By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
Remember the old saying "never trust a skinny chef"?
5930 Royal Lane
Dallas, TX 75230-3849
Region: North Dallas
Well, our waiter—the one with gunmetal hair—nods toward the back room where Didier Viriot ambles back and forth, carrying his bulk confidently. The implication is clear: Have faith in the chef and his restaurant, Citrus Bistro.
But should you trust a man based on waist size alone? Hell, Karl Rove and John Sununu look like over-stuffed Butterballs. Viriot, happily, has the belly but not the bluster. Consider, for example, his menu descriptions. There's no "hand-minced prime Texas Wagyu-Angus hanger steak with Pantelleria capers, Maldon salt and Vidalia onions" or anything like that. Nope, just a listing for beef tartare served with French bread that barely describes the old-school presentation with raw egg and all. The line for duck confit just says that—nothing more except a mention of green lentils.
This is a place without posturing or braggadocio, the kind of restaurant where the chef doesn't worry about putting a pretty face on things, and the diners who stumble upon it don't really care. One night it was a middle-aged man entertaining his grandmother. As they left, he leaned over to ask about my calamari. Wanted to order it, he said, but out of respect to his squid-fearing grandma...
The calamari is brilliant, with light breading that cracks easily to reveal a malty flavor sparked by crystals of salt. Inside, the meat resists slightly, releasing a warm flavor before melting away as much as squid can melt away. It's irresistible. If a big screen were mounted in one corner carrying the game, you could shovel down a few platefuls without noticing. Keep in mind that Viriot's kitchen, which he shares with Gaspar Stantic, is probably smaller than those in many of the Dallas sports bars. If he can do this with rubbery seafood, why can't they?
Oh, yeah—training. Viriot and Stantic learned classic French technique, and it shows. The duck confit is just what it should be: hearty, brown and savory. Built over sweet sausage, lifted by explosions of spice, the gamy taste of the meat lingers. It's like well-cured bacon, except in this case the salty presence clings so tightly to the duck it seems like part of nature, subtle and warm. There's nothing subtle in the chef's use of salt in the tartare, on the other hand. If the dish were, say, a Rush Limbaugh speech (hmm...a fat glob of meat? Yeah, that works) and salt represented vitriolic absurdities, there'd be enough of it in there to keep the big man fuming for three or four days—kinda like an insane old guy on drugs or something. But when you spread the tartare on toasted French bread, the piercing flavor calms dramatically.
The minced beef starter is one of a few items without noticeable citrus. Even the duck confit has a slice or two of mandarin orange on top. Sometimes the chef can get carried away by the Citrus Bistro theme. Other times, the heavy-handed use of fresh citrus works—for instance, a row of perfectly prepared scallops, cushy and tender, sits under crust developed from...well, something sweet and salty.
Mostly salty—so they ruined the tricky shellfish, right? Fortunately, no. The pool of sauce spreading around the plate comes across like mandarin-infused buttermilk, so it needs a handful of Morton's to slice through it. And setting scallops on puffy couscous adds a pillow of soft, soothing comfort.
This is eating for either the smart set or for cheapskates who want to bring their own wine. The restaurant refuses, for now, to suffer through the painful process of getting an alcoholic beverages license. While the rest of the world basks in freedom, a world where people can order decent table wine or bring their own without fear of breaking some law, we live in the 12th century...I mean, the Bible Belt. Of course, if you are, "unaware" of the restaurant's BYOB policy the first time you drop by, the suckers—uh, I mean servers—pour up freebies. (They can give wine away and be right with the blue nosers' law, but they can't make you pay for it without a license. Go figure.) Your second trip, you can try the old "I didn't have time after work to pick up a bottle" ploy and score some free wine, but only a desperate cheapskate would pull that trick.
It worked for me. Sure, they give away a table wine of dubious pedigree, but it's f-r-e-e. (What part of desperate cheapskate didn't you understand?)
I don't know how long I could have kept up the plausible excuse thing. Citrus Bistro is in a well-heeled neighborhood not known for freeloading—although a couple across the aisle one evening proudly displayed a bottle of Walmart's finest, which is as next to nothing as you pay for wine without a couple of 20s on the label.
Women in Ann Taylor Loft; the men with Trent Lott haircuts and jackets so dated you half expect to see leather patches sewn onto the elbows; bring your own booze and lot parking with no valet stand...yeah, this is not exactly what you'd expect for Preston Hollow. Maybe the funky, "coat of many colors" exterior threw everyone off, 'cause this certainly isn't a place for hipsters. Well, those who were groovy in the '70s, yes; the PM Lounge crowd, no.
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