I usually never partake in DFW Restaurant Week. As a reviewer, I try to seek out cuisine that readers can try themselves. Since the Restaurant Week menus are only temporary, and since this is a weekly column, I’ve never seen the point of writing about food you can’t have.
This year I decided to venture out to a couple of places. Even though the menus are offered for only a few days (through Sunday, Aug. 30), I thought I might be able to whet some appetites for next year’s bash. I’m glad I did, too. Both restaurants I visited delivered two of the best dining experiences I’ve had in a while, and a portion of the $35 fixed price menu goes to Dallas’ North Texas Food Bank and Lena Pope, an 80-year-old Fort Worth nonprofit offering counseling and education.
The earliest my guest and I could get into Clay Pigeon Food and Drink (2731 White Settlement Rd., 817-882-8065) on a weekday was 9 p.m. Even at that late hour (late by Fort Worth standards), the place was hopping.
Chef Marcus Paslay’s menu was one triumph after another. The watermelon salad with prosciutto, fresh tomatoes, and white balsamic vinaigrette was a picture of sweet, salty, tangy balance. My guest’s summer corn soup with heirloom tomatoes and a jalapeño relish had a velvety texture and slightly sweet-spicy taste.
For our main courses, the grilled hanger steak was beautifully charred on the outside and tender and succulent within. The housemade fettuccine puttanesca, with shrimp, mussels, capers, ricotta cheese, and al dente pasta, was fresh-tasting and dynamic.
Both desserts were excellent, though the light, airy bread pudding served with vanilla ice cream and topped with caramel was otherworldly. That’s not a knock on the Avoca coffee and chocolate pot de crème, which was thick and decadent.
My only overall complaint was the $30 tab for two admittedly delicious cocktails. Management should consider listing prices to its nascent cocktail menu.
We stopped by Grace (777 Main St., 817-877-3388) that weekend, and the place was every bit as hopping. We still managed to snag a table at 9 p.m.
Grace has a hotel-ballroom vibe, with dark carpet, wood-paneled walls, and retro-looking chandeliers. And the food, wine, and service were exquisite.
My guest and I went for the wine pairings with every course ($20 per person), and the starter of chilled peach soup was well complemented by the accompanying Waitsburg chenin blanc from Columbia Valley, Wash. The sweetness of the peaches was offset by the bone-dry, mineral tones of the vino. The star of this appetizer show was the silken tenderloin tartare with a spicy, complex fermented chili and Brussels sprout kimchi.
The following course –– buttery, fresh housemade capellini pasta with roasted, smoky corn, chunks of plump rock shrimp, and ricotta cheese –– was an ambrosial treat. For a seemingly simple dish, it had a ton of bright flavors.
Curiously, Grace didn’t offer any steak entrées. But the fork-tender pork with summer squash, ham, sweet onions, and whole grain mustard was a flavor sponge.
The crisp skin of my guest’s ocean trout provided a welcome textural contrast to the flaky, oily fish that melted on the tongue.
The kitchen’s only miss was the dessert course. The popcorn panna cotta was way overcooked, and its cornflake crumble tasted like something a toddler might make as a Mother’s Day treat. The butterscotch pudding with butterscotch ice cream was good, if one-note.
If the goal of Restaurant Week is to expose diners to new-to-them eateries, it certainly worked on me. It’s a safe bet I’ll be back on the scene next year –– but I won’t be the one asking for Thousand Island dressing.
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