Somewhere between the second and third courses at Macellaio, David and Jennifer Uygur's new restaurant in Bishop Arts, the waiters served us a second table.
We didn't order it. But we were having the family-style dinner for two, and the dishes were coming out fast and furious: Potato chips with the tang of Italian giardiniera. Warm spiced olives. Shaved celery and silvery sardines. A rustic board bearing three housemade breads and another holding ribbons of housemade salumi. Tomato salad. Toast slathered with chicken liver mousse. A ramekin of duck tongues, the restaurant's buzziest hit, but more on those later.
All of that arrived before the main course, before the second table was lugged over to hold it all, before the three desserts came along. Hey, is there another empty table in the room?
In so many ways, Macellaio delivers more than expected. Early on, the salumi and charcuterie got all the attention. The name — pronounced match-el-lie-oh, or just listen to it here and consider making it your ringtone — means "butcher" in Italian. The sign out front touts "cured meats" and chef David Uygur says there's 1,500 pounds of them aging in a locker off the kitchen: finocchiona made with wild fennel seed and fennel pollen; coppa scented with chamomile, green peppercorns and ginger; and funkier experiments such as basturma made with Texas Wagyu beef tongue.
Salumi is a big reason the Uygurs' first restaurant, Lucia, just a quick walk down the block, is perhaps the toughest reservation in Dallas. Today, eight years after it opened, Lucia is booked through the end of October.
Macellaio is a looser, more expansive restaurant; with 73 seats, including the outdoor tables, it's about double the size. The steel-topped bar, white-tiled walls, and enameled meat scale at the host's stand stylishly echo a utilitarian butcher shop. At any moment, you will look up and likely spot Uygur behind the counter. He wanders between the restaurants throughout the night, and now makes all of his bread and salumi in the bigger kitchen here. Macellaio's chef de cuisine, Anthony Bombaci, formerly executive chef at Proof + Pantry and Nana, oversees the kitchen seamlessly while Uygur is away, and Jennifer Uygur is usually at the door, greeting guests and providing details on the dishes and the wine list. She and her staff seem to sense that moment when indecision strikes.
It can be tough to choose. While Lucia is limited to Uygur's interpretation of Italian food, at Macellaio his taste ranges freely. Fragrant, Indian garam masala is rubbed into succulent lamb ribs and served with thinly sliced onion, jalapeños, lime and a touch of rose powder. A platter of charred sweet peppers is enlivened with an aioli spiked with macha, a dark, nutty salsa from Veracruz. Chicken liver mousse gets the Joël Robuchon treatment — it must be half butter — whipped and smooth, lightly flavored with brandy, and sublime with a nibble of the roasted figs that accompany it.
Lucia's tradition of keeping the counter open for walk-ins continues here — Macellaio has also been a tough reservation since it opened in June — but there are 19 seats at the bar instead of just four. They are the best way to enjoy the restaurant.
Much of the menu is spicy, rich and meaty — ideal for cocktails. Spritzes and bitter-edged drinks are the specialties, and the list keeps growing (while prices have crept to $14). Go classic with an Aperol spritz or a Hugo (made with St. Germain, prosecco and fresh mint), or go a little crazy and have a negroni snow cone. It may sound like a gimmick, but pouring the poppy-red cocktail over a glass of shaved ice is an ingenious way to take down the high-alcohol punch without dulling the drink. Also, it's fun.
Pair the drinks with a chef's choice charcuterie board offering five of Uygur's creative cured meats, often using locally raised heritage breeds. Small snacks — $5 for a generous portion — include those golden potato chips, dusted with subtle flavors of vinegar, chile, cauliflower, fennel seed and whatever else was tossed into the giardiniera.
Gnoccho fritto, a traditional dish from Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, may be the world's best bar food: Uygur tweaks the classic fried dough by using leaf lard and a touch of natural sourdough starter, adding both richness and levity, and the two big, diamond-shape puffs arrive warm and crisp, wrapped in melting, smoky pancetta.
Among the larger, entree-style dishes, some — like the perfectly grilled skate, served over a summer succotash with chanterelles, corn and baby limas — are fleeting with the season. The steak, an unusual cut called the underblade from A Bar N ranch, is more perennial, tender and grilled exactly medium rare, and served with fermented pepper paste, curls of grilled onion, crème fraîche and fresh dill.
At this point, you may be desperate for a bite of something that doesn't involve animal fat or major carbs, but you will find few alternatives. For a while, the tomato salad fulfilled the role brilliantly, but the short Texas season is over, and the dish is gone. Uygur's salad bumped up the tomato flavor with umami-rich accents: garum, the Roman fish sauce, replaces the salt while sumac stands in for the acid. A little tomato-leaf powder and bright green tomato-leaf oil add a just-off-the-vine aroma. The total effect was more tomato than any tomato I've ever tasted, and I'll be thinking about the dish until next summer.
