Jeff Harris first appeared on my radar at the 11th Annual Stephan Pyles Celebrity Chef Diner and Auction that took place at Stephan Pyles Restaurant. I knew he was execuchef of Craft at the W Dallas Victory Hotel but I hadn’t visited the restaurant or sampled his food. At the event he produced Duck Cavatelli, Swiss Chard and Shaved Foie Gras. He successfully juxtaposed earthy, sweet, and bitter sensations in perfect proportions. It was one of those rare, out-of-the blue “Great Dish Moments.” I resolved to become a regular customer.
Jump for the plot twist.
In January 2011, it looked like he would carve his name indelibly on the Dallas food-o-sphere when it was announced he would have his own gig, Redfork. Harris paired with York Street alum Matt Balke Harris made a dynamic duo and it looked like their talent would draw the crowds necessary to “Hendersonize” the road all the way to Jimmy’ Food Store. Moving out from the corporate umbrella at the W, educated palates in Dallas felt Harris would project his own identity. People would stop complementing with “I thought you were great in A Man Called Horse.”[Ed. note: He's on his own here!]
A month after opening Redfork, the dream was over. The restaurant’s backer wanted something different and Harris and Balke left. Redfork’s new incarnation lasted just four months. A Vietnamese restaurant is scheduled to open in the space soon. The building will have gone almost full circle since its first days as a Chinese buffet.
Harris didn’t wait around. Two months after leaving Redfork, he and Balke joined Bolsa, the pioneering Oak Cliff farm-to-table eatery. It is hard to imagine a more philosophically compatible successor to Graham Dodds (now execuchef at Central 214), the chef who put the restaurant on the map as a leader in the farm-to-table movement and a source of the Bolsa mantra of four-star food at two-star prices (that sounds like a culinary Hotwire).
I got a chance to see and taste Harris’ new menu at a media event last week and I think it will please Bolsa diners as much as any of the former menus there.
A starter of Smoked Steelhead Trout ($12) with beet-horseradish purée, red onion, pickled celery and granny smith apple was a welcome change from the ubiquitous salmon appetizers. There are some strong flavors there: beets are unmistakable. Horseradish, ditto. Granny smiths are tart (even if the rumors of Granny Smith being a tart aren’t true). But it works. There is even a textural interest maintained by the slices of picked celery against the oily-fleshed fish.
An Asparagus & Sugar Snap Pea ($10) salad was delivered with breakfast radish, black olives, cherry tomatoes, ricotta salata (TRENDING!), and lemon crème fraîsche vin. An especially good choice if this warm weather continues. It would go well with a rosé wine. Bolsa “Grand Fromage,” Chris Zielke, paired it with one from Red Caboose Winery and Vineyards, a Meridian, Texas winery that does a better job with its wines than it does with its web site.
For entrées, the Windy Meadows Farm Chicken ($19) with fiddlehead ferns, spring peas, roasted potatoes, and mustard jus was the most succulent chicken breast dishes I’ve been served in Dallas. The breasts are skinned, brined for two hours, and, once the skin is replaced, they are wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Cooking consists of sautéeing to a deep gold exterior. To serve, the breasts are sliced into disks and laid against each other on the plate. This regimentation is more than just a show. This chicken is tasty.
Lamb Breast ($24) with Tuscan kale (TOP OF THE TREND), kalamata olives, and baby artichokes is an unusual take on a meat that is too rarely seen on Dallas menus. It is cooked and then the skin seared to produce a textural effect not unlike pork belly. The flavor, however, is unmistakably lamb and able to take the bitterness of the olives.
It would be wrong to call Harris’ food rustic, though it does exhibit a controlled rusticity. It could appear finicky only in the charming dilapidation that is Bolsa. It may be stylistically indistinguishable from Graham Dodds’. It is honest food. Great care is taken choosing and combining ingredients and this contributes a rigor that one should not overlook in the lack of pretension.
Kudos too for Chris Zielke’s odyssey to put good Texas wines on the list. He served Red Caboose Winery Tempranillo (2008, I believe) as well as their rosé. He also stocks an interesting selection in the somewhat abbreviated wine inventory at Bolsa Mercado.