Poor June Cleaver would be so confused. The pretty, proper dining room at Screen Door—the two-month-old restaurant at Dallas’s One Arts Plaza—looks as if it could be the Cleavers’ living room. But June would never have served iced tea in a milk bottle. And if there had been daughters in the family, they would never have been allowed to run around in skintight riding pants and boots, like the hostesses here. And what is that wire lattice doing on the mirrors? Oh, it’s a screen. Give me a break. The jejune crew who designed the place probably also thinks the TV series Mad Men looks just like the real sixties. Well, at least they’re having fun.
The important thing is the nouvelle Southern food, and that can be scrumptious. Take the Scottish salmon (right) I had at lunch. Lightly crusted with salt, pepper, thyme, and oregano and served atop a fabulously flavorful, brothy “succotash” of red beans, fresh corn, and smoked turkey, the two-inch-thick filet fell apart in perfectly cooked flakes. And the lady pea soup (like black-eyed peas but more delicate) that preceded it was an ideally matched starter. By dessert, I was so blissed-out it hardly registered that the way-subtle Meyer lemon “puddin’ cake” in ginger crème anglaise was sweet and not much else.
If everything on the menu was as good as those two dishes, Screen Door would be one of the best new restaurants in the city. And it might still be. But another visit was, perhaps inevitably, a mixed bag. To get the grousing out of the way, the bouillabaisse was a bust. Famously difficult to pull off, the French seafood stew demands precision timing, and unfortunately, that did not happen. The sea bass bordered on mealy, the prawns on tough. The biggest disappointment, though, was a discordant broth that someone had put brussels sprouts in. Brussels sprouts! Funny. Executive chef Fitzgerald Dodd doesn’t seem insane.
But if this seafood dish was a bomb, another, the shrimp and Parmesan grits, was da bomb. Our foursome had promised to share, but nobody wanted to relinquish the plate. The chunky, tomatoey sauce splashed over it had a Mediterranean- Creole punch and was utterly delicious.
The rest of the meal seemed less about high highs and low lows than the vast middle ground. A competently cooked Berkshire pork chop (with ham hock gravy, braised collard greens, and sweet potatoes) came off good and convincingly Southern, while an improperly cooked filet mignon with rich potatoes au gratin was jarringly paired with creamed collard greens.
Which brings me to the last thing I want to get off my chest about this promising new restaurant, which is that, in my humble opinion, it should ditch the “Then” and “Now” sections of the menu. The fact is that virtually everything here is totally new and totally now: the meat loaf with foie gras, the butter bean hummus, the smoky sweet-potato bisque with cinnamon-truffle cream. Did you ever see those in your mama’s Junior League cookbook? Screen Door is avant-garde all the way, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Bar. One Arts Plaza, 1722 Routh (214-720-9111). Lunch Mon–Fri 11–2. Dinner Mon 5–10, Tue–Thur 5–11, Fri & Sat 5–midnight. Brunch Sun 10:30–4:30. Afternoon tea Tue–Sat 2:30–4:30. $$–$$$ W+