By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
What kind of atmosphere is this? Is this a restaurant or a rent-a-mixer domicile? "There's nothing that we're trying to create with this space," answers chef Zachary Kellerman. "It mostly just centers around my food. We've got a great view up here...there's no serious concept that's trying to be put on." Forget that there's probably not much they could do with this space anyway, as it's open to the public only for lunch on weekdays--the rest of the time it's used primarily for private functions. Reviewers, and to a far lesser extent diners, get preoccupied with the intentions behind food and the concept driving the setting in which it is swallowed. They forget that fine cuisine served in a room that doesn't smell bad or look like a Liberace costume is often wholly appropriate. And while Dallas isn't exactly the Florence of Texas when it comes to cityscapes, it's hard to imagine a decor ensemble more interesting than a commanding view of the north and west ends of the downtown skyline.
But the food, not the view, must make these Spartan digs sing. And for the most part, this menu slips in the necessary notes. Kellerman has constructed a simple, understated menu with a few Asian and Southwestern hues at exceptionally reasonable prices. Things strike an alluring pitch at the outset and maintain an ascending curve right through dessert with only a few pockets of jarring turbulence along the way.
Cream of leek soup, a soup of the day with chunks of potato and bits of Canadian bacon, carrots, onions, and peppers floating in a smooth, lightly creamed chicken stock broth was both subtle and well layered with flavor. An appetizer of red chili garlic tempura calamari on Asian spiced mustard greens, however, required some thought. The corn starch-based batter seasoned with red pepper flakes and fresh garlic was light and airy, and the calamari was remarkably silky and tender. But there were pockets of gumminess in the coating, and the bed of mustard greens with bits of bacon harbored a perfumy aroma and a sweet, spicy intensity that, by no means off-putting, required some getting used to. A ramekin of dipping sauce, pureed red peppers and tomatoes infused with cilantro, was potently bright, fresh, and mouth-sparkling clean--a dramatically appropriate accompaniment to this deep-fried substance.
Crispy chicken spring rolls encasing shreds of carrot, cabbage, and chicken were on the greasy side. But the innards came alive with a slathering of dipping sauce borne of sweet rice vinegar, mint, roasted peanuts, soy, and a Thai garlic chili sauce.
And it wasn't just the appetizers that had their potential shortcomings effectively neutralized by well-orchestrated sauces. The molasses-grilled pork tenderloin was served overdone, flirting with toughness. But rich, engaging dribbles of pork loin pan drippings injected with cranberry au jus rescued the thing, infusing it with moisture and savoriness. A side of moist, creamy sweet potato croquettes, hush-puppy-like balls of sweet potato mixed with flour and nutmeg before a roll in bread crumbs and a swim in deep fry, completed the composition deftly.
The sauce thing continued to defy shortcomings with the jalapeno-grilled tuna on Southwestern shrimp corn chowder. Veneered with fresh pureed jalapenos cut with a little brown sugar, the tuna was slightly overcooked and void of melting tenderness. No matter. The dazzlingly rich chowder rendered from bacon and seafood shells pulled it out of its malaise. This chowder concoction is simply one of the finest excuses for a sauce I've ever tasted.
The buttermilk pan-fried double chicken breast with herb-whipped potatoes and bourbon pan gravy, however, seemed a pointless culinary exercise. The chicken was slightly dry, and the batter was bland and pasty. The pan gravy had pronounced salt and pepper flavors, but not much else. And this limp clucker was delivered on a bed of rice instead of the whipped potatoes (they ran out) with a thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley, and basil treatment. While the rice was perfectly prepared, it didn't do much to show off the dish, even if there wasn't much to highlight. Plus, being informed of outages after the fact, rather than at a time when you have an opportunity to make adjustments if you choose, is inexcusably shoddy.
Perhaps the finest example of Kellerman's restrained inventiveness, though, is the chicken pot pie, an immensely tasty, monstrous thing encapsulated in a molded sage crust. It's loaded with sauteed onions, carrots, celery, peas, roasted chicken, and roasted corn all suspended in a ripe, rich cream gravy thickened with corn starch.