Beyond Turkey

There’s so much more than the ordinary to be thankful for from Dallas restaurants

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LITTLE LAMB | The earthy depth of lamb, mushroom risotto and a rich demi-glace conjure up autumn without cleaving to traditional ideas of the holidays. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Thanksgiving always conjures up thoughts of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, and while those staples are comforting, there is so much more to an autumnal menu than those familiar standbys. And Andre Natera, executive chef at Pyramid inside the Fairmont Hotel Downtown, has come up with some inventive ways to ring in fall without cleaving to the ordinary.

Mixing it up not just for the season, but for specific plated dinner offerings on the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, Natera’s theme exudes sophisticated comfort, starting with the butternut squash bisque (available now only on Turkey Day, but hopefully on the full menu soon). A dollop of oil and slight bite from chorizo turn a simple vegetable soup into a tremendous savory experience.

But you don’t need to be there on Thursday to fully appreciate the scope of the flavors, from a surprising heirloom carrot salad ($10) wrapped around goat cheese to a butter-poached lobster perched on a stone-grits-stuffed ravioli provides a whimsical — and wholly satisfying — variation on the Southern specialty of shrimp and grits.

The hearty, earthen flavors of roasted lamb ($33), served with mushroom risotto and crisp Brussels sprouts, are accented by a rich Zinfandel demi-glace and pitch-perfect preparation.

As always, desserts are a winner, especially the smartly conceived pineapple upside-down cake, which turns a ‘70s-era dinner party joke into a robust and tangy closer. With his current fare, Natera has devised probably his best menu since coming to Pyramid: Inventive, thematically unified, intensely seasonal and executed with all the warmth of a hearth on Christmas Eve. And he did so without relying on turkey or ham. That’s something to be thankful for.

Pyramid is open for brunch buffet and a plated dinner on Thanksgiving Day ($49.95), and offers “turkeys to go” as well.

TASTING NOTES: THANKSGIVING EDITION
Many Dallas restaurants will be open on Thanksgiving, offering those who don’t feel like cooking at home the chance to still enjoy a feast. Among the specials:

Craft — Prix fixe dinner including appetizers, desserts, a selection of side dishes and choice of turkey, prime rib, salmon and more for $85/adult, available 11 a.m.–8 p.m.

Nana — Both a four-course brunch and a select menu for dinner (including bottomless mimosas) are available, starting at $65/adult.
The Second Floor — Chef J Chastain has the kitchen at his Galleria restaurant going all day, with a three-course dinner from 11 a.m.–11 p.m. for $49 (add $20 for wine pairings).

Mignon — In Plano, enjoy a traditional buffet of butternut squash soup, roasted turkey, stuffing, dessert and more from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. for $40/adult.
Some restaurants have pre-Thanksgiving takeout services. The Grape will prepare a smoked Amish turkey dinner or a maple-glazed ham with all the fixin’s from $165–$275 (serves up to 15). La Duni is offering its luscious cakes for pickup on Wednesday until 9 p.m. Pre-order online at LaDuni.com and get a 5 percent discount with the promo code CAKE.

The annual Beaujolais Festival, which for me has always symbolically kicked off Thanksgiving week, comes to a new locale (the new Omni Hotel) on Nov. 18, 7­–9:30 p.m. You can roam around the fancy new digs while swigging some good French (and even Texas!) wines, and tasting bites from local chefs. Tickets are $55. Visit FACCDallas.com for more information.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Aim for the outfield

Gay chef Abraham Salum tests his Beard dinner and hits a home run

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BASS PRO | The sea bass was the star of the test menu Abraham Salum plans for his upcoming James Beard House dinner. (Photo courtesy Desiree Espada)

While the Texas Rangers are vying for the American League pennant, the World Series for one local foodie is going on right now.

Chef Abraham Salum already has a solid local reputation for his inventive cuisine, but this month, he gets called up to the bigs. As any chef knows, that means one thing: Cooking at the James Beard House in New York City.

The James Beard Foundation’s mission is “to celebrate, preserve and nurture America’s culinary heritage and diversity in order to elevate the appreciation of our culinary excellence.” That means inviting cooks to strut their stuff at a variety of events, including the chance to prepare a meal at the JBF House. The invitation alone is an honor, and one Salum will be executing on Oct. 21.

But before the big night, Salum — chef-owner of both his eponymous Uptown eatery and neighboring Komali — tested the waters on his planned JBF dinner with a preview tasting.

The evening began at Komali, with passed hors d’oeuvres. Items on deck included seafood tostadas, Lebanese style arancini balls, caprino royale Texas goat cheese and country butter biscuits with chicken fried chicken.

Next at bat: A full four courses with wine pairings, plus dessert, served up in the Salum dining room.

The lineup was luscious: Chilled cream of corn, seared diver scallop with pickled beet carpaccio, oven roasted sea bass and braised pork jowls combined for an inventive menu with mango bread pudding as a sweet closer.

It’s next to impossible to choose one favorite from this team, though the oven roasted sea bass, served over pumpkin bisque, shaved Brussels sprouts and Spanish chorizo saute topped the heavyhitters list. The fish was sweet and flaky; a sprinkle of dukkah dust formed a delicious crust on top. The chorizo and the sprout lent the perfect amount of spice and texture to the creamy bisque.

I also fell in love with the mango bread pudding served per the chef “Mexican style,” with prickly pear sauce and queso cotija ice cream. Even a bread pudding skeptic like myself would not be not ashamed to admit to devouring every morsel.

Chefs get to the Beard House, named after the late gay gourmand, having established a national or regional reputation marked by use of high-quality, seasonal and/or local ingredients with demonstrated excellence in a particular discipline as well as the recommendations of his or her peers. As Chef Salum’s test dinner proved, the local gay chef is set to knock his JBF debut right out of the ballpark.

— Jenny Block

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TASTING NOTES

The-Family-Place-CupcakeBurgers and Burgundy, the DIFFA foodie fundraiser introduced two years ago, is back for its third installment on Sunday. The combination of red wine and gourmet burgers, featuring culinary creations from chefs including host John Tesar (The Commissary), Matt McCallister (Campo), Tim Byres (Smoke) and Teicchi Sakurai (Tei An), descends on One Arts Plaza from 4 to 7 p.m., Oct. 9. (If you don’t like wine, Grey Goose vodka cocktails will be poured.) Tickets are $75, and available at all participating restaurants or online at DIFFADallas.org.

Sprinkles Cupcakes has a history of leveraging the sale of their indulgent treats into charitable benefits, and the next one is near and dear to many queer hearts. From Nov. 1–6, 100 percent of proceeds from the sale of dark chocolate cakes adorned with a lavender dot, above, will go to The Family Place to combat teen bullying. Show youth “it gets better” while scarfing down a moist Sprinkles cupcake. It doesn’t get better than that.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

 

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas