By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
Before servers at Kitchen 1924 dispense the menu shingle--a sheet of thick paper clipped to a plank from a Penfolds or Far Niente wooden wine case--a cup of chicken broth in a tiny white teacup is offered as an aperitif. It's clean and lively, animated by white pepper, ginger and jalapeño that waters the mouth and electrifies the palate.
Kitchen 1924 offers a short history of the restaurant on its Web site (kitchen1924.com). It also offers pithy self-analysis: "This is a generic restaurant concept. It is a throwback. There is no special identity. It is what it is--a place to get well and nourished."
1924 Abrams at Gaston
Dallas, TX 75214
Category: Restaurant >
Region: East Dallas & Lakewood
Spinach salad $8
Pork bellies $9
Shrimp pizza $9
Cedar-plank salmon $16
Flat-iron steak $15
Garlic coleslaw $6
Deviled eggs $4
Breakfast pizza $8
Coconut cream pie $7
But if a restaurant is throwing itself all the way back to the days of bouillon, how can it be void of a special identity? Owner Shawn Horne goes to great pains to stress that Kitchen 1924 eschews the fissions, fusions and global concussions marking the culinary poses of recent restaurant history.
In truth, Kitchen 1924 sweats special identity, even as it pretends it doesn't. Case in point: foo fighters. Not the troupe of motley crooners belting "Learn to Fly," but flying fireballs. The Kitchen 1924 Web site posts a brief history of foo fighters, the term used by World War II Allied fighter and bomber pilots to describe the mysterious aerial phenomenon they encountered during missions in the European and Pacific theaters. In other words, alien aircraft, UFOs, also known as Kraut fireballs. Horne is an operator with history. He was there with Stephan Pyles when Star Canyon opened. He was at the Green Room during the birth of the "feed me, wine me" menu. He was managing Abacus when the walls started sweating cash. Horne calls himself a foo fighter. It says so on his business card. He insists the designation is less amusement than levelheaded commerce. "It makes me much more approachable," he says. Thus, guests are much more apt to open up and offer honest impressions and feedback once the foo title shatters the ice.
Kitchen 1924 also dispenses free sunglasses during the Sunday "hangover brunch" to avoid sunshine hangover pain. Does this seem like backpedaling from special identity?
Kitchen 1924 has a few contradictions to pique interest as well. The logo is a pair of black-and-white salt and pepper shakers, yet tables are void of these dining instruments, and they must be requested. Horne says he intentionally outfitted the restaurant--in the defunct La Dolce Vita in Lakewood Shopping Center--in monochromatic tones so that color would seep solely from the food and guests. Thus, the walls and tablecloths are white while the floor, napkins and chairs are black. Contrast this to the large, bright murals that Horne commissioned 11 students from Skyline High School to splash over the walls in the community dining hall. Then there are the garish blue and yellow plastic panels hovering under the hall skylights (Horne says he plans to petition the landlord to have them jettisoned).
There's more. French onion soup is a minimalist composition. Punch through the cheese-crouton cap, plumb the broth and you discover a nearly clear fluid with just a few onion shards circulating in the swirl. The broth is only lightly reduced; the onions, lightly caramelized; the slow-cooked richness, largely absent. In other words, this stuff is bland; it unravels in the face of the brawny cheese-and-crouton lid. Horne says this is intentional. He wanted to create a restorative broth rather than a rich soup punched up with butter and sugar. "It's not something that's going to send your cholesterol level through the roof," he says.
Well, then how do you explain the fried pork bellies with apple chutney? These Berkshire pork bellies (uncured ham) are little more than mounds of gelatinous cellulite with slightly crisped patches of sheathing here and there. You can actually feel your cardiologist's net worth bloom with each bite. This is odd, because Berkshire bellies are known for their meaty texture and relative paucity of fat.
This is in stark contrast to the rest of the menu. Spearheaded by chef Edward Mendoza, who has done time at Nana and Lola, The Restaurant, the food mostly fulfills Web site promises: unpretentious food that tastes good. Mendoza and his armada of hands work an open kitchen full of flames, steam spits, fume huffs and steel clanks.
One hand works the wood-fired oven, which spits a multitude of marvels. Flat-iron steak, marinated in red wine, garlic, shallot and soy, layers shadowy hints of Asia without resorting to a full-out fusion. The rosy slices are rich and juicy. Cedar-plank salmon slumbers on a chalky charred shingle, its surface dulled in a honey-mustard haze. The edges are crisp, dry and curled; the meat glistens New Mexican sunset as the inner flakes unfurl. As the fish is forked away, the outline of the fillet emerges where the fats drained into the wood.