By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
It didn't take more than a couple of bites before dining at York St. got me thinking about Lloyd's of London. Lloyd's, founded in 1680, is the venerable insurer that was brought to the brink of ruin by asbestos litigation, among other things. It's also the company that famously wrote a $1 million policy to protect the Queen Mary's visitors from ghosts. It also insured Betty Grable's legs for $1 million before it insured Bruce Springsteen's voice for $5.5 million, the breasts of strip teaser Evelyn West (the "Hubba Hubba" girl) for $50,000, and the legs of dancer Michael Flatley and actress Jamie Lee Curtis. (Lloyd's reportedly dispatched its own leg examiner to measure the lower portion of Curtis' anatomy before underwriting the policy.)
York St.'s fare made me wonder: Shouldn't York St. chef and owner Sharon Hage consider such a policy to underwrite her tongue, or whatever physiological mechanism inspires the food she drafts? Not only would this insurance help her and the rest of us rest a little easier, it would considerably jack up her hype potential. Plus, it would catapult her onto the "A" list of Dallas chefs in the minds of Dallas diners. I mean, who ever heard of the Hubba Hubba girl before that $50,000 policy was underwritten? Me neither.
Then again, Hage, who threaded her way through Dallas via the Zodiac in Neiman Marcus, Salve! and Hotel St. Germain before purchasing the long-ago-grown-tired York St. earlier in the year, probably cares little about hype or how she's perceived among Dallas' trendy gobblers. You catch this sense just after walking into the place. The physical changes Hage has made to the restaurant are minimal, yet dramatic. She's cleaned it up, put a few coats of white paint on the walls, installed compelling black-and-white portraits along one wall, narrowed the bar, pulled out the window treatments and installed new lighting, which includes a wrought iron spriggy votive candle chandelier above the bar.
6047 Lewis St.
Dallas, TX 75206
Region: East Dallas & Lakewood
Pursiane salad: $6
Bouchet mussels: $8
Ivory lentil soup: $6
Poached duck egg: $12
Veal chop tonnato: $34
Wild Maine blueberry pie: $8
Blueberry buckle: $8
The whole interior reflects an intelligent respect for space. Nothing is excessive, with the possible exception of noise levels when the tables are filled (a regular occurrence) and darkness at night. (Manager Mark LaRocca had to retrieve a votive from the bar chandelier so a guest could use it to read the menu.)
Perhaps this spatial reverence explains Hage's food. Her plates are virtually void of distractions or busyness; there are no hyper-amplified collages or mortified sculptures of vertical fastidiousness. Her food is alive and clean, intelligent and simple, ample and adroit. The ivory lentil soup, for example, is a smooth bowl of unctuous subtlety, percussively rippled with crispy artichokes--baby artichokes shaved very thin, dusted with flour and fried. Bouchet mussels incorporated a similarly offbeat meshing. Steeped in a horseradish broth, the sweet, chewy and firm mussel meat dueled with bits of smoky ham--a bewitching brush between marine and terrestrial brininess.
Bumping up Hage's standing still further in the dining department is how she inaugurates her meals. A plate of steaming towels scented with spearmint is brought to each table. Not the thin flimsy kind you find in auto shop class, but thick towels that could sanitize a bouffant hairdo, or at least make it smell better. There aren't even significant Asian influences on the menu to justify this little Japanese ritual, but it works, and it's an understated touch that demonstrates a reverence for food. Little vials of fino sherry and dishes of almonds and olives follow the towel ritual, providing several more aromas to mingle with your spearmint fingers.
One of the significant factors driving Hage's menus is the seasonality and freshness of her basic ingredients. She says between a quarter and a third of her menu is in flux daily. This provides space for unexpected compositions on a day-to-day basis.
One example is the halibut with braised endive. Hage garnishes the fish with either champagne grapes or white currants. With either fruit, she creates a white verjuice. The delicate white fish itself has a whisper of sweetness. What the fruit (in the case of the champagne grapes, generous clusters) does is simultaneously amplify and foil the marine sweetness with its sweet-tart composure.
Another example of this deftness is the way Hage handles duck eggs. She takes a poached duck egg and perches it atop a knot of frisé framed with stalks of chilled white asparagus. The mass is sewn with ribbons of fennel and dribbled with an intense tarragon vinaigrette. Breach the supple, slightly chilled egg, and a lazy stream of bright yellow duck yolk floods the cool well-dressed greens with warm richness.
Basic salads have this same arresting simplicity. Pursiane salad with vine tomatoes and haloumi cheese splashed in sumac vinaigrette contained just one thick piece of tomato. It was like a piece of tortured, frayed beef, so rich and meaty was this scrap of fruit, bleeding with juicy pulp.
The wine list is as peculiar and functional as the rest of the restaurant, which makes sense since it was designed to mesh seamlessly with the food. Everything on this list has a purpose in service to the menu. There are no bottles posturing for conspicuous consumption, or sections drowning in a glut of chardonnay and merlot. The list has a deliciously refreshing Chinon (Loire), an alluringly silky rosso di Montalcino and wines from New Zealand to Portugal (not port). Suggested wines for each dinner entrant are listed on the left side of the menu.