With high-profile debuts such as Bullion (ex-Mansion chef Bruno Davaillon’s downtown brasserie) and the reimagined French Room put off until fall, it feels like Dallas’ dining scene is away on summer vacation. What’s a gastronomic thrill-seeker to do? Head to Mot Hai Ba, the pint-sized modern Vietnamese place in old East Dallas. There chef Peja Krstic, who bought out founders Jeana Johnson and Colleen O’Hare in 2015, is turning out some of the most exciting plates in town.
Shrimp-and-pork-filled squash blossoms, lightly tempura-battered, crisply fried and delicate, luxuriate in a pool of lime-kissed nuoc cham.
A recent special — Mishima Reserve Wagyu ribeye beef wrapped in betel leaves, char-grilled, sliced and set on mint-balm chimichurri — got an unexpectedly brilliant lift from a cache of glistening smoked trout roe. A slightly altered version has since been added to the regular menu — which Krstic is in the process of tightening. Its dishes change frequently.
“It’s not Jeana and Colleen anymore,” says the 33-year-old chef-owner, a native of Belgrade, Serbia. “My voice is more modern.” Surprisingly, he has never been to Southeast Asia; his fluency in Vietnamese flavors comes from having read “every single book” about the cuisine.
Following a bevy of changes over the past year (Krstic has added a full bar and Sunday brunch and dropped lunch service) he now plans, within the next few months, to reconfigure the seating – installing a comfortable banquette along the wall facing the bar and replacing the low stools with chairs with backs. There will still be some communal seating, he says, but “At least people are going to have their separated tables and they can feel a little more intimate.”
All the better to enjoy those smashing dishes.
Mot Hai Ba, 6047 Lewis St., Dallas; 214-826-0968.
CORRECTION, 11:55 a.m., July 31, 2017: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect phone number for Mot Hai Ba.