Fire and Ice: Fuego Opens at Stephan Pyles in Dallas

Danyele McPherson and Matt McCallister and prepare Fuego

After months of anticipation, months more of discovery, and a year of of experimentation, Fuego, the small restaurant within a restaurant, has opened inside  Stephan Pyles, the restaurant.

For now, Fuego is the most exclusive eating event in town–the menu features a few preparation techniques used by molecular gastronomists combined with cooking and baking in a wood fire oven.

The synthesis of high culinary art combined with the latest culinary science, freshest organic local ingredients, and some iconic foods of the world  is  now available for you to taste.

Fuego at Stephan Pyles is only open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The small area at the bar seats only four people at two seatings  (6:30pm and 9pm). There is no  menu (until the end). Chef/owner  Stephan Pyles, execuchef, Matt McCallister, and sous chef Danyele McPherson are making some magic. (If you go, ask McPherson what was her grade was waterboarding when she attended CIA.) These three prepare “seven to ten courses” (that is according to the publicity –  according to my math the night I ate, there were 14) right in front of the guests.

They describe each one and talk about it with you as you eat. It is an intimate and totally involving experience in which the food stars. If you desire, you can defer judgment over the drinks as well, and have a matched wine (which is sometimes a non-wine beverage) with each course. In that case, a wine waiter effortlessly moves drinks in and out in time with the delivery of the food. At several points, Pyles himself comes by, casting a judgmental eye on the food and talking excitedly about the grander scheme of this experiment.

Enough of the generalities, let’s look at the menu in a little more detail.

We were greeted by a Watermelon Mojito whipped up in a bowl filled, and periodically refilled, with liquid nitrogen. It froze the liquid in the watermelon, and the accompanying (locally sourced) mint, in seconds. By way of contrast with the frozen cocktail, lime foam adorned the top.

The first course was Foie Caramel Apple. The apple was cooked sous-vide in foie fat, rolled in foie cream, then rolled in foie brittle (hard caramel). The whole thing was popped on a cocktail stick and ‘planted’ in a small pot of grass (not eaten!). The sous vide cooking (20 minutes at 155 degrees) had softened the flesh of the apple to a foie-like consistency and the covering in foie from the rolling evoked the classic combination of foie gras with acidic fruit.

Next, an example of the kind of ‘trompe l’oeil’ cookery popular in the Planet Green show Future Food. Encased Gazpacho actually put the soup in a casing of cocoa butter. The trick here was to first make spheres of gazpacho using reverse spherification, then immerse them in cocoa butter.

There followed a Dirty Martini. We were presented with a large spoon containing what looked like an olive. However, when you bit into the olive it exploded in your mouth like a giant caviar egg. The flavors were those of a true martini. This is made with a puree green olives, lemon juice, olive brine, dry vermouth and gin. The puree is made into spheres using reverse spherification as with the previous course.

Next Vinegar Air with Potato Chips. Take deep-fried local Yukon potatoes (that’s the standard part). The ‘air’ is actually a foam made from malt vinegar, gelatin and soy lecithin. Add some salt and you have a take on salt and vinegar chips.

Garden Carrot was an unprepossessing name for a quite intricate preparation of ingredients centered on extolling the humble carrot (sourced locally when available but, in a current supply shortage, from Chef’s Garden in Ohio). An heirloom carrot was cooked sous-vide in carrot juice, rolled in carrot powder and cumin then plated with black sesame sponge cake (Sesame seeds are toasted, pureed and put into sponge cake batter. This batter is put in to an iSi canister and charged with CO2. The result is put in a bowl and micro waved for 35 seconds), crème fraiche powder and tarragon ice cream (sublimely smooth from having been made using liquid nitrogen!).  You eat the carrot, shoots and all. The accompanying beverage was Dry Soda Kumquat Soda.

