Restaurant Week at Abacus

21 Aug

8/18/2008 Update: I returned to Abacus for Restaurant Week in 2008.  Link to review: https://donnacooks.wordpress.com/2008/08/18/abacus-for-restaurant-week-a-return/

 

Of my two Restaurant Week reservations, I was infinitely more excited about Abacus for multiple reasons.

1) Though the Restaurant Week reviews have been mixed, Abacus is generally regarded as one of the best restaurants in town.

2) Chef Tre Wilcox’s Duck Three Ways was one of the more memorable small plates at the StarChefs.com Dallas Rising Stars Revue.

3) Even though I’m too cheap to subscribe to Bravo, I’ve been catching up on the current season of Top Chef on the web.  The show has made me a Tre Wilcox fan.

4) The reservation on Saturday fell on the one year anniversary of Donna Cooks.  I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the occasion than to wine and dine during Restaurant Week.

I was so excited about dinner that we mad-rushed ourselves through a pre-dinner trip to Home Depot (oh to be frustrated while standing in the electrical aisle in your dressy duds, unable to find the correct blue box for your new attic light… the joy of home improvement!) and arrived at Abacus 10 minutes early.  We waited in the bar and at 8:00pm, were promptly seated at our little table with a great view of the open-style kitchen, where the hustle and bustle of a full restaurant was evident, but the frustrations of the kitchen staff were not.  Though the restaurant is quite large, the space seems intimate and not intimidating. 

Abacus limits Restaurant Week seatings to an hour and a half so they can maximize the number of patrons.  You can’t really blame them for amplifying the donations for a charity event.  However, previous experiences at Abacus have reported that the limited seating time causes you to rush through all the courses, and some have been unable to finish their meals at a reasonable pace.  Fully aware of the time constraint, my companion and I scrutinized our watches throughout the evening, ensuring that we were on schedule, particularly since Abacus participates in the complimentary Central Market fourth course.

I am a fast eater but a slow drinker.  We added the recommended wine pairings for each course ($25 per person) and I was still able to finish my meal at a very reasonable pace by the end of the hour and a half (granted we were given the entire seating time, some previous experiences say the patrons were rushed out after an hour, which would not have been sufficient for four courses).  Our very attentive and prompt server certainly helped.  We were brought waters, menus, and an explanation of how to order during Restaurant Week (order all your courses now, give us your Central Market certificate now) immediately.

This forwardness may seem assertive but in this case met our mutual goal of making the evening as smooth as possible for the other.  We quickly made our course selections (easy enough, I’d been drooling over the Restaurant Week menu on the Abacus website for a month).  A variety bread basket along with our complimentary Cental Market course, the lobster shooters, followed soon after.

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A sake set with four fried lobster balls and a flask of scallion sauce.  Pour the hot scallion broth out of the bottle and into the cups.  Sip to test temperature.  When the heat is right, shoot the tiny cup for a mouthful of flavors.  I liked the creative concept of this dish.  Although this has been the same complimentary Central Market course at Abacus every year, so perhaps the creativity needs a little freshening up.  It was my first time trying the lobster shooters and I enjoyed starting my meal in this fun manner.  However, I did find the broth a tad too salty.

For appetizers, I had the jumbo lump crab cake with Texas sweet corn, paired with a 2005 Wild Horse Chardonnay.

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Sorry, I didn’t realize until halfway through the meal that the pictures showed better with the flash on.  The crab cake, more like a crab ball, was moist and fell apart instantly upon contact with the fork.  It was fried to golden perfection, not too overdone and not greasy.  With the exception of an average wine, we were off to a good start.

My companion started with the crispy seared pork belly with sesame glaze and sweet potatoes, paired with a 2006 Knappstein Riesling.

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I have previously professed my recently found love for pork belly, and the combination of the crispy, slightly spicy pork belly with the mild, soft sweet potatoes was simply heavenly.  It’s amazing how southern comfort food is now nouveau chic.  The fruity riesling was a good companion to this plate.  Unfortunately, the wine pairings were not as successful for the remainder of the evening.

Intermezzo: Raspberry lime spritzer

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A tall shot glass of raspberry limeade with a fresh raspberry for garnish.  Not a fancy intermezzo and a tad uninspired, but it does the job of cleansing the palate for the next course.

For the main course, I chose the wood grilled wild king salmon with tequila lime sauce over jalapeno jack cheese grits.

