Pretty in pink

Posted on 27 Mar 2015 at 6:15am

Blythe Beck doubled down for a second bite at Kitchen LTO, and your arteries (and taste buds) aren’t safe. That’s a good thing

oyster

BUTTER THAN EVER | Beck’s traditional fried oyster recipe, above, and her ‘naughty’ ribeye, opposite, have only improved with time. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor

Time can really slip away from you. It seems just the other day that Dallas foodies were voting on the selection of the fourth chef to take over Kitchen LTO (Limited Time Only), restaurateur Casie Caldwell’s Trinity Groves dining experiment that recruits a new chef every four months with online polls of candidates. The winner then creates a menu to reflect his or her style, but which will only be around as long as the chef’s tenure.

Last summer, the winner turned out to be Blythe Beck, already a known quantity in the Dallas restaurant scene. Beck’s stint should have ended in January, but instead, Caldwell savvily mounted a Facebook campaign to keep Beck around for a second four-month engagement.

So when I got the notice last week that announced the search was underway for the next chef, it occurred to me it was now-or-never time to write a review of Blythe Beck’s Kitchen LTO before it’s forever lost to the ages.

In some ways, it’s more of an exercise than a requirement. I’ve known Beck since she was sous chef (and later exec) at the now-defunct Hector’s on Henderson, and followed her to her “naughty” stay at Central 214 (also now gone in favor of John Tesar’s Knife steakhouse). She’s always had a culinary point of view, like it or not — what she calls her “naughty recipes:” Buttery, gluten-y, hedonistic dishes that embrace what dieticians like to shame us for. Might they cut a few years off your life? Yeah, so? What else is life for?
Steak
I exaggerate … slightly. Beck isn’t out to kill anyone, and it’s not like she throws a spoonful of lard in a frisée salad just for the helluvit. I suspect even she doesn’t indulge in the extravagances she creates on a daily basis. But she’s creating a mindset as much as a menu: Forget food-shaming and calling good meals “guilty pleasures.” Enjoy life! Tip a glass! Don’t skip dessert! There’s a reason the first three letters of diet are “D-I-E.” She’s gourmand as much as gourmet, a living embodiment of Wildean epigrams (“moderation is a fatal thing — nothing succeeds like excess;” “the only way to get rid of temptation is the yield to it”).

All of which could make a review of her Kitchen LTO experience — I’m already on record as a fan — superfluous. Only it’s not.

That’s because, even if you liked Blythe at Central 214, you should love her here. There are familiar dishes on the menu: the deviled egg and southern-fried oyster ($16) appetizers, the “iceberg babies” salad ($10), the chicken-fried quail and waffles entrée ($19 small, $27 large). She’s not new to this, but I’ve never had better versions of any of these from Beck before. Maybe there’s some nostalgia at work, but I think the opposite: It’s not that the older versions have grown better in my memory, but that the new ones exceed them. She has polished the recipes, made them just as sinful yet deftly elegant.

A good way to prove this is by focusing on the new-to-me items, starting with the champagne brie bisque ($8). Bisque is a cream soup; brie is a potent cheese; champagne is, well, champagne — all the earmarks of a Blythe Beck creation. You expect to be bowled over by its heaviness, its richness. One spoonful, though, and I knew I was in foreign territory. Creamy, yes, but it danced on the tongue (I suspect the bubbly infuses it with lightness). It preps the palate, not overwhelms it.

The breads and spreads ($12; we ordered an additional side of grilled sourdough for $3) were equally as disarming. Beck was an early champion of the bona fides of pimento cheese, so I wasn’t surprised to see a ramekin of it among the trio, but two others created a savory trinity: the so-called pink duck sauce (a dip made with duck fat in Beck’s signature Pepto-colored palette) and a salty trout “salad” that had me and my dining companion trawling the bottom of the dish like junkies for every last morsel. (That’s always been Beck’s goal, to have people throw decorum away and just live a little. If that’s the criterion, it’s a success.)

The familiar entrées were just as addictive. The ribeye ($21/$27) combines a well-marbled cut of beef chicken-fried with coffee-and-bacon-infused gravy, “naughty” creamed corn and braised mustard greens, a combination that would be considered a hate crime in the Land of Low-Fat Food Nazis. Fortunately, we live in Texas. Frying can sometime mask flaws in a dish, but here it simply brings out Beck’s ethos, which unexpectedly balances bold and nuanced flavors. That’s especially evident in the bacon-cheddar meatloaf ($14–$19), where a slab of exquisitely glazed meatloaf, banded but a retaining wall of bacon, draws as much symphonic power from a salad of Brussels sprout petals as from the sharpness of her pimento mac-n-cheese. (She does a disservice to even call it mac-n-cheese, as the pasta was more like a gemelli awash in a bath of cheddar rather than something a fourth-grader chokes down with cut-up wieners.)

The menu really comes together holistically, from the accessible drink list to desserts like the oatmeal cream pie ($10) sandwiching rum raisin ice cream to create a sort of idealized comfort-food vibe. It’s home cooking elevated by a chef who, unlike your mom, wants you to be naughty and doesn’t care if you each your vegetables. Now that’s guilt-free dining.

Denise Lee appears for Chef and Song’s free concert series at Kitchen LTO on March 30. Full menu available. Reservations from 7 p.m.; concert at 8 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 27, 2015.

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