Within 2 miles of new Highland Park restaurant Sachet, there are, by conservative estimation, more than a dozen Dallas steakhouses serving pricey 22-ounce cowboy rib-eyes and pork chops big enough to derail a streetcar. The well-heeled bits of Dallas, particularly suit-sporting expense account holders, love meat. Not just any meat, either: big, bold, expensive cuts that tower menacingly over any poor vegetable that dares attempt to share the plate.
Yet one of the city's most sought-after reservations of the moment is at a restaurant where, of the more than 50 dishes on the menu, only 15 or so revolve around meat. You'll find flesh on this menu — turkish lamb ragu swirling around fresh casarecce pasta, salty confit duck with crispy skin and rugged duck sausage, a coveted steak cut from the shoulder of a Spanish ibérico pig — but at Sachet, the meat plays a supporting role to a colorful amalgamation of vegetables and pastas with bright, enticing flavors and playful interpretations.
Situated in a sunlit corner of the Shops at Highland Park, in a part of town where the long rows of Oak Lawn shopping centers give way to the stately homes and shady trees of Highland Park, Sachet is an exploration of food and wine inspired by the Mediterranean coasts. It's a restaurant where fine dining and casual, multicourse meals over multiple bottles of wine intersect, much like Stephen Rogers and Allison Yoder's other Dallas restaurant, Gemma. Sachet opened in September, and if it's hard to get a prime reservation now, that may be due in part to Sachet's ability to entice diners to linger for hours over shareable plates and alluring wines from Greece, Turkey, Morocco and Israel.
The menu opens with a selection of meze, a lengthy list of small vegetable dishes such as spicy carrot tabbouleh, Swiss chard stems with walnuts and dried apricots, and the popular yellow beets with bright-red beet hummus, a favorite among our table at every visit. Guests can order three meze for $14 or five for $21, with each dish offering a couple of bites per diner. It's a refreshing array of colorful vegetables that feels in line with current dining trends that shy away from the overtly carnivorous.
"We really wanted to explore a more vegetable-forward menu without taking away from the meat and seafood selections," Rogers said. "Many diners are looking for menus with more fresh vegetables and possibly less focus on huge cuts of meat."
The light freshness of the meze makes it easy to continue ordering from the remaining salads, appetizers, small pasta dishes, and seafood and meat selections.
A wood oven, custom made for the restaurant with "imported Tuscan-made Valoriani oven hearth and stone," Rogers said, turns out beautifully baked pita and fun dishes such as the pizetta ($14), topped with mushrooms, crispy kale, fontina cream, thyme and pine nuts. The small pasta dishes, ranging from $10 to $16, are delightful plates with fun combinations and indulgent touches — even if, on one visit, the pasta dishes were too salty (though not enough to stop us from devouring every bite).
Standouts include the green garlic nettle tortiglioni ($11) with tender green pasta that gets its hue from a puree of green garlic and stinging nettles. Buttery local mushrooms and an Italian salsa verde round out a dish that is likely to become a favorite among those who always add twice as much garlic than the recipe calls for. The ricotta gnocchi ($13), creamy and rich, are tossed with prosciutto and greens and disappeared almost as quickly as it hit the table.
Charred octopus ($14), a hot menu item in Dallas at the moment, was perfectly cooked and enticing even to table-mates who seemed wary of such a dish. Squid stuffed with lamb chorizo ($12) was less of a hit; the characteristically chewy squid and punchy lamb chorizo lead to a clash of flavors made more complicated by a tomato-harissa sauce with fat green olives. On the seafood menu, a whole dorade ($25) came stuffed with herbs and poached in a bright, tangy heirloom tomato aqua pazza. Meat-and-potatoes types will love the Ibérico Secreto ($33) with patatas bravas. The pork steak gets a bright dose of curious flavor and funk from the pig's diet of wild acorns.
The poultry and meat dishes proved less coveted among our dining companions than the vegetable meze and pastas. Sachet is one of the few fine dining destinations in Dallas where you can indulge in a beautiful, texturally diverse meal without relying on red meat. Even after ordering more dishes than seems possible to eat, diners can leave without feeling overindulgent. But they're just as likely to leave with a pleasant buzz from the admirable wine list.
As at Gemma, the list is sizable — around 150 bottles — but equal parts accessible and adventurous, and lead sommelier Cameron Cronin demonstrates an intricate knowledge of every bottle. His engaging, romantic descriptions of both the wines and their producers — you'll find several natural, organic and bio-dynamic bottles on the list — make ordering wine for the table feel like a fun international adventure. There are stellar bottles at every price range, from a bright, happy Israeli chardonnay-sauvignon blanc blend ($28) to a $165 Tuscan cab franc. Equally as fun: Sachet's menu of Spanish gin and tonic cocktails, which come in generous pours with fragrant floral and citrus garnishes.
On one visit, as our table mused about after-dinner drinks, we eagerly agreed to a staff suggestion of an ouzo tasting with pours from several countries and were led through a fascinating sampling that left us all walking away from the table feeling both more worldly and buzzed.
With patient, attentive service, fascinating drinks and fresh, creative vegetable-centric dishes, Sachet is a
refreshing departure from Dallas' meat-and-potato inclinations. It's the kind of restaurant that you feel drawn to revisit almost immediately, and you should, with several companions in tow. Sharing these small plates and bottles of wine creates a dining experience that's endlessly stimulating and memorable. Is there anything more we can ask of a restaurant?
Sachet, 4270 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-613-6425. Open 5-11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.