In 2009, Tim Byres opened Smoke in Dallas. Byres, who once worked as executive chef at Stephen Pyles, billed Smoke as an upscale barbecue restaurant, a place where brisket and wine could be at home on the same menu. Smoke has since settled into a nook of barbecue fandom, garnering praise from critics and patrons alike.
It came, then, as little shock when Byres announced that he would open a second location of Smoke in Plano, where urban restaurateurs are now opening outposts seemingly weekly. The Preston and Park location opened earlier this week, and I stopped by for a look at the space, the menu and, yes, the meat.
The space, with wood-bedecked ceilings, accent chairs and modern art, feels more reminiscent of a West Elm store than a barbecue joint. The interior is divided into three separate dining areas and a generous bar. From the main dining area, customers can catch glimpses of flames as big hunks of meat are seared into submission in the kitchen. Each table is adorned with a white tablecloth, butcher paper, rosemary sprigs and a candle, as if to clarify "Why no, this isn't Bubba's Back Dat Up BBQ, thank you for asking."
The menu will come as no shock to fans of the original location, with prices to match its upscale barbecue reputation. Small plates, which serve the function of appetizers, range from $7 to $15. There doesn't seem to be much agreement between the small dishes in terms of cuisine -- you will find everything from hummus ($9) to brick roux gumbo ($14) to cabrito and masa ($13) to pork jowl and fermented cucumber salad ($11).
When it comes to the entrees, the overarching theme is more evident: no vegetarians. Fans of the Dallas location will be glad to see The Big Rib is still there at $37 (and from what I understand, it's a very large rib indeed). There is also a $15 burger whose claim to fame is that it's topped with a frittered egg and homemade bacon. They've got grilled quail ($23), strip steak ($27), scallops ($24), spare ribs ($23) and Berkshire pork chops ($28) to boot. Each entrée is accompanied by a side or two, though if you want some extra hominy casserole ($5) or wilted greens ($7), you can order another helping.
Before the food arrived, the waiter brought four sauces to the table. There was a tomato-based sauce with sweet, smoky notes, a tomatillo sauce and two Carolina-inspired sauces -- one mustard-based and the other a tangy vinaigrette.
My date ordered the pulled whole hog ($19) and blue cheese coleslaw. The dish was served with chunks of pork roast piled high atop a thick cut of sourdough bread, which was then topped with a smoky, tender pork rib. Other restaurants should take note of this rib-as-garnish technique. Sure, parsley is fresh and green and all, but there's just something so wholeheartedly American about a meat garnish that it makes me want to weep with patriotism.
The coffee-cured natural beef brisket was presented in the same manner as the pork: three slices of brisket draped across a bed of fattier brisket pieces, all of which rested upon a piece of bread. Okay, fine. But the brisket, which had a nice smoke ring, minimal seasoning and decent beefy flavor, came out room temperature and looked like it had been sitting out for some time. Not so fine.
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The potato salad also missed the mark. This time, the culprit was undercooked potatoes. What a shame, too: The dressing was delicious -- tangy and creamy, with big flecks of whole grain mustard seeds. The cole slaw that accompanied the pork, though, was perfect: fresh, crunchy and not for the faint-of-blue-cheese.
Given Smoke's success in Oak Cliff, the bumps in my dining experience will likely be smoothed out in due time. The wait staff was attentive and knowledgeable, there is an interesting beer selection and the ambience is oddly soothing in that interior-design-store kind of way. Here's hoping that once Smoke Plano gets warmed up, the brisket will, too.