This story originally appeared in the January 2018 issue with the headline “Sachet, Enchanté.”
How many times have you said to yourself, waddling out of a restaurant, “My favorite thing was the appetizers”? A hundred times at least—right?—because, let’s face it, starters’ whole purpose in life is to make your mouth water. Plus they’re fun and they’re fast. A restaurant that wanted to endear itself to its customers would be well advised to zero in on appetizers. Which is why husband-and-wife team Stephen Rogers and Allison Yoder decided to think small when they opened their second Dallas restaurant, Mediterranean-focused Sachet, four months ago. Peruse the first column of the menu and you’ll find nineteen—count them, nineteen—meze, a.k.a. hors d’oeuvres, a.k.a. tapas. Immediately after that, there are ten appetizers. Then four salads. Then nine pastas. Only after three fourths of the menu do you arrive at major proteins. Faced with such overwhelming numbers of Lilliputian plates, there is only one thing to do: submit.
A mere five or ten minutes after you and your friends walk in, you’re popping pistachios and marcona almonds punched up with lemon and rosemary, or nibbling a spicy, offbeat carrot tabbouleh tossed with parsley and small, sweet currants. Of course it goes without saying that you’ll want something to wash them down with, so flip the menu over and examine the 125-item wine list. It features not only the usual suspects from France, Italy, Spain, and Greece but also vintages from Macedonia, Turkey, Slovenia, Corsica, Catalonia, Morocco, Israel, and Lebanon.
Sachet opened in September and was an immediate hit, a predictable response given the popularity of Rogers and Yoder’s first restaurant, California-oriented Gemma. The name they chose for the new venture is French, referring to the small cheesecloth bag of aromatic herbs used to season stocks and stews, and France is certainly an anchor of the menu. But the influences stretch far to the east. Said Rogers, who is also the chef, “When we used to spend summers in Italy, we loved to travel all around the coast. The flavors and way of eating in that part of the world were very appealing to us, and we wanted to include something from a lot of those cultures.”
And that’s what they’ve done, emphasizing classic dishes but adding creative touches and many ideas from sous chef Michael Lawson, age 39. But interestingly, while the menu trends exotic, the decor is purposely neutral. The room is large and lofty, with light streaming in through banks of north-facing windows. To the left is a horseshoe-shaped bar; to the right is the dining room, incorporating a favorite feature of mine, intimate booths for two. Open shelves hold pots and green plants. Little lamps cast pools of light on blond wood tables and white Windsor-style chairs. Dominating the semi-open kitchen is a stupendous wood-fired oven. During the day it bakes breads; in the evening it simmers soups and roasts hefty cuts of meat.
The first order of business, once you’ve arrived, is to provision your party with snacks. But while you’re waiting for them to arrive, which doesn’t take long, you must get the ciabatta. Oh my Lord, the ciabatta. Made using a thirty-year-old starter that’s the treasured possession of baker and pastry chef Nina Angelilli, it’s fabulous. Yeasty and fragrant, with a stretchy texture and a stout crust that’s deeply browned from the oven, it’s damn near irresistible swished in olive oil sprinkled with pinches of salt and pepper.
Then turn your attention to the flotilla of small plates that have miraculously appeared on your table, like the field peas with grilled scallions—they remind me of my old friend Texas caviar gone wild with the Egyptian crushed-hazelnut-and-spice mix called dukkah. Or have a few bites of grilled infant carrots—almost blackened but miraculously still sweet, set off by salty pumpkin seeds and garlicky Moroccan chermoula, verdant with parsley and cilantro. I wasn’t crazy about the ho-hum pickled turnip with red lentil puree, but the little pods of seared okra, Lebanese-style with tomato and coriander, had an earthy Middle Eastern lilt.
By now, it’s time to check out the appetizers. There is octopus on the menu twice, the most satisfying version being lightly charred (and very tender) under a cap of the garlicky Italian condiment salmoriglio, bright and herbal with oregano, parsley, and lemon juice. If pasta’s one of your passions, get the square-edged spaghetti alla chitarra, made in-house and simmered with tomato and fennel. A dish that started well but went off the rails was the stuffed squid, its Gordal olives and salty marcona almonds butting heads with a too-strong lamb chorizo. But there’s no such conflict surrounding the pizzetta, covered with a hillock of local mushrooms and snippets of bitter kale smoothed by fontina cream.
If you have saved room for an entrée or two—and you should—you could get the branzino, two modest-sized filets in a well-mannered lemon vinaigrette; it’s a fine option for those who walk on the mild side. A little more daring, and very generous, are adorable grilled lamb chops with a lovely, dusky Moroccan cooked salad of tomatoes and red peppers. But the best by far of the entrées we tried was the crispy pork with porcini mushrooms. The meat had been gently braised in whey and surrounded by bouncy yet creamy farrotto. The preparation, using the Italian grain farro, is a kissing cousin of risotto, and it’s rich with the seductive flavor of porcini mushrooms.
It takes quite a bit of discipline to leave room for dessert at Sachet. If you want to narrow the possible choices, you could skip the bland compressed yogurt with fruit compote. Far more fun are the perky little yoyos, a shareable take on orange-flavored Tunisian beignets arrayed neatly on a platter alongside fragrant pots of lavender honey and chocolate sauce. But the dessert you’ll want to keep all to yourself is the small almond-flour-and-egg-white cake lavished with a deep purple huckleberry sauce under a cap of lemon-thyme ice cream. Instant gratification never tasted so good.