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Chef Andre Natera on the state of Dallas dining, plus three chefs he says are changing the game here

Andre Natera is a chef’s chef. He brought panache and prestige back to the Pyramid restaurant at the Fairmont before leaving a few weeks ago to “pursue other opportunities,” as they say.

So what’s he been doing? Working on those “other opportunities,” for one, and exploring many of the restaurants that he missed while at the Fairmont, for another. Natera asked if he could pen something for the Hatch. We said sure. Here he talks about the state of Dallas dining–and names three chefs who are knocking it out of Natera’s ballpark.

I’m proud of the work I did at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, where I led the culinary team. But it was time for a break. That doesn’t mean I’ve been sitting on the couch doing nothing.

Free from the constraints of running a professional kitchen for a few weeks, I’ve been able to get out and explore what’s new on the Dallas culinary scene, and I’m excited at where I think our city is headed.

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to speak at the SMU Friends of the Libraries series, focusing on the past, present and future of dining trends, and how important chefs have shaped those trends.

Dallas chefs have certainly left their marks. The culinary movement once heralded as “Southwestern cuisine” has its roots in Dallas with Dean Fearing, Stephan Pyles, Avner Samuel and their “Gang of Five.” Chefs like Dean, Stephan and Kent Rathbun, whom I consider the “Big Three” around town, have built a strong foundation for our city and paved the way for chefs like me to succeed.

Because I’m a chef, I’m often asked by friends, food lovers — even other chefs — which restaurants I’d recommend. Over the last few weeks, I’ve eaten at dozens of local restaurants, and I think there’s a lot to be excited about. While I never shy away from an opportunity to see what Dean, Stephan or Kent are doing at their restaurants, I’m particularly energized at how three other chefs are molding the Dallas dining landscape with the same energy, innovation and passion as the Gang of Five mustered back in the 1980s. I’m particularly drawn to chefs who cook with impeccable technique and finesse. Chefs like Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert and Daniel Boulud, and closer to home, chefs Matt McCallister, Bruno Davillion and John Tesar. These chefs are changing the game in Dallas dining.

Take Matt McCallister and his restaurant FT33. Here you have a restaurant that offers the complete package: ambience, music, people watching, chef actrion, and, of course, food. Matt cooks with gusto. His menu reads like an adventure, taking you around the corner and around the world with new and interesting techniques, flavors, and ingredients. I remember giving Matt a tour of our rooftop garden at the Fairmont. As we walked, he stopped, bent down, plucked out what I thought was a weed, and popped it in his mouth like the true foraging woodsman that he is. When Matt tells you he made the salad from dandelions he collected from the cracks between sidewalks, you can believe that he did. This guy knows his stuff, and the great thing is that he seems to be getting better with every dish he serves. In my opinion, the true hallmark of a great chef is his ability to perpetually refine his craft. NYC may have Wylie Dufresne and David Chang, but I think of Matt is our amalgam of both of them, mixed in with a little Sean Brock.

Bruno Davillion, who runs the restaurant at the Mansion on Turtle Creek is another game changer. Here came a Michelin starred chef with boundless talent to a city that needed to be shaken up, and everybody took notice. Other chefs may not like to admit it, but I know I speak for them when I say we all soiled our pants more than a little bit when he arrived. The guy ran the kitchen for Alain Ducasse in Las Vegas, for God’s sake, and moves to Dallas? I’m glad he did, and the city is better for it. Dining at his Mansion restaurant is a study in refinement and classic technique, A recent tasting menu of Bruno’s blew me away with its mix of classical French and Japanese technique and style expertly applied to farm-to-table ingredients. No one is more skilled than Bruno. Having him here raises the bar for everybody else. Bruno’s food isn’t cooking; its cuisine. And it’s prepared by a chef who earned his stars and knows what it takes to keep them.