Next up was Oyster or Not. On the left a west coast oyster from Fanny Bay B.C. On the right, seawater, borage flowers and mignonette jelly. This creation from the cranium of chef Matt McCallister is based on his contention that West Coast oysters have an aroma of melon and cucumbers and that borage flowers have the cucumber aroma as well. You be the judge. The accompanying wine posed pan-European diplomatic questions as to whether the Basque region should be granted autonomy from Spain. Its label was all X’s, and contained very little Spanish! It was 2008 Egia Enea Bizkaiko Txakolina. A Hondarrabi Zuri varietal white wine from the Bizkaiko Txakolina designated wine growing area (DOC) in the Pais Vasco region made by Egia Enea. Very hard to find around Dallas, but the root beer of Bilbao. It is citrusy and extremely acidic with a tendency to be naturally petillant. A food wine well suited to the oysters, but not the Not.

Continuing the seafood theme next was Octopus with Melon Soup. This was a perfect choice for this 104º day. The octopus had been charred before inclusion which created a delicate roasted taste. The watermelon was seared in the wood oven behind the counter. This was Dish of the Night with one of our party of four. It was well matched with 2009 Château Routas “Rouvière” Rosé, Côteaux Varois, Provence. A well-made rosé that is over 50% Cinsault.

The Oxtail Marmalade Bao Bun was a combination of old-world meat and Asian packaging. The oxtail was cooked and the meat separated out. A marmalade of onions was made. The two were added together with some horseradish cream and chili oil. This was Dish of the Night with one of our party. Perhaps the restaurant could put them on the regular menu as “Plate Load of Oxtail Marmalade Bao Bun.” I’d show up.

Potato, that most versatile vegetable, figured next. Cold, it was made into Cold Potato – Caviar (potato ice cream draped in caviar). Hot, it was Hot Potato – Truffles (whipped into foam and topped with black truffles). The contrast was interesting and I would take the cold preparation alone as my Dish of the Night. Fittingly for something as proletarian as caviar potato it was served with beer: Chimay, Blue Label, Pères Trappistes, Belgium. The caviar was sustainably farmed in Siberia.

On to Foie mousse, Candied bacon, Wood Roasted Blueberry Jam. Amid a sea of exotic technique and ingredients, this was an anchor to The Conventional Wisdom. Classic brioche paired with foie gras, even to the point of serving it with Sauternes (2005 Château Suduiraut). The blueberries for the jam were roasted in the wood oven, smoked with a smoking gun using pecan wood.

In Oven Seared Coulotte of Beef, Corn Pudding, Samphire and Shallot the beef was cooked sous-vide and then charred in the wood oven. It was served with heirloom tomatoes (dressed with olive oil, sherry vinegar and sea salt) and caramelized (sous-vide) shallot. This beef may be the first cut of meat that is 40% locally sourced (60% of the farm is in Oklahoma the other 40% is in Texas) The heirloom tomatoes and other vegetables are locally sourced from Motley Farms and Tom Spicer’s F.M. 1410.

That finally got us to dessert, but little did we know there were three of them. Jamón Serrano Ice Cream with Fig created an ice cream with the taste of Serrano Ham and topped it with a roast fig. It sounds weird, but it works. In fact, next time I would like more ham. Weirder perhaps is the serving bowl: did that thing come from a head shop?

Mangos and Sticky Rice also had brown butter ice cream on a base of coconut and lemon berbena. The Toms (Motley and Spicer) supply the latter.

Black Olive Cake with White Chocolate Center was a black olive cake with white chocolate, then white chocolate foam with black olive powder. This was a clever reversal of ingredients. The Dish of the Night with one of our party. Note the bowl:  A Muranoesque take on a marrow bone. The desserts were served with 2009 Ricossa, Moscat d’Asti from Italy. A straightforward sweet wine.

Finally, we finished off with a plate of Mignardises before departing full, but not stuffed. The quantities had been well chosen.

Now, this is what we had, but your menu will likely be different: Partly refinement, partly seasonal change, partly customer feedback. Even though this was the first weekend, execution was already running very smoothly. There were no long waits between courses; no dishes that crashed. As Fuego matures, you are likely to find the chefs even chattier as they put things together even more felicitously and the menu starts to settle down a bit. There is nothing else like Fuego in Dallas at present. It is dinner plus theatre, all in one sitting. And just for you and three of your closest friends.

Fuego costs $125 per person. $200 including the assigned wines. Most seats are already booked up for this month and the line is likely to lengthen as the summer ends.


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