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Restaurants & Bars

Here’s a Taste of the New, Bistro-fied Gemma

Just ahead of its 10th birthday later this month, Gemma has reimagined itself as a slightly more casual, romantic neighborhood bistro.
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Steak is one of four different proteins you can order with frites—five, if you count a one-day-per-week special order of shrimp frites. courtesy Gemma

On the cusp of its 10th birthday, Gemma has changed its ways. There wasn’t anything wrong with the old Gemma, of course. It had established itself as a Dallas favorite and one of our most consistently good restaurants. Some classics stayed on the menu permanently, while regulars loyally followed seasonal changes around them.

But in mid-September, Gemma closed for a short time and reopened as an almost entirely new restaurant. From sunny California-Mediterranean cooking, the focus has changed to bistro fare, the kind of meal you’d have at an upscale street corner cafe in Paris or New York. The look fits that mood, too. The formerly light dining room now boasts a dark green main wall (replacing white-painted exposed brick); intricate tile patterns cover the floor of the bar and hallway; the gigantic mirrors that angled downwards to make the room look bigger have been replaced by smaller versions.

To be clear, Gemma didn’t reinvent itself because it was in financial trouble, or adapting to a changing market. Owners Allison Yoder and Stephen Rogers tell us that they were just getting a little bit bored. It’s been a decade. They wanted to change. That’s all. Yoder, who oversees the front of house and the excellent wine program, wanted new surroundings. Rogers, the executive chef, wanted to cook something different.

The new menu preserves just a handful of Gemma’s old classics. Rabbit pappardelle is still here, as is the snacking bowl of fried olives and pecans. (Protesters would chant slogans in the parking lot if Rogers stopped frying olives.) But now you can also order one of the “plats du jour” or focus your attention on a whole section of proteins served with skinny, crisp, wonderfully seasoned frites: mussels frites, steak frites with chimichurri, or duck frites. The duck frites with green peppercorn sauce arrived on the menu in early 2022, as a sort of test for Gemma’s new direction. They already feel like a classic.

In a “Butcher’s Corner” menu box, Rogers showcases not-so-typical cuts of beef, pork, and veal chops, served with a simple but effective green salad. Our local wagyu feature was spot-on our requested medium rare. Grab it with a side of creamed spinach spiked with Pernod (the anise-flavored aperitif).

In other areas, Gemma’s new menu veers in more unusual, un-bistro-like directions. There’s a creditable rigatoni alla vodka topped with a molten gob of burrata, and—in a Gemma first—a $23 cheddar double cheeseburger. (We didn’t order that.)

Some of our fellow regulars were worried when Gemma remodeled and reopened. If it ain’t broke, after all, don’t fix it. But the restaurant’s dependable execution remains in place. Yes, that dark wall has changed the look, and yes, there are many more dishes served with fries. But this is still Gemma.

The most interesting thing about the restaurant’s rebirth may be the crowd it is joining. Dallas is seeing a flourishing of neighborhood bistros, some of them with strong French accents, others just with a passport stamp from a trip to Paris. Gemma, Parigi, Knox Bistro, Boulevardier, The Mitchell, Beverley’s, and AT Bistro all fit this description to varying degrees, and they’re all doing good work. This is a middle-class format of restaurants that is important to any good city, the place where you can go on a date and expect every dish to be done well, without worrying that your credit card might max out. Almost every neighborhood could use one. With the relatively recent openings of AT and Knox and the refocusing of Gemma, Dallas is getting closer to achieving that ideal.

Gemma, 2323 N. Henderson Ave., Ste. 109

Author

Brian Reinhart

Brian Reinhart

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Brian Reinhart became D Magazine's dining critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.
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