’s nest clinging for dear life to the 3rd floor of a downtown office tower, is an oblique chocolate box that is home to Michelin star chef Bruno Devaillon’s newest bistro – Bullion. It’s hard not to wonder what a French bistro might be doing just a block-and-a-half from the Kennedy assassination site, and after overhearing a fellow diner climbing down from her white Yukon Denali proudly exclaiming: “I eat French food all the time. French fries. French toast. French bread. All of it!” I couldn’t help wondering just how much chef Bruno might have to “Tex-ify” some of his Franco masterpieces. But my fears were unfounded. After ascending the spiral stairway, you leave Texas behind you for an hour or so, and find yourself in a cruise-ship styled cocktail lounge that leads via the pastry rack to an ornate, yet unpretentious dining space with dark woods and golden trims, somewhere along the border of cosy and chic.

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Bullion

The menu reads like any you’d find along la rive gauche with a few contemporary items wedged between stalwart classics like a hearty saffron and tomato Bouillabaise with a mix of seafood shells and scales served with shards of grilled country bread, and an immaculately charred Foie Gras Torchon complete with berry marmalade and squishy brioche. But nothing gets a table arm-wrestle match going like a bowlful of the most amazing Gougéres au Gruyere. These caramel colored puffs are lighter and fluffier than a cheerleaders’ pom-pom. And as they go about their miraculous disappearing act, it feels like a kiss to the lips from a cheese-dusted feather.

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Gourgéres de Gruyére, Bullion

I was intrigued by the notion of a leek salad and so had to try the Poireaux, which features a regimented row of steamed leeks trying their best to impersonate white asparagus, dotted with soft goat-cheese and roasted hazelnuts in a super light truffle vinaigrette.

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Poireaux, Bullion

Even though this is grill country, the sumptuous Tournedos filet mignon with potato gratin and a trickle of mild oxtail au jus is an extraordinarily smooth cut that submits its salty umami without resistance.

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Tournedos, Bullion

The Cabillaud & Brandade awash with a tart tomato and caper confit is just light enough not to kill the subtle cod flavor, and the Agneau is an incredibly toffee-tender lamb loin, very gently accented with a sparkle of anchovy vinaigrette, accompanied by a bright and crunchy summer succotash. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, there was enormous restraint from over-flavoring the food – true to the kitchen’s mission to prepare dishes that don’t overshadow the key ingredients. Even the table-side flambéed guava and coconut ice-cream centered Baked Alaska is meek, mild, subtle and delicate.

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Baked Alaska, Bullion

Foxyco, chef Jon Steven’s latest effort in the Design District, is anything but meek and mild. His 6-week old second act following nearby neighborhood darling Stock & Barrel is a bucking bronco of runaway flavor. He coyly describes it as “modern American”, but that seems far too reticent for his brave, adventurous and (dare I say) aggressive approach to breaking rules and ignoring conventions. Even as you walk into the monochrome open space flanked by a massive mural that could be the result of a toddler’s paint party or a wannabe tribute to Jackson Pollack, you smell wafts of hickory coals emanating from his open kitchen. He’s obviously having loads of fun flexing his dexterous abilities with a mélange of cooking styles ranging from sous-vide to wood-fire grilling, to both at the same time!

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Foxyco

The menu is a tornado of way too many “must try” items like a red curry and Thai basil Warm Crab Dip, or a Farro Risotto, or perhaps a crab and hazelnut Squid ink Spaghetti (which will hopefully still be there on a return visit). I finally landed the plane on two starters, a main and a vegetable.

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Foxyco

First to emerge was an astoundingly delicious row of 4 cubes of crispy rice-cakes supporting a mound of miso-marinated Big Eye Tuna Tartare topped with basil, cilantro and a grate of lemon.

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Big Eye Tuna Tartare, Foxyco

Just as I was recoiling from the electric jolt of Asian flavors, a gorgeous snowball of scrumptious Burrata sailed in, surrounded by a bed of harissa and orange blossom infused olive oil. But the deal-clincher was the sprinkling of mint, salt flakes and honey-comb on top. That’s it. From now on, everything I eat will have to be topped with mint, salt and honey-comb.

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Burrata, Foxyco

As I waited for my Wagyu Short rib, contemplating how slowly it must have cooked in a sous-vide bag for 72 hours before being espresso-rubbed and then flame grilled to fall-apart perfection, the three strands of saffron continued to stain my Canary gin and kaffir lime cocktail a soft and rosy shade of gold.

