In June, we reported on Hibiscus’ new menu and concluded ‘the best new restaurant in Dallas may be an old restaurant’, so compelling was the experience. A recent media event caused a revisit that reinforced that point and reminded us that Hibiscus is a moving target, where the culinary team is always seeking out new directions and ingredients.
Our latest tasting started with a charcuterie board. One might start by remarking that there are lots of good charcuterie boards around town, and so there are, but Hibiscus’ should still give pause as something of a reference work on the genre. Not only is Hibiscus execuchef Graham Dodds a pioneer in farm-to-table cooking in Dallas, he is driven to tinker, invent, reinvent and discover.
In the photograph below, moving along the meats from right to left we have rabbit paté, spicy Spanish chorizo, pork rillettes, smoked duck breast and pork jowl. The promise of those ingredients was eclipsed only by the pickled accompaniments in the bottom row. There are house-cured olives, thumbelina carrots, turnips, squash, Texas okra and wild onions. As I picked at each in turn, I realised that they had been pickled separately and each brought its individual acidity, salinity and even patina of ageing to the meal (the latter being the result of reusing pickling solution multiple times, thereby concentrating and refactoring the recipe).
Dodds is generous in giving praise for the pickled vegetables to sous chef Nick Ocando, who says that he learned the techniques from his mother while growing up in Maine. However, it probably did not hurt that he spent time with Michelin 3-star chef Alain Ducasse at two of his restaurants stateside and one in the Caribbean. The route to Dallas was both fortuitous and fortunate. He listed his resume on a chef recruitment web site, seeking a position in Dubai or the Far East. Consilient (at the time, owners of Hibiscus) subscribed to the same site and were looking for a sous. They contacted Ocando who, it turned out, had a brother in Dallas. No doubt familial credibility with Ocando helped elevate Dallas above Hong Kong and Singapore in his pecking order. The selection of pickled vegetables he creates at Hibiscus is varied and sophisticated enough to mesh with Dodds sensibility towards making vegetables first class members on the menu. Even an ADD vegetarian eating it standalone would not let their attention flagg.
That pork jowl can be easily cut with a fork and it is shot through with porcine bacon-driven, salty richness. It comes from Falster Farm in Winnsboro where the pigs are fed on whey from Jersey Girls Milk. I have to admit that I hankered for a mouthful of stone ground coarse mustard to accompany it. The pork rillettes were memorable too. The rough-textured shredded meat is as much a stimulant to the abused urban palate as a mouthful of roasted nuts. Charcuterie boards should embody contrast, and the smoked duck breast is unmistakably recognizable with the bird’s flavors in the meat, the smoky flavor and just a hint of five-spice. The rabbit paté does sterling duty as a kind of paté de campagne.
Scotch eggs are cool. Once invisible, they are now becoming a nationwide staple from gastropubs to fine dining. In the DFW area they are easy to find. It therefore bears mentioning that Graham Dodds has them on the menu at Hibiscus, not to catch a current fashion, but because he was doing them before they were cool and that the instigation to do so was not a desire to be fashionable but because they are part of his heritage (the same rationale applies to Hibiscus’ nonpareil French fries). After switching out scotch eggs, public demand has forced them back on the menu. Despite a host of pretenders to the throne, they are still the best in town, bearing a hearty but not leaden meat core, a lightly-cooked egg and a finely ground crispy crust.
Baked house made goat’s milk ricotta is commendable for its lightness. Scoop it on a slice of the supplied wafer thin cinnamon and raisin crostini and top with some tart rhubarb chutney.
Beet salad is red, gold and striped roasted and raw beets with sweet, wood-grilled cipollini onions, sunflower sprouts and chevre aux fines herbes for which the cheese was dredged in the herbs. The flavors were multi-faceted, often just subtly different as the beets reflected their common family characteristics.
The other salad was just as inventive, but a totally different creature. Dinosaur kale sauteed in grape seed oil served with pomegranate seeds, coarsely-grated ricotta, raw artichoke and watermelon radishes.
Following appropriately on from the dinosaur kale, a monster main course of Colorado lamb shank with cannellini beans, demi glace and gremolata was Hibiscus’ homage to ‘ossobuco alla Milanese’. The helping would fill a small army but, in the event you bring a large one, there are formidable sides available à la carte. We enjoyed the whipped sweet potatoes topped with, get this, amaretti cookies (I wonder if that will catch on?). Very seasonal, very successful, very conversational. Autumn squash came with pumpkin seeds. Melted leek risotto came with a layer of white truffles on top.
Simultaneously, we were served gulf paella with pan-roasted snapper with saffron rice, house made sausage, blue crab, rock shrimp and guajillo broth. One of the interesting things was that, in both dishes, the grains (risotto rice and the paella rice) were perfectly cooked al dente. There is a lot of attention to detail going on in this kitchen.
Finally, desserts were an intense but light Valrhona Chocolate Mousse served in crème anglaise and a pumpkin crostata with cinnamon and clotted cream. Both excellent — if you have room.
Our waitress whose name, in a crime against the service industry, I don’t recall, was pleasant, patient and had the ingredients and technique behind everything down cold.
The wine list is a California based core that, unfortunately, despite the listing of almost thirty local food suppliers on the menu, has no Texas wines. There are ten craft beers, most local.
My favorite seats in Hibiscus are the comfortable booths along the long wall. Noise levels rise (80dB on Decibel Meter) when it gets busy. You can still converse, and the choice of background music, classic rock, fits in with generation of a lot of the crowd (and elevates the musical experience of the substantial number of younger customers who grew up on witless TV talent shows).
Overall, Hibiscus refuses to stand still, and that is a good thing. It is Crave Recommended.