It is not easy to open an a la carte restaurant, certainly not in these times of besieged workforce and especially not in a city which historically has not had many and, notoriously, does not really understand them. . But that’s what Amy and Casey La Rue did in June, bringing their Carte Blanche to the old Mudsmith space on Lower Greenville. To raise the stakes, it is also a bakery.
This is what the La Rue have been committed to since meeting in Phoenix in 2014. They have been cooking together across the country ever since, in Connecticut and then in New Hampshire before coming to Dallas in mid-2019 and from start Carte Blanche as a series. of pop-up. At these early dinners, often at purpose-hired Airbnbs, Casey prepared subtle, refined, and aesthetic dishes during multi-course tastings. He was just the one in total control of the dinner experience, with Amy in charge of the dessert. In these meals, they interwoven the double helix of their skills, passions, and backgrounds: Casey, the son of two chefs, and Amy, the daughter of an executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton.
Casey has worked in haute cuisine, at Daniel and Per Se in New York, Clio in Boston and finally Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas. Like many creative chefs, he experienced the frustrations of high volume reality, which made him desire this commission and the leeway it brought to spark ideas on the salvo of a dozen or more dishes. , by balancing timing, rhythm, harmony. Opening a brick and mortar, the La Rue might have feared the elaborate choreography required and backed down to another model.
But they don’t dream small here. The husband and wife team have the courage to offer morning viennoiserie, the famous category of whimsical pastries that includes croissants. And the night ? A 12-course tasting menu at $ 175 and a five-course iteration at $ 95 that is a little sister, much more a la carte, from the entire 12-course megillah.
The tasting menus are intense, for the staff, for the kitchen, for the guests. But they can be engaging in creativity. Carte Blanche reminds us that in the hands of a chef who grasps the shape, they can be filled with spores of finesse and novelty. And while a lab like Misti Norris’ Petra & the Beast offers rare gems of seasonal magic, there’s room for more that are slightly rogue, but with a well-articulated sensibility. Room for Carte Blanche and La Rues, a most elegant addition to our scene.
You walk in and it’s a hybrid place, a quiet hideaway with wooden beams, that reminds me, in fact, of another giant on the tasting menu, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. The large wooden door of what was once Mudsmith opens in the morning to a vision of a pastry counter and in the evening to polished glassware and waiters in black vests delivering dishes in flight. It’s a bit disorienting to walk in to meet the big central volume of the old coffee station, but the hostess leads you to one side or the other.
In the kitchen, bright, white and steel, impressive, you can see the bannetons, bread baskets, above the oven. Below them, while assembling the dishes, the cooks place herbs, edible flowers and macerated blueberries, draw Earl Gray custard from bags.
It would be hard to overstate the intelligence and skill behind Amy’s morning flurry of pastries. She takes care of the delicacies of vanilla pears poured with cream cheese in Danish pastries; chocolate and frangipane folded into bronzed crescents; and crullers whose egg-shaped interior looks like eclairs and makes you think of them longingly once they’re gone.
Meanwhile, at night, Casey borrows from the seasons and turns their offerings into gold.
In the 12-course tasting menu, appetizers, or what some chefs call “snacks”, form a beautiful playground on a ceramic surface that mimics a stone. They’re fun, almost more fun than anything you’ll eat, and can include a hit of chilled, velvety kohlrabi soup with pickled vegetable ribbons and lemon oil drops that brighten up. (The bright verve of citrus fruits – lime or Meyer’s lemon – is a flavor that Casey has successfully drawn upon in other dishes as well.) Another evening, a coconut apple soup has some coconut powder, like snow. , white soybeans and heirloom tomatoes. I can’t find enough processing in the items except the dehydrated tomatoes on top. But they’re a stroke of genius with soy umami, a dark pebble on pale, translucent fish.
The foie gras mousse, a signature, is surprising, served in a large white plate on an August evening with smoked and charred Concord grapes in the oven, in a compote and a powdery pink mousse. The flavor is superb, and with the butter croissant (so full of butter sometimes it’s weighed down) it’s almost like a super tasty PB&J. The intelligence of the combination is played out seasonally: next, the pear; earlier, smoked peach. The variegated lipstick shades of the grape version are still my favorite, especially when paired with sake.
The tasting menus are intense for the staff, for the kitchen, for the diners. But they can be engaging in creativity.
And in many ways, this course, with its linen pastry, is a perfect meeting between the two of them.
If desired, throughout the pairing, the tea pairing rivals wine, with finds like a rare oolong, carbonated in a siphon and served in a balloon wine glass.
Perhaps the smartest dish for me in mid-August is the boar belly, which doesn’t present the rich meat at all as I expected, with deep dark sauces. Definitely, I anticipate the wine. Maybe a demi-glace with a winter intensity. Not at all. This landscape is all marine: a scent of clams and fennel light as a feather with small clams nestled in mashed potatoes. So ! Very high surf and turf, in essence. It is inspired by clam chowder and shiny.
And just when you think you want a break, just when the panic – and the fun? – settles down, since you are only on seven of the 12 dishes, there are carrots. They are sprinkled with a variation on the Egyptian spice blend dukka (strong in cilantro, sprinkled with hazelnuts), although it may lack the bridge between that and a chicken jus. Plus, it makes it non-vegetal.
In a move taken by a growing and enlightened corner of the culinary community, Casey does not use beef, opting instead for wild game. But you don’t miss it. Much more elegant is a trio of Broken Arrow Ranch antelopes (when I visit, it just replaced the elk): a loose, rich sausage; a grilled loin segment; and a pithivier, a puff pastry delicately filled with braised meat. Something about the way bordelaise pairs well with Jerusalem artichoke puree is triggering certain reliable synapses in the brain.
Then, perhaps, a syrupy vin santo with a most thoughtful cheese plate, with candied kumquats and cherries. On such a pretty plate, the honey jelly is like translucent gold.
I find softer waves when I pour into a shiny, luminous sabayon of sake, set like a comforter on top of a perfectly textured pineapple sorbet. (They mix ice creams, sorbets, and sorbets in small batches daily.) The voluptuous intermezzo is ridiculously simple and ridiculously good, like the best pineapple whisk you’ve ever had. A woman sitting at a table opposite me leans back, as if spooning it out of a pint box at home, dressed in her most comfortable loungewear. It is a funny and fabulous image.
There are a lot of promises here. You see where the connections aren’t quite happening yet, when an ingredient or an herb seeks its mate. But what Les Rues is doing at Carte Blanche is ambitious, thoughtful and complex.
Some things, like black truffle agnolotti, aren’t perfect. Not wispy and thin like the ones I just ate a few weeks ago at Monarch. But they’re so much more interesting, in many ways, and more intimate. I love them infinitely more.
Not all desserts have the dazzling clarity of the best savory dishes. It will be a quantum leap into the types of more technical creations that Amy intends to remake in the style she was performing for pop-ups, with trompe l’oeil effects and glossy mirror finishes. The most rustic I have is a blueberry pancake; the most delicate a sparkling cheesecake.
Looking at the moss wall Amy created at the back of the dining room, I reflect on how the couple changed this space they’ve taken over. There are many tasting menus in the grand scheme of things, nationwide, but not many that rely on a husband and wife duo so far – now with a sommelier and staff to do what they have to. made themselves. By the time I step out into the night, charmed by their rustic-chic accomplishment, I am full, and more than that: I support them.
The next morning I know I can come back, impatient and hungry, for a pear cream danish, crisp and rooibos milk tea.
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