Bold Fish

Chef Chris Svalesen perseveres with 36 Degrees

A request for tuna sushi resulted in a strange but weirdly successful ensemble: a mound of bright clean tuna tartare hemmed in by a long strip of tasty gravlax (cured raw salmon).

Nearly as weird but not at all successful was the corn-crusted pan-fried rainbow trout trounced by a Cajun buerre blanc. Though it was rich in buttery flavor, the fish was mushy and soggy, though the lump crabmeat topping was an effective distraction if you closed your eyes and tried to stab it without capturing any of the fish.

Grilled fillet of salmon was a remarkable formulation, an example of the highly creative light touch Svalesen is known for. The fish is marinated in a mixture of soy, ginger and chili. Despite this potent ensemble, the collision maintains a subtlety that respects the richness of the fish while it lends dimension. The surface was delicately brittle, and the flesh was slightly underdone, giving it a luxuriously satiny texture, though it still flaked prodigiously.

Set piece: 36 Degrees' glowing bar is an early addition to the restaurant's evolution.
Kristen Karlisch
Set piece: 36 Degrees' glowing bar is an early addition to the restaurant's evolution.

Details

214-521-4488. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday. Open for dinner 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5:30 p.m.-11:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday. Open for Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $$$

Brunch: $24.95/person
Steak tartare: $12.50
Crab cakes: $9.95
Warm frisée salad: $7.50
Grilled salmon: $21.50
Pan-fried trout: $18.95

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It's hard to imagine a more pleasant space for a quiet casual brunch. During the day, 36 Degrees is bright and crisp, yet it's hard to surpass the visual impact at night of the glowing cobalt blue bar top with the 36 Degrees logo engraved into it. Bright contemporary paintings hang from the walls. A harpist plays at the rear of the dining room. A pair of buffet tables is loaded with an assortment of salads, seafood, roasts and the necessary infrastructure for omelettes and waffles.

Bowls of ice are heaped with oysters (unappealingly warm) and crab legs (unappealingly spongy and watery). Pieces of raw tuna, spotted with wasabi pinpricks and garnished with slices of ginger and fluffy wasabi-stained tobiko (flying fish roe), were more faded pink than deep red. Yet the texture was silken and the flavors clean.

Slices of pork roast were juicy, tender and flavorful, while shavings of pink beef were high on flavor, if tough. The waffle was extraordinarily fluffy, with a hearty dense texture and full flavor, almost like a pound cake. Yet the omelette, packed with diced bell pepper, bacon, cheese, tomato, onion and mushroom, was flat, limp and greasy instead of fluffy and airy.

Brunch is also equipped with bottomless mimosas, a premixed flat and pale fluid that neither bubbled nor engaged.

As investors have been scarce, Svalesen says he finished the dining room in its current form with $140,000 of his own money. The next batch of incremental progress might enclose the patio, fill the dining room with banquettes, carpet the floor, splash a mural onto a wall and perhaps launch that aforementioned nightclub. "It's like piecing together a puzzle," Svalesen says. A puzzle assembled with scrounging, saving and bartering. It's hard to tell how much evolution Svalesen has left to go in his dream. It's all a matter of degrees, and he's got 36 of them.

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