BY THE TIME MATT McCallister opens his own restaurant—sometime this year—the thirty-year-old wunderchef will have had more local media coverage than most cooks get in a lifetime. Self-taught, he started as a lowly pantry cook at Stephan Pyles’s eponymous Dallas restaurant in 2006. He then became executive chef and master of revels for the molecular-gastronomy hijinks at Fuego, Pyles’s avant-garde restaurant-within-a-restaurant. Apprenticeships at high-profile venues (including Alinea, in Chicago) have now led him back to Dallas’s trendy Oak Cliff neighborhood, where he has developed the menu for Campo Modern Country Bistro. Talk about a career taking off like a bottle rocket.
No surprise, we the food obsessed have descended on Campo to see what the charismatic youngster is up to and whether he has renounced, as he threatened, his love of all things molecular. A day after friends and I dined there, our discussion of the Mediterranean-inspired dinner was still going on, and on, and on. It’s that kind of menu: smart, complex, surprising, and—to be honest—sometimes maddeningly opaque.
For an example of all four, I present a starter called “rabbit in porchetta.” In case you’re not from Italy or you missed Mario Batali doing it on his show in 2000, coniglio in porchetta is a rabbit cooked in the style of a whole stuffed Tuscan pig. Except that here, it’s not. Instead, McCallister confits the legs (adding roasted piquillo peppers and green olives) and rolls the remaining meat around the mix to create a dainty appetizer. So why be so vague? Call them rabbit rolls and explain the inspiration. Ironically, after all that work, they were bland, though much improved by a garnish of grain mustard with pear. I preferred two other appetizers, gorgeous tiny artichokes fried in an ethereal batter and Cape Cod Barnstable oysters in a delicate mignonette made with elderflower vinegar.
It’s easy to get stuck on the small plates, but under no circumstances should you skip the lightest, fluffiest potato gnocchi outside the Boot. Lavished with a perfectly balanced, if slightly pasty, sauce of Gorgonzola, pear, walnuts, and prosciutto, they were dazzling. And definitely explore the entrées, like seared scallops smoked over hay (quite the fad these days), bolstered by a seductive dab of grilled bone marrow. Pig makes numerous appearances, including the star of our dinner, a slab of meltingly tender pork jowl sided by soft polenta (mixed with a confit of suckling pig) and gently braised Swiss chard. Not long after my visit, McCallister added fried pig’s ears with watermelon radish (pictured).
Finally, at dessert, molecular gastronomy got a brief star turn. Accompanying a moist hazelnut torte was a mysterious mound of fluffy, cream-colored powder that tasted like, well, the “brown butter” listed on the menu. Turned out to be maltodextrin, a substance not unlike cornstarch that can absorb many different flavors.
Yes, the vague descriptions drive me crazy, but if McCallister is going to have this much fun when he opens his new place, I’ll be there to try it. Bar. 1115 N. Beckley Ave (214-946-1308). Dinner Wed–Mon 6–10. Closed Tue. $$$ W+