by Andrew Chalk
Make careful note of this name: Andrea Maricich. She is the person Scott Gottlich chose to be executive chef at The Second Floor by Scott Gottlich at the Westin Galleria Dallas. She started in June and has had a ‘soft introduction’ in 2014. However, I predict that 2015 could be ‘The Year of The Andrea’ if she continues on her current trajectory. She trained in New York and San Francisco before she and her husband ran a restaurant in Boise, Idaho, for 17 years. The economic downturn prompted the move to Dallas to take the position of chef de cuisine at Hotel ZaZa. From there she came to The Second Floor.
On her approachable and instantly interesting menu imaginative presentations are supplemented with meticulous preparation to create an experience that will create. There was not a single weak reed at a recent media tasting.
Consider the ultimate familiar dish: deviled eggs ($8). Since ‘everybody’ has them now, I consider it incumbent on any chef considering putting them to their menu to justify booting something less everyday off. Fail to pass this test and you will be shot in front of your family. Maricich’s eggs would have no trouble making the grade. They are cut on the bias, tilting the egg-as-container towards the diner. The mashed yolk mixture is mixed with St. Pete’s blue cheese and topped with diced scallions and crisped pancetta. The delightful presentation resembled a little chick pecking its way out of its egg. The flavor of the blue cheese and egg mixture salivates the mouth, and there is that bonus of the sweet, buttery pancetta.
The same forethought was present in the Roasted Lemley’s Farm Tomato Soup ($6/$10). I would have overlooked tomato soup were I not guided, and thereby missed one of the best tomato soups in Dallas. There is no cream or stock used in the recipe. That makes for a formidable purity and intensity of roasted tomato flavors. Put the mini cheese sandwich hooked on the rim of the bowl in the cute ideas department.
Scottish Salmon ($14/$25) is a lightly cooked salmon fillet decked atop a fennel potato cake with the whole assembly then comprehensively buried in a beet/mustard frill salad. Chiogga beets, with their characteristic candy-stripe pattern, sparked the diner’s interest in digging in for more.
Dallas’ favorite menu staple of pan seared sea scallops was, like the deviled eggs, given a twist. The scallop sat atop a bed of parsnip purée as smooth as velvet. On top, a disk of house-cured pork Lonzino was impossibly sweet and yielding to the mouth. Crispy fried chopped Brussels sprouts sprinkled with sea salt and lemon rounded out the dish.
Dallasites who attended the AIWF Caesar Salad Competition last October have already had Maricich’s Lonzino. Her house-cured fennel and black pepper Lonzino with orange and oregano compressed melon earned her second prize in just her first year in the competition.
The 44 Farm’s slow-braised short rib ($29) was the ideal antidote to the sudden blast of cold weather that hit town recently. The meat plopped off the bone into the stone-ground parmesan grits for a combination guaranteed to warm the heart on the most frigid day. On the right of the accompanying picture is a ‘sweet balsamic shallot’, but it initially fooled me into believing that it was a Vidalia onion, so unusual was the preparation. Like the meat, the long-cooked shallots melted under fork pressure. No knife required.
Something of a signature dish is the double-cut Niman Ranch pork chop ($29). It is served with sweet potato and ginger spaetzle and sake-braised shiitake mushrooms. Consider this a dish for big appetites.
Innovation is not confined to the kitchen. General Manager Seth Brammer is a fanatic for all things that are drunk. He makes his own tonic water, adding lemon, lime, orange and star anise to make a rendition that gives Fever Tree a run for its money. He made me a G&T with Tanqueray Rangpur and the tonic water imbued the cocktail with attractive fruit flavors to complement the gin’s aromatics.
The drinks team has also put together a pretty impressive list comprised of about ten craft cocktails, half a dozen cognacs, ten tequilas, over 50 American whiskies, 100 scotches and 30 beers (about 15 local). The wine list of around 100 selections includes several examples from Texas and there are half a dozen dessert wines as well.
Where does Andrea Maricich’s food and The Second Floor fit in the Dallas culinary landscape? I found it to be close to Gemma in concept and price (entrées mainly between $23-$30) but with more local emphasis. It was also like Hibiscus, but slightly less expensive and without the edgier ingredients reflecting, perhaps, the sensibilities of the hotel clientele.
With The Second Floor being such a hive of innovation, why does it get so little media attention? I think it might be that there are a lot of new restaurants opening in Dallas this year and, the way most writers define ‘new’, means a new location and name (even if the chef, backers and bread are all the same). The operational definition of ‘new’, from the diner’s standpoint, is new chef. On that basis, The Second Floor is new, and it is one of the best new restaurants of 2014.