CBD Provisions' Mike Sindoni on Getting Dallas to Eat Pig's Head: "We Sell the Shit Out of It"
When I walk up, Mike Sindoni is sitting at the bar at CBD Provisions, the restaurant in downtown Dallas' Joule Hotel, making edits on a menu with a No. 2 pencil. He's an unassuming, gentle-looking man of about six feet with bright eyes, short curly hair and a generous smile.
Sindoni is still fairly new to Dallas, having moved here from Washington, D.C., in 2012 to take the reigns at the Joule's Charlie Palmer steakhouse. When that restaurant closed and his bosses at Consilient, a restaurant group, announced plans to open two new restaurants in the downtown hotel, they brought Sindoni on to craft the menu for CBD Provisions. As the executive chef, Sindoni's nose-to-tail philosophy has captured the esteem of nearly every food critic in town, including our own Scott Reitz, who said the restaurant makes magic.
In our interview, we chatted about the restaurant, his hometown, where he dines out in Dallas and what it's like to live downtown.
So where are you from? Washington, DC. I'm not from there but that's where I was working most recently. I'm actually from Upstate New York.
I went to Syracuse for grad school. Oh, really? I'm from Syracuse.
Small world. That's why this is here. Don't tell anyone. *10 points to the person who can figure out what the hell he pointed at on the menu*.
Walk me through life after Syracuse. I went to Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island and then after school I went to Italy for a while. Then I worked in the Bay Area for a while, mostly with the Ritz. The Ritz Carlton world is very small so from there i received a lot of opportunities from people I worked with. A few years ago I opened Againn, a gastropub in D.C., with a bunch of ex-Ritz people. And I went back to Italy.
In 2012 a friend of mine called me up who was working with the Charlie Palmer group. An opening came available at the one that used to be here in the Joule. When the opportunity to work at a restaurant of such a prestigious chef, I thought, 'Hell yeah,' and that's how I got to Dallas. The ownership of the hotel switched restaurant companies from Charlie Palmer to Consilient and I was hired on to do this restaurant.
So did the concept for this restaurant come from you? It was actually from Tristan Simon at Consilient, so we worked together for a long time on what you see now. The menu is mine, but the concept is his: modern Texas brasierre. It took a lot of revisions to get the menu down to what it is now.
Are there things on this menu you don't see anywhere else??? Maybe you don't see them anywhere else in this context. We definitely embrace a nose to tail philosophy here.
Which means actually eating the nose and the tail, right? Yeah, I mean one of our most popular dishes is a roasted pig head.
So what exactly is cooking a whole pig head like? It comes in split. So it's half of a pig head, split down the middle and it's just a raw pig's head, eyeballs and all.
Can you eat the eyeballs? ?I mean, yeah people could. I don't know that I've ever actually eaten one. They're not really the main attraction. It's really about the face, which has the perfect ratio of fat and meat and skin, so think of it like pork belly where you get crispy skin, then you get a layer of fat, then you get a really nice, soft layer of meat. The head is like that too. It's just a little more fun because you have to navigate around some bones. If you eat pork, I'm sure you've had jowl before and that's really what this is.
How did you come up with your menu? Well, creating a menu that was unique without being esoteric and alienating was difficult. I also wanted to serve food that doesn't make you feel like you're in a hotel.
When you dine out in Dallas where do you go? For every 10 times I go out, about seven times I'm eating ethnic food. I love Royal Sichuan in Richardson, I go there more than any other restaurant.
What do you order there? Way too much. Way, way, way too much. They have this amazing cold beef tendon dish, with peanuts and Chinese celery, I always get that. I always get their string beans, which are really simple wok-fried string beans with sichuan pepper corn. I like their dan dan noodles. Oh, and the eggplant with garlic sauce. They have this ridiculous fried chicken, it's just boneless thighs covered in chiles. And occasionally, it's really huge so I try to get it only when there are more of us than just me and my fiancee: the fish hot pot.
Do you take chef friends with you when you go? It's actually harder to dine out with the chefs, at least the ones who work here, because if I'm off they can't be. I always try and take people there. All of my friends, chefs or not, are really into food.