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Wagyu Short rib, Foxyco

Needless to say, the combination of shaved horse-radish with pickled onions together with an anchovy salsa verde elevated the incredibly beefy flavor of the Wagyu – just the way meat used to taste in the olden days. Switching back and forth between the short rib and a heap of corn-flour dusted florets of Fried Cauliflower anchored in a spectacular cilantro-heavy green goddess dressing with parmesan and shaved dates felt like juggling between diamonds and rubies.

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Fried Cauliflower, Foxyco

So next time you’re passing through the big “D”, consider a bold detour from in-room dining. Because there’s more than oil in them there hills.

www.bullionrestaurant.com

http://foxycodallas.com/home/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keep Calm and Curry On!

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It was very much within my lifetime that London’s most traditional meal switched from Fish & chips, to Curry & rice. By contrast, New York’s Indian fare is nowhere near the scope and scale of London’s, but the clutter of turmeric-awninged establishments up and down Lexington avenue in Manhattan’s Curry (Murray) Hill are just the preview of the larger story. Thanks to an incredible fellowship of chefs from all across the Indian peninsula, Michelin and the New York Times have been generously honoring Indian restaurants with stars, stripes and other accolades. Here’s how they shake down for me.

Chicken Kati rolls – IndiKitch

Categorizing from fastest to slowest (Curry in a Hurry notwithstanding), IndiKitch is the papadum and samosa version of Taco Bell. Good, clean, tasty and fresh. You build your meal from carbs to cattle with chutneys, sauces and rices on the side.

For in-home delivery I have Dhaba on speed-dial right below 911, thanks to their vast menu of all-time classic favorites, made just the way I like them: Tandoori, Korma, Paneer, Masala, Vindaloo…even a collection of British-inspired curry dishes. If you love Poori like I do (a hot-air filled, angry, blow-fish looking pillow of bread – the size of which remains curiously dependent on the weather) you have arrived!

Pondicheri

One of the newer kids on the block is Pondicheri. What the exposed-ceilinged, cavernous Flatiron space lacks in intimacy, with one teal wall and a massive gray mural with what looks like a couple of giant balls of wool quickly unraveling across another, or the head-scratchingly ominous tangle of cables and wires overhead, it more than makes up for in non-traditional, but authentic pan-regional fare. The Houston import is more of a “community concept” than just a restaurant. With a huge enviro-agenda, cooking classes, pop-up event dinners and a super-busy in-house bakery, where chef Anita Jaisinghani churns out the most extraordinarily yummy Indian interpretations on popular western confections.

Bakery Counter – Pondicheri

Donuts dripping with rose-water honey, Financiers with pistachios and cumin, Rice crispy bars with nuts and curry, coffee cakes, cookies and ginger snaps that populate the breakfast and lunchtime counter. Dinner is a bit smarter. Down goes the lighting, and out comes the wait staff. The best way to navigate the mainly street-food menu, is to go for one of the freshest and tastiest Samosa’s on the island, followed by one of the Thalis platters, that provide a half dozen different dish-lets of kebabs, soups, poultry, ribs, greens and more. I thoroughly enjoyed the one called Earth for its standing-ovation worthy Butter Chicken.

Paowalla

If you’ve ever wondered what happened to Tabla on Madison Park, turns out chef Floyd Cardoz is back, but this time he’s converted one of those typical West Village neighborhoodsy corner cafés into his next culinary canvas. Paowalla (named for the bicycle peddlers of traditional breads) offers so much more than just cumin/cardamom/chili delights. The carb-forward menu is a striking introduction to the real world of Roti and Naan, stuffed with cheeses, radishes, bacon and herbs. Cardoz also pulls together a few unexpected pairings, many of which make for happy surprises like Burrata submerged in a delicious puddle of Dal, or the tandoor-fried Black Pepper Shrimp, while others…not so much. The overly-soggy, coconut-laced Baked Crab might have been more comfortable under the protection of its shell, but I adored my first ever Dogfish curry, smothered in flavor, steamed in banana leaves and served with tart mango over brown rice.

Short and Saintly Rib – Tapestry

Going even further along the bridge toward experimentation, Michelin star winner Suvir Saran’s new downtown bistro is appropriately named Tapestry, in my mind suggesting the very fabric of what comprises our city, offering up a menu every bit as diverse as the kitchen staff, the clientele and the planet in general. Saran calls it “comfort food from around the world.” Maybe. I prefer: “The united nations of yum!” It’s where India whimsically intersects with Italy, Morocco, Mexico, Peru, Portugal and Louisiana – otherwise known as the F train.

