I was eating my second meal in as many days at AF+B (2869 Crockett St.) when it occurred to me that we could be experiencing the peak of the Fort Worth restaurant scene at this very moment. Since the page turned to 2014, I’ve gushed about some of the new places that have opened recently: Bird Café, Del Frisco’s Grille, Sera Dining and Wine, and Clay Pigeon have all been impressive.
The afternoon before my revelation, as I was spooning a bite of the otherworldly delicious duck pot pie ($16) into my mouth, I got the feeling that someone had probed my mind and generated my ideal lunch. The majestic golden, flaky puff pastry atop the pie made the dish looked like some picturesque holiday centerpiece from a Norman Rockwell painting. Beneath the crust was a mélange of rutabaga, parsnip, mustard greens, and tender duck. When I started my lunch that day with the chorizo Scotch eggs ($11), topped with red peppers and cilantro, I didn’t think it could get much better. I was wrong — wonderfully wrong.
I was in my happy place. I could have closed my eyes in the West 7th-area eatery and imagined I was at one of those brilliant bistros in Greenwich Village that make New York a mecca for me. On the spot, I made reservations to come back to AF+B the following evening.
That dinner brought me back down to earth — or at least back to Fort Worth: It was excellent but, this time, flawed. My guest and I, arriving a little early, waited at the stylish, bustling bar. I went for one of the bar’s specialty cocktails, the light, floral Fitzgerald ($10), with gin, lemon juice, cane sugar, and bitters. I was trying to ignore an inebriated young professional who was loudly advising another typecast yuppie to “go big or go home,” when the lovely hostess informed us our table was ready. I never got to hear if the other guy had “the courage to succeed.”
If anyone writes a textbook on how to set the mood in a dining room, he or she should do field work at AF+B. The place was mostly full, but no one on staff seemed hurried or irritated. The music was loud enough to be heard but didn’t force anyone to yell over it. The result was a symphony of murmurs, clinking glasses, laughter, and the occasional chorus of a Vampire Weekend song. The service staff was a picture of ghostlike unobtrusiveness, seemingly appearing from cracks in the wall to clear plates.
Our polite, knowledgeable server went over the night’s 475,000 specials and then recommended the divine gulf blue deviled crabs ($5 each), which are like crab cakes stuffed into the shell of the clawed crustacean. Because I am contractually obligated to order mollusks in all forms, we also got a half dozen of the clean, sharp Malpeque oysters ($2.50 each). Again, I was in my happy place.
Since I’d had such good luck with duck at lunch the previous day, my eyes were drawn to the smoked duck breast ($24), with turnips, spinach, cipollini onions, and a molasses sauce. Our server told us the kitchen uses hickory in its wood-burning grill, so everything that’s cooked on it absorbs some of the smoky flavor. That smokiness made the duck taste like a Christmas ham. Though it looked pretty, the flavor was not what I was expecting, and I found it jarring and unpleasant. The same could be said for the evening’s seafood feature, the grilled cobia ($26), served with pureed cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and pesto sauce. The smokiness obscured the fish’s natural flavor, which was a shame because I’ve only ever tried the sashimi preparation of the fish and was looking forward to this one. But it just tasted like smoke.
Even though I had a few issues with AF+B, it definitely belongs in the same stratum as the other new stars on the scene. And as far as atmosphere and service goes, it might be the best of the bunch. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be OK with the kitchen’s hickory fetish. But I am sure I’ll be back.
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