Major openings. Major closings. An endless, furious game of musical chairs among chefs. If there is a single word to describe the Dallas dining scene in 2018, it is turbulent.
On the plus side, Bruno Davaillon's Bullion established itself as fine-dining landmark in the center of the city. Misti Norris made her edgy pop-up Petra and the Beast permanent and in just four months was gathering national accolades. Chas Martin and J Chastain swung open the Charles, the sceniest spot in town. David and Jennifer Uygur opened Macellaio, a formidable follow-up to their Italian cult favorite, Lucia. In fact, many of the city's leading chefs opened noteworthy restaurants this year, including Julian Barsotti's Fachini, Jon Stevens' Foxyco, Nick Badovinus' Perfect Union Pizza Co. and Kent Rathbun's Imoto. Restaurateur Tristan Simon returned to the scene with Billy Can Can, with Matt Ford behind the stoves.
Some of the city's most prominent restaurants also have new chefs, including Sebastien Archambault at the Mansion and Anthony Dispensa at the French Room. Other noteworthy changes: Graham Dodds and then Angela Hernandez left the restaurants at the Statler Hotel. Anastacia Quiñones departed from the Cedars Socíal and a short time later became chef at José. Avner Samuel, one of Dallas' original celebrity chefs, returned to cook at Neiman Marcus in Plano and just five months later was out. And in what might be the fastest turnaround ever, this month Tim Byres announced the sale of Smoke, his groundbreaking barbecue restaurant, and within hours declared he'd be collaborating with Stephan Pyles to "casualize" Flora Street Cafe next year.
The suburbs became a force, attracting the celebrated chef and Nobel Peace Prize nominee José Andrés, who opened Zaytinya at The Star in Frisco. Dallas mainstays opened outposts including a Plano location of John Tesar's Knife and a Far North Dallas version of Al Biernat's. There was reverse action, too, as suburban restaurants such as Sixty Vines opened second locations in Dallas this year. The regional Chinese and Korean dining scenes swelled with new restaurants and markets in North Texas. Legacy Hall in Plano led the boom in local (and national) food halls. Local Yocal, the beloved McKinney butcher, opened an impressive restaurant featuring barbecue and Southern fare.
And the brewery scene kept booming, too, with more than a dozen openings in 2018, including the innovative Turning Point Beer in Bedford.
But there was an undeniable contraction among the defining restaurants of the city. Each week brought news of another significant shuttering. Along with Smoke, Dallas lost FT33, Matt McCallister's innovative restaurant (and recipient of a five-star review from our previous critic). Pyles closed Stampede 66, with plans to reopen in the suburbs, and Shannon Wynne shut Lark on the Park. Also gone: Tapas Castile, IdleRye, the Theodore, Highland Park Soda Fountain and more. Chef Junior Borges' much-anticipated Brazilian restaurant was off the docket before it even had a chance to open.
And, of course, it was a transition year on the Dallas Morning News food desk, too: I was named restaurant critic over the summer and began reviewing in August. Unlike other years, when this story was told entirely from the perspective of the critic, I've asked Mark Vamos, our interim critic, and Tiney Ricciardi, our beer critic, to contribute.
So here's our snapshot of the year's best new spots. And, as the next version of the Dallas dining scene comes into focus, perhaps a glimpse of what's to come.
Everything about Bullion -- the flamboyant architecture, the high-polish interior, the Michelin-starred French chef, the menu promising an original take on brasserie classics -- is calibrated to make the restaurant a landmark on the Dallas dining scene. In its first full year of operation, after opening in November 2017, that is what Bullion has become. At his best, chef Bruno Davaillon brings a surprising modernity to dishes such as canard à l'orange (shown on the Guide cover), the skin crisp with coriander, peppercorns and orange zest, without surrendering the essence of the originals. Pâté en croûte is a mosaic of venison, pistachio, juniper berries and brandied cherries; steak tartare has an almost airy texture, the dice of Texas grass-fed beef barely bound with lemony egg yolk and anchovy. Pastry chef Ricardo "Ricchi" Sanchez walks the same tightrope, with desserts that are somehow lighter, crisper and thinner than the originals, whether it's a minimalist mille-feuille or a bitter-edge chocolate fondant with black sesame ganache. Andrew Schawel's all-French wine list explores every region and style yet keeps most bottles under $100. Even dinner or a drink at the bar feels like an event.