John Tesar may have vacated the Mansion on Turtle Creek under a cloud of controversy, but at least two good things resulted from his departure: Bruno took over the kitchen, and Tesar eventually made his way to Spoon, the new restaurant he just opened near Preston Hollow. Tesar and Spoon are the real deal when it comes to both cooking and dining. His technique and style are impeccable, resulting in a sort of brilliance on the plate. So, too, is his ability to finesse flavor combinations that rate high on the Delicious Meter. His cooking is straightforward, free from manipulations and gimmicks that sometimes plague less skilled chefs. One of the smartest things I’ve seen on a menu in a long time is Spoon’s category of “simple fish.” You name the cooking technique– grilled, broiled, sautéed, whatever you want– and he’ll execute it. No tricks, just simple fish. Here is a chef mature enough to know that he lives in two worlds at the same time. One of those worlds is inhabited by people who consider themselves “foodies,” and who like to eat at chef-driven restaurants, yet order a Caesar salad and a ribeye. The other world is populated by true gourmands, those who beam with glee when they see a menu that features uni with cucumber and dashi gelee.

Yet what excites me most about the chefs is not the food on the plate but the cooks in the kitchen — who may or may not realize how lucky they are to have these talented chefs as their teachers and mentors. I’d keep my eye on those lucky ones, because they will be our next Gang of Five.

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Simply Complex

The name is almost painfully simple; a couple of letters, a repeated number. FT33. It’s like something extracted from a license plate or a smartphone pass code or some mutation spawned from the tax code.

In the food service orbit, it stands for “fire table 33,” a variation on a chef’s bark cueing kitchen crews to lock and load the next course for a specific table. Simple. Straightforward.

FT33 is the new Design District restaurant by tattooed wunderkind Matt McCallister. The chef-owner, who earned his stripes and ribbons on the line at Stephan Pyles and the now defunct Campo Modern Country Bistro, describes himself as “a thoughtfully progressive culinarian in the Dallas dining scene”—not exactly a bio thread that struts understatement.

Yet more often than not, FT33 does exactly that. It’s reminiscent of the classic essay “I, Pencil,” Leonard Read’s 1958 ode to the lowly writing device: “Simple. Yet not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me. Pick me up and look me over. Not much meets the eye—there’s some wood, lacquer, the printed labeling, graphite lead, a bit of metal, and an eraser.”

Read proceeds to explore the enormously complex processes it takes to bring about a pencil, the logging and milling of cedar, the mining and processing of graphite, the smelting of zinc and copper to produce brass, and the numerous vulcanizing and accelerating agents that go into “the plug,” or eraser.

The FT33 menu has a certain mundane simplicity as well, which belies its boggling underlying complexities. Case: Lamb brodo, an excruciatingly streamlined composition with Japanese white fungus, pear wedges and thin slices of serrano pepper bathed in a lamb consommé. The hot lamb broth is ceremoniously poured over the ingredients tableside from a porcelain pitcher.

As in the restaurant itself, there are stories behind these ingredients. The quest to hunt down the fluffy, bright white fungus that dominates the bowl was long and agonizing, says McCallister. He first tasted it at Tei-An in what he calls the misnamed white seaweed salad. “For literally two years I was trying to find this white seaweed,” he says. “I talked to all of the purveyors I know, and I couldn’t find it anywhere.”

No surprise. Turns out the stuff isn’t seaweed at all. It’s kikurage, a Japanese mushroom characterized by its lacy, cluster-like appearance that fluffs into a billowing snowball. The fungus is dried and must be reconstituted.

Yet perhaps the craftiest component in this simple composition is what McCallister dubs licorice pearls. They’re perfect tawny spheres tucked into the fungus folds and pockets. Their manufacture is a Jackson Pollock riff with cheeked tongue. McCallister melts licorice candy in hot water, blends it with agar-agar—a gelatin derived by boiling a polysaccharide in red algae—and fills a squirt bottle with the mixture. Then from high above, he squeezes droplets of the licorice formula into a pan of liquid nitrogen. The drops freeze into perfect pearl-like spheres that retain their shape as they thaw.

The fungus is delicately crunchy, like jellyfish. The flavors are ghostly: a vague haze of licorice, lamb, pear and pepper. There’s little salt, so you have to focus intently on the dish to pull the flavors out. But they’re there, tickling instead of pouncing.

There’s a short stack of uni and chive pancakes mated to dark green seaweed. Yin/yang arcs of bonito aioli and yuzu kosho—a fermented paste made from chili peppers, yuzu peel and salt—encircle the stack. Progress through the menu and the flavors grow in intensity. Pork jowl is triangle points of crisped tender juicy meat parked next to custard-like parsnip purée. Fermented mango puree—a perfectly rendered sperm in orange—bisects the triangle.