Roasted Cauliflower – Tapestry

You can’t help smiling as you scan the remarkably affordable menu that has the chutzpah to combine a heavenly Arancini with green curry, or a tangy, sweet and crispy Okra salad with chaat masala. How about an irresistible Cauliflower roasted with hakka spices? Or the only time I can ever remember asking for left-overs to be boxed up: a super-tender Short Rib with cashew-poppy kurma. And the dish that just became my ultimate bribe ever – the utterly sublime Masala Fried Chicken. I still dream and drool about those flavorful sections of spicy, fried chicken tossed in a sticky, sweet and savory chutney, alongside a peanut slaw. And finally, almost triumphantly, a guava and passion fruit, flaming tribute to a baked Alaska called Fire and Ice. We’re not talking fusion here. This is pure kitchen magnificence.

Fire and Ice – Tapestry

That brings us to the northern end of the price/flavor scale. Indian Accent just celebrated its first birthday as one of New Delhi’s finest exports into Manhattan’s midtown maze. The dark, sleek and sexy interiors look, smell and feel nothing like your typical Indian restaurant. Almost formal – if you’re judging by the prix fixe options of 3 or 4-course menus, but casual enough to do without the tablecloths.

Indian Accent

Despite the litany of translations and explanations the poor wait staff have to decode – thanks to the lexicon of unrecognizable and unpronounceable items, there’s no collective sighing or rolling of eyes – yet. The plating is gorgeous. The flavors are remarkable. The cocktails are imaginative. The service is excellent. The prices are high.

Crab Claws – Indian Accent

Standouts (and judging by our neighbors on both sides who imitated us plate-for-plate) are the Potato Sphere chaat, which is a charming miniature birds nest of crispy potato shoelaces spun into a ball over a white pea mash, the utterly finger-lickingly delectable, butter-pepper-garlic baptized Crab Claws, the unsharably wonderful sweet and sour, fall-off-the-bone Pickled Ribs, the scrumptious Chicken Kofta (meatballs), and the magnificently tender Braised lamb with prune korma.

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Pickled Ribs – Indian Accent

Each main is accompanied by a choice of Kulcha (if an enchilada and a calzone had an Indian baby) stuffed with any number of interesting ingredients like hoisin duck or pastrami mustard. Yes folks, we’re a long way from curry in a hurry!

Potato Sphere – Indian Accent

https://www.indikitchtogo.com/store25/restaurant.php

http://www.dhabanyc.com/

http://www.pondichericafe.com/new-york

http://www.indianaccent.com/index.html

Cosme review

While much of New York had been in a state of near apoplectic delirium as it anticipated the opening of Mexico City master-chef Enrique Olvera’s newest dining sensation Cosme, I have to confess that I also smooshed my nose against the glass on more than one occasion as I’d walk past the former sleazy strip bar (or “gentlemens club”) to witness the progress. Thankfully the space bears absolutely no resemblance to its former existence. Instead Olvera’s team has created a sleek and moody, dark gray, L-shaped room with sparse lighting, bright wooden surfaces and eye-level racks of wine. In the off chance that there might still be an open ear for improvements, I would make a plea for some desperately needed sound-absorptive materials. Hidden fabric ceiling panels, cushions, rugs…anything to facilitate hearing some of the intricate preparation details from the authentically accented wait staff.

I think it’s imperative to point out that if you’re expecting a typical taco/burrito/quesadilla dinner, you wouldn’t be reading a review by me. Chef Olvera’s menu is the culmination of homegrown authenticity combined with unexpected and unusual international preparations that elevate Mexican cuisine into the culinary stratosphere. The flavoring is bold – but not blunt. The dishes are diverse – but not random. The presentation is full of bright contrasts, but still very appetizing and approachable.

Occidental Heirloom Blue-corn Tortillas with Pumpkin seed and Habanero butter - Cosme

Occidental Heirloom Blue-corn Tortillas with Pumpkin seed and Habanero butter

Instead of bread and butter, they serve a heavenly (yet modest) portion (I was obliged with three subsequent follow-ups) of Occidental Heirloom blue corn Tortillas, that have been dried and freshly fried until they deliver a deeply earthy and dark purple crunch with a curry colored paste of pumpkin seed, garlic, habanero peppers and butter – the perfect introduction to the dozen or so appetizers ranging from sea urchins to eggplants.

Seafood vuelve a la vida - Cosme

Seafood vuelve a la vida

I am a huge fan of ceviche, but no one ever served me a Seafood vuelve a la vida (comes back to life) inside an avocado before. The combination of sweet tomato and horseradish, with morsels of fish inside the cocoon of a creamy avocado is utterly simple, remarkable and wonderful. We had to try the much bleated about Burrata with salsa verde and “weeds”, which is another confident combination of simple flavors and fresh textures that might crisscross multiple borders, but delivers flawlessly nonetheless. The only disappointments to the daily printed menu were the Chicharones which were quizzically sold out by 7:00pm, and our first two wine choices were both temporarily un-locatable, but the main courses proved to be fierce distractions.

