I’m just back from a trip around the world with chef David Anthony Temple, and my palate and I are pooped.
Well, it wasn’t exactly around the world: The itinerary included stops in Hawaii, Western Europe, South America and the American South. It was a gastronomic tour that didn’t involve getting on planes, trains or boats — just sitting in a chair in Temple’s Deep Ellum restaurant and eating my way through his current six-course tasting menu. Each course drew inspiration from a different cuisine.
Following an amuse-bouche à la Louisiane (boudin, bay scallop, corn powder), there were Hawaiian-inspired pupus; a Spanish-accented soup course; salads via South America; Italian risotti; plats de résistance from France. Dessert was a return to the American South.
Interested? No passport required, but before we take off, some background is in order.
Thirty-one-year-old Temple, a Louisiana native who calls himself Chef DAT, gained popularity in Dallas over the last few years with his underground pop-up dinners. In late January, he debuted Twenty Seven, his first brick-and-mortar restaurant, a 27-seat (more or less) spot named in homage to artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin who left this world at the age of 27. Open only three nights per week (Thursday, Friday and Saturday), it offers three-course and six-course fixed-price dinners only. There are four versions of each: a signature menu; a “garden” (vegetarian) menu; a “land” menu (meat-centric); and a seafood menu. The menus, which do not always involve a clear theme, change frequently.
Booking a table, which you do on the restaurant’s website, involves jumping through some hoops. A form requests personal information, names of your guests, menu selections and so on. Submit the form and you’ll wait up to 72 hours to learn whether you have a table. If your party is four or more, you’ll be required to provide a credit card number and you’ll be charged a refundable $27 deposit. (Alternately, you can walk in sometime before a 7:30 Thursday or 6:15 Friday or Saturday seating and take your chances getting a table, but Temple says Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 usually sell out.)
The menus are expensive: $60 per person (exclusive of tax, tip and drinks) for three courses and $90 per person for the six-course tasting. To put the prices in perspective, five-star restaurant FT33 offers a nine-course chef’s tasting menu for $95.
Those hoops and those bucks inevitably set up the expectation of a very special evening.
Things started out swimmingly on each of two visits — in April and June, with three guests in tow each time so I could sample two seasonal iterations of each of the four six-course menus. The low-lighted white-tablecloth dining room has an intimate speakeasy feel, with a bar on one end and a curtained DJ stand on the other. (Twenty Seven transforms into a lounge called XXVII Antique on Saturday nights after dinner.) Empty frames on one wall seem to slyly poke fun at the pretentious trappings of formal dining.
Bartender Moses Guidry’s cocktails are terrific; one night every diner was treated to a complimentary half-flute of Taittinger Champagne.
Then the parade of dishes begins, with Temple appearing in the dining room to explain each dish as it’s served to everyone simultaneously.
The first course on the around- the-world evening's signature menu was a Hawaiian-style ahi poke: a tartare of tuna and mango with strips of wakame seaweed and strawberry Pop Rocks, set on sushi rice. My friends' pupus were variations on this, all served on sushi rice: pickled shrimp, pineapple and peppers (seafood menu); avocado, papaya and pickled ramps (garden menu); Korean-style beef, ginger and pickled ramps (land menu). Likable mostly, but all would have been nicer without the sushi rice, which distracted from the freshness and purity of the ingredients.
More variety was expressed with the soups - cold Spanish ones on the around-the-world night. Salmorejo, a puréed tomato-and-bread soup with a happy zetz of vinegar (signature menu), came garnished with a bit of shaved lomo Ibérico, hard-boiled egg white and dots of turmeric-infused oil. A lightweight version of ajo blanco - almond and garlic soup - was refreshing, but a puréed red pepper soup (garden menu) was thick and monotonous; a thin, sweet watermelon soup (land menu) was awful.
After a nibble of nicely fried okra to swipe through Caesar dressing came salads (South America): field greens with some combination of tomato, avocado, corn and black beans, tarted up with different garnishes. Mine featured dried-out, shredded duck confit; others had a bit of crabmeat (seafood menu), some saucy roasted cabrito (land) or lightly pickled green tomato (garden).
A risotto course created starch overload (especially after the rice in course one). A black garlic gelato intermezzo (both evenings) was an interesting idea, but lately it had crystallized in the freezer, ruining the texture.
Most of what I sampled that night and previously was fine though not impressive or terribly interesting. The plates too often came across as vehicles customized with trendy garnishes (fiddlehead ferns, pickled ramps, quinoa) rather than as organically expressive dishes.
The around-the-world main courses, meant to evoke France, struck me as very American. Most involved a protein set on a cold salad of creamer peas and strawberries; mine, topped with slices of Wagyu beef, included undercooked fiddleheads. Copper River salmon (sea) was nearly raw inside, while a pork tenderloin (land) dressed up with chicharrón and wild boar confit was overcooked. They had in common a delightful garnish: a thoughtfully spiced roasted Thai eggplant with a gorgeous creamy texture.
When you're paying $90 per person, it's hard to overlook amateurish "pardon my reach" interruptions and errors such as removing plates before all diners have finished a course. I was stunned when our server reset my place for course No. 2 with the used flatware he pulled off my finished first-course plate.
Wine service was spotty, too; we had to flag down a server to order. Having trouble finding a moderately priced food-friendly red on the three-page, mostly French and Californian wine list, I sprung for a 2012 Henri Gouges Nuits- Saint-George for $110; it was fine but underwhelming for that price. A 2012 Duchman Family Winery Montepulciano I had enjoyed in April for $39 now goes for $45.
The most successful course both evenings was probably dessert, despite the fact that pastry chef Samantha Moss is out on medical leave; the sweets are thoughtful and not overly sweet, if not always perfect (a flourless chocolate cake was dry; goat cheese cake tasted like the fridge). My favorite recently was a butter cake with a terrific, tart-crust-like bottom, topped with foie gras ice cream.
If you want to see what all the fuss is about without committing to such a big tab, you can walk in sans reservation, grab a seat at the bar and order from the bar menu, which includes selections from the dinner menu.
Is providing four different menus each evening too ambitious an undertaking? Perhaps. Fewer choices might allow better focus for the chef - who has created an engaging, fun spot and clearly has some passionate fans.
Twenty Seven (2 stars)
Price: $$$$ ($60 per person for a three-course menu or $87 with caviar or truffles; $90 per person for a six-course tasting menu or $117 with caviar or truffles)
Service: Formal but somewhat amateurish for dining at this price level
Ambience: An intimate, white-tablecloth dining room with a speakeasy feel and an eclectic soundtrack. On Saturdays at 11:30p.m. the tablecloths come off and DJ Will Foraker plays music till 2 a.m.
Noise level: Medium
Location: 2901 Elm St., Dallas; 972-803-3265; twentysevendallas.com
Hours: Dinner seatings Thursday at 7:30p.m. (six-course tasting menu); Friday and Saturday at 6:15 (three-course menu) and 8:30 p.m. (six-course tasting menu). A bar menu is offered Thursday-Saturday from 5:30 to 11 p.m.
Reservations: Strongly recommended
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar, with a pricey, three-page, mostly French and Californian wine list
5 stars: Extraordinary
4 stars: Excellent
3 stars: Very good
2 stars: Good
1 star: Fair
No stars: Poor