Given McCallister’s reputation as a kitchen hotshot with a serious liquid nitrogen habit, you might expect show-off compositions flaunting dozens of techniques and scores of exotic ingredients: “a thoughtfully progressive culinarian” brandishing a howitzer that shoots everything with star fruit, truffle oil and Himalayan salt. But FT33 is nothing like this.

“I’m not just going to throw 20 ingredients on a plate and say, ‘Hey, look, we’ve got 20 ingredients on a plate,’” he says. “Dishes are fairly simple in essence but complex in the process to produce them.” What he mostly does is isolate intrinsic flavors and deploy whatever techniques he can to wring every last drop locked in the ingredient until it’s bled dry.

Case: the carrot puree in his lamb breast and rack with a side of barley. McCallister poaches carrots in carrot juice to double down on flavor before they’re puréed. “It’s like ‘how intense can we get this?’ I’d rather just focus on maximizing the flavors, ingredient-wise.” This singular intensity carries over into plate presentation: He dribbles the purée into the shape of a carrot terminating in a sprig of parsley to denote botanical correctness. The lamb is perfectly grilled, appropriately seasoned, juicy and rich.

He sources lamb from Hodges Ranch in Sterling City in West Texas. It’s also where he harvested FT33’s interior, using wood from a rundown livery stable to clad support posts and portions of the bar. McCallister dubs the look—with metal, glass and neutral grays and beiges—industrial barnyard. Or maybe reclamation modern. Tables are wood. Coasters are clippings from discarded menus and wine lists. Even the menu/wine list typeface exhibits a modernist-industrial lilt with rustic simplicity—a design developed by Tunnel Bravo, FT33’s branding team.

You could say that the industrial barnyard motif bleeds into the kitchen, where liquid nitrogen and sous-vide cookery lock horns with crisped chicken, pancakes and burl wood serving dishes. But the theme reaches its apex with dessert.

Lemongrass panna cotta, a perfect orb tucked on one end of a pocked burl wood dish, is surrounded by bits of grapefruit. A debris field of Meyer lemon foam, frozen in liquid nitrogen and broken into feta-like crumbles, streaks out from that orb like a comet tail across the wood surface. Dots of mint meringue and white chocolate add interest.

In essence, a citrus fruit cocktail. And a pencil is just a pencil.

1617 Hi Line Drive, Ste. 250


Tue.-Thu. 6-10pm
Fri.-Sat. 6-11pm
Appetizers: $10-$18
Entrées: $26-$33
Desserts: $9

Pucker Scrunch
Great sip: Seasonal Smash, a compelling blend of lemon, honey and rye—a signature cocktail that tingles and lingers.

Shabby Shtick
When McCallister discovered a rundown livery stable at Hodges Ranch in Silver City, he and his two chefs rented a U-Haul, tore down the stable, and dragged the scrap to Dallas for FT33’s interior—dining room decor via demolition.

Hey Hay?
Industrial barnyard or not, FT33 is LOUD. Some strategically placed hay bales might make conversation easier.

Wine Slouch
Not. This is a smart, eclectic list: lots of rieslings, sauvignon blancs (a Grüner Veltliner?), Italian varietals and corvina blends, etc. These bottlings from all over the world scream food instead of label snobbery. Food pairing suggestions—Robert Foley’s Griffin Petite Syrah blend and peanut butter—make it about as intimidating as a pair of Bermuda shorts.

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Two upstarts add to the luscious redefinition of Dallas dining

Fresh moonfish in Highland Park? White fungus in the Design District? Where you’re booking your next tables

Jon Alexis has long championed the fresh catches at his family’s North Dallas neighborhood fish shop, founded in 1989. Now, the 30-something has opened a second outpost — this one complete with a full kitchen, a five-seat bar and 12 sit-down tables — to create TJ’S SEAFOOD MARKET & GRILL, next door to chef Julian Barsotti’s Carbone’s at the Shops of Highland Park. Choose any fish from the case and have it prepared one of six ways, or go for the Connecticut-style lobster roll, Maryland jumbo lump crabcakes or a steaming bowl of gumbo. (About that lobster roll: TJ’s prepares it with luxurious minimalism, tossing the never-frozen succulent meat with warm lemon-thyme butter.) Perfectly matched wine pairings are the finishing touch.

