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Uni crudo with squid ink and caviar; photography by Jill Broussard

Silver Spoon

by Mark Stuertz | Modern Luxury Dallas magazine | February 21, 2013

At Spoon, the check arrives in a gunmetal blue envelope. “The Damage,” it reads in silvery sans serif lettering. And it is. Severe. To cattle futures.

Spoon is über-chef John Tesar’s ode to seafood in a parched prairie that prefers to dedicate its odes to steer, boar and German motoring. At Spoon, fish and seafood are simultaneously treated with a deft touch and a fussy hand. Beef is given the back of the hand under the menu heading “Not Fish.”

A slab of fish can cost as much as steakhouse fare, such as dry-aged prime steak bleeding its carnivore drool among hefty weaponized flatware, wines that require junk bond financing and acres of Sinatra. Always Sinatra.

At Spoon, the sonic wallpaper ranges from REM to Johnny Cash. And rather than rigged-out in dark wood panels, red velvet and acres of brass knobs, fobs and candelabras, Spoon is demure. Swells of whites and creams are accented with pale blue splashes. Tables, counters and the bar are topped with silvery white marble. A chandelier over the chef’s table has light stalks shaped like, what else, spoons. Milk chocolate leather upholstery is impossibly soft. The open kitchen glints with dangling stainless pots and pans.

And Tesar is actually there in the thick of the stainless underbrush, swinging blades and agitating whisks. No delegating for this fishmonger. “I think it’s important that a chef cook,” he says. “I cook.” This, he does.

When you first see “smoked eel headcheese” staring at you from the menu, you respond the way you would to a car wreck: repulsed by the view, loath to look away. What is this dollop of culinary gore? Why does it cost as much as a steakhouse burger? “I was sitting in a chair one day thinking ‘God, everyone’s gone so pork crazy,’” Tesar says. “‘How do I relate?’”

In this era of pig’s ear salads, maybe it’s a bad time to be in the fish business. But Tesar is nothing if not a maker of lemonade. So he scrounged for inspiration. “My father used to make this jellied eel thing,” he says. “And he’d eat headcheese, and they’d be side by side in the refrigerator. So it just came up as an idea to combine them.” Behold the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of Tesar cookery.

Though this headcheese isn’t rendered from eel head scrapings—God be praised—it nicely twists the headcheese motif. Hot smoked eel meat is diced. It’s blended in a broth of dashi (a Japanese soup stock) and tomato water with dill, chive, parsley and a little gelatin. The headcheese arrives at your table under a glass dome, the view obscured by the roiling billows beneath. As the server lifts the dome, the smoke spreads and dissipates—a vapor aperitif for chilled headcheese squares resting on cucumber slices, topped with horseradish cream and trout roe. Far from a car wreck, this dish born of pork-crazed fears is delicious.

As is most everything. Spoon has a selection of crudo: geoduck (Pacific clam), spiny lobster, Hawaiian bigeye tuna and uni. It’s a dramatic presentation, with three ribbons of bright gold sea urchin, practically quivering over a thick smear of squid ink. It’s clean, slightly sweet with a ghost of marine fume on the finish.

Since becoming unmoored from The Mansion restaurant, Tesar has earned a reputation as a “don’t give a damn” decorum vandal. It’s great to see he’s channeling this vinegar into kicking some sacred foodie cow. His salad of Texas red and gold heirloom tomatoes, celery leaves and fried Ipswich clams is pure seasonal heterodoxy. It’s an unrivaled duality between rich tomato acidity and devilishly powerful oyster sweetness. In the dead of winter, yet.

At Spoon, you can see the mind-blowing possibilities with simple slabs of fish. A thick wedge of sturgeon, seared, roasted and crisped in a cast-iron skillet, is nestled in a celery root purée sassed with tarragon, chopped cornichons and capers.

Halibut is pure tongue-in-cheek beef head-fakery. Planted on a bed of sunchokes, a thick piece of halibut rests in a plash of port wine reduction. A massive lobe of foie gras bleeds its contraband fat obscenities (banned in California and Chicago) over the fish, as the richness is heightened to steaklike levels by the sweetness of the port bath.

Finish off with a dab of sweet potato sorbet buttoned to a fried doughnut in a pool of toasted coconut anglaise—the dark art of decadence from former Mansion pastry chef Joseph Baker. The overwhelming temptation is to eat this thing with your fists. Use a spoon.

Spoon Bar & Kitchen
8220 Westchester Drive

Sun., Tue.-Thu. 5-10pm
Fri.-Sat. 5-11pm

Junk Fish
Metallic sculptures of anglerfish near the open kitchen are composed of trash harvested from the Trinity River.

Like many restaurants thrust into the age of iHype, Spoon has an iPad wine list (mostly French and California but Oregonians too) with tasting and vintage notes. Practice walking your fingers over the screen after the first glass to avoid ordering catastrophes.

Salt Lick
In keeping with its marine sensuality, Spoon offers a platter of exotic salts to tease your tastes: black lava, Himalayan pink, maldon sea, sel gris, etc.