Mot Hai Ba
Jeana Johnson and Colleen O’Hare, Dallas chefs and owners of Good 2 Go Taco, spent weeks riding motorcycles through the northern regions of Vietnam. They stopped at anything that resembled a restaurant and devoured whatever was on the menu. Upon returning to Dallas, experimenting with Vietnamese cooking began.
Their passion for the cuisine led to the opening of Mot Hai Ba, an intimate, 36-seat restaurant in the East Dallas spot that once housed York Street. They’ve added a patio with an additional 22 seats. The small menu features intense and imaginative renditions of the food they experienced in Vietnam.
Pho, served at lunch only, is true to the version found in Hanoi. Once a bowl is set on the table, steam scented with ginger, cassia bark, lemongrass, black cardamom, and star anise envelops your olfactory senses. If you favor the sweet notes found in the pho of Southern Vietnam, you should probably order the Bun cha, rice noodle soup filled with charred strips of grilled pork belly and soft pork meatballs.
The green papaya salad is the best in Dallas. Julienned strips of crisp fresh papaya are tossed with fried shallots and soft bites of house-made dried beef. Even more inspired is the salad made with thinly sliced banana flowers mixed with peanuts, daikon, cucumber, green papaya, carrots, and toasted black sesame seeds, tossed in a fish sauce-based dressing.
Beef lovers will be wowed by the Shaking Beef, thick cubes
of seared, spicy and slightly sweet tenderloin. Seafood devotees can get down and dirty with a whole Dungeness crab spiced with chile peppers, or sample a sophisticated yellow-eye rock cod lightly covered with a sauce of fresh dill yogurt with lemongrass, ginger, and turmeric.
I’d hate to see Johnson and O’Hare’s produce bill. Many of the dishes are accompanied by a garnish plate with a pile of soft herbs that includes green-leaf lettuce, Thai basil, opal basil, fish-scale mint, bean sprouts, cilantro, Vietnamese coriander, red perilla, cilantro, and water spinach. The luxurious display is just one of the many details that make this restaurant so unique.
Lark on the Park
Before Lark on the Park opened last March, I asked co-owner Shannon Wynne to describe the food he and chefs Dennis Kelley and Melody Bishop were considering. “We plan to present noncute food,” Wynne said. “No mac and cheese or mama’s fried chicken. Just good meals at a fair price.”
To achieve his goal, Wynne and partners Keith Schlabs and Larry Richardson—the trio behind Meddlesome Moth, Flying Fish, and Flying Saucer—recruited Kelley and Bishop from Caroline Styne and Suzanne Goin’s Tavern restaurant in Brentwood, California. The couple is dedicated to cooking with local, fresh ingredients and using global spices and techniques. Kelley has a strong Italian culinary background, so he insists on making fresh pappardelle. Bishop worked in Thailand and showcases her skills on the grilled skirt steak with cherry tomatoes, basil, Thai chiles, mint, and cilantro. The menu is peppered with the flavors of India, Asia, Mexico, Northern Africa, France, and Latin America.
Instead of sliders and flatbreads, you’ll find dishes such as a shallow bowl filled with warmed greens mixed with chanterelles and fried fingerling potatoes topped with a poached egg. Strips of braised beef brisket lay over beluga lentils and wilted Swiss chard. The Poulet Français is a nod to traditional coq au vin: juicy chicken is served with Beluga lentils, baby carrots, pearl onions, and goat cheese.
Beer, wine, and cocktails are a highlight at Lark. Schlabs, a masterful program director, rotates 18 drafts and 60 bottles. Lark hosts regular Pairdines, their newly minted term for a wine or beer pairing dinner.
Lark on the Park’s interior is as brazen as the cuisine. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide an excellent view of people frolicking at Klyde Warren Park, and cork-paneled walls provide a warm backdrop for seven framed slate enamel blackboards. Local graphic designers, cartoonists, and art students are invited to create themed drawings. The installations change every three months, a sensational approach to refreshing the interior. “Computer graphics have diluted the demand for free-hand illustration,” Wynne says. “We dedicate our walls to anybody out there who can still draw.”