By Jason Gatsby, TSB Chow Hound
Confit potatoes, smoked yellow tail, silky cauliflower puree, watercress, and truffle potato gaufrettes; eye candy for any foodie and selections I don’t see on the average menu. Then again, Driftwood isn’t average…
The Dallas Morning News and D Magazine recently recognized Driftwood as one of the top restaurants of 2012. Chef Omar Flores is using Driftwood as a catalyst for redefining a gourmet seafood restaurant in North Texas.
Mustering up the courage to take on Dallas traffic for any meal can be asking a lot. I love food, but I despise traffic and spending hours in the small confines of my car. Planning ahead, I made a reservation two weeks in advance, preparing myself for the journey ahead. Fortunately for me, the traffic was light and the expedition from McKinney to Oak Cliff was just shy of an hour. And for the latter portion of the drive, I was enamored by the city skyline.
Situated near the up-and-coming Bishop Arts District, the Oak Cliff neighborhood may seem suspect, but the area has a historic ambiance with an established community.
Chef Flores, formerly Executive Sous Chef from Abacus, composes precision dishes with seasonal ingredients. Every dish leaves the kitchen as a work of art, as they are constructed with paintbrushes, tweezers, and squeeze bottles. The portions are small as the diner is encouraged to taste all facets of the menu without becoming uncomfortably full. Comprised of three sections, the Driftwood menu features crudo & shellfish ($10-$13), small plates ($8-$15), big plates ($23-$28), as well as a number of sides ($8).
Owner Jonn Baudoin works the host stand and runs the front of the house. Casually dressed and armed with smiles, the staff was welcoming and professional. The décor was simple yet comfortably elegant, and although the dining room is small, there is enough room between diners to feel comfortable and not too cramped. During peak hours the restaurant bustles with lively, rambunctious patrons, so if you’re not one for a energetic crowd I suggest dining early or late in the evening. Driftwood does have an outdoor patio, but due to the recent cold front, patrons remained in the dining room.
Starting the night off with a Lemon Grass Gimlet, one of their signature cocktails, I listened to our waiter describe the specials for the evening; including butter poached snow crab and squid ink linguine. While the wine list is not extravagant, they do have a number of varietals that will pair nicely with Chef Flore’s cuisine (if necessary ask your waiter for help).
Beginning with the rich and briny Plymouth Oysters ($12), they were delicious on their own accord. But with the acidic and sweet Asian Pear Mignonette they were just shy of perfect. (Don’t forget the classic wine pairing of oysters and Riesling.) Browsing the menu, I couldn’t resist the smoked Hamachi Crudo (yellowtail). Smoking cold ingredients is an art form, as the chef must regulate the temperature and the amount of smoke used. Hamachi is a delicate ingredient that can be easily ruined by the abrasiveness of smoke; fortunately the smoke was not overwhelming. The aroma and citrus included in the dish complemented the Hamacahi, creating a perfect balance.
The lobster roll (top photo) with truffle gaufrettes (potato chips) is a staple at Driftwood ($15). Seasoned with tarragon ailoli on a buttery toasted brioche roll the dish is expectantly rich. The brioche and gaufrettes were my favorite component as I felt the lobster was overly seasoned and could have used a bit more lemon juice to brighten it up and ease down the anise flavor of tarragon. I also ordered the baby spinach and butter leaf salad ($8) as one of my small plates. While I enjoyed the Maytag blue cheese and spiced pecans, the salad was heavily dressed and as I took my last bites of wilted sopping spinach, I couldn’t help but wish I ordered something else. While the Bosc Pear, Banyuls (a French dessert wine) Vinaigrette was quite tasty, it should be used in the appropriate dosage.
Driftwood is known for its chargrilled octopus (pictured left) ($25). Octopus isn’t for everyone, but if you haven’t had it before this is a good place to start. The octopus is braised and then grilled and plated with confit marble potatoes, Manzanilla olives, pickled onions, and smoked tomato vinaigrette, which adds a good amount of acidity to liven up the dish. Octopus is rich, but the pickled onions and the saltiness of the olives help balance it. The charred flavor is enhanced by the smokiness of the vinaigrette. Tender, the octopus was done to perfection.
While seafood is the theme, Driftwood is no slouch for other proteins on their menu. The Duo of Duck ($28) consisted of a crispy confit leg, pan roasted breast, along with
ricotta gnocchi and huckleberry jus. Upon arriving at the table, the aroma of the jus was mouth watering and the presentation remarkably beautiful. The duck leg is cooked slowly submerged in fat and then crisped to order. The end result is a crispy, decadent, melt in your mouth treat that every diner should indulge in.
With three sides to choose from, I was having trouble making a decision. “Is there a side I cannot live without?” The waiter smirked and pointed to the crispy Brussels sprouts with pork belly and fish sauce ($8). Brussels sprouts dropped into a deep fryer accompanied with rich pork belly and sweet fish sauce is the perfect answer to any who despised the vegetable growing up. Crispy, sweet, salty …. delicious.
While Florres does not have a pastry chef, he is taking matters into his own hands and creating his own dessert menu. Florres believes everything should be made from scratch and he respectably offers three deserts to choose from all of which are eight dollars. I was partial to the pumpkin crème brulee with sea salt caramel, pomegranate, and toasted cinnamon whipped cream. Always embracing the seasonal winter squash, pumpkin was a great match in the classic crème brulee with a hint of cinnamon and saltiness that left me wanting more of the roasted pumkin creme brulee ($8). I should have asked for one to go.
Omar Florres is talented, to say the least. Every plate will have you inspecting the magnificiently plated food from all angles, curiously wondering how it was assembled. Four cooks master the kitchen turning out works of art to more than 100 patrons on a busy night. While some may perceive the food as pretentious and over the top, there is a level of skill involved that few are capable of. Obvioulsy, Florres is a man passionate about food and dedicated to his ingredients. Cooking seasonally ensures the best quality and derives the purest flavors from every product.
Baudoin and Florres have created something special. Fairly new, I cannot wait to see what the future has in store as I imagine Driftwood can only grow and refine their already alluring restaurant.
All in all, a visit to Driftwood was well worth the trip. I will definitely make the trek again soon.
Overall: 3 and a half stars
Food: three and a half stars
Cocktails: two and a half stars
Service: three and a half stars
Atmosphere: two and a half stars
FOUR STARS = Extraordinary; THREE STARS = Excellent; TWO STARS = Good; ONE STAR = Fair; NO STARS = Poor
$ = Inexpensive: entrees $10 and under; $$ = Moderate: $11-$17; $$$ = Expensive: $18-$24; $$$$ = Very Expensive: more than $25
TSB’s Chow Hound attended culinary school in San Francisco, one of the most influential food cities in the U.S. and where food and wine are idolized and border on an obsession that comes close to a cult following. While there, he worked in a number of award winning kitchens, which are nationally known amongst well-versed foodies.