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The Finest 52

In a year that brought two new downtown landmarks, the city’s finest chefs and restopreneurs wasted no time in joining the bandwagon. Klyde Warren Park and the Perot Museum spawned a vibrant culinary scene, while big names continued to make big news. Dallas’ homegrown food scene has never been better, so what are you waiting for? Make a reservation, already!

Protégé Nick Badovinus (right) has Dean Fearing’s (left) back.

Salad of tomatoes, celery hearts, picholine olives and caper berries, Spoon Bar & Kitchen

Pork loin, pork with butternut squash, prunes, almonds and red Russian kale, FT33

5 MOST EXCITING NEW RESTAURANTS

1. Lark on the Park
Nested on the Uptown edges of Klyde Warren Park, nightclub impresario Shannon Wynne’s Lark on the Park doesn’t showcase what he dubs “cute food.” Instead, it features fresh dishes composed of seasonal ingredients. The menu is strategically designed to mesh with a lengthy slate of local and international craft brews. New American in genre, the menu exhibits finesse, exquisitely framing ingredients in unobtrusive simplicity, unleashing their natural sensuality in full force. It’s served in a vivid environment with clean lines, floor-to-ceiling windows and huge chalkboards for local illustrators to strut their stuff in classroom chalk. Every three months scaffolding is erected around the boards, the images are erased, and new works are recomposed by a fresh set of artists. This lark’s a Wynne win. 2015 Woodall Rodgers Freeway, 214.855.5275, larkonthepark.com

2. Le Bilboquet
Quartered in the light-splashed Travis Walk space that was home to L’Ancestral, Le Bilbouquet cuts a bright French bistro swagger. It’s a mimeo of the tiny neighborhood bistro of the same name on East 63rd Street in New York and duplicates the whitewash, the distinctive tile and marble floor synthesis, and the same sturdy well-designed rattan bistro seats. Some former NYC staffers have even settled here, including managing partner Laurent Lesort and longtime chef “Momo” Sow. Savor the terrine and steak au poivre and their famous Le Bilbouquet crab and avocado salad, plus endive with Roquefort cheese. At brunch feast on the steak tartare and frites while spying the Ferrari Spiders and McLaren MP4-12C’s wheeling by in guttural euphony. 4514 Travis St., Ste. 124,469.730.2937

3. Stampede 66
He done brung Texas kitsch back. At Stampede 66, Stephan Pyles’ newest creation, an authentic “bowl of red” is delivered to your table and disgorged from a can. Planted on the ground floor of a Dallas luxury residential high-rise, Stampede 66 features a large Phillips 66 sign: a reminiscence of the truck stop in Big Spring that was operated by Pyles’ family when he was a boy. And more than a few of the Stampede 66 dishes are derived from his mother’s handwritten truck stop recipes. Come for the kitsch. Stay for the Sonofabitch stew and the Modern Star Canyon margarita, prepared tableside from a cart. Watch yer step. 1717 McKinney Ave., 214.550.6966, stampede66.com

4. FT33
This Design District restaurant by tattooed wunderkind chef Matt McCallister (late of Stephan Pyles) has a code for a name: FT33. It means “Fire Table 33.” Think of it as a chef’s bark cueing kitchen crews to lock and load the next course for a specific table. McCallister brands himself “a thoughtfully progressive culinarian.” We think he crafts some of the most riveting noshes in Dallas. Simple. Straightforward. Sophisticated, yet edgy without dripping pretentiousness. McCallister’s ever-shifting, seasonal menu is exhilarating—with a wine list that screams for food instead of label snobbery. Yell fire! 1617 Hi Line Drive, 214.741.2629, ft33dallas.com

5. Spoon Bar & Kitchen
Spoon is uberchef John Tesar’s ode to seafood, in deliciously outré preparations. There’s smoked eel headcheese and the mind-blowing possibilities that can be actualized with simple slabs of fish. Sturgeon, seared, roasted and crisped in a cast iron skillet and planted in a celery root puree, for instance. It’s all served in environs reminiscent of a beach cottage in the Hamptons, with marble-topped tables and bar, milk chocolate leather, silvery whites and hints of aqua sea foam, a chandelier over the chef’s table made of spoons. The check arrives in a gunmetal blue envelope: “The Damage,” it reads. Fish fixes ain’t cheap. 8220 Westchester Drive, 214.368.8220, spoonbarandkitchen.com

6 CHEFS WE LOVE

Bromance in the Kitchen
Mentoring thrives in Dallas, as three great chef-protégé pairs can attest. Neighborhood Services’ Nick Badovinus worked at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek under Dean Fearing. Aaron Staudenmaier was Kent Rathbun’s right-hand man at Abacus before moving to a private golf community in Fredericksburg. Stephan Pyles took Matt McCallister under his wing at Stephan Pyles. Cool coincidence: Pyles and McCallister were both 31 when they opened their game-changing restaurants—Routh Street Café in 1983 and FT33 last year.

1,2 Nick and Dean
Badovinus came to the Mansion on an externship from Western Culinary Institute in Oregon. Three days in, Fearing offered him a job at the bottom of the cooking line, and he worked his way up to sous chef.
DF: Nick was green as a pickle but he had a way about him. 
NB: I had no business getting that job. It was definitely personality over skill.     
DF: It was heavy pressure. The Mansion was the place for fine dining in Dallas, and Saturday nights were always the test. When Daddy’s not happy (me), it could be a rough night on the line. 
NB: I remember one night I had a steak come back. “I’m a little off tonight,” I said. Dean’s on the microphone, and he says, “I don’t think the guy paying 60 bucks for that steak gives a (bleep).” But we also had so much fun, so many great after-hours Primo’s nights.

3,4 Kent and Aaron
AS: Kent and I had a shared history. We were both at the Mansion when we were starting. Executing at that level, we had a clear idea where the other was coming from.
KR: He was very young and so intelligent and so into food. He did like to experiment. I love the idea of playing with lamb’s tongue, but if I throw half away, it’s not good for business.
AS: Eventually I always came around to finding out he was right, even if it took two years. It finally sank in.   
KR: Ask Aaron if he’s got a special nickname for me, and it’s not Big Daddy.
AS: Kent is a big bear of a guy, and one day I was messing with him and I said, “At least I’m not fuzzy.” He banned the word in the kitchen. We couldn’t even say peaches were fuzzy. Of course, when he was in a really good mood, I called him Fuzzy.

5,6 Stephan and Matt
When McCallister went to work for Stephan Pyles, he hustled to compensate for his lack of knowledge by burying himself in Culinary Institute of America cookbooks and tagging along after the other chefs. Despite gaffs, he made an impression and ended up traveling with Pyles.
MM: I’d grown up cooking in a small Italian restaurant in Scottsdale. I was pretty green.   
SP: His wife, Iris, who I had met socially, had to really convince me that I should hire him.
MM: One night I forgot to season something, and Executive Chef Matthew Dunn made me get a long piece of Saran wrap and wear a box of salt for the duration of the service. Stephan saw it and said, “What the hell you doing with a box of salt around your waist?” Stephan said to Matthew Dunn, “I think he’s got the point.” 
SP: I could tell almost immediately that he had something that I’d only seen in a handful of chefs.

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