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Being that I didn’t particularly enjoy the Chardonnay with my appetizer course, I was disappointed to see my main entree paired with the exact same wine.  The salmon itself was just average, didn’t have a strong wood-smoked flavor.  However, pair the simple salmon with the rich jalapeno jack cheese grits and swirl the bite in the tequila lime sauce, and your tastebuds are in for a world of new discoveries.  The flavor was complex in the creamy but citrusy sauce, rich in the cheese grits, and uncluttered in the grilled salmon.  Out of habit I reached for the glass of Chardonnay after each bite, and each time cringed upon the realization that the Chardonnay was doing nothing for the food but overpowering it with smokey butteriness.  How disappointing.  Why not a Pinot Grigio or a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for a crisp clean finish with a hint of fruit? 

My companion had the grilled beef filet on white cheddar-bacon potatoes paired with a 2004 Souverain Merlot for his main course.

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I wish I had photographed this beef filet when it was cut open.  His request of medium doneness has never been done so well.  Charred on the outside, deep pink in the center, no trace of bloodiness.  That kind of even cooking perfection is hard to come by (well, they are equipped with top notch professional grade kitchen gear).  The mashed potatoes tasted like a twice baked potato.  It’s the upscale version of your regular steak and potato dinner and it pleased.  However, oddly enough, the Merlot did nothing for the beef filet.  This particular wine was on the fruity, velvety smooth side of Merlots, and clashed with the charred and untamed flavor of the beef filet.  Across the table, he was having the same problem as me, longing for that perfect post bite sip of wine but only to have the wine leave an odd, undesirable flavor in the mouth.  It’s like bad mouthwash.  Strangely enough, the Merlot was excellent with just the potatoes by themselves.  But who pairs a wine with an entree based on the side dish?

Sometime during the bliss of the cheese grits and the torment of the Chardonnay pairing, a loud crash came from the kitchen, turning my attention to the open space.  Someone had spilled a newly assembled plate.  Behind that someone was the unmistakable, statuesque Chef Tre Wilcox, my Top Chef favorite.  I was a little excited.  Ok, maybe that’s an understatement.

Onto desserts!

Fresh mint and shaved chocolate ice cream puff with a Valrhona chocolate glaze:

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It’s like a giant cream puff filled with mint chocolate chip ice cream topped with the best chocolate sauce ever.  The ice cream had a distinct, lovely fresh mint taste.  I was again confused by the wine pairing, Cockburn’s Special Reserve port.  I guess whoever paired the port with the dessert took the flavor cue from the chocolate glaze.  However, the dominant flavor in this dessert was clearly the mint, a troublesome companion for wine.  I don’t have a good suggestion in place of the port for this course, I just know that the port wasn’t what the cream puff needed.

Dulche de leche banana bread pudding:

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Our favorite among the two desserts, this rich bread pudding was paired perfectly (making it the only plate the entire night to be so fortunate) with a Osborne Pedro Ximenez sherry.  Minus the decorative crunchy strips on top that tasted like rolled thin, dried out fondant, I’m dying to recreate this experience at home. 

We had made it to the end of our fabulous four course meal.  I was feeling a bit tipsy after two glasses of wine and too much sherry and port.  Perhaps it wasn’t the best time for me to compliment the chef but I requested to do so anyway.  The brief meeting with Chef Tre Wilcox was the highlight of my night.  Too bad my demeanor was much too giddy, I’m sure.

Abacus has proven itself as a restaurant that is serious about its food.  It is a place for discovering new flavors and new combinations of flavors.  It is a wonderful choice for Restaurant Week as far as the food and service goes.  The wine list for Restaurant Week is another story.  I checked Abacus’ wine list on the restaurant’s website and realized that none of the wines paired with Restaurant Week plates are on the regular wine list.  The white wines we had retail around $15 and are clearly on the low end of the wine list.  Now, I am not a wine snob and I don’t believe that priciness is a prerequisite for good wine.  However, I do question the care with which these wine pairings were assembled as it seemed that the wines chosen simply did not complement the food.  Wine pairings for the 9-course Chef’s tasting menu at Abacus is $25 per person, the same amount charged for a 3-course Restaurant Week meal.  The diner is shelling out good money for these wine pairings and he/she deserves more consideration.  Choose wines that emphasize the grandness of the flavors in these wonderful dishes, for big bold flavors are abundant at Abacus.

Rating: 5 / 5

Abacus
4511 McKinney Ave
Dallas, TX 75205

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2 Responses to “Restaurant Week at Abacus”

  1. luniz 08/27/2007 at 10:22 am #

    I thought you might be interested to know that Tre Wilcox is teaching a class at Central Market this fall. http://www.centralmarket.com/pdf/dallas_fall07.pdf

  2. donnaaries 08/27/2007 at 1:21 pm #

    Thanks luniz for the info. Unfortunately I have classes Monday evenings until 8:30. That looks like a great class, though!

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