Pro tip: Bullion's happy hour, called L'Apero, is the best deal in the city, with a menu of interesting wines, expertly made cocktails and luxurious snacks such as oysters with Champagne mignonette, all for $9 or less.
400 S. Record St., Dallas. 972-698-4250. Lunch and L'Apero happy hour Monday through Friday; dinner Monday through Saturday. bullionrestaurant.com.
Billy Can Can
Sure, the name's a little silly, as is the marketing conceit behind it. But Billy Can Can, named for its fictional 19th-century adventurer-host, is the highest-energy thing to hit Victory Park in, like, forever. (Full disclosure: The Dallas Morning News' former restaurant critic, Leslie Brenner, works for Billy's parent company.) This big, buzzy restaurant marks the return to Dallas of Tristan Simon, the impresario behind multiple restaurants on Henderson Avenue and in downtown. And the talent that created places like Victor Tangos and CBD Provisions is much in evidence at this modern Texas saloon, where the walls are decorated with old-timey touches like a taxidermy buffalo head and a row of crossed rifles. At such high-concept places, the food can sometimes be an afterthought. But Billy's menu is wide-ranging and smart. It offers sophisticated takes on Southwestern standards like deviled eggs and chili, plus dishes that are very much of the moment: skate schnitzel with a tangy smoked-egg gribiche sauce, and coarse-chopped venison tartare, for example.
Pro tip: For a change from the Old West, take to the dark, clubby backroom, which feels more Manhattan than Tombstone.
2386 Victory Park Lane, Dallas. 214-296-2610. Dinner nightly. billycancan.com.
It's hard to believe that Chas Martin and chef J Chastain built the Charles from the ground up -- the place feels like a swingin' supper club that's been around forever, At the heart of the action is Martin, the Charles himself, social-directing the dining room like an old-school maître d'. Service is the great overlooked element in most restaurants; hardly anyone elevates it to the art form that it is here, and there's no denying the alchemy that comes from running the room just right. Here's hoping others take a lesson in hospitality from this place, where Chastain's mostly Italian-esque menu of bold-flavored dishes such as wood-fired oysters with pepperoni, rosy creste di gallo with rock shrimp and grilled rib-eye with chimichurri are served with irresistible panache.
Pro tip: Engage Martin about the wine list. He spent months traveling in Italy to put it together, and it is filled with compelling bottles.
1632 Market Center Blvd., Dallas. 469-917-9000. Dinner Monday through Saturday. thecharlesdallas.com.
Tasting through David Uygur's salumi board is a mind-opening experience. His coppa is scented with chamomile and ginger; his finocchiona is made with wild fennel; and his mica, a Turkish fermented dried sausage, is so obscure, it probably isn't on another menu in the U.S. Uygur started curing meats more than a decade ago, at Lola in Uptown, and went on to become famous for it when he and his wife, Jennifer, opened Lucia, their tiny, perpetually booked-up Italian restaurant in Bishop Arts. Eight years later, they added the larger, more casual Macellaio down the block. The name may mean butcher in Italian, but Uygur finds influences everywhere. Take a seat at the bar and order at whim; as at Lucia, the menu here changes constantly, but a certain lusty deliciousness prevails, from the umami-rich tomato salad to the charred underblade steak with fermented pepper paste and dill.
Pro tip: Take home a $6 jar of Uygur's sweet, smoky curried peanut butter. It's like Nutella with a Ph.D.
