There's a timeworn bit of wisdom regarding too many cooks in the kitchen. They get in each other's way, argue over the proper interpretation of recipes, bark countermanding orders to staff and generally muck things up royally—or so the story goes. Lately, however, accomplished chefs have been joining forces with some success. Randall Copeland and Nathan Tate's AVA is breaking new ground in Rockwall. Veteran Stephan Pyles works side by side...well, worked side by side...with Tim Byers, late of Standard. And let's not forget Gilbert Garza and Jeffery "Il Sole" Hobbs at Suze.
Enter into this pantheon Gaspar Stantic, famed for previous stints at Gershwin's and just about everywhere else, partnering with Jean-Marie Cadot from Lavendou, that under-the-radar favorite in North Dallas. Their month-old restaurant, Cadot in far North Dallas, takes the latter's name because, as Stantic explains, "Jean-Marie never had a restaurant; I've had six in 20 years"—including Gaspar's Café—"so I said, 'Let's put up your name.'"
Fair enough. After all, both chefs bring decades of experience in the art of French and New American cooking to a space that once housed Positino. They decorated with artwork and kitsch stored in Stantic's garage, so he can feel a little bit at home. And they kept the Positino hostess, aiming for a seamless transition from old to new, perhaps—although it's difficult to say if the strategy is working after watching finished plates stack up on two separate occasions.
The kitchen still needs to iron out a few wrinkles too.
Cadot can be very, very good, though. Their duck terrine is almost gorgeous: a mottled pink loaf pocked by the pale cream-green of pistachios, surrounded by drab mustard, pickles the color of pine needles, rich forest berries shimmering like port and a rustic shallot jam. But the pâté asked for little of this, yielding a gamy depth bound by mineral flavors that seem to scamper to avoid detection until they must eventually give in and fill in layers, one by one. The escargot resides in what, at first, appears to be a decked-out poulette sauce...except there's something offbeat. Instead of coaxing staid French sauces to life, the chefs prefer clever masquerades, bringing herbed butter and other ingredients into a poulette-like state then spiking the sauce with Pernod. The anise flavor coils up, springing forth only when teased by a layer of sautéed spinach tossed atop the escargot—uniting into one intricate whole the tangy bitterness of the greens and soft, leafy note tracing from each bite of the plump meat. Outside of this, where seasoning, sauce and escargot roll unorchestrated across the palate, an entire world unfolds from earth to sky: a murky taste rising into something grassy and sweet, peaking with a mineral-metallic brass.
Let's just say it's damn good snail.
Another intriguing sauce, conditioned by Champagne and citrus, almost steals the limelight from Cadot's halibut entrée. Rich and clinging like Hollandaise but gentle and sweet as Mandarin orange custard. It resembles...um...I hate to say it, but it resembles a warm Creamsicle, all melted down, with a savory undertone.
It could stand alone, but there's fish on the plate: flaky, linen white and wrapped in paper-thin sheaths of pastry—what they call a "crepe" in their menu description, which also describes "spring vegetables," omitting mention of the sauce or the earthen spices tying fish and sauce together.
According to some folks, places outside the physical (and mental) loop that cordons Dallas like a cookie cutter of urbanism, just can't show this kind of dexterity—as if people who swoon in the presence of Mi Cocina or Taco Diner would know. Stantic and Cadot may have crafted a menu of American-European fusion dishes that reads like a row of Plano McMansions, but the actual dishes are serene, contrived, wild, stratified and modern—the cacophony of urban life, represented through multiple courses. The chefs manage to speak from the plate rather than the listing itself, departing from the usual narrative of French and New American when it makes sense to them, grafting traditions cleverly at other times. The house-smoked salmon represents the sophisticated, carrying just a waft of ashen residue, though fortunately not enough to obscure natural flavors or blunt the streams of cushy fat riffling through the fish. Flatiron steak is brawny and lustrous at the same time, red meat caged in a burned-out shell.
But just when I wanted to go overboard in praise of the place, they fell short. The wrinkles began to show.
The potato-crusted salmon we ordered one evening fairly glistened, its crispy veneer burnished to a deep, inviting sunset gold. But the fish itself had been overcooked by a margin so severe it proved almost inedible—sapped of fat, emptied of flavor and as parched as a can of StarKist...and this was the plate's better half, for the side of goat cheese gnocchi had shriveled into lumps of metamorphic rock, making it downright difficult to chew. Trout served on that same night came out sodden in texture, tepid in flavor and utterly dwarfed the mushroom-laced sauce and cake of dried-out macaroni.
Maybe it was just a bad night. Our too-familiar waiter urged us to place the soufflé order at the same time as appetizers and entrees. It takes 20 minutes to bake, he explained. By putting in the request early, we'd avoid a lengthy delay.
Funny, we still waited a good quarter-hour—surrounded by splattered plates from the main course—for the dessert to come. This is the same waiter who, rather suspiciously, insisted every dish we pointed to was a popular favorite.
Brand-new restaurants will suffer growing pains, of course—and these may continue for some time, as Stantic in particular adjusts the menu. They are planning additions to it in August (deleting dishes that haven't sold well). A tasting menu follows sometime after that. On its best days, though, Cadot can be almost thrilling. The escargot is memorable. They serve a yellowfin carpaccio that practically melts in your mouth, supported by equally supple rounds of foie gras. Drizzled with lemon juice and scattered chives, it is both simple and elegant. And that duck terrine...
A few visits suggest Cadot is headed in the right direction, poised to become one of the city's best mid-range restaurants. They may falter on occasion—badly so, in my experience. But it's worth it, for now, to ignore service mishaps, shrug off the odd bad night and bank on the best of both chefs.
Cadot 18111 Preston Road, 972-267-5700. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5-10 p.m. Saturday. $$$