YOU GOTTA GIVE THE POSSE behind Dallas restaurant Tryst credit for one thing: They’re not afraid to go out on a limb (just pray they’re not blithely sawing it off at the same time). Owner Brittney O’Daniel’s first big risk is taking a chance in a still-rather-marginal part of town. The second is hiring a chef with a short track record, 27-year-old Todd Erickson. The third is gambling that people who have the sophistication to “get” Erickson’s complex menu will also be amused by hypnotic techno music and supper-club diversion by Rat Pack–style crooners and entertainers. (The restaurant is even field-testing a locally renowned Cher impersonator, but the jury’s still out on whether he gets a gig.) Will they pull it off? I’m watching from between my fingers.
But in the meantime, Erickson—the wunderkind who helped make Hector’s on Henderson a success and who looks young enough to have auditioned for Malcolm in the Middle—is turning out very appealing stuff at this second-floor aerie in the South Side Lamar neighborhood. Take his caramelized-garlic soup, just for starters. Garnished with basil-infused whipped cream, it turns the toasty essence of roasted garlic into a foil for the cool elegance of basil, a brilliant combination. (I was a wee bit dubious about the whipped cream being nearly frozen—was it a mistake?—but the effect was intriguing, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.)
Erickson does terrific things with seafood. Witness his feather-light fried oysters on the half shell. A fun Rockefeller spin-off, they are gilded with a nonlethal habanero hollandaise. (Coincidentally, I am issuing a warning to the Library Paste Manufacturers of America: Watch out, guys, that creamed spinach tucked under the oysters could give you a run for your money.) But that aside, the kitchen’s true tour de force is the pan-roasted sea bass in a rich, if salty, broth kicked up by shiitakes and sambal, the complex, chile-tinged condiment of southern India and Southeast Asia. Perfectly cooked inside and beautifully crisp on the outside, the thick filet came atop Peruvian blue potatoes and was, in a word, fantastic.
As for desserts, the four-item list is short and sweet. There’s the de rigueur chocolate extravaganza (cake, ice cream, truffle) and an upmarket tapioca with mango, basil sugar, and a white-chocolate straw. But the one that caught my fancy was the caramelized-honey crème brûlée, even if it was a little mushy and the promised tarragon and honeycomb seemed to be missing in action. Wait—tarragon and honeycomb crème brûlée? Erickson definitely doesn’t settle for safe.
Oh, heck. I’m running out of space and I haven’t even talked about the restaurant’s look, which is lofty and retro-cool, with eggplant-colored walls and a panoramic view of the downtown skyline. It’s all quite hip, and as I sat there one night, I happened to gaze across the patio just as a DART train glided by in the distance. I don’t know why, but it made me feel that I was part of a very urban and happening scene. Here’s hoping it keeps on. Happening, I mean.