287 N. Bishop Ave., Dallas. 972-685-9150. Dinner Tuesday through Sunday. macellaiodallas.com.
Petra and the Beast
Two years ago, Misti Norris left Small Brewpub to travel and work at restaurants around the country. When she returned to Dallas this year, she opened what might be the most improbable restaurant in America: a provisional space in a 1930s filling station in East Dallas called Petra and the Beast. The chalkboard menu lists a wild assortment of dishes that rely heavily on fermented and foraged ingredients and whole-animal cooking. The dining room is furnished in mismatched tables and chairs, while the decor includes dried foraged plants and the bleached white bones from the charcuterie pig. Wine? BYOB. Hours? Eccentric. But the result? A pure expression of Norris' vision and one of the most fascinating and affordable menus in town. Her complex dishes -- from the signature crispy chicken hearts with mint pistou and chive pancakes to newer creations such as funghetti pasta with roasted veal jus and carrots -- are beautiful compositions cradled in brown-paper containers. On Saturday nights, Norris offers a $125 tasting menu, but the truth is, the counter operation is where Petra feels the most like its brilliantly quirky self.
Pro tip: Follow Norris on Instagram, @misti.j.norris, for a preview of what she's working on and a heads up on limited dishes.
601 N. Haskell Ave., Dallas. 318-935-0906. Lunch and dinner Wednesday through Friday and Sunday; tasting-menu dinner Saturday. petraandthebeast.com.
Roots Chicken Shak
In the last couple of years, food halls have taken over the cool spot on the dining scene where food trucks used to park. And Legacy Hall in Plano ranks among the top tier, with terrific design, crowd-drawing entertainment and a diverse lineup of local purveyors. It should be a great place to eat, but mostly it isn't -- that is, unless you stop by Tiffany Derry's Roots Chicken Shak. Derry, the Top Chef all-star, builds her menu around fried chicken -- specifically, chicken fried in duck fat, a preparation she created at Private Socíal. The wings, tenders and chicken sandwich (a tall beauty) come straight from the fryer to your hands, and they are crunchy-juicy marvels. The Caesar salad, made with kale and peppery mustard greens, balances the richness and is assembled with the care of a fine-dining establishment. Even though this is a counter-service operation, pains are taken with hospitality; staff members make sure you get your order right, and they set the proper utensils on your tray rather than leaving you to grab them for yourself. Derry's little operation lives up to the potential of the 55,000-square-foot hall and offers a taste of how exciting these places can be.
Pro tip: Take your tray of wings, tenders and whatnot up to the third-floor Unlawful Assembly taproom for the hall's best pairing.
7800 Windrose Ave. (in Legacy Hall), Plano. 972-846-4255. Lunch and dinner daily. legacyfoodhall.com.
Turning Point Beer
When you pull up to Turning Point Beer in Bedford, the first things you'll notice are the unremarkable swaths of concrete that surround the rundown strip mall it calls home. Shouldn't North Texas' buzziest brewery be near some bustling part of town? No matter. Turning Point opened in March and has already created waves in the local beer community. Beer nerds come from far and wide to slide into a seat at one of its wooden picnic tables and try its distinct line of New England-style India pale ales, a style characterized by a hazy appearance and fruit-forward flavors. Brewers Alex Knight, Andrew Martin and James Herrington experiment with different varieties of hops to evoke certain flavors, whether it be pineapple and papaya notes in the Turkey and Gravy double IPA or sprightly grapefruit in the $Galaxy double IPA. Turning Point does not have a kitchen, but it does allow patrons to bring their own food or order in, and there's usually a food truck parked outside. The beers are the draw here, and that you can only get them at the brewery adds to the allure.
Pro tip: Be sure to grab a six-pack or crowler to go and spread the good brews.
The much-heralded chef José Andrés has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his humanitarian work. But he's already won laurels from North Texas diners for Zaytinya, his exciting Mediterranean restaurant at The Star in Frisco. The menu, focused on small plates of Turkish-, Greek- and Lebanese-style meze, includes both finely executed takes on the familiar -- stuffed grape leaves brightened with , pomegranate molasses, succulent octopus from the wood-fired oven, explosively flavorful dips and spreads -- as well as surprises such as kolokithokeftedes, fried patties of grated zucchini and sheep's milk cheese. Do not miss the hünkãr begendi, a tender braised lamb shank served on a purée of eggplant and cheese spiked with nutmeg.
Pro tip: Start the fun off with an aperitif of raki, the potent Turkish anise spirit, which comes on a silver tray with ice and water.