No place in the West End

To hell with authenticity, Y.O. Ranch has great cowboy grub

I'm not real sure many out-of-town guests would "get" this food any more than those cowboys coming into Abilene would (though this is the most authentically Texas food you can get in Dallas). It's heavy on the animal protein, for one thing, and I don't mean chicken. An order of elk steak comes garnished with a whole quail. An appetizer includes boar sausage and beef brisket. The chef's favorite sauce is a smooth yellow blend made from processed cheese; any New Yorker I know would sneer at such a sauce. Well, as my mother used to say in the days when I turned up my nose at asparagus, "All the more for the rest of us."

There are four appetizers and we tried them all while drinking a bottle of Randal Graeme's "Big House Red" from the short, inexpensive wine list. Margaritas and beer would suit this food, too. The seafood corn cake, a deep-golden round that droops over the edges of its serving plate, was crisp-crusted, its delicate cornmeal crumb set with sweet corn kernels, bits of crab, and chopped shrimp--a marvelous dish, substantial but not heavy. Creek Bottom shrimp were cooked fast and gently, with peppers and onions, and the Smoked Bob plate held griddled boar sausage, cut into strips, chewy and spicy with a hint of game, in a pool of that plastic yellow cheese, a scoop of creamy guacamole, and flour tortillas to wrap it all together. Again, you can order this with beef brisket if you're protein-challenged. Choose the goat-cheese vinaigrette on your salad--a rich scoop of mild cheese tops the dressed greens, making an extravagance out of an interlude.

When we asked how the frog legs Martinez were prepared, we were told by our waitress (who ended every sentence with a question mark) that "they're breaded and grilled?" The elk special was cooked the same way, and surprise, so was the "turkey tender." She didn't mean breaded, really, she meant dredged, the meat just floured enough to protect it from the heat, and some things seemed griddled more than actually grilled. Almost all of them were served with "Matt's secret sauce?" about which she would say no more. The Tex-Mex platter, she told us, was up to Matt--whatever he had in the kitchen that particular night. We put ourselves in his hands.

A bone-in ribeye, charred on the outside with a pile of smoked mashed potatoes to soak up the red running out, is one of the best-cooked pieces of meat I've had in this town which has gone bonkers for beef, but I liked the elk even better, with its bouquet just a little stronger, like beef with another dimension. The tiny naked quail seemed all the more delicate beside it, like bread compared to meat. Frog legs Martinez, a recipe Matt inherited from his dad and adopted and adjusted, came in a stack of five, straddling each other on the plate, simply grilled, tasting not like chicken.

Matt's side dishes are no mere garnishes--sometimes they don't even make the plate look pretty. Dark, dense portabella mushrooms, cooked with onions; and a mess of spinach, barely wilted on the griddle so it kept all its brightness, were two of the choices. Cowboy beans came with the Mexican plate, two well-constructed tacos stuffed with shredded (not ground) beef and cheese, then griddled and topped with lettuce and tomatoes, and a pair of cheese enchiladas so covered with thick chili and melting cheese that they'd given up, lying so flat on the plate you thought you'd been served stew.

This is essentially the same food Matt serves in his own restaurant, No Place. It's Texas-style food, all right, but it's not really Dallas-style food. That is, it's not trendy, or light, or particularly stylish. It doesn't even necessarily look pretty. When you're concentrating on your food, you don't much notice who else is in this restaurant or what everyone else is wearing. Matt's restaurants (and no matter who the investors in Y.O Ranch are, it's Matt's food that makes this place, so I feel justified in using the possessive) aren't places to see and be seen; they're places to eat big and relish what you taste. Welcome to the Y.O. Ranch.

Y.O. Ranch, 702 Ross Ave., 744-3287. Open Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Y.O. Ranch:
Creek Bottom Shrimp $7.95
Seafood Corn Cake $8.95
Wild Boar Sausage (Small) $4.95
Bone-In Ribeye $23.95
Muy Grande Tex-Mex Platter $14.95
Frog Legs Martinez $14.95
Smoked Baked Potato $4.95

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