First look: Top Knot in Dallas is Uchi's happy-go-lucky, laid-back little brother
Ten years ago, I would have given up Asian fusion cuisine for dead.
At least I was hoping it would expire: Those flavors had played themselves out. We'd been subjected to about 9,000 tuna tartares too many. We had sesame oil coming out of our ears.
Then chefs like David Chang -- with his Momofuku restaurants in New York -- came along. Enter Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco and New York), Sang Yoon (Lukshon in Los Angeles) and Andy Ricker (Pok Pok in Portland, Ore.) to reinvigorate the whole genre. Out with the ponzu-soaked clichés. In with fresh flavors from the Koreas, China, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan.
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Even before Chang opened his original Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York's East Village in 2004, Tyson Cole was busy rethinking the Asian flavor game at Uchi, which he debuted in Austin in 2003. He followed with spinoff Uchiko in 2010. Uchiko's chef, Paul Qui, won a James Beard Award for his cooking there (Cole won for Uchi the previous year), then went on to open his spectacularly inventive Qui in 2013.
So even if we don't want to call it that anymore, Asian fusion cuisine lives.
Does it have legs? Well, Cole opened his third Uchi here in Dallas last summer. Diners packed the place from the day it opened its Maple Avenue doors. It wowed me enough to give it a rare five stars in a review and name it The Best in DFW New Restaurant of the Year.
Now comes Top Knot, which Cole and his gang opened upstairs from Uchi on Feb. 3 with Angela Hernandez in charge of the kitchen. A press release called it a "modern American restaurant with Asian roots," but that's not what it feels like to me; I'm going with modern Asian fusion. When I stopped in for dinner last week (Monday Feb. 8), a waiter referred to Top Knot as "Uchi's little brother," which seems just right.
With its vibrant hand-stenciled mural festooned with colorful canvas cut-outs, the airy dining room is a laid-back, no-reservations place for drinks and modern Asian small plates. Downstairs at Uchi, it's sake, beer and wine only, but at Top Knot you can sip a jazzy cocktail.
To nibble, there are chunks of crisply fried sunchoke with horseradish and lemon-zesty crème fraîche for dipping. Or tear into meaty Berkshire pork ribs scattered with mint and cilantro: old-fashioned Cantonese with a makeover. A gorgeous crudo of cubed hamachi in an emerald-green cucumber-yuzu pond with circles of cucumber, sliced red grapes and sesame seeds looks and tastes like something sent up from downstairs. Prices are a little gentler than at big brother's: $7 for the sunchokes, $13 for the crudo, $17 for the ribs (and yes, they quickly add up).
There are "buns," like hot fried chicken with pickles and cornichon gastrique on a Parker House roll (wait a minute -- isn't that a slider?!) and nori-wrapped hand rolls filled with pickled shrimp, sushi rice and chicharrón. Crispy pork katsu -- served with a creamy cabbage-apple-miso slaw -- comes cut into strips for maximum shareability. And there's plenty to tempt a vegetarian, maybe gai lan (Chinese kale) dressed in chile-spiked white ponzu.
For dessert, consider a creamy, fruity, lightly crunchy party-in-a-terrarium called Thai Strawberry Shortcake. Take a bite, and you'd swear it was spring.
Open Sunday-Thursday 4:30 to 11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 4:30 p.m. to midnight. 2817 Maple Ave., Dallas; 214-855-1354; topknotdallas.com. Reservations only for parties of six or more.