If you’re picking up, everything required to season, sauce and compliment your sea bounty is available on the spot, along with expert advice, of course, and recipes from the staff.

In the bustling Design District, chef Matt McCallister is proving once again that he’s a creative force to be reckoned with. His first solo venture, FT33, is now open at Decorative Center Dallas, between Fendi Casa and Dahlgren Duck. The restaurant’s name comes from chefspeak for “fire table” — to ready the next course — and 33, the number of his chef’s table. McCallister cut his teeth working with Dallas icon Stephan Pyles and in some of the best kitchens around the country.

With a new cutting-edge playground — and no one to tell him no — you should expect the unusual and the seasonal. His complex dishes include intriguing ingredients. One example: white fungus, lamb brodo, pear, Indian cilantro, serrano pepper, licorice. Textural play and umami flavors also create a lasting impression in dishes such as the light and savory uni-and-chive pancakes. McCallister has plenty of talent on hand to help execute his vision: FT33’s GM and sommelier is Ryan Tedder, who was named the state’s best sommelier at this year’s 8th Annual TexSom conference; pastry chef Joshua Valentine appears this month on Bravo’s Top Chef: Seattle.

Know this: Get your reservation in early, especially if you want that coveted table 33. TJ’s Seafood Market & Grill, 4212 Oak Lawn Ave., Dallas, 214-219-3474. FT33, 1617 Hi Line Drive, Dallas, 214-741-2629, ft33dallas.com


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First Glimpse at FT33: Matt McCallister Brings Creativity and Design to Dallas

FT33 has barely cracked its door open, and it’s already making waves in the Design District. It’s pretty much at home in the Design District. Eight days after opening mid-October, FT33 couldn’t wait to announce a master sommelier wine dinner series. On day nine, chef/owner Matt McCallister invited media people to taste the goods at his restaurant. Desiree and I, curious, accepted the invite and ate lunch as his guests.

Lunch at FT33 is an experience. It’s not a rush-in, rush-out kind of meal. Each course takes a good 25 minutes, at least: five minutes to stare at the artwork on your plate, another five to debate whether or not you should eat it at all because it’s so pretty, and maybe 15 for the actual devouring process.

Now that Matt McCallister, the famed chef who made his name working at Stephan Pyles and CampO Modern Bistro, is at the helm of his own restaurant, he has the freedom to do whatever he wants. Freedom is good for McCallister. He doesn’t go overboard with it. His plates are controlled, tasteful, and most of all, fun. Each bite of the roasted cauliflower soup, for instance, is like opening a present on Christmas morning. You never know what you’re going to get. One spoonful might be the taste of sweet grapes with creamy piquillo and creme fraiche, and the next is tangy from the delightful capers hiding in the white cauliflower puree.

And then there’s Matt’s second course: a braised chicken with whole peanuts, three dots of preserved peach, and fragrant chanterelle mushrooms. A small block composed of dark meat sat next to plump peanut sauce. As I alternated between dipping my chicken in the peach jam and the peanut sauce, I couldn’t help but feel giddy. Lightheaded. There’s a lot you can do with your fork here, with all these different mixing and matching possibilities. McCallister creates playgrounds out of his dishes – playgrounds where adults can play with their food and still make their etiquette teachers proud.

When the third course came along, McCallister stopped by our table to explain that the green centerpiece of salmoriglio, once dipped into, was meant to add an extra depth to the short ribs laying on beds of potato puree. “Salmoriglio is an onion sauce in Italy. It essentially is a pesto; it has chile, some sort of savory herb, and scallions. I just got a surplus of some really awesome scallions, and instead of using olive oil I use beef fat. It’s got this rich, beefy, kind of gnarly flavor to it.”

McCallister has an all-star crew on board with him at FT33. Ryan Tedder, FT33′s wine guru, is Texas’ Best Sommelier. Pastry chef Josh Valentine is making his television debut on the tenth season of Top Chef, starting November 10. ”A lot of my pastries will teeter that border between savory and dessert, ” said Valentine. “I use a lot of savory ingredients.” It’s true. His cheese plate, which features blue cheese made with liquid nitrogen, looks aesthetically like powdered rocks, but the pairings are sublime. Thick walnut cakes bring that slightly sweet edge, while puffs of blue cheese offer your taste buds a hint of saltiness. These blue cheese puffs are exactly what I’d imagine clouds taste like. Or, at least, they should, because they certainly make you feel like you’re walking on cloud nine.

