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.
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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.