Higher Standard

Byres' reborn restaurant still goes above and beyond

One of the fascinating elements of Standard is roadkill. Not on the menu, mind you. Still, if an edible animal is killed by an all-season radial rather than a sharp neck twist, does it really matter? Ultimately, it doesn't, because the roadkill is in the restaurant as a prop, glaring at you as you devour one of its distant farm-raised cousins posing on a polenta pedestal.

There they are, a pair of pigeons--New York City pigeons no less--stuffed and perched on a ledge in the Standard dining room. Upstairs a dove of unknown origin is displayed. Each is roadkill, because stuffing and posting a critter that has been stalked and shot is so...gauche. Better to display those that have met death in a BMW's kidney-shaped grill. More urbane, that. In a just world, some enterprising college student would make a bundle selling roadkill deerskin moccasins to vegans. But we all know such capitalist impulses would lead to gridlock in the outlying suburbs as greedy poachers in fleets of Hummers cruised country roads stalking booty.

Resourceful PC taxidermy or not, vegans would hate Standard. It's difficult to dismember a halved quail in the glare of those wistful pigeons without feeling a pang of...hey, this is tasty.

If this is Standard fare, we can't wait to try the specials.
Tom Jenkins
If this is Standard fare, we can't wait to try the specials.

Location Info

Map

Standard Restaurant

2816 Fairmount St.
Dallas, TX 75201

Category: Restaurant >

Region: Downtown & Deep Ellum

Details

Market salad $8
Carrot ginger soup $8
Shrimp pancake $11
Hill Country quail salad $13
Short ribs $28
Steamed halibut $26
Roasted rack of lamb $30
Root beer & apple pies $7

Maybe too tasty. The Hill Country spiced quail is tall. The bird rests on a delicious pad of grilled gorgonzola polenta. The meat is tender and juicy. But chef/owner Tim Byres says he was looking for a strong aroma with the dish. So he anointed the bird with peppercorns, cinnamon, dried mint and brown-butter garlic vinaigrette. The process proves overbearing, at least on one visit. The third visit was more promising; the treatment seemed pulled back, but still not enough to let the quail flavors slip through without exhausting the bird. Let the bird be.

In fact, let it be like the market salad, a brilliant piece of understatement. It's a refreshing mix of daily greens, herbs and vinaigrette--a light but slyly potent splash blended from pickled ginger, soy and daikon radish. Thin slices of watermelon radish burn pink fluorescence around the edges while yellow blossoms crest the heap.

"It's much nicer to be on this side of the tracks," sighs Byres. Byres opened the original Standard on Elm Street in Deep Ellum, but he shuttered it a short time later, weary of the fear of crime scaring away those he was trying to woo, namely the Uptown-Park Cities timid broods who no more would head to Deep Ellum to dine than they would sprinkle their portfolios with bail bond funds. So he struck a deal with businessman Mike Chen to open Standard in the space that was Martini Ranch before it was Stolik. There, Byres and his partners, wife Brianne and Carl Strelecki, tripled the size of the kitchen and moved the lounge space upstairs even as they expanded the dining room.

The menu is little changed. Why should it be? The food was good and it had never reached 80 percent of its intended audience. The Standard capstone moment is the braised beef short ribs, and it's impossible to underestimate the significance of this dish. Harsh labor is expended on its behalf. Ribs are meticulously deconstructed as the meat is pulled from the bones and fat and sinew are teased from the flesh so that every bite reeks of rich beefiness. Beef shreds and fibers are packed into a pan and chilled to congeal before the meat is cut into blocks and seasoned and seared on all sides. On the plate, the dark block, with two loose roasted rib bones barely saddled to the fibers, soaks in cabernet demi-glace. A shallow peak of white bean, onion and apple-smoked bacon puree nuzzles the meat. This is uppity beef and pork and beans, and it sells.

There's no slippage from this point on. Like with the quail, Byres strives for an aromatic fist with the Alaskan halibut, which arrives in a lidded copper pot. Lifting the lid unleashes a torrent of steam, roiling with anise, citrus, Pernod and lime leaf. The fillet looks like a dollop of cream resting on a shambled spread of pea shoots, asparagus, tomato and thin slices of pickled red Fresno chilies. Meat flakes delicately; vegetables are sternly crisp, yet tender. This delicious piece of fish is also a holdover from the Deep Ellum stint. The copper pot is the only change.

Soup is risky in the midst of summer air as thick as flan. The carrot ginger soup seems more suited to fall, or even the first licks of winter--it tastes like pumpkin pie. It's smooth and creamy, yet lithe. It reeks sweetness from a touch of honey but doesn't follow through: a sweet-tooth tease.

Standard's décor is highly amusing, even if you don't count roadkill. Example: Customers squawked about the dim dining room (since when does such squawking result in anything but a penlight with gasping batteries?), and Byres launched an ingeniously stylish solution. Instead of installing a single chandelier in the dining room, he crowded a cluster of them in the ceiling--five total--creating a kind of dangling, electrified still life. These chandeliers flicker and glow in amber and are mostly vintage specimens. One is an old street lamp from New Orleans, converted from gas to juice.

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