Knowing how deftly Uygur teases out flavors in his ingredients, it's surprising to find a few dishes where the opposite seems to have happened. The fabada, for example, a Spanish stew of white beans, morcilla, pork short ribs and Basque dried sausage, was somehow bland, and so was pallotte cacio e uova, fritters made with cheese, egg and bread in a tomato sauce. Celery salad was heavy with oil. And a couple of dishes felt like Instagram bait, including those confit duck tongues. Lined up in a ramekin and served on the bone, they are meant to be picked up and dragged through a white onion dip. But the effect is unpleasant — like layering oil on oil, soft on soft — a fatty, slippery mess that you scrape off the bone with your teeth.
The wine list is short but interesting, with most bottles from Italy and Spain, and in the $45 to $65 range. It, too, is ever-changing, but if you're lucky, the great Spanish cava, Raventos i Blanc "de Nit" Rosado, will be poured by the glass for $15, and the 2015 Ronchi di Cialla Ribolla Nera, a dry Italian red made entirely from the Schioppettino grape, will be listed for $65.
Uygur's dessert menu is equally alive with seasonal dishes such as a light buttermilk panna cotta with blackberries, blueberries and crunchy lemon-cardamom shortbread and a peach hand-pie served with brown-butter ice cream. If another bite is out of the question, consider a glass of Campari infused with coffee — the after-dinner concoction we never guessed we wanted.
For a small restaurant, Macellaio delivers a lot of different experiences. Take a seat at the bar, order a spritz and snack to your heart's desire. Have a casual tapas-style meal and share a few dishes. Treat it like a chophouse, and the steak, lamb ribs and sensational beef tartare will not disappoint.
Or order the family dinner — that four-course, two-table extravaganza that despite our pleas, arrived with about 15 minutes between courses. It was too much, too fast, and it turns out, not even a good deal: At $60 per person, the price was nearly what it would have cost to order everything individually. If we'd done that, we wouldn't have had a waiter rushing us through the meal like a nonna scolding us to hurry up and eat. And we didn't want to rush any of it.
Rating: Three stars
Prices: $$$ (Snacks and breads $5 to $12; salumi $9.50 to $29; small plates $10 to $18; large plates $28 to $32; desserts $3 to $8; four-course family-style dinner $55 to $60 per person)
Service: Warm, informed and helpful, but rushed when serving the four-course family menu
Ambience: A new brick storefront in Bishop Arts is home to the second act of David and Jennifer Uygur, the couple behind the tiny, cult Italian spot, Lucia, just a block away. The menu here ventures far beyond Italy, but at its heart it's all about meat, especially salumi.
Noise: Shouty (78 decibels)
Drinks: Bracing spritzes and bitter cocktails, plus a short but exciting wine list, make great partners for the spicy, meaty menu. No corkage.
Recommended: Chef's choice salumi board; daily bread service; crostini with chicken liver mousse and grilled figs; gnoccho fritto; tomato salad; A Bar N underblade steak; negroni snow cone.
GPS: The square room is centered on the lively bar, and it can get noisy. Corner tables are a little quieter, but a perch at the bar offers a great view of the action.
Address: 287 N. Bishop Ave., Dallas; 972-685-9150; macellaiodallas.com
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday from 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10:30 p.m.
Reservations: Accepted, though they tend to be available very early or late. It's often possible to adjust the time on the day of the reservation. Seats at the bar and outdoors are first-come, first-served.
Credit Cards: All major
Health department score: Not inspected at publication time
Access: Short ramp up to the front door; dining room all on one level.
Parking: Free lots behind the restaurant and one block south of the building on Bishop Avenue; otherwise unmetered on the street.
4 stars: Extraordinary (First-rate on every level; a benchmark dining experience)
3 stars: Excellent (A destination restaurant and leader on the D-FW food scene)
2 stars: Very Good (Strong concept and generally strong execution)
1 star: Good (Has merit, but limited ambition or spotty execution)
No stars: Poor (Not recommended)
Average dinner per person:
$ $19 or less
$$$$ $100 or more
Below 60: Quiet. Maybe too quiet.
60-69: Easy listening. Normal conversation, with a light background buzz.
70-79: Shouty. Conversation is possible, but only with raised voices.
80-85: Loud. Can you hear me now? Probably not.
86 and over: Deafening. Conversation ain't happening.