I was delighted when I heard that Anthony Bombaci was to be the execuchef of the Hilton Dallas/Plano Granite Park. It meant that Hilton was committed to food quantumly beyond the standard hotel fare and that Bombaci, who has kept the Hilton Anatole’s food operations sans SĒR humming smoothly until now, had a marquee restaurant added to his portfolio of the other food and beverage outlets (plus banquet service) at the new hotel. At a recent media event I finally got a chance to experience the new hotel and sample the food.
Carso is easily accessed via a door right by the complimentary valet stop. One step into the room and you notice the careful contrivance in the design. Lots of contrasting surfaces of white stone (redolent of the Hill Country), chocolate colored wood and sparkling metal offset by the soft fabrics of the chairs. Lots of nooks and pass-throughs deceive the eye about the room being a cube. It feels sophisticated and comfortable. The large bar area on the other side of the lobby echoes many of these themes but is more open, presumably for sports TV viewing.
The importance of a Bombaci placement is that he was the man who put Nana at the Hilton Anatole on the national map. It was consistently one of the highest regarded restaurants in town for over eight years. Prior to his stint at the Anatole he worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in France and helped create one as chef de cuisine at Enoteca in Barcelona (named Enoteca Bombaci during his tenure).
At Carso, Bombaci had substantial input into the content of the menu. Nonetheless, the mandate requires the food to fit a price range and familiarity profile that does not allow for all the esoteric ingredients or artistry that were his stock-in-trade at Nana. The theme is Mediterranean, encompassing multiple cultures from that vibrant part of the culinary world. Pastas sit alongside hummus and Iberico ham, lamb shank and scallops. Of course, there is the mandatory steak.
We started with two delightful and straightforward appetizers (or small plates as they are named on the menu). Sumac Hummus and Red Onion ($7.25) offered wispy light hummus to be plopped onto pita bread. Iberico Ham ($15.25) took slices of the ham and scrunched them into a mound. It was accompanied by a bisected heirloom tomato that simply oozed flavor from every cell of its being. Some crispy toasted ciabatta bread, still warm, provided a carrier for all this. A Heath Robinson contraption alongside (not shown for public safety reasons) offered two olive oils to drizzle on the bread, although it wasn’t explained what the difference was between them. Undoubtedly, the high point was the Iberico ham with its nutty flavors and complexity (not just the one-dimensional saltiness that is too prevalent with cured pork charcuterie).
The Watermelon, Feta and Mint Salad ($9) exhibited the expert grasp of combinations that Bombaci’s food showed at Nana. The watermelon delivered sweetness, the feta saltiness and the mint added complexity. Simple to prepare, delicious on the palate and visually impressive too.
We sampled three ‘main plates’, albeit in mini-portions. Sea Scallops ($19.75) came with green olives, celery and fregola. The latter in larger diameter balls than you might usually find, and they were lightly browned from being sautéed when reheated. This turned out to be as close as we got to a pasta dish. Again, it was simple in preparation but reflected careful conception as the various components melded into the whole.
Shawarma Half Chicken ($23) raised the game. This intensely seasoned and long-roasted chicken was moist and flavorful beyond what one would expect. The green chile pesto (actually zhough, a spicy Yemeni paste made of green chile, cilantro, parsley, cardamom and olive oil) and tahini added accent and interest. Put this down as one of the biggest winners on the menu. Chicken with attitude.
Shawarma Half Chicken
Lamb Shank cooked sous vide and served with figs, almonds and goat cheese ($24.25) was ideal for the cold winter day.
The wine list is surprisingly good, and larger than I would have expected. There are about 100 selections, most from the U.S. with a smattering from popular categories outside (e.g. Champagne, Argentinean Malbec) or one offs such as South African Sauvignon Blanc. There are even five (well chosen) wines from Texas. 18 wines are also available by the glass. The craft beer list needs work. There are only three selections and not only is Molson-Coors Blue Moon wrongly listed as a craft beer but none of the offerings is local. Isn’t there a place called Franconia Brewing Co. just down the road in McKinney?
Overall, Carso is a significant addition to Plano/Frisco dining and comes recommended.