Heavy mettle

The whole city knows the secret now: There's no sign, no listed phone. The painting on the outside is your only clue that you've arrived at no place. Against a lurid Texas sunset, a bunch of tough, gun-toting, duster-clad hombres ( I think that's the correct term) are staring out at the parking lot, lined up like the Cartwrights at the beginning of the show. At first glance, you assume this is Waylon's gang of outlaws; after all, the middle one has a guitar. But wait a minute. That face on the left--surely we've him somewhere before. ("Come on in, pardner," they seem to say, sounding like Tommy Lee Jones, "I dare you to order something called 'Smoked Bob.'") Of course. It's the face of Ramblin' Matt Martinez, the toughest chef in the West.

And this is No Place, Matt's primary venue. The third-generation chef has cooked Tex-Mex his whole life, and Rancho Martinez, where he cooked the food his dad used to, was at overflow levels when he took over the old 7-Eleven space next door. But instead of annexing the square footage into his burgeoning business, he started something new, something he'd always wanted to do. He used the new space to serve the kind of food he really likes to cook. And in spite of Dallas' predilection for pretty food, and "light" food, it turned out that what Matt likes to cook, this city likes to eat.

I returned to No Place, partly because I was with friends who'd never eaten there and partly because I wanted to see if it was as much like Y.O. Ranch (a restaurant in the West End for which Matt designed the menu) as I thought it was. It is.

If you've ever seen Errol Flynn in Robin Hood and remember the scene of him sitting in a tree chomping a turkey leg, then you've got an idea of where Matt's culinary tastes lie. Quail are a garnish here--just the thing to lighten up a velvety hunk of venison, cooked bloody and bare. The veal chop takes up the whole plate and is as macho as you could imagine a piece of veal ever could be, seared but sissy-pink and dripping inside. Slabs of catfish and turkey, the light offerings on the menu, are slapped naked on the hot griddle except for a flour dusting, and they eat like beef, thick and hefty, with a chew. Sides are no less substantial: signature smoked potatoes, great shingles of sliced mushrooms, griddled till almost black, and smoking spinach with slivers of onions. Matt wasn't in the kitchen when we arrived, but he arrived before we left, stopping at the bar, of course, before making the rounds of the room, asking in his easy, sleepy-eyed style, just like his dad used to do, "Doin' all right?"

'S all right.
--Mary Brown Malouf

Matt's No Place, 6310 La Vista, 823-9077. Open for dinner Tuesday-Thursday, 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m.

No Place:

Smoked Bob $4.95

Seafood Corn Cakes $8.95

Veal Chop $21.95

Catfish $10.95

Turkey Tenders $10.95

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