Busting big shoes

Revamped Seventeen Seventeen may overfill its considerable footwear inheritance

Jaco Pastorius, the late fretless electric bass player who revolutionized the instrument in the late '70s with the jazz ensemble Weather Report, once said that good musicians borrow ideas. Geniuses steal them.

Pastorius left little doubt as to his own genius. Incorporating sweeping melodic grooves, chords, harmonics, and percussive effects into a single driving bass line, the deft musician was a virtuoso thief.

It's too early to measure the breadth of Seventeen Seventeen Executive Sous Chef Raoul Orosa's brain, but he's well on his way to amassing a considerable culinary criminal record. A casual excursion through his new menu at the acclaimed Dallas Museum of Art restaurant reveals numerous confessions delivered with brazen aplomb. "I took that from Wolfgang [Puck]. That I got from George [Brown]." And so on.

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Seventeen Seventeen

1717 N. Harwood St., 2
Dallas, TX 75201

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: Downtown & Deep Ellum

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A sous chef at Seventeen Seventeen for just a few months before dani Foods and the awarded, much lauded chef George Brown left the operation, Orosa was retained by Wynnwood Hospitality Inc., the catering firm that has since occupied Seventeen Seventeen's kitchen. His background includes stints with some of the nation's most celebrated chefs, including Wolfgang Puck of Spago and Thomas Keller (founder of The French Laundry in the Napa Valley). Orosa also was executive chef at Checkers Hotel in Los Angeles.

The menu bristles with these influences, drawing heavily on Asian flavors and the California relentlessness for fresh ingredients and tight visual eloquence. He sponged up Southwestern tricks from his exposure to the dani crew and has stitched them throughout the menu, though not with the forwardness of previous Seventeen Seventeen menus.

But simply copping kitchen licks from culinary heavyweights doesn't amount to much more than cheap derivation if it isn't intelligently twisted, and this is where Orosa's larceny gets salaciously delicious.

Orosa not only blasts his plates with artistry, he brags his food costs are substantially lower than those of a typical upscale venue. He does this by keeping his menu small and tightly focused, and his operation lean. Orosa mimics the model of Japanese manufacturing, striving for barren kitchen shelves and coolers by the time the dining room shuts down each day.

This mode of operation flirts dangerously with regular menu shortages. I was the recipient of such a circumstance when I ordered the smoked beef tenderloin on barbecue glaze with crispy onion rings.

Several minutes after placing the order, I was told the last tenderloin was sent from the kitchen minutes ago. If I still wanted the dish, I was informed, the tenderloin would be substituted with a rib eye. (Many restaurants in town would give the heads-up on such a swap after the entree was placed in front of you.)

What a disastrous decision this turned out to be. The meat was a real truck-stop, steak-'n'-egger slab: thin, fatty, and sewn with tough gristle. The kitchen should know better than to pass off this insulting exchange.

But the rest of the plate was a remarkable framing for a worthy centerpiece. The meat was settled in a thick ribbon of barbecue sauce blended from demi-glace and smoked tomatoes, chipotle, cinnamon, and orange. The result was silky and sweet without the cloying muddle of some sauces. It was bright with an assertive layer of heat void of belligerence; a substantive yet semi-sheer sauce that would easily let rich meat flavor seep through to marry it.

This dollop of sauce surrendered to a thin thread of pureed cranberry followed by a ribbon of annatto-infused oil that set up interplay between the tanginess of the sauce and the smokiness of the meat (which the tenderloin would have had). This shared space with a stack of thick onion rings marinated in buttermilk, dredged in flour and cornstarch, and fried. The delicately crunchy, tender rings came with a salsa of corn, diced bell pepper, and bacon. Startlingly imaginative, if stutteringly executed.

But this was the lone instance of kitchen slippage. Everything that followed was one striking surprise after another, with the exception of some slightly rickety service (pacing was a little off, and on one visit I was served a glass of badly oxidized Sauvignon Blanc), and some miscues on atmospheric details.

The starkly crisp Paul Draper dining-room design (the DMA prohibits artwork in its restaurants)--with its large, fuzzy charcoal and beige carpet squares, the cherrywood chairs with geometrically arranged perforations, and tiny coral-hued track lights--provides a clean backdrop for this tight yet flamboyant cuisine. But the sill behind the padded bench seating near the windows was carpeted with a thick, billowy layer of dust. If this isn't a modern-art exhibit shrewdly slipped past DMA policy, it's nothing short of tacky.

But the menu quickly left these minor annoyances in the dust, so to speak. Warm spinach cabrales salad with apple-bacon vinaigrette was cordoned in a tightly woven, deep-fried thin potato-thread wrap. It looked like some kind of overgrown sushi roll slice plopped in the center of the plate. The golden crisp sheathing added hearty potato flavor to the salad's range of vibrant flavors derived from thin carrot strips and thick red onion rings pickled in rice vinegar, blue cheese, tangy red cherry tomatoes, honey-crusted pecans, bacon, and fresh spinach leaves.

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