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The adventurous menu and easygoing atmosphere of CBD Provisions may soon have fickle Dallas foodies heading downtown for dinner.

By January 2014Comments

Photograph by Kevin Marple

Aha,” said my friend Kat, scanning the dining room with a gimlet eye. “It’s an industrial farmhouse.” Why hadn’t that occurred to me when I was here earlier, I thought, feeling a bit competitive. She had totally nailed it. The trendy tropes of contemporary restaurant design were present and accounted for: dish-towel napkins, canning jars of fruits and vegetables, filament lightbulbs—even the word “Provisions” in the name. I high-fived her and we turned to the bill of fare, where we found, of course, the trendy tropes of contemporary menu design reporting for duty: kale, quinoa, kabocha squash, sofrito, Berkshire pork— all locally sourced if possible. But even with such obvious hallmarks of postmillennial dining, the lineup was intriguing. For one thing, there were unexpected combinations, like sofrito paired with house-made strozzapreti pasta. For another, there were items that had only recently appeared on my radar screen, such as sides of braised dragon-tongue beans and roasted persimmons, although we’ll see more of them soon, no doubt. In this era of instantaneous communication, hardly anything stays unknown for long. 

When you eat out a lot, as my friend and I do, you get a little jaded, and you tend to gravitate to the weirdest thing on the menu. So naturally, when we reached the entry for braised tripe, we knew what our first starter would be. I confess I’m not a fan of tripe, at least not in its most common form in Texas, menudo, which always tastes funky to me. But whatever misgivings I had disappeared with the first bite of executive chef Michael Sindoni’s treatment of the famously challenging organ meat. Finely chopped, bolstered with chorizo, and topped with fried panko, it reminded me, in a good way, of another Texas staple: chili. Forging ahead, we went for a meaty version of pimento cheese that cleverly combined Texas-made Veldhuizen cheddar with ’nduja, a spicy pork sausage. Scoring two for two, we opted to share a Little Goat Pie; alas, a heavy crust dragged the tart down, and the stout-braised cabrito filling was a bit one-dimensional.

The same complaint couldn’t be raised, however, about our favorite entrée, a duo of pan-roasted Bandera quail. We wondered how the kitchen would handle the birds’ accompaniment, the aforementioned roasted persimmon, because even slightly underripe persimmons will make your mouth pucker. Happily, the fruit was ripe and the results were sumptuous, like sweet potatoes with a hint of mango. Desserts, or Stickies, as they’re labeled on the menu, were a little schizophrenic, with highs and lows in the same dish. The best of two tried was the bread pudding, mainly for its compulsively edible additions of brown-butter ice cream and salted caramel sauce. 

One of the stranger aspects of a restaurant reviewer’s life is that you sometimes eat at the same restaurant several times in a row. In fact, I had been to CBD for lunch a mere seven hours earlier with my colleague Daniel Vaughn, a.k.a. Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor. (In answer to your questions, yes, he can be persuaded to eat with a fork and knife, and he cleans up real good.) We had begun, on purpose, with a smoke-tinged dish, roasted carrot hummus seasoned with chipotles and harissa. The two emphatic seasonings together gave the root vegetable, which was accentuated by a topping of salty-sweet peanuts, quite a kick in the pants. We liked, but were not crazy about, a somewhat ho-hum winter squash soup, although it was brightened by an imaginative dab of apple crème fraîche and pepita granola. But we were wild for the crisp-skinned roasted Gulf grouper, which could not have been better. It was accompanied by a novel tabbouleh of quinoa, farro, and spelt with a salad of heirloom yellow pole beans and other vegetables. 

On my third visit in two days, I was greeted by the restaurant’s reception staff like a long-lost relative. I had decided to stop on my way to the airport because I wanted to try CBD’s equivalent of hanger steak. At $25, it had sounded too good to miss, and so it was. A reasonably tender eight-ounce serving of New York strip, it came drizzled with a fabulous red wine–marrow butter and paired with state-of-the-art fries: crisp on the outside, cloudlike on the inside. 

On the flight home, I had time to think about what role this venue is eventually going to play in the fickle dining scene of downtown Dallas (CBD stands, as you might guess, for Central Business District). It struck me as odd that the Joule Hotel, where CBD occupies a space adjacent to the lobby, took five years to introduce a general-purpose restaurant, especially since the hotel building had a fancy restaurant—the now-closed Charlie Palmer—from the get-go. But the timing is fortuitous, because right now, CBD has the place all to itself. 

The driving force behind both the restaurant and hotel is Dallas-area developer Tristan Simon, the CEO of Consilient Hospitality, who is perhaps best known for spawning several hit restaurants and bars on North Henderson, including Hibiscus, the Porch, and Fireside Pies. His concept is a “Texas brasserie,” which neatly fits CBD’s key elements: it’s casual, has an attached bar, and serves much of the same menu at lunch and dinner. 

But if Simon is orchestrating the overall direction, the person in charge of the kitchen is 33-year-old Sindoni, who grew up in Syracuse, New York, and cooked in California and D.C. before coming to Texas two years ago to head up Charlie Palmer. (When that restaurant closed, in November, all he had to do was walk across the hall.) So far, he’s liked being in Texas. “I’ve found that Texans are a lot less picky than people in D.C.,” he says with a laugh, adding, “Dallas diners are pretty open to trying things. Our menu has some adventurous food, and so far people are going for it.” Though the place has been open only a short while, he’s already building a business lunch crowd as well as serving the expected hotel guests. If he keeps it up, he may just accomplish the next to impossible: getting suburban Dallasites to drive downtown for dinner. 

CBD Provisions: 1530 Main, in Dallas (214-261-4500). B, L & D 7 days. $$$ 

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