Canary by Gorji might be Dallas’ ultimate under-the-radar restaurant.
It’s been open for over a decade, and chef-owner Mansour Gorji, with two Texas Steak Cook-Off championships under his belt, has been serving top-notch cuisine there all the while. But for whatever reason, Canary doesn’t get the love it deserves.
Maybe it’s the size: just seven tables, since Gorji does most of the cooking himself. Maybe it’s the location in a sprawling strip mall complex in Addison. Maybe it’s the name and marketing, a symptom of Gorji’s considerable love of self-promotion. Or maybe it’s the fact that Canary doesn’t chase every new foodie trend or obsess over how each plate will look surrounded by hashtags on Instagram. Canary's philosophy is to do fine dining the old-fashioned way, and do it perfectly.
"They tell me I am ahead, but I say no, it is back,” Gorji said. He does what he does — and what he was raised to do. "Once a trend is past, it always comes back."
No, Canary doesn’t boldly go where no Dallas menu has gone before, and no, it doesn’t have your favorite uber-trendy Asian fusion special. What this restaurant offers is a slate of classics with a light Mediterranean touch and flawless execution.
The first thing you need to know about Gorji is that he is some kind of meat genius. Born in Iran and trained in engineering, Gorji parlayed that unlikely background into back-to-back Texas Steak Cook-Off championships, besting Al Biernat, Tim Love and a slew of other big-name chefs. He doesn’t compete anymore because he doesn’t need to. The point is proven.
We sampled Gorji’s mussels, scallops, duck, beef, boar, lamb and quail, and every single one was cooked flawlessly, with total understanding of each cut’s identity. If you want to eat an entire ark of animals,
Canary is the place to do it.
Canary’s secret is to keep it simple. Meats are seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, then grilled to perfection. Beef, lamb and boar arrive with a glorious ribbon of pink which reaches from the center of the cut to the edges. Taste each animal in turn and, thanks to the simplicity of the grillwork, your attention will be drawn to the flavor differences inherent in the meats. The beef tenderloin ($44) in particular is one of the best in the Metroplex.
Most of the grill items at Canary don’t have, or need, elaborate sauces or garnishes. An exception is the appetizer duck breast hidden under a plum ($15), a classic sweet-savory pairing.
"Being an engineer, simple is the most complicated thing there is,” Gorji said.
The consistency is a marvel; nobody knows the last time when an overcooked steak left the Canary kitchen. Visit often enough and the idea seems impossible. Gorji is personally offended by ill-treated meat, as he told us when we ordered.
“I cook it medium-rare,” he said. “Please don’t ask me to do more.”
But a dinner at Canary isn’t just protein on a plate. Many dishes are garnished with pomegranate or pistachio, a reminder of Canary’s Persian heritage. Vegetable sides come off the grill and change with the seasons. A grilled tomato is the right acidic accent to the darkly gamy wild boar tenderloin ($41). You might ask for a side of Gorgonzola gnocchi ($8), with a perfect pillowy texture and comfort food cheesiness. The iceberg wedge ($11), sliced into the shape of a ribeye steak, is topped with a drape of prosciutto and some grilled jalapeño peppers. One appetizer salad led us to wonder where on earth they’re getting such fresh, ripe, un-pulpy strawberries in February. Turns out, they came from a friend at a farmer's market.
"I bought all ten pounds — my wife had one pound,” he said with a laugh. “Weren't they amazing?"
Not everything is perfect at this tiny Addison hideaway, however. For one thing, despite the restaurant’s Mediterranean ethos, there are almost no vegetarian dishes. Many dishes use Gorji’s line of pre-jarred pasta sauces as a quick cheat and a promotional tie-in.
Desserts are typically less interesting than the savory foods. Some sweets come with a glass of booze included in the price, but in general Canary’s dessert offerings are less memorable and less interesting than its savory dishes.
The current waitstaff seems new and untrained, so Gorji keeps a watchful eye. At one point, he uncomfortably picked apart their mistakes in front of us. Dallas has no shortage of chefs with hot tempers, but few of them show it when customers are around.
If you’re unlucky enough to see the chef snap, even the best meal can leave a bitter aftertaste. It’s like getting an especially hateful glare with your Whataburger. But Canary’s biggest weakness can’t be separated from its biggest strength: For better or worse, the restaurant is a one-man show.
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The chef returns your call when you make a reservation; the chef shops for his own produce and meat; the chef greets you, asks how you like the food and says goodbye when you leave. With such a tiny dining room, Canary can feel like a close-knit family, and after only two visits you count as a regular and a friend. Usually it’s the warm loving kind of family meal, but for one brief moment, it was the awkward kind.
The one-man show model only succeeds if its star can deliver consistently. And, in the kitchen, Mansour Gorji is the model of consistency. Carnivorous diners could easily have dreams about Canary’s offerings, haunted by memories of crisp-skinned quail legs or scallops seared to melt-in-mouth perfection.
A certain outspoken Dallas chef recently posted this question on Facebook: “Whatever happened to great service and just good food on a plate?”
Canary’s service seems to be in transition, but if you, like the prominent chef who will here remain nameless, often wonder whether we’ve gone mad over gimmicks, trends, hipsterisms and novelty themes, take heart. There are still restaurants that focus on just good food on a plate. And in that shrinking realm, Canary by Gorji is one of the very best.
Canary by Gorji, 5100 Belt Line Road #402, Addison, 972-503-7080, chefgorji.com. Open 5-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday