“What are these little black things on my monkfish?” my friend asked. I scooped up what appeared to be a generous sliver of black truffle from the red wine beurre blanc. I cleansed my palate, set the specimen on my tongue, and closed my eyes. Not one of my 6,000-plus taste buds transmitted a musky, nutty taste to my brain. I took it out and rolled it between my thumb and middle finger. It was dry, with the consistency of beef jerky. I bit it and chewed. Still nothing.
Meanwhile, my friend seemed to enjoy her duck-fat-fried chicken. “It’s not bad,” she said. “It’s just a little greasy. I wish the skin were crisper. However,” she added, pointing to the side of overly braised greens, “that is foul.” Puns aside, we decided to share the plate of fried chicken because it was the tastiest plate of our trio and more than enough to feed the three of us. But we sat in front of our barely touched entrées for nearly 40 minutes before our plates were removed from the table.
Once ordered, our desserts took another 20 minutes to arrive. The “decadent chocolate cake” was a dark chocolate ganache brownie served with Grand Marnier foam, chai ice cream dusted with nutmeg, and jiggly little cubes of jellied chai tea. It might have impressed Padma on Top Chef for originality, but a chocolate ganache cake is hardly inspired. A sampling of house-made gelato and sorbet included salted caramel, strawberry and Champagne, and Fruity Pebbles. All were pleasing if extremely sweet.
I stayed away from Private Social for a few weeks and then returned in early February and ordered several of the same dishes. We hesitated to order the burrata, but our server gave it the hard sell. “The chef has made some changes and now orders the cheese from Italy,” she said. The carpaccio-wrapped ball looked the same, but the cheese inside was a huge improvement: soft, buttery, and room temperature, as it should be. The accompanying mixed greens were invigorated by the addition of rehydrated basil seeds.
We felt a little more confidence coming from the kitchen, so we decided to try the sweetbreads. We were served an undercooked, rubbery, hot pink mass of gland that turned our stomachs. Playing dumb, we showed it to the server. “We’ve never ordered this before,” I said. “Is this the way it is supposed to be?” I attempted to maneuver my knife through the meat and succeeded only in splashing broth across the table. She agreed it was not cooked and swept it away. A few minutes later, she returned with a brilliant version swimming in a memorable ham broth scented with braised radishes. If only we’d received this version the first time.
We’re glad we gave the veal shoulder a second chance, too. This time the garganelli—each one made by hand, boasted our server—was cooked properly, and the light sherry cream sauce arrived hot and punctuated with tart cherries and gently wilted arugula. I felt like Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio. “Now this is how this dish is supposed to taste. Tiffany, if you could just be more consistent and pay attention to every dish that leaves or returns to your kitchen, you would be our Top Chef.”
Sadly, nice as she is, Tiffany Derry is not our top chef. And Private Social, crowded though it may be, is not the best restaurant in Dallas. Over the course of two lunches and two dinners, unlike the wildly inconsistent food, the service was, sadly, identical: hyper attentive to start, followed by stop-start-stagger pace. Never once did I see Derry in the dining room.
Not one dish I ate at Private Social makes me eager to return. Dallas has too many other restaurants at this price point (entrées top out at $44) that deliver more satisfaction. Perhaps Derry should nix a few continents from her menu and just cook from her heart. And work the room like a celebrity chef.