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Grand Openings

The Dallas restaurant landscape is fomenting controlled chaos. It’s shedding its steak knives and grill bars for sous-vide bags, local dirt and ocean swells. You can trace the effects of this yearlong evolutionary trek through the kitchens of Oak, Driftwood, Boulevardier and Acme F&B.

And the hereditary dynamism keeps coming. Witness recent and imminent openings of FT33 by Matt McCallister, late of Stephan Pyles and Campo Modern Country Bistro, Spoon from former Mansion Restaurant chef John Tesar and Stephan Pyles’ own Stampede 66.

Dallas chefs, critics and kitchen groupies (toque sniffers) have long lamented Dallas’ arrested culinary development, where prime beef is generally served with a side of Jimmy Choo. At the same time, there’s this native tendency to go gaga for—and self-flagellate over the absence of—celebrity cooks and self-aware coastal trends. Food trucks and “local sustainable” mantras come to mind. Still…

Going to the Matt
“We’re always behind what’s going on nationally and internationally in things like technique and ingredients,” says McCallister. “Dallas always kind of catches on 10 years after something has been going on. Foams started on the scene internationally in the mid ’90s, and people are still using them here.”

McCallister’s new Design District project, dubbed FT33 (ft33dallas.com) after the chef’s call to lock and load the next course for a table, will swerve from run-of-the-mill Dallas fare, he says. How? It will push the boundaries of Dallas culinary craft, experimenting with elements such as texture, form and function. Ingredients drive this craft. He adapts technique and seasonings around each central element to bring out its natural essences.

For example, cauliflower with braised grapes and piquillo chili features cauliflower in a number of guises: grated raw, puréed, caramelized and fried into a chip. McCallister uses these different processes to wring out every last flavor and textural possibility locked in the floret. This allows him to unleash contrasts and harmonies from within the ingredient itself, instead of teasing it with disparate ingredients to generate the same effect.

He grows his own eggplant and infuses it with mushroom broth seasoned with marmite—a New Zealand spread made from yeast extract—to unleash the meatiness of the vegetable.

“I’m not going to do mac and cheese,” he insists. “I’m not going to do steak. Why would I want to compete with Pappas Bros.?”

Why indeed.

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Hot-as-blazes FT33 asserts its role as Dallas foodie central

Open less than two weeks, FT33 — Matt McCallister’s new restaurant in the Design District — became the epicenter of the Dallas food scene Tuesday night. Its dining room was packed with media and industry people who like to visit a restaurant as soon as it opens.

During the day, the restaurant’s Los Angeles-based PR firm hosted a tasting lunch for a dozen or so bloggers from SideDish, the Observer, and PaperCity. At night, diners included McCallister’s wife, Iris, and her aide-de-camp, Christina LaBarba; sommeliers James Tidwell and Melissa Monosoff (who will host a sommelier dinner at FT33 on October 29); publicist Lindsey Miller; Hotel ZaZa/Dragonfly manager Alex Aland; and David Anthony Temple, a.k.a. “Chef DAT,” who was celebrating a birthday with a table of a dozen friends that included his mother.

Among the dinnertime media types were June Naylor from DFW.com, Pat Sharpe from Texas Monthly, Mark Stuertz from Modern Luxury, Leslie Brenner from the Dallas Morning News, and Maxine Trowbridge from Pink Memo. Who was there by invitation it is not for me to say, but one can assume Sharpe and Brenner were not expecting such company.

McCallister, who appeared on Fox 4’s Good Day Wednesday morning, is known for concentrating so intently on his presentation that he rarely looks up from his plate. But more than once he could be seen fixing his gaze on Brenner, who was seated in his line of sight.

But the hardest-working person in the restaurant had to be Ryan Tedder, tasked with recommending a wine to a critic known for extreme finickiness in that department. Were those beads of sweat on his forehead as he proffered a bottle to Brenner and her table?

