Right now, Disney+ is airing a documentary about Wolfgang Puck that chronicles the career of the Austrian restaurateur. Puck was not the first celebrity chef, but he set the template for how a chef builds a media career in our era. One reason why his star remains undimmed is that he took the approach that great food should be enjoyable and not so complicated that it becomes work for the customer.
Café Modern, 3200 Darnell St, FW. 11am-2:30pm Tue-Fri, 10am-3pm Sat-Sun. All major credit cards accepted. 817-738-9215.
As fate would have it, this film comes to us just as Café Modern launches its summer menu under the new management of Wolfgang Puck Catering. Executive Chef Jett Mora is a Puck veteran of some 10 years, working in an experimental environment where cooks are free to develop new dishes, so you may be surprised to find that the menu is so familiar. Did we really need the great Puck to teach us how to make burgers and omelets? Then again, there’s nothing wrong with the old standbys if they’re done right, and some rethinking (as long as it’s not excessive) can be good.
By now, you know what you’re in for in terms of atmosphere when you eat at the Modern. The one concession to the pandemic has been the addition of outdoor seating by the reflecting pool out back. Maybe eating outdoors in the heat of summer doesn’t appeal to you, but most of the tables are shaded by canopies, and I found that the high temperatures didn’t bother me as long as I stayed hydrated. The staff was happy to keep me supplied with iced tea once they found my rhythm.
The weekend brunch menu is different from the one on weekdays, so I ordered the one entree that looked the cheffiest: the Berkshire pork belly Benedict. This turned out to be like a bacon and egg dish with an eggs Benedict-like Hollandaise sauce and small potatoes that turned out crispy despite their relatively large size. The wilted greens between the pork belly and eggs brought some complexity to the party, and the green tomato relish on the side freshened things up. It all made for quite a filling Sunday meal.
If steak and eggs is your idea of lunch, you need to have the charred kalbi beef bowl here. The dish used flank steak rather than the traditional short ribs, but the meat came out melt-in-your-mouth tender on top of some chile garlic rice — the bitterness of braised kale, the sourness of pickled daikon and house-made kimchi (with the chile paste painted on every individual cabbage leaf like you’re supposed to do), and the umami and sweetness of ssamjang carefully deployed countered the richness of the beef and the runny fried egg on top. The kitchen’s Korean treatment turned this diner favorite into something different that still provided the same pleasures.
The spring berry shortcake is served in a big bowl that serves to make the dish look bigger than it is. Even so, it’s a substantial dessert served on white chocolate shortbread. Those of you who think white chocolate is an ingredient that brings nothing to the table will be given further proof by this concoction, but the bread does hold its crunch and chew even between the crème fraîche and the berry compote underneath. It’s a satisfactory sweet to round off a meal, though I could have used more fruit, especially now that we’re at the height of berry season.
Maybe you figure that an art museum should be serving molecular gastronomy-inspired fare, dishes that are pieces of art in their own right. Such a thing would be really cool, but there’s some merit to the idea of going in the other direction, giving the customers a break from heavy contemplation with comforting flavors and textures and letting them save their deep thoughts for the art on the walls. That’s where Café Modern is, and they do it well.
Berkshire pork belly Benedict $18
Charred kalbi beef bowl $18
Spring berry shortcake $12