The Table is dead. Long live One Art. Commissary owner/chef John Tesar always knew that an upscale burger operation, albeit with a good burger, would not cast his name in Dallas dining history. Hence the reason for the room at the side of The Commissary where some 12 diners at a communal table can order food that is a bigger stretch of the chef’s abilities. In its initial incarnation as The Table diners ate food very similar to that which Tesar prepared at The Mansion. The Table was popular. However, it wasn’t what Tesar wanted to do. When I heard it was to be replaced with a more farm-to-table concept, I was worried. Farm-to-table is commonplace around town now and, in some cases, stressing the origin of the food is a cover for serving rather pedestrian dishes. Plus, Tesar’s food could lose its distinctiveness if he was trying to cook within the boundaries of an established style.
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At a media launch last night (at which I was a media guest) my fears were allayed. Sure, the prices are lower and the ingredients more everyday (no more caviar or foie gras), but the technique still brings unusual flavor combinations to the fore. The same reasonably priced wine service also continues (retail bottle pricing and half price by-the-glass Monday through Wednesday makes it possibly the best deal in town. And sommelier Scott Barber’s list is excellent).
[Ed. note. Scott Barber explains wine policy: "Just a small correction about the wine program. Retail pricing on all bottles and half price glasses are featured on Monday, not Monday-Wednesday. Corkage is available on Sunday-Wednesday meaning Tuesday and Wednesday for One Art (as it is closed Sunday & Monday). The list is still one of the lowest markups in town the other six days but on Monday it’s even better. I will be launching a new format for the list soon which will make it more interactive and fun to learn about new cool wines."]
Desirée Espada was on hand with her camera so that we could enjoy the full picture.
Our first course was Iberico Pork, sherry braised mission figs, Marcona almond dust, and micro Spicer clippings ($15). The dish was straight out of the Spanish playbook with the ham laid out across a rectangular plate and topped with the slices of figs and the micro greens. The lightness and a sharpness from the figs made this an ideal scene-setter for the meal ahead.
Next came what I think was my favorite course of the evening: charred sous vide octopus, Texas ruby grapefruit frisse, and fines herb salad ($13). Octopus is hardly ever described as melting in the mouth. At best it is al dente. But Tesar may have found a new item to add to the sous vide litany with this dish. It really did have a soft texture that dissolved under eating pressure. As with many foods prepared sous vide, he had browned it in the sauté pan afterwards. A delicate smell of smoke wafted off the preparation on the plate. The grapefruit segments added acid that modulated the flavor of the octopus, keeping it interesting. An awesome appetizer on the regular menu.
It was tough choosing the octopus as best in show in part because the next dish, Gulf coast gratin ($17), was a close contender. Gulf coast crab with cheese, onions and cream served in a miniature Dutch oven had a table of people producing metal-on-metal scraping noises as they tried to get every last morsel. I will bring my own rubber spatula next time.
The picture says more than words can about the next dish: slow roasted redfish celery root purée, almond milk, and clover honey foam ($29). Despite the restaurant’s reconcepting, this dish looks as ostentatious as the food at The Table did. Underneath the foam is bed of the celery root purée with a serving of fish layered on top. (The fish is listed as halibut on them menu, but delivery delays forced Tesar to make a last-minute substitution. However, people at the dinner last night who had eaten the halibut version at a sherry dinner last week said that it was even better.)
Paparadelle pasta, mortadella, chicken liver, Paula’s ricotta, basil, and duck egg was like a cross between a country breakfast and a provincial Italian meal. I broke the duck egg over the pasta, mixed in the cubes of house made mortadella and liver, and savored the same kind of sensory joy that egg and bacon delivers, albeit with many more notes.
Our final savory sample was crispy pork belly, grilled heirloom tomato, truffle-scented pork brodo and collard greens ($24). Another contender for best in show. If you try this, notice how the salt is all on the rim of the pork’s fat. It thereby creates a gradient of dissolved saltiness from the meat to the edge of the fatty rind. Very subtle and very impressive and an example of how farm-to-table ingredients can be intricate. I have to admit, this is the only time that I have ever had truffles in the same dish as collard greens. Let’s hope its a trend.
Finally, dessert was JT’s chocolate soufflé and Tahitian vanilla ice cream ($12). I was full but I managed to eat every ounce of the house made ice cream.
An impressive meal at a price point that makes it accessible to One Arts Plaza patrons. One Art opens tonight for two seatings.