There’s no way to know how many tables paid their bill, but many of the media were there on someone else’s dime, including me. (I did leave a pretty good tip.) My table shared four appetizers: a turnip-radish salad, pork jowl, uni and chive pancakes, and smoked potatoes. We also sampled four entrées, including lamb, chicken, scallops and the nightly fish catch.

The pork jowl and smoked potatoes made everyone at the table “oooh.” The pork was eye-catching, with the pink meat cut into slabs and propped up like a mini Stonehenge. The potato dish had a surprisingly meaty personality for a veggie dish; the smoking gave the potatoes a meaty flavor and the accompanying maitake mushrooms boasted a hearty texture.

Texture seemed big. Scallops get seared everywhere, but FT33’s had thick crusts on top and bottom, with a still-gentle center. They were placed over mounds of the creamiest-ever cauliflower purée.

The chicken preparation was also unique. Chicken breast was pressed until firm, then laser-cut in half and perched sideways into a tableau. It came with a shredded chicken thigh “confit” with chanterelle mushrooms and a few random boiled peanuts.

The wild part is that on the same Tuesday night, Ocho Kitchen + Cocktails in North Dallas and Seasons 52 at NorthPark Center both held introductory media events, and Baccarat crystal hosted a party at Salum introducing a new line of wine glasses trying to compete with Reidel.

Dallas’ restaurant scene is enjoying crazy times, but even with that, you don’t usually see such a cluster as this. The only person missing was The Brad.

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First Look: Daring plates and industrial chic at Matt McCallister’s FT33

Stony walls, dangling filament bulbs, open kitchen (natch), graffiti-splattered rest rooms: This is Matt McCallister’s long-awaited, highly anticipated, much-discussed new Design District restaurant, FT33. It’s easy to miss it tooling by on Hi Line Drive; from streetside, it looks like it could be one of the neighborhood’s chic furniture studios. Swing around to the parking lot in back to gain entry.

Then sidle up to the long, marble-topped bar for a cocktail: a smoky El Diablo, maybe, with mezcal, St. Germaine and Fresca, or this season’s Smash: rye, Suze, honey, lemon and thyme.

Photo gallery: A look at some of the dishes and decor at FT33

McCallister is a former Stephan Pyles executive chef who dazzled diners when he opened Campo Modern Country Bistro last year as consulting chef, and in many ways it seems he was using Campo’s kitchen as a lab for what he’d one day be realizing at FT33. (McCallister left after several months, and Campo has since closed.) His cooking at Campo was more relaxed and less formal, to be sure, but you could definitely see hints of where he’d be going with a couple dishes, particularly his spectacular milk-poached pork with milk pudding sauce, pillowy-tender braised prunes, blood pudding and pumpkin seed butter.

For the last couple of years, the general trend has been toward that relaxed style of cooking, which translates to looser, more casual plating. McCallister’s plates at FT33 take a sharp turn in the other direction: They’re meticulously orchestrated and highly designed, even as they exude a certain studied rusticity. It’s an aesthetic, by the way, that’s right at home in the Design District, one that’s practiced by Jason Maddy, just around the corner at Oak. And McCallister’s plates are daring. If you’re looking for comfort food, for plates you can dig into, you’d better look elsewhere.

The menu is concise (six starters, six mains, four desserts) and somewhat cryptic (“lamb brodo, white fungus, licorice, serrano, cilantro, asian pear”), with recherché ingredients aplenty (sea urchin, fermented mango, nasturtium). But after just a week or so on the job, our server did a splendid job of elaborating — explaining enough to give us a sense of each dish without boring us with endless details or announcing her favorites.

McCallister tucks sea urchin lobes into a stack of tender chive pancakes, topping it with chewy threads of hijiki seaweed and finishing the plate with stripes of bonito-flavored aioli and bright-hot yuzu kosho paste. He uses rings of raw leek as visual counterpoint to cylinders of silky Gruyère-and-leek custard tumbled onto piles of granola and chopped pecans; they’re topped with earthy grains of barley. He sets a fillet of blackfin snapper from the Gulf atop Sea Island red peas, strewing a farm-fresh radish or a fennel blossom here and there, and spooning a broth made from Benton’s ham around. His spin on salmoriglio (sort of a Southern Italian chimmichurri), which involves scallions and beef fat, takes center stage in the depression of a large white plate, while chunks of tender short rib on potato purée sit on plate’s edge like garnish. Each is grouped with tiny halved turnips and heirloom carrots, festooned with jagged mizuna leaves.

