Rapscallion Blends Southern Food with Sichuan | Dallas Observer

Restaurant Reviews

Rapscallion Takes Southern Food to New Places

If you scored an 800 on the verbal side of your SAT, you might know that "rapscallion" is an archaic term used to define a mischievous character. The rest of us are glad the Oxford English Dictionary is still available for free online. Without some help, we'd be forced to assume a rapscallion is a green onion with a tendency for rhythmic prose, or a leek that's been wrapped in something smoky and savory.

"The plates of chicken waft a scent that implies Chinese food, and the flavors are echoed in other dishes."

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That last guess isn't too far off if you've happened upon Rapscallion the restaurant, which serves a wilted strand of green onion enveloped in thinly shaved and chewy bacon. A thick vinaigrette turned bright red from Espelette peppers adds brightness to the simple appetizer and signals Southern cooking from a kitchen that refuses to adhere to the rules that bind similarly themed restaurants.

Rapscallion is the work of brothers Brooks and Bradley Anderson and chef Nathan Tate, who opened Boulevardier (n. a wealthy, fashionable socialite) in the Bishop Arts District two years ago. Boulevardier bends the rules of French cuisine to create an American bistro, enthusiastically serving oysters from a copper bar and pouring wine from a list that heavily features European bottles. The restaurant has grown to become one of the most likable in Oak Cliff and perhaps in greater Dallas.

Wine is also featured prominently at Rapscallion, which opened earlier this summer, but the list here pulls from domestic vineyards exclusively. With more than 100 bottles available (more than half of which are offered at $50 and below), the new restaurant is a great place to explore if you are looking for something crisp to beat the heat, or something warming for the patio this fall.

Not that you won't want to spend time inside this newly appointed dining room. A few years ago, Christmas trees were sold on what used to be an empty lot, but new construction has added space for a number of restaurants including a taqueria and a temple to Korean fried chicken.

New construction often means high ceilings with exposed ductwork, and an open, airy feel. But the design here expertly divides the space not laterally, but vertically, with a dropped ceiling that hovers over the tables and lends a cozy atmosphere. Panels cut into geometric shapes hang on the walls and keep the few Southern knickknacks — a dinner triangle, a yoke and other artifacts — from giving the dining room a hokey, chicken-shack vibe. Sound-absorbing material holds an always packed dining room at loud instead of deafening.

And when I say always packed, I mean always. Every time I visited Rapscallion, I was told my wait would be an hour or more, though the estimate was never accurate. The restaurant makes use of NoWait, a Web app that's supposed to manage customers hoping for tables. All of the times were grossly overestimated by the app. A 60-minute wait took 30 minutes on one visit and 20 minutes on another. When I was quoted a three-hour wait, I decided I'd dine somewhere else that evening. Just as I sat down at my alternate restaurant — just 20 minutes later — my phone vibrated in my pocket.

Your table is ready.

All of this sounds like a pain, and it is, but it's completely worth it. The farm implements on the wall point to Southern food, but the dishes coming out of the kitchen are inventive and interesting. Tate's cooking has found a new life on Rapscallion's menu.

Take the fried chicken. For each serving, half a bird is brined in tea before it's slowly spun on a rotisserie warmed with flames from pecan wood. The chicken is flash fried to order and draped in a mala sauce with a light prick of Sichuan pepper. The spice lends a distant, tingling sensation. More, chef, please!

The plates of chicken waft a scent that implies Chinese food, and the flavors are echoed in other dishes. Get the greens as a side if you order the chicken and notice the crunchy peanuts. The fried sorghum is basically a dressy take (complete with tempura egg) on the fried rice normally dished from paper boxes. Tate blends the two cuisines seamlessly, resulting in a Southern spread that's familiar but still interesting.

I wish the menu would maintain the Sichuan slant throughout, because the dishes influenced by Middle Eastern cooking seem completely out of place in the same dining room. Still, it's impossible to deny the appeal of a cabrito kebab, wrapped up in a flat bread that's lapped in yogurt spiced with Aleppo pepper. Pickled watermelon rind adds some snap, pistachios add crunch and a tussle of greenery shows a chef who's not afraid of cilantro. A Southern riff on mezza included hummus made from peanuts and pimento cheese made with a heady blend of cheddar. These dishes can be delicious, but they're also a little awkward, like a lute player stomping his way though a hoedown.

If your tastes lean toward the traditional, other plates await. A hunk of perfectly fried catfish lightly dusted in cornmeal is suspended above a pool of dashi broth by a bed of toothy greens. A few small clams scattered about tie the dish together. There's redfish, steaks both conventional and aged, and sides like Gammy's mac and cheese. Each of these get some flashy updates but wouldn't look out of place on a Sunday supper table.

When Boulevardier first opened, it had plenty of kinks to work out, but the restaurant matured nicely like the expensive wines that sit on its shelves. Even as their latest takes time to settle in, the Anderson brothers and Tate clearly have created another hit.

Far from a scoundrel, I think if Rapscallion were a man, he'd be a warm and charming fellow. Maybe he's not completely trustworthy, but he'd know his way around a wood-burning grill.

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Scott Reitz
Contact: Scott Reitz

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