Back garlic rubbed NY Strip Steak - Cosme

Back garlic rubbed NY Strip Steak

It was a fairly close call for the Broiled Red Snapper with a Hoja Santa salsa and plantains, but I ended up settling on the magnificent Black garlic rubbed New York strip steak. Hiding between the rare seared domino sized medallions of tender steak was one of the rare appearances of guacamole in the entire establishment. I had no idea that the über-popular green dip was such a red-headed stepchild, that it needed to be disguised as “avocado purée”! Velvety smooth and finished with tarragon and spiked with wasabi, who cares what they called it – to me it was absolutely delicious.

Duck Carnitas - Cosme

Duck Carnitas

The most popular dish has to be the Duck Carnitas – and with good reason. The boneless breast of succulent, salty duck literally tears apart with little more than a suggestion, before being inserted snugly into warm, fresh tortillas along with white onions and a citrusy salsa verde. They describe it as a sharable dish, but that depends on the familiarity of your fellow diners.

Husk Meringue - Cosme

Husk Meringue

Olvera’s contra-ordinary prowess shifts ceaselessly into the desserts. His two fluffy Husk Meringue halves are actually made from dried, ground corn-husks, which are separated by a surprisingly light and airy mound of corn and mascarpone mousse (although a dose of liquid nitrogen can even make me light and airy) but the dominant sweet and subtle savory combination is the work of a flavor maestro who knows what he’s doing. Also taste-worthy is the unpronounceable yet utterly caramelicious Nixtamalized Carrot paired with a cinnamon cake and sweet-tart cream-cheese ice cream.

Nixtamalized Carrot with Cinnamon Cake - Cosme

Nixtamalized Carrot with Cinnamon Cake

Even though Enrique Olvera named Cosme after his favorite obsession – the cosmos, in my mind the man wasn’t just reaching for the stars –  he seems to have clutched a few fistfuls before bringing them down to the Flatiron district to share with the rest of us.

http://www.cosmenyc.com/

Estela review

Estela -

It’s relatively unlikely that you are familiar with the name Ignacio Mattos. But heed my prediction: this Uruguayan James Beard Foundation finalist is dangerously close to becoming the next big name in modern American food! Having served under slow-food legend Alice Waters at Chez Panisse and South American grilling sensation Francis Mallman along with stints at Isa and Il Buco, his unique style is rather tough to define. His recently debuted Soho boutique restaurant Estela showcases a healthy influence of Spanish, some Carribean, a dash or two of Japanese and just enough Italian to call it American!

Estela - Endive salad

Endive salad

While Mattos prides himself on presenting “approachable” food, I found his plating style quite the opposite – almost bashful. Instead of displaying an overt visual focus for the main ingredient, many of his dishes seem to conceal them beneath a forest of obscurities, creating a “surprise” as you wield your knife through the edible jungle.

 

Estela - Beef Tartare

Beef Tartare

His uncategorized menu of sharing plates grows in portion and price as you journey from north to south with snacks like Pickled Carrots and Salted Cod with Potato, to salads that include Kampachi with Apple or Celery with Mint, small plates such as Farro with Wax Beans, and then onto some hearty mains like Cod with Favas or Quail with Broccoli Rabe.

The Beef and Bison combined Tartare with sunchokes and capers is layered with dark flavors, and the crunch is an unsuspected bonus.   The circular display of Endive leaves obscures the wondrous anchovied walnuts with Ubriaco rosso (Italian cheese aged in crushed red grapes).

Estela - Burrata with Salsa Verde

Burrata with Salsa Verde

Everything I’d heard about the Burrata with Salsa Verde is true. The most luscious, earthy, dark green herb puree you’ve even come across slowly soaks into the toast supporting the white, velvety, creamy goodness above.   Hard to believe that I have never tried Mussels in Escabeche (vinegar marinade) before, but the unique and almost floral tang won me over instantly.

Estela - Mussels in Escabeche

Mussels in Escabeche

 

In the interest of time, forgive me as I gloss over the delectable Scallops with Peas, the unmissable Fried Arroz Negro (black rice) and the incomparable Pork with Potatoes and Borani (Persian eggplant and yoghurt) so that I can relive and re-salivate over the crystalized salt-crusted rib-eye of Beef with eggplant and leeks finished with the creamiest Taleggio cheese ever.   Oh, and don’t be surprised if someone gives him a big ol’ culinary award for the Panna Cotta finished with honey and vinegar. Yes, vinegar!

https://rez.opentable.com/reservation/start/6742?source=selfhost