If you think pastry chef Josh Valentine’s desserts might lead you at last to the comfort zone, think again: They’re even more elaborate than the savories and just as formal, with all manner of modernist powders and pebbles, crisps and deconstructed citrus juice sacs. You know, dessert.

General manager Ryan Tedder, who also serves as sommelier, is eager to help with wine pairings all the way through — even to the end, with a glass of 20-year-old Niepoort tawny port or even eight- (count, ‘em, eight!) puttonyo Royal Tokaji Aszu Essencia from Hungary. It’s a thoughtful list, with suggested pairing (geoduck, fried foods), flavor (butter), or idea (debt relief, glamour) for each wine. Debt relief? Yes, that would be the idea behind vintages from, you know, financially troubled Spain. Very sweet.

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FT33 is Now Open in the Design District

Buzz-restaurant FT33 opened its enormous glass doors to Dallas’ 1 percent (and $30,000 millionaires) this past Saturday. The 80-seat restaurant, tucked between retailers in what can only be described as a glorified strip mall, has been eagerly awaited by Dallas’ foodie community since chef Matt McCallister’s departure from Campo.
Earth tones and concrete fill the space and trendy Edison bulbs hang from the ceiling. Seating consists of dark wooden tables, accompanied by bulky wooden chairs a few shades lighter in color and an olive green and beige plush leather bench that runs alongside the restaurant’s south wall. Those looking to have the most intense FT33 experience can reserve a seat at the four-man chef’s table that faces the open kitchen; here they’ll watch as their meals are prepared and maybe catch some of the inevitable kitchen drama.

The menu is fluid and changes often but features items like scallops served with mirepoix, toasted cashews, furikake and thyme ($30); lamb breast and rack with wheat berries, yogurt and carrots ($33); and charred octopus served with braised bitter greens, cashew miso and bacon ($31). Diners can order a four-course prix fix for $60 and add a wine pairing for $30.

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FT33 – Matt McCallister does the Design District

Matt McCallister’s latest takes its name from its chef’s table’s ID number, and kitchen lingo for the order to prep the next course: “fire table”, or how Trump works up his courage before firing Meat Loaf. Designed by Hatsumi Kuzuu (Urban Taco), the 80-seater achieves its modern-industrial aesthetic with touches like a 9ft granite slab for watching food-making, a 140lb Vulcan anvil displayed like sculpture, and a barnwood-supported marble bar, probably what kept the stars of Marble Madness from ever rolling straight.

The menu will evolve with the seasons over the course of a year, but for now warm up your paunch with bar snacks like candied oxtail bao-buns with Fresno chiles & creme fraiche, and mustard- & cumin-glazed lamb ribs with roasted dates. Then take a Uni course in pancakes with a uni & chive short stack under bonito aioli & yuzu kosho; or quit screwing around and go straight for pork loin served with corn, mustard, olive, smoked mayo, and cherries.

House-infused spirits liven up classics like the Corpse Reviver #2 and the Calvados Sidecar, while the yeast party gets crafty with locals like Ugly Pug and Fireman’s #4, which’ll hopefully put out the fire in your belly, and not the one on your table.

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Ash roasted beets with sorrel, yogurt and puffed rice

Chef-owner Matt McCallister celebrates beets in many forms in this $11 appetizer. McCallister buries whole beets in post oak ash and roasts them in the oven.

“You get a smoky aesthetic, but almost a tannic flavor,” he said of the technique.

Separately, he pressure cooks some beets with orange juice, coriander and wine — red wine for red beets, white wine for other colors — for 20 minutes.

He slices other beets and cuts them with a round ring cutter and pickles them in three separate liquids — one heavily spiked with ginger, one citrus-based, and a third in a classic beet pickling liquid of bay leaf, peppercorn, mustard, chile and juniper.

He cuts the roasted beets in half and serves them and the other beets with yogurt, wild rice that he puffs up by dropping it raw in a 325° fryer. To brighten up the earthy beets McCallister also adds regular and wood sorrel that he forages.

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