Other than food, what are things you like do? I really love traveling, but that again, is directly related to food. That's a really tough question, because three months into opening a restaurant there hasn't been a lot of free time. I really like tennis and I think that has become one of my favorite things about Dallas. Every month of the year, it might be cold, but the sun is shining and I can play outside. Growing up in Syracuse, you had to play indoors eight months out of the year and even then there are only a couple months with nice weather.
How does Dallas compare to other cities you've worked in?? I think Dallas diners aren't as picky as they are in D.C. But I think that there's also not ... well, it's still a steakhouse town. It's emerging out of that, I've noticed that even just when I've been here the restaurants that are opening are diverse and Dallas has really embraced that. People were really surprised when we put out this menu that people in Dallas would order a pig head. But we sell the shit out of it.
Is this your dream restaurant? I will say that it is exactly the level of refinement and technique I strive for. And it's still casual in its atmosphere so that it feels like a place you could go every day. I'll admit that being open everyday like we have to be because we're part of a hotel isn't totally ideal.
But what about in terms of the kind of the food you make?? Almost everything I cook no matter where I am is inspired by traditional food, Grandma's food, the food that developed from turning something you had on hand into something great. All ethnic food developed from that mentality. All Italian, Chinese, Mexican food came from taking what they had and turning it into something delicious. It's the same thing here. It's not looking at what they're doing in steakhouses, but asking what's the history behind the food here? In Dallas, we've got the German influence, the Mexican influence, the whole barbecue culture.
What are the main differences between working in a hotel versus a stand-alone restaurant? There are definitely more standards and procedures in a hotel, which can take a little while to get used to. There's just more of everything. There are departments you don't have in a normal restaurant, like a rooms department for example. It's nice not being part of a chain hotel, because that gives us a lot of freedom. Consilient's goal is to run this like an independent restaurant and they've done a great job with that.
How do you and your fiancée like Dallas so far?? It's never going to feel like home, but we're really enjoying it. The cost of living adjustment has been wonderful. Now I know why everyone's moving to Texas. I was saying just the other day that I appreciate how nice the people here are. I don't know if where I'm from they would embrace so many people moving into their city. I never get the attitude that people here are annoyed that we're not from Texas.
Dream destination for traveling?? I'm always hesitant to go to a new place if I don't have a native person to show me around, because I hate any sort of tourist trap. Because of that when I have time to travel, I usually end up going to Italy because I know it. This spring, I'm going to visit a good friend who lives in Germany. I've never been there before. You can find good culture and good food. Like even in Syracuse. My friends who have visited with me for a weekend love it. I take them to Dinosaur BBQ, Blue Tusk, Clark's Ale House.
The fabled Clark's. You know it's re-opening? That's gotta be one of the most unique places in the country, you don't see a lot of bars with no music, beer only, where the beer's actually kept at the right temperature.
Anywhere that people call home will have culture that might surprise visitors. Yeah, exactly. That's why I always end up going where my friends are, to get closer to a city. Whether it's somewhere in New York, Italy or California. When it comes to traveling, I'm not really a laying-around-on-a-beach person.
When you moved to Dallas did you have a local guiding you around here??? Yes and no. It took me a little while. I won't tell you the places I don't like, but I do remember a time when we first moved here. We were just walking around Deep Ellum and there was a music festival happening just randomly in the streets with acts I'd actually heard of. It was so random, we heard music and walked over there and it was awesome. I'm cheering for Deep Ellum to revitalize. Oh, and downtown of course.
Do you live downtown??? I do.
Shield your eyes, vegetarians.
When you look at downtown Dallas, compared to D.C. for example, what're we missing?
I just think it needs to keep going in the direction that it's going. We get a lot of locals in CBD, who, I think, are happy to have a new restaurant. Living down here myself I know there aren't a ton of places where you really want to eat. So I like being a part of the changes happening down here. And I'm not just saying this because he's my employer, but Tim Headington has made a huge investment in downtown. Everything from this restaurant to the eyeball across the street to the spa. Then there's still a lot planned: a cocktail bar, a steakhouse. It's just great to see so many people down here every day.
Oh, I see a pig head coming out of the kitchen. Wanna see it?
Can I Instagram it? ? Yeah, please do.
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