At The Joule, CBD Provisions Makes Magic from Nose to Tail
Before the salt and sugar brine permeated and seasoned the flesh, before the impossibly crisp skin emerged from the convection oven, before the vibrant red and green salsas joined it on a massive wooden board turned serving dish, the pig's head was already special. Berkshire pork is prized for its tender, fatty flesh, making it all the more appropriate for succulent carnitas. CBD Provisions, the brasserie that recently opened in downtown's Joule Hotel, took a timeless technique for tender pork and literally turned it on its head. The results are outstanding.
Diners willing to go family-style (and part with $43) are tasked with the somewhat cumbersome, and somewhat grisly, task of disassembling the head, pulling meat from skull and jaw bone, grabbing bits of skin and assembling their own tacos with store-bought corn tortillas. It's a worthwhile effort.
Much more work goes into preparing the heads, which arrive from a number of local providers, neatly cleaved in half by a bandsaw. The heads are brined for five days and then cooked sous vide for 18 hours more. Then they're roasted in an oven and regularly basted with the fat that renders from the pig's jowl. The process produces cracklings that rival kettle-cooked potato chips in crispness, and the meat is tender, rich with fat and balanced by the salsas and a salad of radishes, onion and parsley.
The pork is the work of chef Michael Sindoni, who moved to Dallas from Washington, D.C., in 2012 to take charge of Charlie Palmer downtown. In D.C., Sindoni was responsible for the menu at Againn, a gastropub that served fish pies enlightened with saffron cream and mushy peas enriched with marrow fat, but at Charlie Palmer the steakhouse paradigm had Sindoni's cooking shackled. A steady stream of loyal, long-time customers drove the menu, which for the most part was uninspired.
Then, in September, it was announced that Charlie Palmer was closing. Consilient Hospitality took over the space, also revealing plans to open a second restaurant in the same hotel. They tapped Sindoni as executive chef at the second restaurant, and CBD Provisions (Central Business District) opened the next month. The self-described modern Texas brasserie quickly became a downtown hotspot.
If you thought Edison bulbs have become clichéd in modern restaurant design, you should visit a dining room that makes use of them almost exclusively. They hang from the ceilings in big glass fixtures, and they hang over tables, glowing from small metal cages. More light bulbs stick out from the walls, casting a warm glow from behind silvered bowls. The dusky light makes for a space that's so comfortable you'll want to call in a couch, and combined with the metal chairs and the weathered wood tones you might get the feeling you're dining at a Restoration Hardware with a brightly lit open kitchen in the back.
The dining room is anchored by a square bar capped in marble near the front door, and is as fine a space to have a drink as it is to enjoy a meal. Expect hotel guests at your sides, but also a good mix of locals dining on a mix of dishes that range from cobia ceviche to house-made strozzapreti to hearty bowls of chili.
One place the menu shines brightly is in Sindoni's treatment of offal, which embraces pork quite literally from nose to tail. The braised tripe is a revelation, capable of converting the most devout haters. The chorizo and paprika don't mask the tripe's identity but rather enhance the bowl of tender stomach strips with smoke and spice.
From the outside of the pig, pork rinds are served with chili and lime. You'll likely see cups filled with the puffy, tan crisps in front of patrons at the bar, often flanked by a glass of beer. And from the opposite end there are pig's tails, served with a bland kohlrabi slaw. They're not curled up in a spiral like Warner Bros. might have you believe, but instead lay flat and are surprisingly approachable and meaty, finished with a thin sheen of barbecue sauce.
So of course shrimp served with creamy grits arrive with their heads intact. And you'd do well to chomp on each one after you've ripped off the tail with your hands.
Not everything served at CBD is grit and guts. (Though I should mention the chicken liver pâté is impressive, enhanced by what must be an absurd amount of butter and topped with a cap of red pepper jelly.) There is an enticing section of sandwiches, including a Cuban and a pressed grilled cheese. There's a tiny pie filled with braised goat and cheddar cheese that you could probably share but will prefer on your own.
Missteps in the kitchen happen often enough to cause disappointment but won't stir up resentment. There's a roast chicken on the menu, which any self-described brasserie is required to serve, and while the skin is crisp, the flesh beneath is a touch overdone, even as the squash puree and root vegetables that share the plate are both handled nicely. The burger suffers from similar dryness, despite its ruby-red center, with a bun that is perversely lapped in ketchup. Macaroni and cheese is cooked with so much ham it tastes like macaroni and Tasso, and carnitas as fine as these, pig's head or otherwise, should really be offered with better tortillas.
None of these errors is cause enough to avoid the restaurant — there's too much excitement here — but they're just enough to gently tap the brakes, tempering what could be an exhilarating meal.
Like Texas Spice in the Omni Hotel, CBD Provisions touts a Texas-themed menu and local ingredient sourcing wherever possible, but here it is married with a nose-to-tail approach that brings more sincerity to the menu. It is a restaurant that's plenty big enough to stand on its own without the Joule, and will lure far more than hotel guests to dinner, even if they're not up for unhinging a jaw to get at their diner.
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