Chef Nick Amoriello's venison tartare at Kitchen LTO. Amoriello is in charge of the kitchen for a sixth-month stint chef at the "permanent pop-up" restaurant in Trinity Groves. Game meats such as antelope and rabbit are spotlighted on his menu. 

Chef Nick Amoriello's venison tartare at Kitchen LTO. Amoriello is in charge of the kitchen for a sixth-month stint chef at the "permanent pop-up" restaurant in Trinity Groves. Game meats such as antelope and rabbit are spotlighted on his menu. 

Leslie Brenner/Staff
If you've never been to Kitchen LTO, the "permanent pop-up" restaurant at Trinity Groves, now is a great time to check it out. Chef Nick Amoriello is in charge, having taken over the kitchen on March 2. He comes fresh from a stint as executive sous chef at Rapscallion; his résumé also includes positions at the Front Room (before it was Front Room Tavern), So and So's and Nobu. At LTO his cooking  – a loose-limbed, produce-forward interpretation of modern Texas cuisine that spotlights game and other unusual meats – is better than ever.

But let's back up, in case you're unfamiliar with how the pop-up (LTO stands for Limited Time Only) works: Twice a year, chefs answer an open call to compete for a six-month stint as executive chef. A panel of judges and the public vote on dishes the chefs create, and the winner gets to dream up a concept and menu and run the kitchen for half a year. The public votes on an artist-in-residence as well to freshen the dining room.  This go-round, it's local designer and artist Sarah Reiss.

Nick Amoriello's roasted rabbit persillade with chestnut purée and roasted root vegetables

Nick Amoriello's roasted rabbit persillade with chestnut purée and roasted root vegetables

Leslie Brenner/Staff

The roster of chefs who have nabbed the top spot includes Norman Grimm, Eric Shelton, Brooke Egger, Blythe Beck and Anastacia Quiñones. 

At dinner on a Friday night in mid-March, my friends and I found ourselves rubbing our hands excitedly over plates that Amoriello proposed involving venison, antelope and rabbit. Just in time for Easter! (Sorry about that, bunny-lovers.) 

The venison came in the form of a lively tartare topped with a raw quail egg (our excellent server instructed us to mix it in) and served with dots of black truffle aioli.

There was also a well dressed bass crudo with orange and grapefruit supremes, scallions, olives and smoked fingerling potatoes. Brandade (salt cod and potato) fritters had a nice flavor, though they were a bit squishy. 

When it came to main courses, we jumped at the chance to order the smoked antelope ribs that were offered as a special (you don't see those every day!); they were meaty, saucy and good.

Kitchen LTO

But best of all was the rabbit, which you can order as a main course at dinner for one person ($26) or a whole rabbit for two ($42). Rabbit is not the easiest thing in the world to cook, as the saddle can easily dry out, but Amoriello nailed it. To keep the saddle moist and tender, he seared it in a pan then finished it in the oven, and roasted the legs and loin. He cloaked the gorgeously brown yet moist and flavorful pieces in a vibrant persillade, set them on roasted root vegetables, a bit of chestnut purée and rabbit jus and garnished them with smoked carrots, shaved radishes and pickled fennel. That dish is definitely worth stopping in for. I loved the drama of the presentation for two (which could probably serve three).

Desserts and were less compelling, and the cocktails irredeemably sweet. I loved the soft gingersnap cookies that came with a a brown sugar custard, though. (Couldn't stop nibbling them!)

Kitchen LTO seems to be working well for Dallas' chef community as well as diners. Giving chefs an opportunity to unleash their creativity helps push our dining scene forward, as it encourages risk-taking and discovery. And in a town that's addicted to the new and the fresh, it's a way to keep diners' hungry interest piqued and fed. Kitchen LTO's vibe is welcoming and fun, its service warm and gracious (at least it was for me on that recent visit). And it's resulting – particularly in Amoriello's case –  in some very thoughtful, engaging cooking.  

For Dallas, it's a win-win-win.

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