The Best New Restaurants in Dallas 2012
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Chef Omar Flores left the security of his five-year gig in Kent Rathbun’s kitchen at Abacus to take the helm of this small, seafood-centric spot in Oak Cliff. His long days have paid off. Flores has proven he is a creative culinary force. Like Jason Maddy at Oak, Flores champions octopus and has elevated the cephalopod to star status. He grills the tentacles and serves them with marble potatoes, manzanilla olives, and a smoky tomato sauce. His other inventive dishes feature fair-raised, wild-caught, organic seafood and fresh produce. While many of his concoctions are daring, Flores never loses sight of the people he refers to as the Caesar Salads, diners who demand “the usual.”
Flores’ take on the Caesar satisfies all who come to worship the ubiquitous salad. The romaine hearts are nothing new, but instead of the customary thick, creamy dressing, he adds pine nuts, marinated dates, and ricotta salata and lightly coats it all with a unique roasted lemon-anchovy dressing.
His interpretation of tuna tartare is equally unique. Avocado ice cream melts over slices of raw ahi tuna, yuzu olive oil, Moroccan seven-spice mix, and English cucumber. I rarely order scallops (yawn), but Flores’ late-summer version of the ever-present seafood selection was sensational. Highly seared on one side and gently on the other, the thick scallops were served with a succotash of fresh-off-the-cob corn, cherry tomatoes, fava beans, jalapeños, shallots, garlic, and a purée of baked cornbread with a corn-cream-lemon reduction. If the seasonal offering were on the menu year-round, I would eat it once a week.
The backdrop for Flores’ show is a groovy and laid-back, albeit loud, dining room. Owner Jonn Baudoin refers to it as an “Oak Cliff meets the Hamptons” vibe. Servers are dressed in cowboy-cut cotton plaid shirts, a style worn in many of the other restaurants in Oak Cliff. The last time I visited, Flores was still tinkering with desserts. The small working space doesn’t afford the luxury of a pastry chef. Until this changes, skip dessert and instead order the miniature Maine lobster roll appetizer. Chunks of lobster rolled in tarragon aioli and perched on a toasted brioche are a much better way to spend your calories at Driftwood.