A "butcher's cut" bavette steak from 44 Farms at Wayward Sons. Chef-owner Graham Dodds pushes the limits of modern Texas cuisine at his lower Greenville Avenue restaurant.

A "butcher's cut" bavette steak from 44 Farms at Wayward Sons. Chef-owner Graham Dodds pushes the limits of modern Texas cuisine at his lower Greenville Avenue restaurant.

Ben Torres/Special Contributor

If you've been following Graham Dodds' career at all, you might be tempted to start dinner at Wayward Sons, his new restaurant on Lower Greenville, with a charcuterie platter. After all, the cured meats and pâtés the chef turned out at Hibiscus – racy goat chorizos, rustic rabbit terrines, lusty pork rillettes and such – were among the best in town.

What lands on the table at Wayward Sons might astonish you: a wooden board laden with slices of cured what, parsnip? Carrot? Celery root? They have a texture that would be the vegetable analogy to a cured then slightly dried meat or fish, and flavor heightened by a turn in the oven. Each is dusted around the edges with a complementary spice – cumin, fennel seed and coriander seed respectively. Elsewhere on the board, there's a clever "sausage" magically fashioned from lentils and mirepoix; a French canning jar filled not with rillettes but a velvety sunchoke pâté topped with port wine gelée; and more.

All too often, what's served to vegetarians in this town tastes like a punishment. This tastes like a revelation.

And the vegetable-forward part of Wayward Sons' equation just happens to be the most interesting and original part of what Dodds – who made his name as a pioneer of Dallas' farm-to-table movement (he was opening chef at Bolsa) – is doing with modern Texas cuisine.

The sprawling, high-ceilinged place in what used to be Woodfire Kirby's has an open kitchen, a long, inviting bar (good cocktails!) and what feels like a jillion tables: The dining room is so spacious it can feel lonely when it's not filled up; when it is full, it is noisy and fun. A long banquette and a bevy of booths offer comfortable seating. Outside there's a patio with a fire pit.

Purple potato tostones, a delicious starter, come layered with flavorful, tender confited cabrito. Drag one of the goat-laden potato slabs through a stripe of crème fraîche dandied up with Espellette pepper and salsa mariquitas for a sensational bite.

Wayward Sons

Dodds makes wonderful chicken and dumplings, super-flavorful dark and white meat bathed, with carrots, potatoes and flattened dumplings, in a richly chickeny velouté – like a Texas dish that took a trip through a soulful French kitchen.

And his lamb brisket is out of this world: Set on a sweet onion purée and served with bread-and-butter pickles and a lively carrot-parsnip slaw, it's luscious and flavorful enough to give the best barbecue beef brisket a run for its money.

One night the butcher's cut steak impressed: a 44 Farms bavette that was well-seasoned, grilled and served in gorgeous medium-rare slices and served with bearnaise sauce and an accordion-cut Hasselback potato, soft and roasty inside, a little crisp on the edges.

Other vegetarian dishes delighted as much as the charcuterie, such as a starter of beet chili, spiced just like a good bowl of Texas red (no beans!), and somehow with a texture analogous to tender, long-cooked beef. The chili doesn't read as beets pretending to be beef; this is its own playful, delicious vegan thing, topped with a pouf of cashew creme and sliced scallions and garnished with a couple of benne- and pumpkin-seed crisps. I also loved the celery-root Waldorf, like a Waldorf salad that crashed into céleri rémoulade, the classic French starter. Parsley root gnocchi was a mushy disaster one night a month after the restaurant opened; when I returned six weeks later, the dish had come alive: firm yet tender pillows with an earthy flavor in a creamy leek sauce with beech and maitake mushrooms, braised artichokes, herbs and shaved ricotta salata.

Dodds takes plenty of risks in the kitchen, and has for a long time (do you remember his chicken-liver parfaits with fennel marmalade or his blood pudding ravioli at Central 214?).

So you might excuse him if shrimp-filled arancini (risotto balls) were dragged down by the tomato sugo in which they swam with rubbery bits of octopus.

But I do wish there were fewer flubs. A perfect, classic brandade – French-style salt cod and potato gratin – was just plain weird with a vinegary herb salad loaded with little sardines, pickled red onions and capers. Too bad, as the name of the starter – sardines and toast – is so enticing. Fried whole red snapper, a special, came to the table underseasoned, with accompaniments that didn't work (a sauté of green garbanzos, celery root and turnips should have been more vivid, and a salad of pickled turnips and carrot tops – a cool idea – whose flavors were too vehement). A couple of main courses were near misses: a giant portion of an otherwise likable beef Bolognese lasagna weighed down by a clunky dried-tomato sugo; nicely cooked blackened redfish lost in a one-note red pepper purée.

As at many restaurants these days, the desserts were less thoughtful than the rest of the menu. Best was a homey, lattice-top rhubarb pie, though the lemon curd under it could have used a little more body.

There are some service issues that need smoothing. Usually the service was easygoing, friendly and thoughtful, though one night it felt stiff and haughty. Another evening our waiter was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, but dirty plates sat on the table as we waited and waited and waited for our main courses with no apology or explanation of what might be holding things up.

The wine service tends to be wonderful. To go with the charcuterie, the wine director, Aaron Benson, suggested half-glasses of lightly fizzy red Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco, a classic pairing with cured meats that played really well with the garden version. Benson's engaging, two-page list is filled with food-friendly selections that don't break the bank.

Three months in, the good-natured restaurant still feels like a work in progress. As I've seen a number of dishes improve in the three months since it opened, I'm inclined to give Dodds the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the star rating, especially because there's so much good that comes from taking thoughtful risks creatively. He is one of the smallish group of chefs (which includes Matt McCallister, Julian Barsotti, Omar Flores, Teiichi Sakurai, Bruno Davaillon, Tim Byres, Stephan Pyles and a few others) whose ideas have driven Dallas' culinary culture forward, and who continue to make our dining scene matter -- to food lovers who live here, to other local chefs and to the rest of the country.

Now carry on.

Wayward Sons (3 stars)

Price: $$$ (starters and salads $9 to $22; main courses $15 to $54; desserts $9)

Service: Usually thoughtful, professional, knowledgeable and friendly, but some bumps need smoothing.

Ambience: A laid-back, sprawling, high-ceilinged dining room with an open kitchen, a long, inviting bar and a patio with fire pit. The most comfortable booths are the four-tops, not the curiously proportioned larger squared booths on a raised platform.

Noise level: Conversation can be difficult when the restaurant is full.

Location: 3525 Greenville Ave., Dallas; 214-828-2888; waywarddallas.com

Hours: Sunday-Wednesday 4 to 10 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 4 p.m. to midnight

Reservations: Accepted

Credit cards: All major

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar, with excellent cocktails (including the gently spicy, vegetable- happy Wayward Sons) and a well-chosen, interesting two-page wine list

Ratings Legend

5 stars: Extraordinary

4 stars: Excellent

3 stars: Very good

2 stars: Good

1 star: Fair

No stars: Poor

Price Key

Average dinner per person

$ -- $14 and under

$$ -- $15 to $30

$$$ -- $31 to $50

$$$$ -- More than $50

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