Ocho Kitchen and Cocktails opened recently to an initial high praise from local media. Ocho is a partnership between Santa Fe chef Eric DiStefano and local restaurateur Brian Black of Mi Piaci fame. The restaurant has a chic feel that you might expect from its Preston center digs, thankfully without faux Santa Fe window dressing. Instead DiStefano delivers on a promise to bring his version of Southwest cuisine to Dallas, replete with on-premise fresh roasted Hatch peppers, and handmade tortillas.
It was through the Mi Piaci connection that Ocho has talented and innovative local chef Ross Demers, who was previously commanding the kitchen at that restaurant. Demers has handily made the transition from pasta to masa with ease, and says that he is enjoying the hard work it takes to make this cuisine from scratch.
DiStefano was in Dallas recently to check in on his kitchen and we were fortunate enough to spend some time with the chef to find out more about him, his Santa Fe restaurants and some behind the scenes information on Ocho.
Let’s get the background information out on the table. Where did you make your start in the kitchen?
I went to college at Penn State and worked at a restaurant while in school and fell in love with the restaurant scene. After school I went back to Hershey, Pennsylvania where I became chef de cuisine at the Hotel Hershey. From there I moved around a bit working at various restaurants around the world, including South Africa. Later I ended up in Manhattan with Daniel Boulud. He sent me out to Santa Fe and I have been there for 18 years.
I worked at a ten room inn for Daniel’s business partner cooking three meals a day at this place that was $1000 a night. That lasted about a year. I felt so secluded after coming from Manhattan.
How did Geronimo come about?
I ended up meeting Cliff Skoglund who owned Geronimo originally. It wasn’t doing well so he asked me to come chef it for him.18 years later I ended up with that, Coyote Café, Stats which is our sports bar.
You were looking at doing a Geronimo in Dallas last year, what happened with that?
We were looking at doing Geronimo originally. We couldn’t find the space we wanted. Highland Park Village is like Manhattan type prices to open a place, we kept coming back to scout space. We looked at this place [where Ocho is located] like 3 times. I was a bit skeptical since it is next to a California Pizza Kitchen. But it’s turned out to be really good.
So why isn’t Ocho a Geronimo?
Geronimo is more fine dining. It’s 40 dollar entrees. But we wanted to start out smaller and see how people took to the Santa Fe stuff. But really 40% of our business in Santa Fe is tourist, and much of that is from Texas. We love Texans. 60% of my cook books sold here. Dallas, Austin, Houston.
So this is more like Coyote Cafe?
It really is. On the first level we have dining but on the roof we have this cantina. Brian is just obsessed with the cantina. It’s fresh tacos, like pastor, fish tacos. We roast fresh chiles.
We have some TexMex items such as fajitas and enchiladas, but what I really love are the fresh moles.
I have this ongoing conversation with a writer here in Dallas about Hatch Chiles. He claims they are bogus and just like any other Anaheim. Do you agree?
No, it’s like drinking a bottle of wine from the same style of grapes but grown in different areas. It’s the soil. It’s the dry, the clay, the weather, the soil. You can take that same plant to Pennsylvania where the soil is black, rich and moist and the chile will be totally different. It will be thicker skinned and not as hot.
In New Mexico the plant works to survive and the skin is thinner. This gives the chile more character and heat.
What are you liking on this new menu of yours?
I like the fact that people are loving the tacos. It’s like 30% of our business. We have a good Al Pastor which is this fresh Berkshire pork, pineapple. My meatloaf is basically my mom’s Italian meatball but I added green chile. It comes with cheddar mashed potatoes and chorizo gravy. People love it.Ocho Kitchen and Cocktails 8411 Preston Road, Dallas 214-217-0888