What a banner year for new, creative restaurant concepts in North Texas. Octopus emerged as the “it” dish from the sea. Fried chicken replaced gourmet burgers, and fancy hot dogs pushed gringo tacos back to the street. Champagne and locally brewed craft beer now quench our thirst. As we go to press, fine dining is sneaking back into the scene. Three high-profile chefs—Matt McCallister, Stephan Pyles, John Tesar—are readying hyper-focused restaurants that will open soon. In the meantime, grab a shot of Fernet Branca and open wide for a marrow luge.
RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR:
Twelve months ago, only a few hard-core diners were aware of chef Jason Maddy’s culinary capabilities. Back then, he was just the former chef de cuisine at The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek. Now he is nationally recognized as a trend-bending genius. In August, Oak was named one of the 50 finalists for Bon Appetit’s list of the 10 best new restaurants in the country.
The sexy, sophisticated Oak opened in the Design District in December 2011, and it is, without a doubt, the best new restaurant in Dallas. While Maddy and chef de cuisine Brian Zenner are the masterminds of the kitchen, I also credit owners Tiffanee and Richard Ellman and Tommy DeAlano (Candleroom, Sunset Lounge, The Dram) for Oak’s vibrant vision. The menu appeals to adventurous food nerds and
grumpy gourmands alike.
The food is global and elegant. I never would have guessed that Dallas palates were ready for Moroccan octopus and pork jowls. The dish, inspired by one the Ellmans discovered on their honeymoon in North Africa, is the restaurant’s top-selling appetizer. While some items remain available monthly, others shift with the season or with what ingredients are discovered daily. I’ve devoured Kobe beef cheeks braised with red wine and served with spaetzle with an almost air-popped texture, and rainbow trout surrounded by a subtly sweet corn purée with a two-finger roll of peppery smoked tasso ham on the side.
I long for the celery root spiced with black pepper and rusty Hungarian paprika served when Oak first opened, and I can still taste the hint of brown butter that lingered after a bowl of cauliflower soup. Above all of these dishes, the best meal I was served at Oak was a 7-ounce steak, cooked sous vide with thyme and butter and finished on the grill. Perhaps it was the dab of bone marrow that slowly melted across the meat with each bite.
Kudos to pastry chef Sarah Green for creating dramatic, high-concept sweets such as the gianduja panna cotta on top of a thick hazelnut blondie served with a scoop of house-made Patrón orange ice cream. She also turns out an ethereal chocolate cheesecake and a spiced apple vol-au-vent, a puff pastry so light, as the name implies, that it practically flies in the wind.
The eclectic crowd fills the chic dining room designed by Plan B (Royce Ring and Alex Urrunaga), where chocolate brown couches, walls of original brick and cinder block, and diffused lighting create a vibe as classy as the cuisine.