It’s been a curiously quiet season for notable restaurant debuts in Dallas, which leaves chasers of the latest new hot spots wondering, “Where the devil should we eat?”
Some heat-seekers are in it for the scene, and to them I can say only, hang in there: Eventually you will be able to snag a reservation at Uchi.
Others are in it for the food, and rightly so: If it’s exciting, energized cooking you’re after, it’s natural to look to new restaurants, with their new chefs, fresh tastes, new ideas. So what’s a restless food lover to do?
Head someplace familiar, where a talented new chef has shaken things up. Established restaurants that have had recent changes in kitchen leadership are where all the creative action is at the moment. Think about it: Bolsa, Mot Hai Ba, Oak, Shinsei, the Standard Pour and Cook Hall all have new chefs.
So does CBD Provisions, the Modern Texas brasserie at the Joule hotel. Its new executive chef, 33-year-old Culinary Institute of America-trained Richard Blankenship, has come a long way since just 2013, when he headed the kitchen at Nick and Sam’s Grill Park Cities. Under his charge, that establishment earned one star in a review. He moved over to the Joule after that to help Michael Sindoni, CBD’s original chef, open the restaurant, and has worked there ever since. Now, as top dog, Blankenship is turning out some of the most vibrant, original, engaging and delicious plates in town.
His starters include a suave smoked-carrot dip spread artfully on a wooden board, done up with dollops of fresh sour cream, sliced green almonds, crumbled feta cheese and Aleppo pepper and served with thin, crisp house-made seeded crackers. The green almonds, in case you’re wondering, look like sliced green pitted olives and taste like, well, almonds, but fresher and greener-flavored, and a little chewy. With a very short (blink and you missed it) season, they’re nearly impossible to find round these parts.
Oil-cured peas scented with mint, spiked with chile de arbol and presented in a jar were terrific, too, with house-made sourdough toasts to soak up their minty-spicy oil. Blankenship puts a smart umami spin on beef tartare by way of black garlic, and gives it a gentle jolt of guajillo; grated egg whites are just the right garnish.
His salads stand out, as well, such as the spring vegetable “chop chop”: green garbanzos, sprouted green lentils, snap peas and radishes lightly dressed in a nuoc mam dressing with crunchy little chips of fried tripe on top. Come lunchtime, I loved an egg-topped salad of smoked fish, greens and fresh herbs, which got lovely crunch and tangy interest from pickled mustard seeds and bits of pickled carrot; tiny cornbread croutons added a gently sweet counterpoint.
A couple of noonday sandwiches delighted, as well: a properly pressed Cuban, made with Benton’s country ham, Gruyère and bread-and-butter pickles in the right proportions; and a banh mi on a good crusty baguette, filled with slabs of lusty, loose country pâté, lots of pickled veg and fresh herbs, sliced jalapeño and a fried egg. Both come with a choice of fries or salad. In this case, the salad is not a punishment, but a beautifully minty herb composition with shaved radishes. Those fries, meanwhile — medium-thick, golden-brown batons — are wonderful.
One Friday night, every table around us was digging into the pig’s head carnitas — a dramatic production involving half a pig’s head (the profile!), brined, steamed, then roasted to a burnished crispness, a pile of warm corn tortillas, salsas red and green and radish salad to dress up the endless tacos you’ll be making. It’s a family-style feast that has been offered since the restaurant opened. If you’re even the tiniest bit inclined, you’re dining with friends and you don’t mind the sight of your dinner sneering at you (those teeth are sort of surreal), don’t hesitate; go for it. It seemed even more succulent and flavorful than when the dish was first trotted out.
Otherwise (or next time), explore some of Blankenship’s new dishes. He resists the urge to over-sauce big, toothsome house-made rigatoni, dressing the pasta judiciously instead with whole cloves of roasted green garlic, wads of fresh, roughly chopped, minty English peas, and tender morsels of braised lamb shoulder and topping it with a sous-vide-cooked egg. I loved the butcher’s cut steak one night — a bavette, carefully seasoned, emphatically seared — its beautifully medium-rare slices splayed over black-eyed peas with a supervibrant chimichurri and braised mustard greens. A thick roasted golden tilefish fillet played nicely with its herbal, fresh-flavored green gazpacho sauce.
Don’t skip dessert: Pastry chef Ruben Torano does well with modern spins on Texas classics, like a banana trifle with a billowy pouf of marshmallow fluff; his PB&J ice cream sandwich took me straight back to childhood, with its grape ice cream between peanut butter cookies (a little softer, and the thing would have been easier to eat). Best of all was his “pecan toast”: moist frangipane cake smothered in berry compote and topped with a scoop of brilliant apricot ice cream. It was one of the most inspired desserts I’ve had in months.
I do have a couple of small gripes. A great hotel restaurant should be as wonderful at breakfast as it is at lunch and dinner, but when I showed up at 9:30 on a Tuesday, they were out of breakfast pastries. Meanwhile, the migas — which would no doubt have been pretty fabulous otherwise — came to the table barely lukewarm.
And while there are plenty of interesting choices on the one-page wine list, a modern Texas brasserie really ought to have more than one Texas wine available by the glass and two by the bottle.
Service is terrific, however; the waitstaff is knowledgeable about the menu and has just the right level of casual efficiency; from the moment you walk in the door, it’s friendly but not overly familiar.
It was touch and go at CBD for a few months during the chef transition, when more than one dinner disappointed. Now it’s game on again. That’s great news — not just for guests of the Joule, who can dine at one of Big D’s most compelling restaurants without leaving their hotel, but also for gastronomically inclined Dallasites hungry for a deliciously thoughtful take on Modern Texas cuisine.
CBD Provisions (4 stars)
Price: $$$ (breakfast dishes $9 to $14; lunch dishes $8 to $25; dinner starters $4 to $16, main courses $15 to $25, family-style main courses $49 and $65; desserts $8)
Service: Pitch-perfect for the place: Attentive, casual and friendly but not chummy. The servers are very knowledgeable about the menu.
Ambience: Urban farmhouse chic.
Noise level: When the dining room is crowded, it can be somewhat noisy, but conversation was never a problem.
Location: The Joule hotel, 1530 Main St., Dallas; 214-261-4500; cbdprovisions.com
Hours: Monday-Thursday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar. A one-page, global wine list offers 16 selections by the glass and 21 by the bottle.
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor